De Nichols is a 2017/18 Citizen Artist Fellow of the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, and in this recent video, you can witness a snippet of the experience and the impact that it makes on each of its fellows.
This month, De Nichols is a recipient of the Safety Pin Box’s Black Women Being gift, which will reward one-time financial support to individual Black women who have demonstrated a commitment to serving Black people.
On this day 9 years ago, I gave a eulogy at the funeral of my best friend (and high school sweetheart), Santez Walker. The next day, June 1, was my 20th birthday.
I remember returning from Memphis back to St. Louis on my birthday–heavy-hearted–and entering my apartment where Erin and other friends had prepared a surprise cookie cake to try to cheer me up.
I still get emotional when I think about those moments. At the time, I thought celebrating my birth and life was unfair when his was unexpectedly and suddenly lost. I didn’t know how to appreciate my friends in the midst of my own jadedness about losing him. But in following years, I learned to honor the creative, daring, and loving spirit of Santez through my birthdays. I committed to making them a little more meaningful, a lot more creative (like him), and as full of love and friendship as possible. And for most of these recent years, I have kept this commitment because of you–my friends.
Thank you all who have celebrated past birthdays with me. You are my tribe, and your presence has meant more to me throughout these years than I have ever admitted.
I look forward to tomorrow, and I’m grateful for the reminder it brings to celebrate life, cherish friendship, and fill our lives with love/gratitude.
De Nichols was selected as one of five fellows for the 2017 John F. Kennedy Center’s Citizen Artists fellows program, which recognizes artists across the country who utilize their art form for positive impact on communities.
“The recognized Citizen Artists Fellows will be mentored by Yo-Yo Ma, Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor at Large, among other Kennedy Center artistic partners. Additionally, they will receive national attention for their impact in their local communities and opportunities to showcase their voice and work on stage, through exhibition, and at national convenings.”
To commence participation as a fellow, De will join thought leaders from the arts and related fields together for the Kennedy Center’s Art Summit to explore how the arts can propel our thinking towards new ideas and actions, including the leaders we look to for guidance and inspiration.
Learn more at https://www.kennedy-center.org/pages/specialevents/summit.
On Monday I re-read Rep. John Lewis’s speech from WashU’s 2016 Commencement. I also read my own words that I’d spoken nights before at WashU’s commencement ceremony for art students.
From his words, I kept courage.
“If you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, do something about it,” he said. “Say something. Do something. Have the courage. Have the backbone to get in the way.”
From my own words, I was reminded to “start breaking the rules of what you’ve been told.”
I’ve been often told that if I don’t like something, that I should disengage with it. Don’t be in any way connected to it.
But I’m encouraged by Rep. Lewis’s notion that disliking something is sometimes the very reason to show up, the very reason to disrupt and break the rules/paradigms–to get in the way–and fix the issues or replace them with something better.
A lot of people have asked my thoughts on the women’s marches that are happening nationwide and if/why I was asked to speak at the one in St. Louis. One person even expressed, “why you let these white women set you up like that? It’s a trap.” Or why are you giving them your energy? What are you doing this for? Are you selling out?
None of the above.
My reason is not to feign unity–I still don’t personally feel that sentiment embodied in this effort locally or nationally, and I think we should not tell ourselves lies otherwise.
It is not to pacify white women and their or anyone’s post-election guilt (with over half voting for Trump) or their fears/tears, as it is not my role to fix those myriads of issues they must work out amongst themselves.
It is also not to speak on behalf of all WOC (or any other womxn/femme demographics that are constantly forgotten/silenced/sidelined/policed/ignored) and our numerous/complex issues, as I have not been given that authority, and it would be narcissistic to think I could.
My participation is, however, to hold space and be unflinching in addressing the tension and discomfort that circulates between us.
It is also to hold a mirror and a window up to our collective selves and challenge–force us to see–who we might become if we strip internalized egos/traditions/lies/stereotypes/privileges/grudges/biases/entitlement/prejudices/oppression/racism/complacency/supremacy/absentmindedness/fears for the sake of forging a more equitable and just experience for the most marginalized and disregarded of girls, women, and families in this country…and who we become if we do not.
