Artist Profile June 20, 2022

Dreams, Visions and Hip Hop Healing through the Arts: Interview with Jermaine Henry

By Felicia Christmas

Published author, inspirational speaker, emcee, master facilitator and social entrepreneur. Jermaine Henry  has worked in the philanthropic, mental health, youth-serving, arts, culture and social innovation sectors for over 10 years. His work has been published in the North American Journal of Psychology and he has been featured in the Toronto Metro Newspaper for his work with Brave Spaces. NextUp! Leaders Lab Coordinator Felicia Christmas spoke to him about his community work and IBLV, a collective of Dreamers who are powerful leaders, creatives and educators in Ontario. They work to challenge spaces, create spaces, and create art that will change the world, project by project.

 

Jermaine Henry – Author, Emcee & Entrepreneur

 

Felicia: Tell me about your SKETCH  journey this far, how did you get involved with SKETCH?

Jermaine: I have a long journey with SKETCH outside of being  a program participant.  It’s been a long journey of  collaboration with SKETCH. The first time I was inside SKETCH was with Spoke N Heard to the space for planning.  I remember working with SKETCH in 2014  to do some planning for Grass Youth Collaborative’s (GYC) 10 year anniversary.   The first video that was a part of was filming for The Heard was filmed upstairs at Artscape Youngplace, we also did the IBLV Dreamer “WHO ARE WE”  video there.

I was also a part of the Youth Social infrastructure (YSI) network, and SKETCH was a partner so I would be in the space often working with different folks as a part of GYC and The Heard. Our meetings and mentorship program were held  in the Lower Level Studios of SKETCH.

I don’t think I’ve ever done intentional programming as a participant with SKETCH, but I’ve always done some type of creative collaboration and partnership. I’ve gone on trips with YSI and Phyllis [Novak, SKETCH Founder] and I’ve been a part of different circles working with SKETCH. Sketch has also been involved in some of the provincial work that I’ve been doing.

Currently, I am working with SKETCH through Shared Platform with Agency. Agency is a  social innovation systems change collaborative that works with  black and Indigenous artists, specifically hip hop artists from  Toronto,  GTA, Sudbury, Sault Sainte Marie and Thunder Bay.

We are really about learning about what the system is for Hip Hop artists, how they navigate it, and how they get through. We received a grant that gave us the  opportunity to really do the research and also experiment. We ask and find answers to  questions like: What are the resources that Black and Indigenous creatives need? What kind of  mentorship do they need? What are the networks that they need?

Through this we’ve been able to leverage the IBLV dreamers networks  to be able to act and operate as Black and Indigenous creatives and community leaders to help to prototype and lead the way for what we’re trying to build out in the sector.  Agency is invested in creating a shift and really putting more ownership and power in the hands of Black and Indigneous  creatives and SKETCH is a part of that.

Wow, I’ve had quite a journey with SKETCH!

Felicia: How did the IBLV Dreamers Movement begin?

Jermaine: IBLV is ancient, it’s really old but let’s talk about the current context. I wrote my first book called IBLV Dreams – A vision guide. It really was about telling my own story about navigating mental health, navigating my own community building and answering the question of who I needed to be for my younger self. The book also includes questions that go through the IBLV Framework that help the reader answer those questions for themselves. I put the book out in 2019 right after my 30th birthday and this is right after JV [Jordan Veira] passed away and I felt the need to make an impact and leave my own legacy which I had been doing but I really wanted to give everything I got.

I started to do IBLV DREAMS  workshops in early 2020 but by then the pandemic was happening and we were all  very isolated.  I did my last show in February 2020, Black History Month in Baawaating that was right before the pandemic. At that show I connected with different artists and we talked about how great it would be if we had a collective of folks, Black and Indigenous people of color from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie to  Toronto, and we were able to get some money to put it in their pockets, do some peer coaching, and create some new works with each other.  We put together the IBLV Dreamers Showcase  and  the  Dream Catchers concert which featured this hip hop artist group from Sault Ste. Marie called Sound Syndrome.. We did that in 2020…literally during a pandemic.

After that, we hosted a meeting where I brought together the dreamers and believers and the idea was to bring together creatives as well as people in arts admin ( funders, program managers etc) to the table to have a wider conversation. We talked about how people resourced their art careers in the past and how people get resources now. It was interesting  because it really humanized the funder side and then humanized the grantees as well.

Then, we had this conversation at the Children’s Peace Theater and afterwards the staff approached me to tell me about this grant that addressed systems change and all of the stuff  we had been talking about. . We partnered with SKETCH, ArtReach, NIA Centre, Children’s Peace Theater, Young Leader Circle and Kundalini Kurrency  and we wrote this grant to form AGENCY.  We had no idea we were going to get it!  The grant outcome was system change and  how do you shift a racist system? And how do you navigate racist system? Black and Indigneous creative people are trying to have our own cultural metrics, our own model of being able to create sustainable and viable creative lives. We were like, no way they’re gonna go for this!

Our end goal is to build our own fully holistic support for Black and Indigenous creatives, specifically hip hop artists. So that’s kind of how AGENCY started.

It’s funny because during that time, there was a conversation about NextUp! Leaders Lab, and in that conversation, I said, it’d be really great if we could partner because we’re trying to do similar things and we want to be able to learn more and connect the sector. This art sector is so fragmented and siloed.  There’s so many people trying to do great things, but we don’t have the resources. We don’t have the connections, or the support. So how can we partner and we build that more so with IBLV Dreamers and with agency that’s the goal.

