“Sometimes we do so much that people aren’t quite sure what we do,” he said with a laugh during an engaging conversation last week.
“It looks like we do everything, but what 1Hood stands for is unity,” he continued. “It’s going to take all of us coming together. Our collective unity is our power. We’re standing for a Pittsburgh that’s livable for everybody … and obviously we rock out.”
Indeed, the beating heart of 1Hood boasts two chambers.
A quick scan of their roster reveals artists intent on capturing attention through the power of their performances, but the ultimate cause is grander. And in a year that’s seen the Antwon Rose slaying and the Tree of Life massacre, Pittsburghers should consider the things that divide them now more than ever.
In fact, Jasiri was in the midst of planning 1Hood’s role in a six-month remembrance of Rose as he spared some time for this interview.
Finding ways to open minds to social justice causes powers 1Hood’s diverse media offerings. A particularly salient line on its website also functions as a mission statement: “Art is the best way to challenge inequality, raise awareness and unify humanity.”
Jasiri, whose latest single ‘The Whitest House’ meditates on the long history of white nationalism in America, believes the quickest way to a person’s heart is art.
“It’s not a speech,” he said. “You might not listen to a speech. But artists can put stuff in a way where it comes across as something else. Art can take something and show it to you in a different way. I feel like we don’t use art enough, particularly in activism.”
It was that thought that led to the creation of the 1Hood Artivist Academy this year. Much of what 1Hood does revolves around supporting creatives, whether their passions lie in music, theater, videography, photography or elsewhere.
“The Artivist Academy was the first time we engaged in visual art, and it was really dope,” Jasiri said. “If you have art and you’re using it for good, we are interested.”
With a full-time staff just barely in the double digits — not including performers — 1Hood is seeking to expand its ranks; audio engineers and teaching artists sit atop the most-wanted list. (If you feel your talents, or someone else’s, might align with 1Hood’s mission, the leadership aims to assemble the 2019 artist cohort by February, so reach out here.)
That 1Hood has gotten this far is a credit to the passion of the creators and those who have ushered it through its formative years.
Founded in 2006 by a group of artists and organizers that included the Chicago-born Jasiri, 1Hood took a step forward four years later when the Heinz Endowment gave a grant to help create the 1Hood Media Academy, which to this day emphasizes media literacy and proficiency.
As the former Pittsburgh Public Schools employee Jasiri reminded, there’s precious little education in our grade schools and high schools on how to harness social media. For members of the black community and other minorities, non-traditional outlets might be the only way to have their voices heard, so developing social media skills are especially important.
“There’s a term called Black Twitter,” Jasiri said. “If we didn’t have it, we might not have heard of Trayvon (Martin), or Mike Brown. We’re creating the stories, the new slang, those types of things. So how can we benefit? … Those are the things we have conversations about. Letting young people know of their agency.”
Since Jasiri and many of his performing-arts peers rose to prominence via social media, they didn’t need to be sold on the power of newer platforms.
“We felt like we had different ideas, and we all came from the hip-hop generation,” Jasiri said. “The power was to organize and be active. As an artist, my career came from social media. I didn’t hear from different communities until social media came about.”
Prior to his promotion to CEO a year ago Sunday, Jasiri spent the previous three years as 1Hood’s creative director, working under fellow organizational pillar Celeste Smith, who is still heavily involved in strategic direction. There are many moving parts under the 1Hood umbrella, including workshops, consulting and the provision of meeting space for artists both burgeoning and established.
Jasiri said he’s taking to his new elevated role, trying to maintain a balance between showing the way and keeping his creative instincts sharp. In fact, he said he uses his two-plus decades as a performer to inform his leadership approach.
“I’m not going to ask you do something I wouldn’t do,” Jasiri said. “We allow folks to develop their own ambitions.”
Ambition is an appropriate word for an organization that labels itself ‘The Vanguard of Arts and Activism.’ Not to get all Webster’s Dictionary on you, but the meaning of ‘vanguard’ itself — group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas — fits 1Hood’s M.O. to a ‘T.’
By the way, lest we think the reemergence of white supremacy, continued income inequality, and a mass-shooting epidemic might discourage the folks at 1Hood, Jasiri ended our chat on a note that rang both joyous and defiant.
“I was so encouraged by the fact that so many people came out for the election,” he said. “I think this is the ‘wokest’ generation. The response to a lot of this is that we’re not going to take it. It brought people together to say, ‘No, we’re going to protect each other.’
“When we come together, that’s our power. It’s that power that I’m most optimistic about.”
(Semicolon Count: 1)