It is indeed to hold the door and usher the possibility of finally actualizing intersectional womxnhood and womanism and not throwing any demographic of womxn/femmes away to fend for herself/themselves in this political mayhem and battle. I personally feel so many of these “marches” cater to non-radical, white, Christian, middle-aged, middle-class, able-bodied, cis-het women, and that irks me because this battle is deeper and more vast and more complex than the needs/concerns/issues expressed by “wealth gap” and “reproductive rights/women’s health” alone.
But like Audre Lorde, I believe in the embodiment of Gamba Adisa (warrior: she who makes her meaning known), and I’m not afraid of working through the tensions and cultural divisions that womxn face. For many, these marches are a starting point and Saturday is a first step. For me and many others, it’s another check point on a long journey, and I think we make a gross mistake of repeating history and its oppressive cycles once more if we don’t forge a different path forward.
So in short, yes, I will be present.
No, I will not march.
Yes, I will speak.
Image via AM Network
I received an email blast today from Zim Ugochukwu, CEO of Travel Noire, via her regular mailer of stories and life inspiration from her journeys as an entrepreneur. Typically, when I receive these emails, I smile, accept the inspiration it provides, and proceed forward to the next of dozens of emails in my inbox. Today, something different happened. There was a deeper connection I felt to her story and her testimony than ever before, primarily because I find myself at a similar crossroads that she shares. Her story reads:
I wanna share a story with you. Right off the heels of giving thanks and spending some much-needed time with loved ones, I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey as an entrepreneur.
The day I became an entrepreneur was completely unexpected.
It was June 2014, and I was working full time as a producer for a tech conference. I had a sweet schedule — I’d work at my house for two days a week and for the the rest of the week, I’d work at the home of the lead producer of the conference.
At that point, I had been running Travel Noire for about 9 months. And don’t get me wrong — I loved the job, it just wasn’t where my heart was.
But let me tell you about the day I was fired.
I was sitting in a coffee shop in downtown San Francisco. I sent a note to my boss early that morning — I wasn’t feeling my best.
I’ll never forget the moment in that coffee shop when I received this email:
That email came two days before my 26th birthday, over email and two weeks before my summer vacation — talk about soul crushing.
I told myself that at the end of July of that year, I was going to put in my 30 day notice. My plan was to move on and make Travel Noire my full-time gig.
But I thought that I’d be the first person to shoot my shot and tell my boss I was leaving. I didn’t expect it to happen the other way.
I remember sitting in the coffee shop shocked that I was officially fired. But you know what? It wasn’t the first time an employer let me go.
Before I got the job as a producer, I had four jobs in San Francisco, and I was fired from most of them. And before that? I spent 6 months looking for a job, pretty much begging someone to accept me and give me a chance.
I’ve been fired from most of the jobs I’ve ever had, for one reason or another. But getting fired from my job as a producer felt like it came too soon. I didn’t feel like I was ready to jump into entrepreneurship.
But there I was at 25, with this growing thing called Travel Noire — and no full-time staff.
I had to make a choice.
I could be uncomfortable, put on my entrepreneurship hat, and try something new. Or I could play it safe and try to find another job to make ends meet.
As scary as it was, I decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
And then something cool happened. I decided to take that vacation I had coming up. I hopped on a plane to Amsterdam and France.
After 10 days of soul searching, it was time for me to head back to the states and get to work.
While away, I learned a couple things that have helped me push through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.
I realized that you’re never going to be ready for whatever you’re put on this Earth to do. Never.
And, of course, you always have the option of staying in your comfort zone and living a life that doesn’t inspire you. But is that really living?
Margie Warrell, keynote speaker and bestselling author, says there are four harmful things people do that prevent them from taking risks and accomplishing more than they ever imagined. People:
- Overestimate the probability of something going wrong.
- Exaggerate the consequences of what might happen when something does go wrong.
- Underestimate their ability to handle the consequences of risks.
- Discount or deny the cost of inaction and sticking with the status quo.
