Think100 Hero

The power is in the people and politics we address

Tupac Amaru Shakur

It Was Written

Hampton Roads is a region of Virginia in the South Eastern United States that includes seven cities that are all under threat from rising sea levels. Norfolk is in Hampton Roads, is sinking, and is in imminent danger of experiencing a preventable climate disaster. Should a Katrina-like hurricane strike the region, there is potential for a devastating climate crisis-driven water event. That would negatively impact primarily Black communities such as St. Paul’s, a district of Norfolk, and destroy lives, cultures, homes, and communities. The heaviness of the omnipresent threats and impacts of the climate crisis can sometimes drown out the beautiful resistance that organizations and communities are engaged in as they fight for climate justice through community organizing. This research project explores Hip Hop Caucus’ Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project. Through centering the perspectives and voices of organizers, community members, creatives, and artists, this project explores and uplifts the creative and organizing processes, goals, wisdom, and lessons learned. Whenever there is injustice, including climate injustice, those most deeply impacted by centuries of exploitation, oppression, and white supremacy are using the power of community and cultures to shift an unjust and destructive world paradigm into one that is just and equitable; one that serves, protects, and uplifts the people and the futures of our collective children.

In August 2019, Hip Hop Caucus (HHC) began a three-year organizing project in Hampton Roads known as the Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project (HROP). HHC is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that connects the hip hop community with civic processes through advocacy and creative and cultural organizing. Using creative and cultural organizing strategies and driven by a belief that preventing a climate disaster in the Hampton Roads region is crucial, HHC engaged with various stakeholders to help build movement, shift cultures, and expand community power in connection with climate justice and voter mobilization. This research explores the HROP, including the organizing and creative processes in the project, comedy shows on the climate crisis, and two films that have grown out of the project. Although the scope of this research project is from July 2019 to December 2020, the HROP is ongoing and continues to include filmmaking as a component of the project.

This research project was conducted over six months and used a qualitative research design in the form of a case study. Data was collected through internal HHC documents and interviews with nine people involved with the HROP. The data was then analyzed through an abbreviated form of thematic analysis. The findings are presented in this public format in an intentionally more informal manner to help educate and engage as many communities, community organizers, organizations, creatives, and artists as possible.

Hyperlinks are woven throughout the presentation to center the voices of those interviewed. The recordings are from participant interviews, and their use allows readers to listen to participants speak for themselves as part of the story. There are also links to explore documents and contextual information. Additionally, the timeline in this presentation is interactive. Using it allows for a more granular exploration of the HROP phases—the creative and organizing processes within the project, the phase goals, and stakeholders. Uplifting people and voices of the community, organizers, artists, and creatives of color involved in this organizing project is a mandatory component of centering the Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities who are often disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

Three research questions guided this project:

What are the creative and organizing processes designed and implemented as part of the Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project?

How have these processes contributed to building movement, shifting cultures, and expanding community power?

What lessons and wisdom do this organizing project provide for other practitioners, community organizers, creatives, and artists who want to use creative and cultural organizing strategies connected with visual storytelling through films to pursue climate justice?

HHC seeks to share the processes, experiences, wisdom, and “grows” and “glows” of this ongoing organizing project with those working for climate justice through creative and cultural organizing. HHC believes in creating and sharing knowledge and cultures that serve collective futures. The author hopes the wisdom and lessons found here will help others use creative and cultural organizing strategies to help cultivate the power of the people, shift cultures, and foster the re-imagining of the narratives on which communities and what solutions should be centered within the movement for climate justice.


To more effectively communicate, think of hip hop ciphers in which raising energy and making connections is made possible through shared slang and cultures. Four terms are necessary for this presentation cipher: cultures, processes, building movement, and creative and cultural organizing. Cultures shall be defined as multi-dimensional, fluid, shared, yet, not necessarily mutually exclusive sets of understandings, beliefs, and processes that allow for unlimited forms of communication. Interviewees for this project describe cultures with such words as “mode[s] of communication,” “unifying status,” “the way we love, the way we express ourselves,” and “as the strength of who we are.” Processes are defined as non-static pathways, actions, human interactions, and strategies designed and implemented to pursue and achieve identified goals. The discussion of processes in this presentation includes them as organizing processes and creative processes.