I’m really trying to bring together the creatives, the grassroots, and the organizations and  funders, to figure out how we all come together to shift the system to support more of what we all talk about.

We’re all trying to tap into the abundance that we have, and I really don’t think we need to be in competition for all these grants and resources if people learn more about cultivating stronger relationships, and build trust within each other and within. Then maybe you’ll have more conversations. Maybe we don’t have to go through 30 or  40 hours to write a grant, maybe we can have a wider conversation that can result in funding, because of the belief that it’s going to happen. It’s also really important to have a certain evaluation of these processes, because that’s how we leave our legacy and help people learn from it going forward.

Felicia: What has your work with IBLV Dreamers meant to you? 

Jermaine: It’s a manifestation of my dreams, bringing it to reality. I speak about this grandiose idea of promoting freedom, love and equity and it seems so idealistic. However, it’s about virtues, you know?

IBLV Dreamers is  working to put ourselves in positions where we have the autonomy and the freedom over all of our creative products and how we want them to be distributed. We make ourselves legitimate and we’re going to create incredible works and make creative  impacts. Community arts doesn’t have to be this thing that doesn’t have resources or doesn’t have excellent production. IBLV Dreamers  means so much to me  because it’s the possibility to have this excellence in Community Arts and build ideas like hip hop healing.  When I think of these ideas and see that we embody these ideals it makes me understand that this isn’t just me… this is a movement. We can actually make change in this and not just be something that I’m just dreaming and visioning from five or six years ago, we’re living  it and that honors the legacy of all the different people we’ve worked with in the past, you know, especially with Spoke N Heard.

When I think of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, I want to be doing what they’re doing. I want to bring philanthropy and community into hip hop, and they’re starting to do that. I feel like IBLV Dreamers creates  more possibilities for us  to get the resources and relationships we need to thrive and actualize; not just my dreams happen but other people’s.

Jermaine speaking at Ayrah Taerb’s Indica; Omega installation launch back in October

 

Felicia: What is the greatest challenge that you face as a young Black  founder in the arts?

Jermaine: I used to be a little bit naive. I come from a background where people know me as an equity worker in the community doing a lot of  different things, and for a while I really didn’t count on the Black  thing. I was always aware of it, but I never really tried to use that as an excuse or anything like that. It wasn’t until getting more into senior and leadership positions, and having more power that I experienced a shift. Being a Black man in power is truly a scary thing for some folks.

I also feel like one of my greatest personal challenges  (and I think it’s a pretty common thing) is imposter syndrome. I attribute some of that imposter syndrome to being constantly being  questioned and being doubted. My experience has been one of  my reality, my dreams, my abilities, my offerings and even my value have been questioned a lot.It’s a  challenge to combat that and  also be empathetic and consult people.

It’s a challenge to call it out in the face of white fragility; I’m such a fun loving guy and I try to be nice and kind, but at the same time, I have to be more assertive and articulate as a senior leader and that requires a little more code switching.  I appreciate the challenge though, now I have a different relationship with doubt. Doubt helps me stay curious and to dig deeper, because with all of these challenges my integrity becomes  my reward.

I know that outside factors can’t touch the character that I’ve built and that’s the beauty of the slow road.  I’m open to being challenged  and being questioned to prove when necessary and also to be humbled. Sometimes I get questioned and I’m wrong and I’m able to say thank you for that. So just trying to take more of that perspective.

Then there’s  the regular stuff, the  challenge of opportunities and access to  resources, but, everyone has that we’re all going through that in a certain way, you know?

Felicia: What has been your biggest  learning moment while doing this work?

Jermaine: There’s two very important things when you’re founding something, to take it from ideation to operations you need to have the vision and the personnel. It’s so important to have the right people and relationships and the right resources to support those people and relationships. If you can really pay attention to who’s in your camp, and take care of them and make sure that you have the resources – not just money but all those different kinds of things, do you have the capacity to support the people on your team? The work will not happen without people right? You also need to take care of yourself in order to do that, take care of the caretaker..

 

Felicia: What is next for Jemaine Henry and IBLV Dreamers ?

Jermaine: I’m really excited for us to partner with SKETCH and the NextUp! Leaders Lab cohort for this year. Shamaia [Veira] and I were  a part of the pilot project and that was dope. IBLV Dreamers will be offering peer mentorship as well as coaching support. We’re looking forward to supporting and building  more  strategic partnerships. What’s cool about this is that as a cohort member, I did the IBLV dreams workshop and created a braver space and now we’re able to do that more intimately and build more long-term relationships that will really strengthen the work that’s being done in NextUp!

IBLV Dreamers will be doing more capacity-building and community leadership events, more workshops and more shows. We’re launching our Hip Hop Healing Provincial Tour which aims to support people in becoming the author of their own legacies. We will be traveling to different reserves and  communities, and spreading the IBLV  Dreamers message.

We have journals coming out, recently dropped my album Healin’ Time: Med Kit and launched the Hip Hop Healing Campaign, there’s so much we want to give to the community so look out for that.

To learn more about IBLV, visit their website at www.iblv.tv.

NextUp! Leaders Lab is a 12-month pilot co-learning initiative beginning July 2022 involving training, mentorship, and skills exchange that supports young racialized arts leaders and managers age 18-35, with a priority on those identifying as Black and Indigenous, strategically leading their own arts initiatives and preparing for senior-level positions in the arts & culture sector. 

Applications are now open. To find out more contact Felicia@sketch.ca or visit the NextUp! web page here