Tuesday, February 23, 2021

nglccNY Spotlight: Carolyn M. Brown, Founder, True Colors Project & My True Colors Festival

This month we are thrilled to amplify nglccNY member, Carolyn M. Brown, who is an award-winning journalist, author, playwright, producer and founder of True Colors Project LLC, a social enterprise that produces and presents BIPOC and LGBTQIAGNC+ themed content through theater, digital, film and live events. She is also the Co-Founder/Executive Director of My True Colors Festival, a multidisciplinary arts event (including theater, film, dance, original web series, etc.) dedicated to bringing together multicultural, multinational LGBTQIAGNC+ artists and allies to showcase their works. 

Carolyn is also a cherished member of nglccNY’s communications committee. In that role she regularly volunteers her time to write feature stories about other Chamber members that are showcased on this very blog and in our monthly newsletter.

nglccNY’s Chair of Media & Communications Cindi Creager interviewed Carolyn about her impactful work. Read the Q & A below.

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Cindi: Tell me a little bit about the True Colors Project and My True Colors Festival.

Carolyn:  True Colors Project came about in 2012. It is a social enterprise that is dedicated to bringing together innovative storytellers. It is really about helping artists to create and present work that represents underserved communities and resonates with marginalized groups. My True Colors Festival was launched in 2015, and that was through a collective of artists, filmmakers, playwrights, and event planners. Our mission is fighting for social justice and cultural diversity through the arts.

My True Colors Festival is a multi-disciplinary arts event that originally took place every June in conjunction with national Pride Month and as an Official NYC Pride Event Partner. Since that time, we've showcased more than 200 documentaries, film shorts, stage plays, musicals, original web series, dancers, singers, spoken word artists, and other artistic works, in addition to talkbacks, fireside chats and panel discussions. 

Then in 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to shift gears, so we weren't able to host the festival in the summer as we usually do. We ended up doing a very streamlined version in October in conjunction with national LGBTQ+ history month. We actually did a virtual event where we presented a play called “The Man with the Floppy Ears,” a gay love story set in the 1930’s that also speaks of a pandemic, police brutality, the Depression and authoritarianism. We also presented the film “Spencer” about a young bisexual man and his relationships. That story was brought to us by a producer out of Australia who co-wrote and stars in this film which also is based on his personal experiences.

In 2017, True Colors Project also co-founded “My True Colors Excel Pride Awards,” which is an annual awards ceremony that pays homage to community, civic and business leaders, as well as artists who champion social justice. 

Past award winners have been Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Destination Tomorrow founder Sean Coleman, and spoken-word performing artist Staceyann Chin. Eric Adams has been very supportive of My True Colors Festival since its inception. Also, we've received a grant and support from the Brooklyn Arts Council in the past.

My True Colors Festival is fiscally sponsored through Fractured Atlas, a 501C3 nonprofit that empowers artists and arts organizations through various resources. This allows us to receive grants, sponsorships, and tax-deductible donations. 

My True Colors Festival


Cindi
: Why are these two entities so important to our world? 

Carolyn:  I've always been supportive of the arts and artists. My background is as a journalist, author, playwright, and a producer. That's been my experience for decades and also in connection to my activism. Also, artists are often truth-tellers and recorders of history, elevating their voice to reflect the world around us. They're also healers, often bringing solace to the weary and strength to the downtrodden. There's always been an interconnection between arts and activism; we have artists who have always given rise to social awareness and community activism. My True Colors Festival has always been about providing a safe and affirming space for BIPOC and LGBTQIAGNC+ people as well as giving voice to marginalized communities through the power of the arts.

The goal is to create a more inclusive arts scene for artists of all disciplines by eliminating barriers to participation related to age, race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, identity, disability, nationality, and religion.

For the 2022 season we're going to be launching the “Rise Up” series of social justice films, plays and other artistic works, exploring history from a lens of oppression. That will include then and now stories of the oppression of marginalized communities, the intersection of oppressed groups, and the social movements that arose from marginalized groups in the fight against oppression and discrimination. 

I'm actually working on two plays, one dedicated to Stormé DeLarverie and another about Bayard Rustin and his relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. Bayard is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement. He was really the chief architect of the iconic March on Washington in 1963, but because he was an openly gay man, Bayard was kept in the shadows by other civil rights leaders and pushed to the margins of Black History. He preached his entire life that “we need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” I try to live by that mantra. True Colors Project will dedicate its efforts going forward to highlight the intersection between the Civil Rights Movement, LGBT+ Rights Movement, Women's Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, and Black Lives Matter Movement.

MTCF Festabill and Excel Pride Awards Programs


Cindi
: May I ask you to reflect on the importance Black History Month?

Carolyn: It’s important to be aware of the contributions of African Americans to our nation. We must do our part to ensure that those who fight for our rights to thrive—and be alive— in America receive the recognition they so justly deserve. Like I said with Bayard, his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement; with Stormé, her contribution to Stonewall; and with Marsha P. Johnson, her contribution to transgender activism. And even with respect to artists and their contributions to our communities, our nation, and the world around us. Just think of the social impact of a play—and film adaptation—like “A Raisin In The Sun” by Loraine Hansberry. 

Cindi: Recognizing these icons and their contributions is not only important during Black History Month. Their legacies should be remembered and revered every single day of the year.

Carolyn: Right. Then hopefully we'll get to a point where everybody's culture and history is celebrated and appreciated.

Cindi: Indeed. I’d like to shift topics for a moment to ask how you got involved with NGLCC and nglccNY and how has that evolved over time?

