We had the good fortune of connecting with Sabra Williams and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sabra, how does your business help the community?
Creative Acts is an organization that seeks to transform urgent social justice issues through the revolutionary power of the Arts; to heal trauma, build community, raise power, and center the voices of those who are or have been incarcerated.

I have been working behind bars for 15 years, bringing in arts programming to those people for whom it has proved a lifeline, reconnecting them to themselves, each other and society. As an immigrant, woman of color and artist, one of the first things I noticed about America is how the Arts are sidelined as purely entertainment or for artists. What our work has shown me is that people who are from communities targeted for incarceration need the Arts as much, or more, as artists, and yet they mostly have had no access. It’s an equity issue. When our young people are living with daily violence, in food deserts where schools look like prisons, with high unemployment and under-investment, they are almost unanimously dealing with trauma. That causes them to “act out” which often gets them excluded from school and sends them to the streets, where their first arrest begins an often lifelong entanglement with the injustice system. Young people with trauma are unable to succeed in the very narrow way our education system allows, the Arts enables different avenues of learning and we find that when they have access they thrive, often doing better than children with a more stable upbringing. As many of my partners inside have said about our work, “If I had this at school, I wouldn’t be here now.”

The Arts heal, awaken and focus. When used to rehabilitate, the tools the Arts provide enable people to be ready to reenter after long prison sentences, become better parents, make different emotional choices, be better prepared for the work market and be ambassadors for the Arts.

The Arts can also help shape and change narratives, and with mass incarceration and a fatally flawed understanding of justice in this country, a broader and deeper understanding of the power of the Arts can be central to America’s desperately needed path to a truth and racial transformation process.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am an artist. An actor. If there’s one thing this pandemic has shown me it’s that that is undeniable. It’s how I process the world and stay sane. It’s how I create long-term vision and address problems. It’s how I create value and joy. As an artist, I’m always looking for ensemble- how can we work together, how do we discover the human and the divine through our work?

My beginnings as an artist belong to my parents- my mother is a director, my father (deceased) was a writer and my step father is a playwright. I started as a dancer at the age of 3 and continued for more than 20 years professionally. The intense physicality and joy of performing moulded my approach. As I started to get more acting work, I would have to miss dance classes and then I kept getting injured so I had to make a choice. As dance is such a short career, I chose acting. None of it is easy, but it’s often joyful. I view my work as being a craftsperson and invest in it with that energy- always questioning, learning and growing. What sets me apart from many (particularly in Los Angeles where so much depends on how you look and being famous) is that I understand the responsibility of the artist in terms of how the work relates to social justice. I’ve also been taught the power of the Arts by those who have had the courage to use the tools to improve their lives and communities even when they are in the worst circumstances. I don’t have a brand, I don’t try to be an “influencer” I just do the work with as much integrity and joy as I can. And I can finally say that I’m good at it.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
First stop would be the beach. I love the ocean and have my special beaches that I’ve grown to love. The amazing thing about California is the diversity of the environment and the people, so next stop would be the desert. I particularly love the desert at night. I had a lifetime of cold and rain growing up in the UK so the heat never disappoints and off the beaten path places like Bombay Beach give a different view than Palm Springs. We’d have to visit the extraordinary Joshua Tree National Park too. Next would be the wilderness. I’ve learned my lesson that it’s real wilderness and not to be played with- I had an experience where I was almost stranded on the side of Big Bear mountain with no way down and no-one around for miles, so lesson learned. It’s stunning though. Then we’d have to visit the best Mexican restaurants you can imagine, my favorite Japanese and Korean food in LA is legendary too. Like most American cities, although diverse, LA is pretty segregated. I’d make sure my guests experienced all of it- from Watts Towers to Echo Park to Boyle Heights to Venice Beach.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My shoutout goes to those without whom this work would not exist. The invisible, silenced ones- my brothers and sisters behind bars and returned.

Website: www.sabrawilliamsacts.com

Instagram: @creative_acts

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sabra-williams-b-e-m-4388617a/

Twitter: @sabraarbas

Facebook: @creative_acts

Other: www.creativeacts.us @creative_acts on all social media

Image Credits
Bob Turton, Grettel Cortes

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.