Community and togetherness is something all humans crave. Especially given the isolation and disconnection that has come with the last year and a half, feeling like you are a part of something outside of yourself can mean so much more than one might initially think. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, all people want to feel a sense of connection to others. Vanessa Newman, a creative, community builder, and collaborator, makes this happen on a daily basis. Oh, and did I mention that they are also a DJ?!
As the current Head of Product at Somewhere Good -- a digital platform that gives people of color a place to connect and create online -- Vanessa knows what it takes to bring people together and build community. Their journey didn’t start there, though. Vanessa has been working to create spaces for their needs and the needs of those closest to them for years now. From rooftop dance parties in Bushwick to yoga classes for the QTPOC community to speed dating events, Vanessa has dedicated a ton of their time to creating experiences and spaces for people like them to find community across New York.
“I think being someone who identifies as black, queer, trans, there are a lot of spaces that aren't safe for myself and people like me. I've seen firsthand what it feels like to not be safe because of my various identities and intersecting identities.”
Be What You Can’t See: a phrase tattooed on Vanessa’s arm, inspired this webinar and brought up some incredible conversation on what it means to embody what you believe in and create the spaces necessary to share, collaborate, and connect through those beliefs. Read on for some key insights from Vanessa’s webinar and how they have worked to create the spaces that they need that didn’t exist before (and even gather some tips on how you can do this yourself).
Being able to see parts of yourself in other people, spaces, and places is what really ignites community. Vanessa has used this principle as a pillar of building the spaces they have worked on over the years. They largely spoke to rooting oneself in the “why” behind creating a community space -- if you are representing pieces of yourself in building community, it feels genuine to others as well. While visibility and putting yourself out there can be a daunting thing to think about, the authenticity it creates among a community makes it all worthwhile.
“I really believe in the power of visibility. As as a black queer kid growing up,there's so much that I didn't know was available to me. And there's so much that through seeing myself reflected in in various ways, really opened up so many doors to me.” - Vanessa Newman
Defining the spaces and communities you create is an essential part of the process. Remember 5th grade English class when you’d be asked to define the 5 W’s? Well, that holds true here, too. Vanessa placed a large emphasis on a few questions to ask yourself when building community:
Defining the communities you want to create with these simple yet effective questions will really start to shape what you really want to create. These questions will lead you to the true purpose behind the space you want to create and make the community that much more meaningful.
Community and collaboration inherently go hand in hand. Building community and connecting people will bring up a lot of opportunities to collaborate with others along the way. To build upon the spaces you create, opening the door to collaboration to get your space in front of even more people is what can really take things to the next level. Sometimes power really does lie in numbers, and Vanessa has taken this idea into building the spaces they have worked on over the years.
“I think this idea of creating these larger ecosystems or economies -- collaboration is key to that. I think we're all doing really amazing work. So when we can put our powers together, I think I think that's how you really start building foundations for real change and permanent spaces. So, I think it's important to define your collaborators.”
It’s not all glitz and glam, people. As much as we wish it was, it just isn’t. Focusing on the logistics of it all may not be the most fun part of building and creating, but it is absolutely essential. Bringing a community together for a gathering, party, or event is what really creates connection. In order to do this, you must cover all your bases ahead of time. Vanessa mentioned questions like:
Regardless of whether your space is URL or IRL, logistical planning needs to be a part of the process. If you ultimately want to take a community to the next level, being organized in these areas is a major key.
Vanessa is continuing to create spaces, places, and communities for people just like them that want to see more of themselves in the world. Most recently, they have collaborated with friends Annika Hansteen-Izora and Ariana Garland along with the Top Service Moving Company on a t-shirt to raise funds to financially assist Black folks in receiving top surgery. This is one of countless projects that Vanessa has worked on to amplify their missions and create community for those around them. Check out the shirt here and read more here to support this amazing initiative.
Be sure to check out creatorswhoshare.norby.live for more information on Vanessa, Somewhere Good, and more Creators Who Share Szn 1 content.