The terms cultural strategies and cultural organizing are accepted as necessary for shared understanding within the climate movement. However, Liz Havstad, Executive Director of Hip Hop Caucus (HHC), and Terence “TC” Muhammad, the Community Outreach Manager at HHC, hold the position that all “proper” organizing is cultural. Thus, when organizing is mentioned within this presentation, it always includes culture. The phrase build(ing) movement includes creating spaces where conversations around the climate crisis in Black communities and the solutions necessary to achieve climate justice are centered within the cultural contexts of the people and communities who are part of organizing. Additionally, the phrase creative and cultural organizing is being operationalized to be dynamic collections of creative and cultural organizing processes used to affect change informed by the lives, cultures, and needs of the communities being served in connection with cultural practices or tools in the form of the arts.

They just want us to wash away and get rid of us. And then once they get rid of us, they're going to develop it.

Malik Jordan

Where You From?

In solidarity with Indigenous Peoples worldwide, Hip Hop Caucus as an organization actively disrupts narratives woven together by white supremacy by upholding the value of stories, communities, and people in such a way that they do not begin with the devastation set in motion by colonial ideology and practices. Thirty-five million years ago, what is known as the Chesapeake Bay Bolide (a comet) collided into the location on Earth currently called Virginia and left a massive crater around the place we call Norfolk, creating the deep waters surrounding the region today. This event contributed to a rich and plentiful system of waterways that supports the Powhatan Peoples on their lands. Powhatan Peoples and their cultures and traditions continue and should be spoken of in the present.

Cumulative Impact Map for Virginia drawn from Mapping for Environmental Justice, UC Berkeley, 2021,

In the late 1500s, Powhatan Peoples, with their rich wisdom and knowledge on local lands and waterways, tried to warn the colonizing invaders not to fill in the creeks and rivers with dirt but were ignored. The invader’s ignorance that hurt the Powhatan people and their lands is causing Norfolk and Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, to sink. Colonial violence and ideology were also the foundation for stealing thriving African peoples from their motherland as part of extractive thoughts and practices. Some African peoples were brought into Virginia and then enslaved for profit and free labor. In a geographical area where colonialism, white supremacy, racism, redlining, and environmental, economic, and racial inequalities have often destroyed and violated the lands, peoples, and waters, Hampton Roads remains to be a collection of communities and people worthy of not just being protected but of being healthy and thriving with sustainable futures.

Like Powhatan Peoples, Black people living in the Hampton Roads region for generations continue to be beautiful and present and deserving of living in communities protected from the water. Malik Jordan, a youth artivist (artist + activist) from the Young Terrace area in the St. Paul’s District in Norfolk, powerfully explains that the people should not be left to “be washed away” by the waters as climate gentrification is masked as the newest cycle of redevelopment. Primarily Black communities such as St. Paul’s, which lack protective sea walls, and where it floods even when the sun is shining, and where people are being pushed from the public housing are part of why Hip Hop Caucus began the Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project.

I’m energized by listening to people’s stories and trying to figure out shared solutions. That’s the work of an organizer.

Gloria Steinem, My Life On The Road

Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project

This section explores the goals of the Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project (HROP). Additionally, it explores the creative and organizing processes that run parallel and intersect with each other during the first three phases of the project and how achieving goals, and the processes, have contributed to building community, shifting cultures, and expanding community power. Hip Hop Caucus (HHC) began envisioning the HROP in the summer of 2019, and it is currently a three-year project. The creative and cultural organizing project includes using comedy and films as cultural tools. As Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., HHC’s President and Chief Executive Officer, explains, comedy helps “to tell difficult stories, but also demand change”