A lot of people tell me that I’m a risk taker. I tend to take more risks than a lot of my friends and family members because I’ve learned that without risk, there’s no reward.
But most importantly, I embraced the power in feeling the fear and uncertainty and doing it anyway.
Nothing is ever as bad as we make it out to be. As long as you consistently put in the work — despite how gruesome, scary, or discouraging the work may be at times — you’ll always be equipped to create the amazing life you dream of having.
DeAndrea, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Go ahead and shoot your shot.
Never had I ever responded to Zim’s emails, but today, I felt compelled to share with her the impact that her story had on my day and heart. In reply, I wrote:
Hey Zim,Thank you for sharing your story. Right now, I needed it more than ever before.This week, I turned in my 2 weeks notice to the plush museum job–my comfort zone for the last 4 years–to which I have been employed. I did it for various reasons (including racial unrest and insensitivity that erupted with its current exhibitions), but moreso in realization that so much growth, accolades, and momentum had been escalating with the work that I was doing outside of my role.This year alone, I became the Visionary Award recipient for the city of St. Louis, gave my first commencement speech, and had my work collected into the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’ve toured the nation educating people on the powers of creative changemaking and design thinking, and I have been featured in more conferences and magazines than before. This has all been through the efforts I’ve sparked and led through Civic Creatives, my startup that I began in grad school and had since regarded and moonlighted as pure hobby.This week, I finally took the risk and leap of faith to pursue Civic Creatives, keynote lecturing, and creative changemaking full time. Not just as a career, but as a deeper commitment to my life’s purpose. I decided to step into my own potential to actualize my dreams with the same diligence, tenacity, and commitment I gave to my job. It already is unfolding to be the best decision I could ever make.I want to stay in touch with Travel Noire, its team, and its tools, as I seek to find time/space to retreat, reflect, and refresh as I embark this ambitious transition. Thank you for continuing to share your tools, and if ever my team and I could be of support and inspiration back to you, please do get us involved.With vision, forward.De Nichols
Press Release by Forward through Ferguson
Forward Through Ferguson Expands Board
A year after the Ferguson Commission released its findings, a non-profit organization drives progress toward Racial Equity in metropolitan St. Louis.
St. Louis—Seven St. Louis area residents dedicated to the cause of bringing Racial Equity to the region have been added to the founding board of Forward Through Ferguson. They were selected through a community-driven process designed to find “unflinching and unusual leaders” with a deep understanding and commitment to the goals put forward by the Ferguson Commission.
Forward Through Ferguson (FTF) is the non-profit organization formed to carry on the work of the Ferguson Commission. Missouri Gov.Jay Nixon created the commission in November of 2014 to address the root causes that led to the unrest following the death of Michael Brown, Jr. on August 9, 2014. On September 14, 2015, the commission issued its report containing 189 policy recommendations and an overarching call for Racial Equity in the St. Louis region. Racial Equity is defined as a state in which outcomes are no longer predictable by race.
“The Ferguson Commission’s focus on racial equity turns the modus operandi of other riot commissions on their head,” says Lindsay Lupo, author of Flak-Catchers: One Hundred Years of Riot Commission Politics in America. “Where others, such as the commissions that followed the 1992 Los Angeles riot, tried to remove race from their study, the Ferguson Commission has boldly pushed for sweeping reforms that would promote racial equity in the St Louis region.”
Since the report’s release a year ago, the Commission has turned to committees made up of citizens from diverse sectors and backgrounds to guide major decisions regarding the work surrounding the report—including the formation of Forward Through Ferguson. The committee felt strongly that the board for Forward Through Ferguson should be sourced through an open, equitable, community-driven process. Nicole Hudson, lead catalyst for FTF, was pleased with the results. “Reviewing the applications reflected back to us a deep understanding of the opportunity our region has for generational change,” She said. Of the 27 applications, the review committee recommended seven for the board. “The process allowed us to build relationships — beyond the seven — with people doing great work toward change in this region,” Hudson added.
