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Daily Inspiration: Meet Maven Lee, BCC, Monjour Davis, MBA, and Charles Brown, RN

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maven Lee, BCC, Monjour Davis, MBA, and Charles Brown, RN.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
The SHADES Project came to life out of conversations between Monjour Davis, Charles Brown, and Maven Lee–the three founding members–after reflecting on their experiences, both positive and negative, within their respective lines of work. Monjour’s background is in business and finance, Charles is a registered nurse, and Maven’s career has centered around advocacy and activism work, public health, entertainment, and most recently, the nonprofit sphere.

During one fateful conversation over the summer, Monjour expressed to Maven his desire to do more meaningful community work, to which Maven jested that they may as well get into politics or start their own organization. While the idea started merely as a light-hearted suggestion, it quickly gained momentum. In his time doing nonprofit work, Maven had become disillusioned with the bureaucracy, lack of transparency, and often lack of accountability and tangible action that he encountered during his recent time there–he had thought often about starting his own organization to better serve queer and trans communities of color in St. Louis, but talking it through with Monjour, whose background is in finance, he felt the people and tools to do so might be coming together for the first time.

Later that day, Charles called Maven to discuss the limitations of his career as an RN in healing people and doing good for the community–the Western medical establishment is powerful, but he didn’t feel that there were many opportunities within it for holistic approaches to care, at both the individual and community levels. A series of conversations followed between the three individuals that explored their perspectives and ideas for moving forward, and The SHADES (Supporting Health, Art, Diversity, Equity, & Safe Space) Project was born, bringing together their areas of expertise and passion: the intersections of public health, arts and entertainment, equity activism, and community wellness. From that point on, they called on their extensive networks of entertainers, health professionals, advocates, and community activists to help bring their vision to life and create the infrastructure of SHADES.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It hasn’t been a totally smooth road–a lot of what we do at SHADES is make a way out of no way.

Getting a community organization off the ground takes money, and there have been a fair amount of out-of-pocket expenses in doing the kind of programming we have up to this point. Funding and grant opportunities are competitive and tend to operate on schedules, so starting from the ground up has required a lot of extra time, effort, and resources from our team.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Our organization centers around the arts and performance, and the possibilities for community building and healing in participating, spectating, and appreciating. Art and performance are about making meaning of our experiences, and having places to feel seen and to express oneself, or to be with members of your community to appreciate and support others doing just that, it’s a really special bonding experience. Spaces like this are few and far between for Black and Brown creatives and individuals, and our goal is to cultivate them. We try to bring together all the things we know can help people learn, bond, and heal together while highlighting the beauty and brilliance of queer and trans people of color specifically.

Our arts programming has included open mic nights highlighting singers and poets, headlining performers (including Amber B, winner of BET’s Sunday Best at our recent Summerfest), and Balls.

What we are most proud of is that the spaces we create are fluid and diverse overall. We have multiple different art forms happening at once and we attract diverse groups of people. We’ve been really successful in creating immersive art experiences that people have described as therapy, and they serve as effective venues for connecting with other members of the community in addition to representatives of organizations intended to connect folks to resources and advance community wellness.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Our primary focus is queer and trans people of color. Our second focus is Black artists and creatives, and beyond that, we serve anybody that is in need of healing, especially through art, regardless of identity.

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