HHC is a cultural advocacy organization that is grounded in hip hop culture. Using creativity and the arts is central to effective organizing because artists and creatives offer artistic representations of what they hear, feel, and know. Artists and creatives can also engage people differently than using dry facts and scientific data. Drew Veaux, a cameraperson and editor on the HHC post-production team for Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave (an HHC film), offers that using creativity makes movements less “sterile” and thus opens connections of possibilities between people and movements for social justice. According to Elijah Karriem, the director of Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave, there is an overall need for creativity in the approaches used for engaging people around the climate crisis. Karriem keeps it simple, “The last thing you want to be is boring.” Using the art of comedy as a cultural tool for engagement, the HROP began with the goal of mobilizing Millennial and Gen Z Black voters in the Hampton Roads region. The plan was to use comedy to help get out the vote in the 2019 statewide elections in Virginia, with voters being informed by the need for climate justice, equitable solutions for the climate crisis, and the protection of Black communities from flooding.

Through convening spaces, conversations, and events throughout the Hampton Roads region, the project is helping to build movement, shift cultures, and expand community power through sustainably engaging, mobilizing, and further connecting and amplifying various stakeholders from different subcultures. The project can be further understood by exploring the overall goals, the first three phases of the project, the goals within the phases, and the dynamic creative and organizing processes.

Overall Goals

Phase 1 (Organizing and Mobilizing)

Week of July 15th, 2019

Climate Story Lab Convening

July and August 2019

Meetings With Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund

July and August 2019

Meetings with Center For Media and Social Impact (CMSI)

August 1, 2019

Recruiting Creatives

August 13-14, 2019

Initial On The Ground Conversations In Norfolk, Virginia

August 22, 2019

Venue Search

August 27 - September 1, 2019

Comedy Think Tank Week

August - November, 2019

Production Planning

September 2 - 13, 2019

Script Writing

September 26-27, 2019

Meeting With Hampton Roads Influencers

End of September/ Early October 2019

Event Date Moved and Continued Engagement

October 1-4, 2019

Meetings With City Officials, Radio, and Community Organizers

October 6-11, 2019

Meetings With Religious and Community Leaders, and Other Logistics

October 14-18, 2019

Meetings With Religious Leaders, Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander, and Other City Officials

October 27-31, 2019

NAACP Meetings and Start Of Filming

Week of October 28th, 2019

Documentary Story Shoot

November 6-11, 2019

Street Promotions And Teens With A Purpose Gala

November 13-22

Ain't Your Mama's Heat Wave Live Shows and A Leadership Roundtable

November 20 - 21, 2019

The Events At The Attucks Theater

Phase 2 (Post-Production)

January 16 - 20, 2020

First Trailer Cut

January 22, 2020

dream hampton Added As Executive Producer

January 23, 2020

Follow-Up Meeting of Influencers

February 3 - 21, 2020; March 10 - 13, 2020

Post-Production Editing

April - June, 2020

Figuring Out What Was Next

July - September, 2020

Post-Production Animation

July 6 - July 29; August 14, Sept 2; 2020

Ain't Your Mama's Heat Wave Post-Production

July 29 - October 2, 2020

Underwater Projects Post-Production

December 31, 2020

Ain't Your Mama's Heat Wave Submission to DCEFF

Phase 3 (Organizing and Advocacy)

April 20, 2020

50th Anniversary of Earth Day

July 24, 2020

Ain't Your Mama's Heat Wave Sundance Trailer Shown In NYC

Overall Project Goals

Hip Hop Caucus developed the overall goals of the HROP over the summer of 2019. The goals were initially designed to engage and empower Black Millennial and Gen Z cohort members as part of Homecoming events at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the lead-up to the 2019 statewide election in Virginia. A creative component of this project was to be cultural events in the format of a variety show (including sketches, comedy skits, and more) called Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave that would address the climate crisis through humor in culturally responsive ways. There ended up being two nights of stand-up comedy at the Attucks Theater, a historical Black theater located in the St. Paul’s community, funded and built by Black entrepreneurs in 1919 for the Black community that still serves Black communities. The events allowed diverse stakeholders to practice joy as part of resistance, as has historically been practiced by Black communities pursuing human and civil rights.

