The Joy-Jackson Initiative works to build systemic equity in the arts.
We aim to set a new industry standard for the American Theater and other arts organizations, wherein BIPOC artists, administrators, and audiences are truly valued, safe, and uplifted. By providing organizations with tools for self-reflection and the guidance necessary to formulate and implement changes, we will help to create the safest possible spaces for the BIPOC collaborators who enrich the global arts and entertainment industry.
The Joy-Jackson Initiative was founded in direct response to the silence of the theater community in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd and the countless other acts of racist violence over the summer of 2020. JJI’s mission is founded on disrupting old models of work for arts organizations in the US and beyond. With a dedicated team of 25 full-time volunteers, JJI has developed a robust series of learning tools designed for institutional self-reflection. These tools help organizations measure their structural integrity to support and celebrate the BIPOC collaborators who enrich their spaces, with an emphasis on examining their relationships with Black and Indigenous people of color.
Our primary tool, The Joy Jackson Assessment for Systemic Equity, is based on the personal testimonies of more than 100 BIPOC theatre practitioners ranging from students to Broadway professionals, and fortified with the community’s formal demands for racial equity. By measuring both culture and structure, The Assessment collects and contextualizes data to help arts leaders understand the story of their own organizations and turn their awareness into anti racist action.
BIPOC voices, thoughts, and artistry must be amplified and valued. Companies and creatives who engage with JJI are making a bold commitment to their BIPOC collaborators to finally actualize the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion for all.
As the Initiative grows, we will expand to:
Build a library of interactive resources to educate and assist organizations in their journey for equity.
Provide guidance to create regional chapters that support local BIPOC communities
Develop a Safety Rating Approval System for companies deemed safe workplaces for BIPOC.
Expand beyond the American theatre to become the entertainment industry standard.
From our Founder
I love theatre. I have made so many beautiful and loving connections through this art form, and have had some of the most joyful, proud, and enriching moments of my life in theatre spaces. A few years ago, through theatre, I connected with a beautiful, vibrant little girl named Kayla Joy Smith. She is the child of white adoptive parents who felt I could hold a space of guidance for her as she learns to navigate the world in her skin, which looks like mine. Knowing and loving her has been one of the greatest and most enriching joys of my life, and without theatre we may never have connected.
I have also had some of the most discouraging, disheartening, and degrading experiences of my life in the theatre. I’ve experienced everything from a white actor telling me that we should trade roles because their role was “usually played by a Black woman”, to being told that a Black woman my age who hasn’t made it “by now” should consider a career change. It has been a constant and traumatizing part of navigating the spaces in which I do what I love.
The theater, like most of the world, was not structured with me in mind. American theater practices are rooted in minstrelsy, and was not built with the consideration that I, as a Black artist, would be working at all, let alone working intimately alongside people still learning how to relate to me because of my skin color. Because of this, there is often no systemic support in place for me to report incidents of overt racism and microaggression in a private, protected way. This lack of proper consideration can create lasting harm when BIPOC theatre makers are invited into creative spaces that have not appropriately prepared for their safe inclusion. I am dedicated to ensuring that Kayla will be able to create theatre joyfully as she grows up, free from the pain I have felt as a result of uninformed and unprepared environments that have failed to protect, or sometimes even consider, me in a meaningful way.
Gabrielle & Kayla Joy
My aim is to create a world in which I, and Kayla Joy, and all theatre artists – present and future – feel that the organizations in which they do what they love are the safest spaces they could possibly be. Therefore, the name of this initiative is both of ours: a symbol of my commitment to making theatre spaces the most prepared they can possibly be for her, and the young Black and brown artists of the future.
Kayla Joy should feel valued in the spaces she’s invited to be a part of.
I should feel valued in the spaces I’m invited to be a part of.
All Black people, all Indigenous people, all people of color, should feel valued in the spaces they are invited to be a part of.
Founder and Director of The Joy-Jackson Initiative