[EXCLUSIVE] A Conversation With Eunique Jones Gibson, Photographer, Activist and Creator of “Because of Them We Can”
You’ve probably seen the words “Because of Them We Can” float across your television in a commercial or maybe your favorite celeb used them as a hashtag on social media. Maybe you saw them on a beautifully crafted book with some kids on the cover. Well there’s a woman behind those five powerful words. Her name is Eunique Jones Gibson.
On a day that began with the sun shining bright, Eunique and I spoke by phone while she drove through the afternoon rain. Sometimes rainy days bring about change. Eunique shared with me how a rainy day in the lives of the parents of Trayvon Martin sparked the “Because of Them We Can” campaign, the way motherhood changed her perception of the world and how she was able to combine her art and passion for activism to incite change.
Keyauna Chantel: I know you’re super busy so I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me first of all.
Eunique Jones Gibson: Absolutely, I appreciate you.
KC: We first met on the red carpet at SHERocks 2014 where you were given the honor of Woman of the Year. Congratulations again on that. How was that experience?
EJG: It was humbling in that someone, whether it be an organization or an individual takes times to acknowledge the work that we’re doing and highlight it in a way where an accolade or an award is rendered. It is humbling and it is definitely encouraging. Whenever you’re doing something like this its taxing and it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of thought and it takes a lot of energy. So things like the SHERocks award are reassuring and even re-energizing.
KC: When I think about “Woman of the Year” I picture a woman with a REAL back story. I know to get to a certain point it takes so much. Tell me how you became the woman you are now as far as your involvement in activism and pioneering such an amazing campaign?
EJG: I think I’m the woman I am today simple because of a number of people poured into me. I was like a sponge who just soaked it all up. That started in my home with my parents and my sisters and grew into the community from teachers to educators and friends to my sorors in Delta Sigma Theta and the experiences that they afforded me because they saw a journey that they could impact. I’ve always been passionate about social justice and I’ve always been one to wonder why does it have to be this way, why do we have issues in the black and white communities or why are African Americans painted this way. Why, why, why, why? I’ve always been that person who asked those questions and I’ve always been somebody who has, when I’ve seen something wrong, try to figure out how I could contribute to making it right. I think when you put those things together and my desire to be a vessel, I think a combination of those things made me want to do something positive with the life I’ve been given. I’m thankful that God gave me the vision for “Because of Them We Can” and I am humbled just to know that the voice I have is a voice that has been shared across the country and this movement is addressing it.
KC: Speaking of the movement, I know that it was sparked by the death of Trayvon Martin but how did that transition to becoming such a huge and amazing movement, “Because of Them We Can”.
EJG: What was sparked by Trayvon Martin’s murder was my awakening and I’ve since understood my responsibility to merge my passion for social justice with my interest in photography to give voice to a community. So when a year later I started to reflect upon Trayvon Martin’s murder and how we were approaching the anniversary of his death, I started to think about my sons. I have little black boys who will face some of the same challenges that he faced and that scares me. I found that I could propel that fear through positive and uplifting messages of hope and inspiration simply by understanding all of the amazing things we have accomplished thus far. That’s how that transition was made and when I met Travyon’s dad I told him that there wouldn’t be a “Because of Them We Can” campaign if you all weren’t committed to getting the word out about Trayvon Martin’s murder and really focused on telling people how important it is to repeal these stand your ground laws. So by me understanding what happened to him, I really became concerned and looked for a way to use my lense as a microphone and that has grown into “Because of Them We Can”.
KC: Looking at your photography and your activism it seems so seamless how you’ve intertwined the two but sometimes what we see in the forefront isn’t always how things worked in the background. Was there a natural marriage between your photography and your activism?
EJG: I think it was natural. Nothing that I’m doing is forced. I think that’s why it has been successful because it’s something that I’m passionate about and its something that was laid out in my mind and I was able to bring to life. Of course you fine tune things and you see what works better than other things and that’s just part of the learning process but I definitely think that it was a natural marriage between merging my passion for social justice with my passions for both photography and marketing. Because what we’re doing is marketing self esteem, and we’re marketing achievement and accomplishment through these messages and through these images. It’s no different from when I marketed products for Microsoft. I’m just using it in a way where there will be social change instead of physical revenue or dollars. That’s not the bottom line, the bottom line is social change. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in the position to do it.
KC: I know with the Trayvon Martin issue, I’m sure it spoke to you as a person in general but I know you having two young boys impacted that even more. How did motherhood change your view of the world and your personal mission as a woman?
EJG: The murder of Trayvon Martin definitely impacted me. I was five or six months pregnant with my second son when it happened. So thinking about that and this world that my second baby was about to enter gave me pause. When you have children you go from being this carefree person to a lioness. You go from being someone all about self to a momma bear whose sole responsibility is to protect her cubs. Protecting my children, it’s not only about what I do on day-to-day basis, but if I want my kids to live in a world that is better I have to figure out how I physically can help contribute to the betterment of the world. That’s the inspiration behind what I do. I’m trying to make the world better for Chase and Amari and in doing so I’ve been inspired by all children and all people but that inspiration started at home. That came from having a child. You realize it’s more than just you.