Although the HROP goals were developed to connect with HBCUs’ schedules, the very nature of creative and organizing processes demands responsiveness and fluidity. Even with a tragic global pandemic and necessary uprisings for racial justice, the overall goals were still primarily achieved—just in different ways that could not have been anticipated. The original project goals were to:

  1. Empower creatives to create the first of its kind commentary on climate, the 2020 elections, intersectionality, and power building that is young, Black, and entertaining.
  2. Produce the show in Virginia during an HBCU Homecoming, prior to the November 2019 Election Day, and energize voters and Virginia-based partners in the final GOTV (get out the vote) push to Election Day. (Note: The show was not produced during HBCU Homecoming, it was moved back from October to November 2019, which meant achieving this goal happened differently.)
  3. Film and edit the show and release it with a streaming or media partner in a way that drives people to vote in 2020 and helps achieve HHC’s larger cultural purposes.

Understanding the creative and organizing processes that were in motion and that helped achieve these goals can be more deeply understood by individually examining the first three phases of the project.

Back to Timeline

Phase One: Organizing and Mobilizing

Phase One began in the summer of 2019 and ran through December of the same year. The project started with research, building relationships with stakeholders in the Hampton Roads area, and creative visioning. In this phase, the creative and organizing processes informed each other as information was gathered and ongoing events impacted their trajectories. Havstad explains that the Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project (HROP) approach is about:

“Building political power through elections and advocacy with climate justice and the particular alignment of Black communities and Black voters in the Hampton Roads region with the issue of climate justice to move the needle further and farther on climate action and a just transition.”

Part of the vision for this project was crafted through discussions with the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, which eventually provided funding that helped to support the developing organizing and creative processes in Phase One. Additionally, a collaborative relationship important for the HROP is with the Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI), based at the American University’s School of Communication. The seeds for this relationship were planted at the inaugural Doc Society Climate Story Labs event in New York City in 2019.

Within the organizing processes, core members of the HHC team were on the ground throughout Hampton Roads such as Havstad, Muhammad, Yearwood, and Charles “Batman” Brown II (the HHC Virginia Leadership Coordinator at the time). They were driven by the fact that the tragedy and loss of lives, particularly Black lives, in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina can happen in Norfolk. The team traveled through communities, listening to and learning from diverse stakeholders about community needs and experiences connected with climate justice while searching for a venue. As with other communities across the globe where there is injustice, people are already fighting for justice, even if not climate justice specifically. Because HHC works to include everyone willing to join together to fight for climate justice, not just those who may directly sign off on policy changes, they seek out stakeholders from across subcultures. The HHC team met with a broad collection of stakeholders, including politicians, civil rights leaders, entertainment influencers, community leaders, activists, and more, about how flooding, gentrification, and the climate crisis were being addressed in the communities and by other organizations in the climate movement.

The HHC team learned that if organizations within the climate movement were engaging stakeholders (which they often had not), they were more apt to speak about polar bears and recycling than about the vulnerable lives at risk in the primarily Black communities in the region that are already flooding and lack protective sea walls. Stakeholders such as Pastor Dwight Riddick of Gethsemane Baptist Church, Lance Jones Jr., and Gaylene Kanoyton from the Hampton NAACP spoke with the HHC team about the need for safe evacuation routes and the impacts of the flooding. They were creating some of their own solutions by educating the community and parish members. However, they made it clear that they were not being engaged around climate justice but wanted to be and wanted to learn how, in their respective roles, to speak more knowledgeably with others about the issues.

Deirdre “MomaD” Love, the Founder and Director of Teens With a Purpose (TWP), a community empowerment program for teens in the St. Paul’s District, is another influential community stakeholder with whom Yearwood and Muhammad began to build a relationship. Love and youth participants of TWP, inspired by Jordan as a younger participant, started a community garden years earlier and were already creating solutions to help counter the impacts of pollution and food scarcity in St. Paul’s. Love also has a comprehensive knowledge of the history and cultures in the area. The importance of genuinely building sustainable relationships with community stakeholders that are not simply forged to serve the wants and needs of organizations is a theme that came from interview participants. People in a community may not understand climate change, but they know their life experiences. They may be living through numerous forms of trauma and need to focus on the most immediate issues they are facing. Meeting people where they are is fundamental to creative and cultural organizing. Being responsive to communities that other organizations had not been engaging with around the severity of the threats they faced indicates HHC was committed to being as responsive and sensitive to the community as they had been within other organizing projects and campaigns.

