We had the good fortune of connecting with Gabrielle Jackson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gabrielle, how does your business help the community?
We aim to set a new industry standard for the American Theater and other arts organizations. We want a world where BIPOC artists, administrators, and audiences are truly valued, safe, and uplifted. This goes beyond solidarity statements. Radical change requires radical action. We want to be a catalyst for that radical action.
By providing organizations with tools for self-reflection and the guidance necessary to formulate and implement changes, we will help to create the safest possible spaces for the BIPOC collaborators who enrich the global arts and entertainment industry.
Our primary tool, The Joy Jackson Assessment for Systemic Equity, is based on the personal testimonies of more than 100 BIPOC theatre practitioners ranging from students to Broadway professionals, and fortified with the community’s formal demands for racial equity. By measuring both culture and structure, The Assessment collects and contextualizes data to help arts leaders understand the story of their own organizations and turn their awareness into anti racist action.
BIPOC voices, thoughts, and artistry must be amplified and valued. And we are using the demands and experiences of the community to create action and help set the new foundation for the arts in the US, and hopefully, the world.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Imagining myself making a living as an actor or and artist was never easy. I grew up not seeing myself in much of anything. I don’t just mean in TV and magazines. I mean in nude dance tights, our constitution, and the future. There were the greats like Dianne Carol, Jonelle Allen, Cicely Tyson. and Viola Davis who I identify with deeply. But they felt like a special exception, far off imaginings of a future that was not accessible to me. The future felt nearly devoid of dark skinned Black women that I could grow up to be.
Now, it feels like there is so much incredible space that has been opened for me by Black women who have stood in the gap, busted down the door, and held it open for everyone that came behind them.
I have had so many excellent teachers and mentors who have guided me toward being able to do the very things I never thought I could.
Since the world is allowed to be categorically unpredictable, I’ve given myself and my artistic expression freedom to do the same. I’m an actor, singer, producer, podcast host, screenwriter and human joyfully expanding my qualifications.
I wrote and produced my own children’s show called “Hey, Miss Gabby!” at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a fun learning opportunity for the kids in my network and also as a fun learning opportunity for me. I got to grow my writing and directing skills by playing with my fun and silly friends even though we couldn’t be together. The show is something I am still developing and continue to work on.
I also host a podcast I produce with my friend Matthew Swedo called “Your Sister’s Table” where we try to offer hope and love in a pretty bleak time. It’s a great reflection of who I am as a person and creator and I love working on the show.
I had the opportunity to attend Justice for my Sister’s Inagural BIPOC SciFi writing Lab on scholarship last summer and it sparked an incredible love of Afrofuturism and screenwriting in me. My new tagline is “Adding Afrofuturistic imagination to the media multiverse,” because in everything I do, I want to create like there are Black people in the future. That’s because there are Black people, particularly dark-skinned Black women, in the future.
Most recently I, along with an incredible team of collaborators began The Joy-Jackson Initiative which is a fresh approach to creating systemic equity in the arts. Our purpose is founded on disrupting old models of work for arts organizations in the US and beyond. With a dedicated team of 25 full-time volunteers, JJI has developed a robust series of learning tools designed for institutional self-reflection. These tools help organizations measure their structural integrity to support and celebrate the BIPOC collaborators who enrich their spaces, with an emphasis on examining their relationships with Black and Indigenous people of color.
Our primary learning tool, The Joy-Jackson Assessment for Systemic Equity, is a comprehensive, 360° look at an organization’s culture and structure based on the personal testimonies of more than 100 BIPOC theatre practitioners, and fortified with the community’s formal demands for racial equity.. The Assessment is designed to be a snapshot of the organization in its current state, using both honest responses to cultural competency questions and numerical and financial data to analyze everything from staffing on and off stage to organizational policies and procedures.
I was inspired to create JJI because I look at my little sister who is very young and very excited to be a part of this artistic community and I remembered all of the things it took to get me to the place that I’m in now, and I don’t want her to suffer the hardships that I’ve encountered in my life and in building my career. I want to create safety not only in our present but for the collaborators of our future!
I am excited to continue using art and ingenuity to create a world of imagination where even the near future is filled with reflections of Black humanity. So much of that work starts with self-determination, which is something the time we’ve had away from the arts industry has offered me the opportunity to explore. I can’t wait to continue to explore and share my body of artistic work, inside and outside of JJI, with the world.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m a Long Beach kind of girl now that I live there so I’d definitely start with fun photo stops like the Shoreline Aquatic Park and the Long Beach Aquarium.