KC: Agreed. I’m a mother of one and my son is three and a half. One of the things that made me want to talk to you was what you just said. When you become a parent everything becomes about nurturing and giving your children the best opportunity to be productive members of society and successful. Every decision you make is based upon that. So when I came across “Because of Them We Can”, as a mom I wanted to see what this was about. I thought ‘maybe this is something I can become involved in’ and I got the book. Now it’s out and available to the public. I know you must be excited about that. Every author has some kind of feeling when they get that first shipment of books. How did it feel to actually hold the book in your hands for the first time?
EJG: To hold the book in my hands even to this day is surreal. To see how with a little dedication and consistency, it was a able to come to fruition is amazing. And just really bodaciousness confidence. Not even a confidence in me but like ‘God I know you’re not gonna set me up. I’m gonna do this so you’ve gotta help me make it happen’. Not in Eunique, Eunique would have failed a long time ago. So to actually hold that book…you have it, you see the quality of the book. One thing I’ve learned is everyone isn’t necessarily rooting for your success. Everybody isn’t always hoping you hit a home run. So for me to know we took pre-orders on that book before we had a physical book in hand. We had heavily vetted printers and precautions were taken and energy was put into making sure it was something you would proudly put on your coffee table. Then to actually get it, to see that after what we put into it, it came back right. That to me was a touchdown. You run in the end zone and you spike the football lol. That would probably be what I equate that feeling to.
KC: I’ve seen the likes of June Ambrose and Gayle King showing support for the book. The impact is clear. You described how that feels. Another amazing feeling I’m sure is looking at your boys and knowing that what you’re doing now directly impacts their future in a positive way. There’s so much negativity and so many bad things going on in the world, to be able to say that you personally, as their mom and a leader in the community, have taken direct actions thaat have a positive impact on their future. How does it feel to have put your hands in the pot and mixed a bit yourself?
EJG: That feeling is indescribable. The best way to describe how it feels is, I feel like God is smiling. That to me trumps everything. You want to build a legacy for your family and for your children and you want to create a standard for them to live by and for them to exceed. My kids can take what I’m doing and see the responsibility for them to push even harder. That makes feel like I’m doing a good job. To know that God is smiling and that I’m using my talents in this way, and to see the positive change that’s being created because of that is the most rewarding feeling. It can’t be compared.
KC:What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you made the decision to spearhead into activism and using your photography for that purpose?
EJG: I think the biggest lesson is if you have an idea or a vision or a dream you’ve just gotta do it. It sounds cliche ‘just do it’ but it’s so real. Whoever came up with that slogan at Nike…I should give them a high five because it’s real lol. The risk in me not doing it is not having “Because of Them We Can”. There have been a number of visions that I’ve had but didn’t act on because I sat and tried to figure out ‘how is that gonna work?’ ‘How am I gonna walk away from my great job and ensure that nothing is overlooked in a financial perspective and that we are able to maintain this lifestyle that we have’ ‘How am I gonna take another 300 plus pictures and keep this thing going’ ‘I haven’t bought a plane ticket, I haven’t done a casting call, I don’t have anything’. I would have talked myself out of everything had I sat and tried to figure it out. So the biggest lesson is if you have an idea or have a dream, a goal or whatever, you just have to say you’re going to do it and then do it. I feel like the universe conspires in your favor once you really commit in your mind and in your heart and so that for me is the biggest lesson. I’m so intentional about what I say now and what I believe. I watched Pharrell’s interview where he said you can do whatever you want to do, whatever you believe you can make it happen. He is a brother who is making it happen. It’s a matter of believing and acting on your belief.
KC: It speaks to the fact that we’re all equal and have the same 24 hours in a day. And now it’s come into fruition for you. What next for you and the campaign? Where are we going from here?
EJG: Just continue to see the movement and message expand because it’s something that needs to stay around forever. It needs to be a staple in every community, not just the Black community. We all need to promote excellence and achievement as well as work to build the self esteem of our children so that everyone really knows and believes that they can do whatever it is the put their mind and their hands to doing. So you’re gonna hear about us, we’re not going away. You will hear about the campaign and the movement not only just in February and in a way that is inclusive of all children, all genders and all hues.
KC: How can people find you and campaign?
EJG: You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @euniquejg. Our website is www.BecauseofThemWeCan.com. The campaign is on Facebook @becauseofthemwecan and on Instagram @becauseofthem.
KC: It’s been great chatting with you. I appreciate your time and energy.
EJG: Thank you and good luck with your itty bitty lol
KC: Lol thanks, same to you!