From August through November 2019, members of the HHC team attended meetings and community events and helped host and convene spaces. These meetings and events can be explored in great detail on the interactive timeline in this presentation. Through talking with, listening to, and connecting stakeholders who may never have been in conversation with each other or included in discussions around climate justice, along with education, HHC was helping to build movement and expand community power through sustained organizing and community engagement. Within the organizing processes, stakeholders began increasing their ownership of the local climate conversations. Increasing ownership of the narratives and needs of their communities for climate justice is part of shifting the culture of engagement within the climate movement. The organizing processes that began in this phase were part of laying the critical groundwork for understanding the needs and wants of the community and being able to organize. Including stakeholders in the organizing work towards solutions from the beginning, not as an afterthought or in passive roles, helped lay the foundation for sustained engagement. The organizing processes were not isolated from the creative processes—the processes began a symbiotic relationship that continues to this day.

The creative processes in Phase One were firmly centered on the creative vision for the live creative and cultural entertainment event, identification and education of writers and comedians, and navigation of promoting and putting on a successful show that people could enjoy and that would help to mobilize voters. However, the creative processes were grounded in HHC research and previous creative and cultural organizing work by HHC in Virginia through campaigns such as Respect My Vote! As part of creative processes, the HHC team members on the ground in Hampton Roads at different times were, including, but not limited to, Havstad, Muhammad, Yearwood, and Brown. While locating a venue, they built crucial relationships that helped create avenues for promoting the show through radio stations, a local mosque, cultural and entertainment influencers, and universities and colleges. All of these pieces were necessary to build and have an impactful event. While organizing processes were in motion, the vision for the comedy show was developing within the creative processes.

In collaboration with CMSI, the HHC team identified writers and comedians and provided them with a grounding in the climate crisis, the need for climate justice, and the community of Norfolk. Over three weeks, the HHC and CMSI teams recruited a combination of stand-up comedians, sketch comedy writers, and stage and improvisation comedians who could be available for a think tank and the writing time needed to complete the show. The comedians selected also need to be available for live performances in Norfolk. The writers and comedians confirmed were Bethany Hall, Tessa Hersh, Aminah Imani, Shantira Jackson, Clark Jones, and Yedoye Travis.

Once the teams identified the writers and creatives, there was a six-day think tank in Los Angeles. On the first day, the HHC team used a model developed by CMSI, where the writers and comedians were briefed on and immersed in frameworks for thinking about climate justice and racial justice. Also present on that first day were Havstad, Karriem, Dejuan Cross (HHC’s Music Supervisor), Matty Rich, and Yearwood. The comedians and writers spent the remainder of the five days ideating jokes, sketches, and ideas for a variety show. The HHC team, including Yearwood, is committed to ensuring that all artists and creatives they work with understand the issues and can internalize how serious the threats are from the climate crisis, particularly for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Even with providing education, when the writers and comedians presented their content at the end of the think tank, Yearwood pushed for more inclusion about the situation in Norfolk.

The HHC team decided to take the comedians to Norfolk in October of 2019 to begin internalizing what is happening to help inform how they would complete the writing for the live shows. Due to script delays and other factors, the original variety show concept changed to a comedy show concept in September, so the comedians were learning for their own knowledge and material. In August and beyond, Yearwood, Muhammad, and Havstad had been able to meet with Doug Beaver and Kyle Spencer from the Office of Resilience several times and had gained vital information about the redevelopment plans for St. Paul’s. The community understood those plans as gentrification and the “debeautifying [of] the hood.” The plans came to be understood by the HHC team as part of a pressing climate gentrification story that needs to be told. In this way, organizing processes were informing creative processes, including the immersion experience of the comedians.