Carolyn: I first became involved on a national level when I met NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson in 2012 during the early formation of the Many Faces One Dream LGBT Economic Empowerment Tour hosted by the National Black Justice Coalition in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, NGLCC and other organizations. I served as an ambassador and that came about from the cover story I wrote for Black Enterprise. It was called "Black and Gay in Corporate America," and it actually ended up winning the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Magazine Article in 2012. Justin was very nice, very welcoming, and very supportive of that article. And then I was present in 2013 when the Chamber invited the National Business Inclusion Consortium to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange as a precursor to the Financial Services Diversity Leadership Awards dinner.

I attended other Chamber events, but I really didn't become a member or get involved with the local chapter until 2018. I did so to network and to ensure representation, because I thought that it was important for people of color who are business owners to be visible in the local chapter. Being African-American, a woman, and a lesbian, I felt that representation was very important, so I wanted to create that awareness. I met some really great people like Nathan Manske of “I’m From Driftwood.”  I've been following his organization since then. I also had the pleasure of writing about him for the newsletter

Cindi: That’s wonderful. Nathan is amazing. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the benefits of nglccNY membership?

Carolyn: Writing for the newsletter has been a really great experience for me because it's provided the opportunity for me to connect with and interview a lot of the members to find out more about their businesses and  to share their stories with the other members. I think it's great for us to be aware of each others' journeys and to support each other in any way that we can, because it's important to uplift one another as entrepreneurs and individuals.

That’s even more vital now in an environment where marginalized people are under vicious attack. It's important for us to stick together and stand up for each other.

Cindi: Absolutely. We truly appreciate the volunteer work you've done and the beautiful articles that you've written. We've all been lucky to have that as a part of our newsletters and our social media.

May I ask you to share a bit more about how your organization addresses the issues we're all still grappling with in this nation, racial justice, LGBTQ + social justice, etc.?

Carolyn: We've always had a focus on social justice so a lot of the artists, filmmakers, and playwrights whose works we showcased have dealt with social, political, and human issues as well as mental health issues. One of our Excel Pride Award recipients, documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen, recently had a PBS special called "How it Feels to be Free," where she profiled six Back women entertainers: Diahann Carol, Abbey Lincoln, Cicely Tyson, Lena Horne, Pam Grier, and Nina Simone. She talked about them as artists and also as activists. 

We’re very excited that one of the films we screened in 2019, “Ripples of Water,” directed by A.J. Ciccotelli, was recently picked up by Amazon, AppleTV and iTunes. It deals with ageism and mental health disability. 

MTCF Co-Founder Tai Chunn, Hollywood Director Nathan Hales Williams and Actress Jennifer Lewis, Dirty Laundry anniversary film screening


We care about supporting artists and giving them a platform for self-expression and to be their authentic selves. One of the things that came out of our 2019 season, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, was bringing attention to how whitewashed the narrative had become. A lot of people of color, particularly Black and Latina trans women, were historically left out of the annals of the Stonewall Uprising. Media outlets and advocacy organizations are starting to do a better job now in telling a truer story of Stonewall. 

That's one of the reasons why we’re starting to show the correlation between history and present day in regards to police brutality. That's something that’s often overlooked. That's really what Stonewall was birthed out of—it was five days of civil rights disobedience and rebellion against police harassment, brutality, and discrimination by the New York State York Liquor Authority and NYPD. And the PRIDE parades that were to follow were born out of protest marches.

When you think about what happened with George Floyd, and we see that horrific event take place of him dying at the hands of a police officer having his knee on his neck, unfortunately this is not something new. It's an issue that a lot of marginalized communities have been dealing with for decades, centuries. Last summer was a watershed moment with worldwide uprising and protest in support of Black Lives Matter, Justice for George Floyd and Police Reform. It also speaks to the intersectionality of movements and historical moments.  

That's why I think it's important for us to know each other's history and to recognize the intersections of our stories and our experiences, so that we can have a better world where we all feel respected and appreciated. It's about awareness, understanding, and empathy so that we can start to heal the wounds between us.

This year, one thing we're focusing on that came out of our 2020 production of "The Man With the Floppy Ears,” is using it as a springboard to create an Education Series that will serve as a teaching tool on the impact of oppression and marginalization; the consequences of forcing particular social groups to live on the fringes rather than in the mainstream.

We're writing a curriculum for high school and college students. We have put together a team of advisors in the arts, academia, and activism to help develop that curriculum. We'll be using video footage of “The Man With The Floppy Ears” in conjunction with the curriculum so that educators can use that as a platform to teach about LGBTQIAGNC+ history and the intersection of the different social movements. Education on oppression and marginalization is essential for everyone, but especially for the next-generation of young people.

Cindi: Thank you for sharing that historical perspective and explaining how you’re using it to teach us important lessons about the correlations to our present day circumstances.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our nglccNY audience?

Carolyn: I’d like to touch briefly on mental health. That’s a topic we’d like to bring awareness to this year. May is Mental Health Awareness month, so we'll be doing some virtual programming including a panel discussion.

People of color have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic physically, especially in terms of being frontline workers, and also mentally pertaining to the isolation, social distancing, and all the different measures that you have to take to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

It's really important to take care of one another, to look out for each other, and to protect our mental health. There’s also been a rise in substance abuse, so it's really important to take care of ourselves as it relates to our emotional and physical wellbeing.

Cindi: Absolutely. It’s crucial. Thank you, Carolyn! We appreciate you taking the time to share your incredible work! The Chamber is very lucky to have your contributions!

MTCF Co-Founder Tai Chunn, Filmmaker Yoruba Richen, and MTCF Co-Founder Carolyn M. Brown, Excel Pride Awards


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