This is Jessica Harris. She is a sweet, kind, well-spoken lovely lady with a big heart and a strong spirit. She has a passion for social justice and all things theater. If you have a chance check out her self created, theater based non profit Empowered Players–you can do so here. Below is a little excerpt from the website to tell you more about this amazing non profit Jessica founded.
“Empowered Players is a Fluvanna-based nonprofit 501(c)(3)designed to make a difference in the community through the arts. We promote youth empowerment, are dedicated to community service, and believe the arts have the power to unite. Our mission is to uplift the human spirit through access to quality arts experiences, youth empowerment, and community service.“
Jessica chose to do her shoot at The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at UVA. She has actively participated in helping make this memorial become a reality and wanted to include it as one of the locations of her shoot. If you haven’t been there yet–go! It is powerful. Enjoy this lovely Woman of Charlottesville’s interview!
us: So, Jessica, tell the readers a little bit about you…
her: Sure thing! If I had to describe myself, I’d say I’m an artist/educator/believer in social justice and advocate for change. I’ve lived in the Charlottesville/Fluvanna area my whole life, and am a double Hoo, having just graduated from UVA with my M.Ed in Educational Psychology. I’m the founder and artistic director of Empowered Players, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering accessible theater education for students in Fluvanna County and beyond. I currently work at UVA in the areas of engagement, equity, and arts outreach, and am a descendant of the enslaved community at Monticello.
us: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
her: This morning I had scrambled eggs, hash browns, and homemade cinnamon sugar donuts (you caught me on the day I actually tried cooking early in the morning!).
us: Does pineapple belong on pizza?
her: I’m a firm believer that the pineapple on pizza debate is open to personal interpretation. Will it be on mine? Absolutely not. But you do you!
us: Do you sleep in your socks?
her: Nope. My dancing feet won’t let them stay on.
us: What’s your go-to midnight snack?
her: Strawberries and whipped cream, hands down.
us: Mountains or beach?
her: I grew up by the mountains, and they’ll always have a place in my heart – but I have to go with the beach. Nothing is as calming to me as being by the water.
us: Current favorite song?
her: ‘Holy’ by Jamila Woods.
us: Salty or sweet?
her: Both! Together! It’s an unstoppable combination.
us: Pet peeve?
her: People popping gum loudly while talking. Gross.
us: Room entrance song:
her: “I Got a Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas
us: Favorite place you’ve traveled to?
her: It might be cliché, but New York City will always have a special place in my heart. The vibrancy and busyness, and the plethora of people all in one place brings me such excitement and passion for life! Not to mention…I hear they have some decently good theatrical productions every now and then, which doesn’t hurt either.
us: What’s your favorite room in your house?
her: My dining room. It reminds me of big Sunday dinners and homemade meals with family when we’re all gathered around the table, and feels so warm.
us: Who has been the most influential woman in your life?
her: Absolutely, without a doubt, my mother. She’s worked her whole life striving for equitable outcomes for individuals, and has taught me to so passionately fight for what I believe in. Not to mention she’s supported and loved me and my brother so fiercely, and everything we have in our lives is because of her. Through her, I know what true love looks like, and have a compassionate hand to guide me and help me up when I stumble. Mom, thank you so much. For everything. <3
us: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
her: Starting Empowered Players was definitely one of the best things in my life. Getting to watch this organization grow and serve our community makes my heart so full of joy.
us: If you could give your younger self a single piece of advice, what would it be?
her: Don’t be so anxious! Just because things may seem dark now doesn’t mean there isn’t light that will be revealing itself fully in the future.
us: Can you tell me about a challenge that you’ve overcome?
her: When I was 13, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I spent ~4 months in and out of the hospital where there were lots of tests with no answers, and I then had to undergo two fairly significant surgeries. It was scary, but with the support of family, friends, and faith, I can now look back on that time and see the strength that I gained from that experience, for sure.
us: Favorite Quote?
her: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” ― Angela Y. Davis
us: Where do you find your inspiration?
her: Gosh, that’s hard to pick one thing, but my students are always inspiring me. The ways in which they look at the world, are constantly challenging ideals, and use the arts as a beautiful means of growth and expression remind me to keep on staying present and growing.
us: Any funny or embarrassing nicknames we should know about?
her: My brother used to call me “Jesscaga” or “Caga” when I was little, and while no one really calls me that all the time anymore, it’ll always be my nickname!
us: Any hidden talents we should know about?
her: Hmm that’s a hard one…I’m decently good at pet grooming, but not going to lie – sometimes it leads to my dog having bad hair days, too.
us: What are you most thankful for?
her: Everything. I mean that most sincerely. I’m thankful for my family, my friends, my experiences, and to some extent, the hardships that I’ve faced. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them, and for that, I’m grateful.
us: What is your favorite thing about living in Charlottesville?
her: One of my favorite things about living in Charlottesville is the strong community of individuals pushing for change. While I am still learning and growing, and continuing to undertake the fight for social justice, the community here has shown me what thoughtful action and change can look like, and I am humbled to learn from and alongside them.
Quarantine Specific Additions:
us: Tell us one lesson you’ve learned during your quarantine experience?
her: I’ve definitely learned what is necessary and what is not, whether it be meetings or eating out or the more frivolous things in life. I’ve learned to treasure small moments and not take anything for granted. Other than that, I’d say that learning to cook dishes that are not just edible, but hopefully somewhat delicious, for my family is also a huge win!
us: Favorite show to binge watch?
her: “The Bold Type”– Slightly trashy TV that sparks dialogue is the way to go!
us: Favorite local business to support during quarantine?
us: Have you taken on new hobbies or discovered a new talent during this time indoors?
her: I’ve tried to learn the guitar and started trying to be a runner, both of which have not been highly successful. But I’m still trying!
us: What one thing you can’t live without right now?
her: Game nights with my family have been the highlight of my quarantine. I’m so lucky I get to spend time with them, even if it means being handedly beaten at a game of Spades!
Thank you for sharing with us Jessica!