From the Desk of Paulina O’Kieffe-Anthony
Director of ArtReach
Celebrity deaths can certainly have an impact on people world wide, particularly if the person left a great legacy and were loved by fans and admirers of their work. Most often despite not knowing a celebrity artist personally, an individual's personal connection to the art can leave one feeling sad and affected. In certain cases, such as this Sunday’s untimely death of artist, entrepreneur and community advocate Ermias Asghedom, widely known by his artist name Nispey Hussle, the loss can have a detrimental effect on entire communities as the personal connections to the art and community work have profound impacts on people.
As the Director of an Arts serving organization which works with a majority of young, racialialized and marginalized artists and community leaders, I found myself barely able to function and deeply grieving on Monday following the news of Nipsey’s death; I was fortunate to be working from home, as being at the office wouldn’t have been an option (I was an emotional mess). I then thought about how many of the young people, particularly those from the Black community who experience this kind of trauma on a regular basis were feeling and thought, I hope that space was made for them to be able to self care and grieve, even though I know that is rare and often difficult due to a number of factors.
As part of my own grieving I posted my condolences and respect to Nipsey on my own personal social media pages, but also thought to check in with a few folks who I thought would be emotionally, mentally and maybe even physically impacted by this news. Nipsey Hussle was not just some run of the mill rapper, he was a huge community leader and advocate for not only his community in South Central Los Angeles, but I like to think world wide. His actions, words, art, investments and entrepreneurial spirit offered Black artists, leaders and entrepreneurs to become more, invest in their community and flourish. His music reflected the journey of many who were navigating their own journeys out of poverty and marginalization while overcoming violent traumas, inequitable treatment and racism. Even his relationship with actress and model Lauren London was a counter example of the negative stereotypes cast on Black relationships; as per their recent GQ cover they were #BlackCoupleGoals.
Nipsey was a beacon of hope to many people, particularly young Black men looking for an alternative route to success in industries where they are either not welcomed or pressured to adapt lifestyles that are unsustainable and continue to break down the Black community. His impact was beyond South Central Los Angeles, as my Instagram stayed flooded with personal stories from Toronto creatives, leaders, entrepreneurs, fans and young people of the way in which he impacted their lives.
With that being said, I end this letter by urging those who do community engaged work, whether you are on the frontline or in a managerial position to check in on your staff, check in on your co workers and peers, check in on your program participants, particularly those who saw themselves reflected in Nipsey Hussle and may also have had some of their hope for making change knocked out. This is the kind of grief that seeps into you mentally, emotionally and physically which is surely deeply affecting organizations, communities and individuals alike.
Lastly, I am gladly making myself available to anyone who wants to reach out who needs someone to talk to and just let their grief off their chest and share in commemorating the legacy of a great man who was doing great things for himself, his family, his community and worldwide.
You can find me on all social channels at @paulinaokieffe or @artreachto or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
As the late Tupac Shakur said, “We got to keep our head up!”
Rest in Peace Nipsey Hussle (1985-2019)
With love and light,