The comedians needed to understand the local history, culture, flooding, climate issues, dynamics, and stakeholders. Havstad offers:

“We had come to a really clear understanding that there was this climate gentrification story in front of us where the public housing community was being planned to be relocated. And all the dynamics between the Mayor’s Office, the city council, the community developers, climate scientists, and the Navy were intersecting on this one project, and everyone had their agendas and those challenges.”

Yearwood emphasizes:

“We believe in an Ella Baker mentality of organizing. Meaning, that this isn’t focused just on the comics and everything around them, but on the community and on a community struggle. The Ella Baker mentality is that we all do this together, or we don’t do this at all.”

The film crew, all people of color, were also present and documented the comedians speaking with various stakeholders while also filming documentary footage in the community. Comedians and the community had opportunities to begin to build solidarity. Culture began to shift with the comedians as they began informing their art with what is happening on the ground, the people and local cultures, and connections between flooding and the climate crisis in Norfolk. Making the comedy shows more community-based included bringing along a local comedian, Kristen Sivills, from Virginia Beach, VA. Sivills shares:

“I was almost scared to be the one person that was from the actual area in the comedy show. But going around to the different places that we went to before, just kind of digging into the history of what has been going on in the area, I learned things that I didn’t know. But it was also interesting to see how other people reacted to just the history here in Virginia Beach.”

The opportunity for the HHC team members, comedians, and people in Norfolk to learn as creatives or other stakeholders within the creative and organizing processes is a holistic approach to building movement and expanding community power. The opportunities include pathways for shifting cultures in many ways, from learning about what is happening in one’s community, such as that the flooding is not just “normal,” to impacting how stakeholders engage with each other, such as Brown and Love building a lasting and supportive relationship, to shifting the narratives within communities about the need for climate justice as racial justice and from where the solutions can grow.

Phase One provided a fertile foundation for organizing and creative processes to move forward. The processes were in synch with each other, informing each other. This synchronicity resulted in two successful comedy shows about the climate crisis at The Attucks Theater in November 2019. While the HHC team was planning the show, GOTV outreach was also being done while building the possible audience and organizing the event to continue engagement around the election. The strategy was to bring together different stakeholder groups to build movement and expand community power through collective cultural and advocacy experiences to help drive people to the polls with a climate justice lens. Over two nights, the first for VIP stakeholders such as entertainment and culture influencers, and the second night for the equally essential community stakeholders, including the Mayor of Norfolk, Kenneth Cooper Alexander, hundreds of people came together to practice joy.

The comedians present for the shows, all of them Black, were Clark Jones, Aminah Imani, Kristen Sivills, and Mamoudou N’Diaye. Antonique Smith, an artivist who has worked with HHC on climate justice for several years, and Yearwood hosted the shows. The shows also included Malik Jordan and Tiffany Sawyer, who are artivists, youth poets, and organizers with Teens With a Purpose. They presented a poem on including youth voices in the discussions on the “debeautifying” happening in their communities. The film team successfully documented the shows on both nights. Their work resulted in large amounts of footage for creating films to uplift what is happening in Norfolk and provide a joyful night for others in communities across the nation being impacted by the intersecting injustices Black people live with every day.

HHC established the HROP and phase goals to engage and connect a diverse body of stakeholders across various subcultures, disseminate information, mobilize people to the polls, document the positions and experiences of the people and communities throughout Hampton Roads, and put on live creative and cultural events. These goals were all successfully achieved. Yet, achieving these goals is better understood as successful because building movement and expanding community power were made possible through convenings, education, voting, and opening doors for sustainable engagement with and between stakeholders that continues in 2021. Additionally, the shifting of cultures occurred artistically, within and across stakeholders through ownership of climate narratives and solutions, and through creating culture. This provided opportunities for organizers, artists, creatives, stakeholders, and other community members to reimagine how arts and culture, particularly comedy, can be used for engaging and centering communities being impacted by the climate crisis and shift narratives on climate justice as racial justice.

