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June 21, 2021

Movement Maker Profiles: Imara Jones

Imara Jones, whose work has won Emmy and Peabody Awards, is the creator of TransLash Media, a cross-platform journalism, personal storytelling and narrative project, which produces content to shift the current culture of hostility towards transgender people in the US.

Who are your people?

I think that it’s a very complicated question. There’s my family, there are my ancestors, there are people that I have met around the world that also forms my tribe, that are in other places, in other continents. There’s the community that I have here.

Fundamentally, I think that the bedrock of the people that form “my people” in general, they’re diaspora people. They are the seeds that got scattered. That is both true for my own family in the United States, both the part of my family that is native, and the part of my family that’s “African American,” and then also all of those other people that I described around the world, like in Brazil and in South Africa and just in so many places.

What brings you to your work?

As I tell people often, my life brings me to my work. What I do is a combination of both who I am and what I have learned along the way and the skills that I have acquired. I’m clearly a Black transformer in America. I am a communicator and thought leader, and a person who envisions futures.

What also brings me are the skills that I have in marketing and communications, combined with the values that I have in my life about wanting to help bring humanity closer to our possibility–a world that centers the wellbeing of all people. There are lots of different ways to achieve this vision. One way necessitates centering the leadership of women, including the leadership of trans women.

I think secondly is a destruction of patriarchy–I personally believe modern patriarchy is the foundation for all of the other isms and limitations that we have in society. I believe that it all flows from patriarchy, which essentially is white patriarchy and the need to scramble, to hoard resources, which began in Western Europe and then was globalized. That’s the white patriarchal system from which all the other things run. Then of course, alongside that is a need to end violence because violence is an essential tool of patriarchy.

I also think that lastly what brings me to my work, is the fact that I think globally. I think that that’s because I’ve lived in lots of different places around the world, I speak more than one language, and I understand the ways in which these issues are linked into a global ecosystem.

We can’t just think about changing things here in the United States without understanding the way that a lot of these systems have reverberated out into the world. For example the people who are focused on white patriarchy in the United States, they are actually connected to all the people around the world that are connected to white patriarchy.

What aspects of your movement work brings you the most joy?

People who tell me that either having their stories told, or seeing their stories echoed has either saved their lives or has fundamentally changed the way that they see themselves. I really do believe that as humans, we are our stories. The stories that we tell ourselves are actually who we are. Someone said it’s not necessarily what happened. It’s the story you tell yourself about what happened. That is the thing that we are.

Having the ability to tell our stories authentically means you’re telling the story so that it can be told, not so that you can manipulate or so that you can posture. That’s propaganda, even if one person does it, it’s still propaganda. Telling stories authentically, it’s really a powerful thing and it is an underestimated power and an underestimated necessity in driving change because societies are also the stories that they tell themselves. If societies tell different stories, they will be fundamentally different.

I think that if we look at the power of the founding myth of the United States, it’s a powerful story and it totally dominates. What if we told and emphasized different parts of the story that weren’t grounded in white supremacy, then the imagination of what the country is supposed to be would be fundamentally different.

As I say all the time, the person that controls the story has control. One of the things that I believe in doing is telling different stories to disrupt narratives and to create space in the imagination of people for something entirely different and to push people to think about how things could be different. To push us to imagine new stories and new possibilities for ourselves because change, for me, isn’t the same system with different faces in control.

Racial justice to me isn’t this country just with Black people running it or the military that we have with just all women in the top. That’s not change. Change is a re-imagining of what the structure of our society looks like and could be and one of the ways we do that and that we have to do that is through stories and the stories that we tell ourselves.

What moves are you making to end violence?

It is centering the voices of women, of all women. It is centering people of color. It is 1000% non-patriarchal in the way that we staff, the way that we operate, the way that we decide the stories that we’re going to tell, and the stories that we gravitate to.

I think that fundamentally what we do disrupts patriarchal systems which I believe are at the heart of violence. It’s very much a conscious thing I’m doing, attacking patriarchy in a fundamental way, because it disrupts the ideals and the norms of that which I think are essential.

A large part of what we do is getting people to talk about joy, getting people to think about what their futures look like, getting people to talk about the things that are possible if we’re in control. What would be different if we wrote computer algorithms in such a way that they would uplift and champion Black and trans voices. We had that conversation with a trans-Latinx woman who runs a part of AI at Microsoft.

We had a whole conversation about it and there’s a whole part of that community that is focused on doing things like that. Not only doing the things that undermine the pillars of patriarchy which again, violence is a central part of patriarchy, but also getting people to imagine possibilities in spaces that are fundamentally different.

Centering wellbeing is essential to attacking violence because one of the essential parts of violence is this idea of scarcity and control which legitimates violence in the minds of people who commit it. I think we always come back to the fact that marginalization, scarcity, and patriarchy fuel violence.

How would you describe your approach to leadership?

I think leadership is responsibility. As a leader, in order to lead, you have to be an incredibly good listener. You have to be willing to put the well-being of other people above yourself. Leadership to me isn’t about the stuff that you don’t get to do. It’s actually about the stuff that you then become responsible for doing. That’s my vision of leadership.

Leadership, because it is about helping to lead people to new and other places, a part of that listening is about understanding where the people that you’re trying to lead are. Where they are in their lives because you can’t actually ask more of people than they’re capable of giving. You can get them to do more than they thought was possible. The mark of an incredible leader is to do that but still, you have to know where the limitation is for every person.

What keeps you in this work?

I think that I feel fundamentally driven to do it and that drives that feeling of necessity and urgency of what we are doing. I really believe that it’s the only way forward, there is no other way, because everything else is failing and it’s unsustainable. Therefore, a whole other way of doing things, that has to be it.

I just really feel that in my gut. Again, change doesn’t mean we are in charge, in the same system, in the same way. Because I feel that this is a necessity, and that there’s urgency, I feel like there’s no option but to do what I’m doing. I think what keeps me going is this sense of drive and the sense of urgency because everything else is so clearly not working.

We don’t live in a resource-scarce world. We live in a world where the values around resources are so twisted that we create scarcity. Think about that. It’s wild.

Art by lizar_tistry