There’s also the beach, which is my favorite part of living in California. I love Seal Beach and Santa Monica Pier. The pier is great to bring friends to when they’re visiting! There’s a whole fair at the end of the pier!
I love museum hopping especially at The Natural History and The Grammy museums.
I also love showing out-of-towners all the things they see on TV that don’t look that way in real life so I’d go to the Kodak Theater and Graumans if you have a friend visit.
I’m a big fan of self guided old Hollywood home tours and Lucille Ball’s place is a fun one to casually drive by. My cousin once asked me to drive her by The Dunes from Insecure, which I thought was weird, but I guess this is kind of the same thing and a fun, free tourist experience.
I also love libraries and bookstores so The Last Bookstore is a nice place to get lost and explore!
For food, I’d head to Roscoes or Creme De La Crepe for breakfast depending on the mood. I would hit up Sweet chick in the Fairfax area for lunch or dinner. They’ve got great vegan options and amazing service. I also love Thai district down near me for their Pad Thai. I get it every Friday night now so they’d definitely be a part of my dream destination itinerary.
As far as nightlife, I love Tha Juice Joint at The Study in Hollywood. It’s a fun way to spend a Monday night, or at least it was pre pandemic. If I’m going to go out to dance it’s usually in WEHO. Take your pick of any spot there and it’s a good time. Drag, Karaoke, you name it, it’s there!
Speaking of Drag I love Hamburger Mary’s.There’s one in Long Beach too that has a great drag brunch on Sundays, so that’s definitely on the itinerary. There’s also a place that does bottomless mimosas on Sunday morning in Long Beach with timers on the glasses. They keep pouring as long as you’ve got time to spare, so I’d put Sunday brunch on the menu to finish out the week!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
How much time have you got?!
My entire community has offered me the transformational love, radical acceptance and constant guidance that I’ve needed to grow and blossom into the person I’m becoming and guide this business in the right direction. JJI is doing the work it does because all of the beautiful people in my community hold me and this organization down and continue to create opportunities for me to learn. speak my name in rooms where my feet have not yet entered. Here’s only some of that community to whom I dedicate this shoutout.
Julie Ouellette who has been my fiercest collaborators in this work and also one of the people who has poured so much into me as a mentor and friend. As we’ve grown this business together, they’ve taught me so much about everything from graphic design to what it means to be an administrative leader in an arts organization. I always joke that I’m going to write a book with the opening line “Everything I know I learned from Julie.” They are the best partner in wok and friend a girl could ever ask for and I will remind them of that every time I have the opportunity.
The incredible team of 25 volunteers at The Joy-Jackson Initiative have all helped to create the company that I am now being recognized for. The best thing I can do for this org is to continue to surround the work we do with people who know more than I do.
My Mom and My Zsa Zsa who constantly push me to be more than I think I can because they see me in the fullness of my humanity and recognize what I am capable of, even before I do.
My sweet sunbaby and soul sister Julia Aks for being the first yes I ever got in the founding of JJI and offering me radical love and acceptance every step of the way.
My little sister Kayla Joy Smith for whom the initiative is name and for whom I create my version of the future with intention and love.
Kayla’s parents: April who did so much to protect my energy in those early days of the org and Paul, our Alphadog, who knows how to keep it light when things get heavy.
My big brother and bestie Clinton Roane for offering me his Rolodex sight unseen and loved on me from, almost, the moment we met.
Marty and Sue, another set of parents who offer respite and love when the going gets tough.
Mandi Jo John of Black Theatre Girl Magic who rallied an entire community of Black women and theatre professionals to help create the foundation for our assessment and continues to put my name in front of every opportunity.
Our org partners at AFECT and Broadway for Racial Justice who stand with us shoulder to shoulder in this work.
The numerous theatre professionals who contributed to our assessment.
The organizations and Black women who stepped up to offer me kindness and guidance as I’ve navigated antiracism work in a shifting arts industry and spent time and energy helping me develop my plans forward.
The lineage of women I come from who have raised me to be the fierce community member, friend and change agent I am today.
My mother Sherell Haley who deserves her own line because with all the breath in all my body for all my life, I will never be able to say enough thank you’s for what she’s done for me. I thank Great Mystery for pairing me with her.
Instagram: @iamgabriellejackson, @joyjacksonnow