Throughout Phase One, HHC and stakeholders in Norfolk and the broader Hampton Roads region built a foundation. The HHC team also began adding to and shaping the components of a proof of concept that using creative and cultural organizing strategies can help to spark imaginations for the infinite possibilities of providing joy while bending the arc of climate justice closer in communities most at risk and those already being impacted by the climate crisis. The fluid organizing and creative processes set in motion in Phase One did not stop at the temporal boundary of the phase. They were set in motion to flourish and build on. As the project moved into Phase Two, creative processes would be front and center but still interconnected with organizing processes.

Back to Timeline

Phase Two: Post-Production

Phase Two began in January 2020. The main goal was to complete a film and release it through HHC’s Think 100% Platform, specifically the Think 100% Films division, using the footage from the comedy shows while including other documentary footage captured to provide community and stakeholder contexts and stories. Please note that emphasis on creative goals in this phase in no way indicates that organizing processes, including maintaining relationships and open lines of communication, ever stopped. Creative processes are as fluid as organizing processes. However, they sometimes have more firm deadlines, and the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the timeline of the entire world.

In mid-January 2020, the post-production team, including Veaux (the editor) and Havstad, completed a trailer for what was envisioned as one film. HHC privately shared the trailer and received a solid response; however, they felt some time was needed to reflect on the vision and recuperate after an intensive process. Shortly after, dream hampton, an award-winning director, was brought on as Executive Producer, bringing a vast pool of knowledge to the creative filmmaking process.

In February and March of 2020, the first round of editing began to create a single film called Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave. Yet, the world was changing as COVID-19 began to strike communities across the globe, and uprisings began around the killing of George Floyd by the police and the urgent need for racial justice. In the second half of March, the post-production team completed their first full edit of the film as sheltering in place began in Los Angeles. As Havstad, dream hampton, and Yearwood reflected and evaluated the stories within the film over two months, it became clear the film would need to be broken into two projects. One project would be Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave, a comedy special on the climate crisis. The other project would become Underwater Projects, a documentary on what is happening within the Hampton Roads region, particularly Norfolk, in relationship with the climate crisis, race, climate gentrification, and the risks that communities and Naval Station Norfolk, the largest employer in the region, face.

It turned out that Phase Two for creative processes would extend into what is identified as Phase Three, which began in April 2020 for organizing processes, resulting in the phases running concurrently. This is discussed more in the Phase Three section of this presentation; however, this eventual crossover illustrates how fluid creative and cultural organizing strategies and processes need to be. This moment is where creative processes expanded while also increasing opportunities for future organizing with two films as creative and cultural organizing tools. Given that films produced from organizing projects should further serve organizing goals, the creative processes needed to move temporally different at times; however, they remained parallel with and intersecting with the organizing processes.

There were distinct goals for each film that demanded different timelines and editing processes. Deciding to create two separate films opened pathways for more effectively serving the stories being told and using the films to organize in the future. Editing helps define the narratives of stories being told through film, and the editing process brought clarity on what was possible with the content on hand. Comedy specials and documentaries are two different genres of cinema — one being more linear to edit and one having the capacity to hold diverse story arcs that all feed into the stories that the people or organizations involved in producing them seek to share or amplify. Veaux shares:

When it was just all one film, when we were just trying to pack everything into this one film, the film felt way too long first and foremost… and when we tried to cut it as one film, there wasn’t enough climate crisis jokes to cut to. So, that was the problem there because we were cutting from documentary stuff and then to jokes that didn’t even involve the climate crisis, so that was a bit jarring.

Care must be shown with editing documentaries, and that involves being sensitive to the community. Creating two films not only allowed for distinctions between comedy and documentary films, but it also enabled this type of care to be present in an elevated way.

The HHC team continued forward with a plan for the two films beginning with a heavy focus on the documentary. The goal was to complete the basic editing of Underwater Projects for submission to the Sundance Film Festival. To meet an October 2020 deadline for the festival would include further defining the story arcs, editing, sound mixing, and motion graphics. To help meet this deadline goal, Mandolyn “Mystic” Ludlum (the author of this research project) was brought on as a project coordinator to work with Havstad, Veaux, Cross, dream hampton, a motion graphics team, and others. The process for interstitials needed to start as soon as possible.

