Rita Nicole Leslie- Doer & Change Maker
It is Fall 2017 and we are sitting at brunch during a panel at Atlanta Lady Fest. It is a beautiful day and a panel of diverse women have come together to discuss issues ranging from gender, race, sexuality, and career.
Atlanta is a city with rich diversity. However, there are very few spaces in which women who are classified in an “other” group have a platform to freely share their ideas. LadyFest itself originated in Olympia, Washington in 2010 as an organization bringing together women. “Many women’s festivals fail to address the politics that make these spaces necessary in the first place, but Ladyfest Atlanta seeks to create an outwardly political space where dialogue and activism are just as important as art and music. We also wish to acknowledge how “female only” and feminist spaces have historically excluded or erased the contributions of trans-women, people of color and those living under the poverty line.” - Ladyfest Atlanta.
Rita Nicole Leslie is a guest on the panel. She is a copywriter and co-producer for Bleux Stockings Society, a monthly reading and performance series for cis women, LGBTQIA, trans and non-binary people in Atlanta, Georgia. The issues discussed during the brunch are focused on awareness, acceptance, and career success for people who self identify with avenues in intersectionality. As we listen in the audience we are engrossed with Rita’s passion when sharing her personal success stories. We also recognized Rita’s gift to convey issues with such clarity. When she shares what it means to be a queer, woman of color growing up in Georgia, it is not in abstract terms. As a listener you’re able to conceive this reality and come to a place of compassion for an experience other than your own. After the panel has concluded we are left with a desire to hear more from Rita. A few months later we have a phone interview with Rita to learn more about her and Bleux Stockings Society.
RIGBY INK: You’re a senior copywriter, brand strategist, comedian and a co-producer for Bleux Stockings Society, how do you find the time?
Rita Nicole Leslie: I think we create time for the things we care about, right? I mean, working for myself helps, once you step out of the corporate fog of false security you have room to stretch out a bit. For me, coming to the realization that security was an illusion made taking professional risks so much easier– it's like, shoot your shot, why not? I'm not a fan of regrets.
If you genuinely care about what you’re doing and there's passion behind it, then it's all about aligning your skills and natural talents. I think that’s the sweet spot. You can get up in the morning and it doesn’t feel like drudgery, we have to curate the life we want. I genuinely believe that.
RIGBY INK: Let’s talk about Bleux Stockings Society. In an industry where there is competitiveness and rivalry, why be inclusive? Why not focus solely on your personal success?
RL: I identify as queer and black and woman, I’ve grown up living in the South. My life is inherently intersectional. I can’t get away from that, nor am I trying [for the record]. I can’t imagine not being exactly who I am. But it also means that my very existence is political, whether I want it to be or not. I think it’s interesting when someone says, “I don’t want to get into politics." It's funny because it's a luxury to even have the option to opt out and, "not. be. political." Depending on where and who you are in the world, what your ethnicity is, what gender you do or don't identify with or who you like to have sex with all play into your identity and how you're perceived. I'm just trying to move the needle, even if it's just a little bit so we can be closer to the right side of history.
Intersectionality has only recently become a buzzword, but for those of us that belong to more than one of these marginalized and maligned groups we're all too aware of the delicate and nuanced balance required to not only navigate but exist in a world that doesn't see us. Let alone, approve of or accept our lived experiences as valid.
RIGBY INK: What has the feedback from participants of Bleux Stockings Society been?
RL: Oh, it's been overwhelmingly awesome and positive. We were featured on NPR which was a huge accomplishment and last year Creative Loafing voted us, 'Best New Reading Series'. I think there's been a lot of positive feedback and recognition because there was a need for this. We're all about building community. Bleux Stockings Society is committed to building community through empowerment by giving a voice to the voiceless and letting others know that whatever hardships they're facing, they're not alone.
RIGBY INK: Is it important to have a language to discuss issues of non-binary and intersectionality? Why is it important that the “Buckhead white girl” know what intersectionality is?
RL: Language and labels are very personal to people, some people reject them while others use them to make sense of their multi-layered identities–it's preference. I do think it’s important though because it opens your eyes to the experiences of others outside of your immediate social group.
Obviously we're not a monolith, but sometimes for non-POC's it doesn't seem so obvious. We want you to see our differences so you can become more aware of the fact that our struggles are not like yours. It's not the "oppression olympics", it's about visibility and compassion because at the end of the day we don't want to just survive, we want to thrive.
RIGBY INK: We’ve closed on a very difficult political year and we are all feeling drained. How do you recharge and avoid activism fatigue? I look at people who are doing such great work, but it’s tiring to carry that weight with you everyday.
RL: You’re right it really is. What I’ve realized is I have to give myself a break. We're all so hard on ourselves. I think that you have to be able to recognize that it's okay to stop. Self-care is also saying, "no". It’s important to slow down, meditate, do some yoga and center your chi! Do whatever calms, relaxes or de-stresses you. I'm trying to be more consistent with those things. Doing absolutely nothing is great too. I'm very discerning about the energy of others and what media I take in. Oh, and please, everyone, please stop watching the news, yikes. Get updates on your phone (from a trusted source). Why do you think they call it, "woke,"?? We must be vigilant, we are warriors!
Our phone interview comes to a close. We are again inspired by Rita’s work and her fortitude. Many people face similar challenges in their daily lives, however Rita continues to press on. Not only that, she creates spaces so that individuals have a platform to share, grow, and be understood. In communities throughout our city and country there is a need for compassion, acceptance, and kindness. Rita Nicole Leslie and team at Bleux Stocking Society are filling this void right here in Atlanta.
Follow Bleux Stocking Society on their Instagram or Facebook page. Attend their next event Monday evening, April 30th. For event details click here. You can also follow Rita Nicole Leslie on Instagram.
Image compliments of Johnnie Ray Kornegay
Words Aileen Farshi