The seven new board members are (alphabetically):
- Rebeccah Bennett, founder and principal of Emerging Wisdom, an social enterprise that advances personal, organizational, and social transformation.
- Zach Boyers, chairman and CEO of U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation.
- Trina Dyan Clark James, founder of Jamaa Learning Center, a full-service charter school in the Ville neighborhood on St. Louis city’s north side.
- Carmen Garcia Ruiz, cultural change agent with St. Louis Renewed, an empowerment and leadership program promoting racial justice and unity in the St. Louis region.
- Adelaide Lancaster, co-founder of We Stories, a program that uses children’s literature to support family conversations about race and social justice.
- Christy Maxfield, director of entrepreneurship development services at the Center for Emerging Technologies (CET), an affiliate of St. Louis’s Cortex Innovation Community.
- De Andrea Nichols, a community engagement specialist with the Contemporary Art Museum and founder and founding director of Civic Creatives, which equips organizations and leaders to resolve critical social challenges using design thinking.
Since its inception, Forward Through Ferguson has been operating with an interim board made up of four former Ferguson Commission members: Kevin Ahlbrand, Brittany Packnett, Felicia Pulliam and Rose Windmiller. They will continue to serve as board members at least through the end of the year.
In reviewing the applications, the selection committee looked for experience, commitment and understanding of the four key principles in the work to date:
- Radical Listening
- Policy over Programs
- Racial Equity
Also considered was work or experience in the three key areas of the report:
- Justice for All
- Youth at the Center
- Opportunity to Thrive
“The leadership for the work of the report must equitably reflect many voices in the region. At the same time, it’s not easy or comfortable work. Starting with a group who both holds an understanding of equity and—for whatever reason—has actively sought out this unflinching work is critical to the future of the work.” Hudson said. The board’s immediate next step is to work with the review committee to continue expansion and ensure inclusion of voices that did not surface in the initial process. “It’s an opportunity to ask why we didn’t get a flood of applicants from some segments of the community—black men or law enforcement, among others. To ask and really listen to the answers,” Hudson said.
To learn more about the Forward Through Ferguson Board visit
To read the original call for board members visit
About Forward Through Ferguson
Anchored in the collaborative, unflinching, and community-driven principles that guided the Ferguson Commission, Forward Through Ferguson is a catalyst for leading the St. Louis region on a path toward Racial Equity. Founded with the sunset of the Ferguson Commission on December 31, 2015, Forward Through Ferguson will focus on:
- Helping the region articulate a vision for a Path Toward Racial Equity;
- Helping connect existing resources throughout the region to each other and to the Calls to Action;
- “Fertilizing the soil” for generational change by providing citizens with the knowledge and tools needed to help drive change at the policy level.
About The Ferguson Commission
Governor Nixon appointed the Ferguson Commission in November of 2014 to address the root causes that led to the unrest following the death of Michael Brown, Jr. on August 9, 2014. The charge for the 16 volunteer Commissioners was to submit a report making policy recommendations for moving our region forward once and for all. The Commission held over 70 public meetings over 10 months, bringing together over 3,000 St. Louisans, who together with the Commissioners gave over 30,000 volunteer hours to produce the 189 Calls to Action that make up the report, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity. The Commission sunsetted on December 31, 2015.
It’s fall (my favorite season), and for me, that usually means lots of new adventures and endeavors. I wanted to write to friends and colleagues near and far to share some of these in hopes that we can connect and make some magic happen together these next few months.
Below you’ll see a few of the new travels, projects, and ambitions along with #BigAsks of you in supporting them. Check them out, and let me know if/how you can help.
I would also love to hear of the things you’re up to and the reflections you’re having, so be sure to write back and stay connected too.
On April 25, I was one of the recipients of the St. Louis Visionary Awards, which exists to “celebrate the numerous contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in St. Louis. From established working arts professionals and arts educators to emerging artists and community impact artists, each year’s honorees are truly ‘visionary’.”
For the 2016 Visionary Awards, I was nominated and received the Community Impact Artist award, which recognized contributions I’d made during the past year(s) as a social practice and community artist.