Interstitials are short pieces shown between film elements, which in HHC’s context are motion graphics pieces that connect different story arcs and are essential for including context for viewers of Underwater Projects. The urgent climate stories that need telling through films mandates placing stories from places such as Hampton Roads within historical, conceptual, and cultural contexts. These contexts are meaningful because they allow viewers to understand better what is happening in Norfolk. Additionally, they are essential so that viewers in communities affected by the climate crisis can know that what they are experiencing is part of the expansive and ongoing structural violence and systemic exploitation, in addition to the inequalities, oppression, and destruction that has grown from colonial, white supremacist, and capitalist ideologies and practices.

Love emphasizes that people who are being harmed through environmental racism need to see the types of films HHC is making. Love says:

A person who doesn’t see a movie like that or see a documentary that tells the whole story would own a part of that, that isn’t their own…I feel strongly that we need to hear as often as possible all the things that contribute [to harming communities] so that we see ourselves as whole and that we’re really uber resilient to survive through things that should have killed us a long time ago.

HHC hired Shapes + Forms in July 2020 to create the motion graphics that would help provide the necessary contexts in an understandable and accessible way. Shapes + Forms is a company that primarily serves corporate companies, but they wanted to support the justice movements that were ongoing during this time. They provided their motion graphics work at cost (the cost of the work supplied without a profit margin), which allowed HHC to move forward within any financial constraints.

The Center For Media and Social Impact (CMSI) and HHC worked together on the scripts for the interstitials. Inclusion is a priority for HHC, and the team knew they wanted Black and Native writers due to the content being written and the history of Hampton Roads. Bethany Hall from CMSI managed the writing team, including Mamoudou N’Diaye, who hosted the live comedy shows in Norfolk, and Joseph Clift (a comedian and writer). Havstad helped to do the background research and drive the writers’ content, while dream hampton and Havstad reviewed and edited for Underwater Project’s storylines. Over the next few months, there was a constant exchange of feedback between the HHC post-production team, the CMSI team, and Shapes + Forms on motion graphics content, comedic timing, and effects, all while Underwater Projects was being edited overall. Having a hard deadline for the Sundance Film Festival was helpful as a guide for how time was navigated.

In a significant happening, HHC secured the famous comedian Wanda Sykes, a Hampton Roads native, to record the audio for the interstitials right before the Sundance Film Festival deadline. Both Clift and N’Diaye had previously recorded the audio, but getting someone from Hampton Roads, who is also well-known, was considered a win, and Clift and N’Diaye were supportive. Although the festival did not accept the film, HHC gained a deeper understanding of filmmaking and the additional footage needed to flesh out the storylines on the need for climate justice, the continued impacts of climate gentrification, and the sinking Naval Station Norfolk.

The goals for Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave in Phase Two as a distinct film were to complete the film and then secure distribution and continue organizing and mobilizing work in Virginia and other states during the time leading up to the 2020 elections as part of Phase Three. The HHC post-production team and CMSI team tightened up the film through editing and feedback loops. With an almost completed comedy special on hand, and a firm belief in the power of comedy to open conversations on something that is not funny at all, the climate crisis, HHC began submitting to film festivals and using and providing clips for organizing and to organizations in the climate movement. Beyond this project’s scope, the film was finished entirely (i.e., editing, color correction, sound mixing, credits, and music clearances). Moving from a goal of one film to having two films and engaging in creative processes on two fronts demanded fluidity, flexibility, and additional financial and human capacities. Additionally, it required a firm commitment to creating creative and cultural organizing tools that are birthed from the needs of a community while pursuing climate justice, building movement, shifting culture, and expanding community power. HHC stayed the course as part of long-term creative and organizing processes grounded in a commitment to serving communities.

The HHC team made decisions within Phase Two that expanded the nature of the creative goals and processes, and this meant the phase would continue to run parallel with Phase Three. Additionally, the arrival of COVID-19 as a global pandemic contributed to creative and organizing processes no longer moving from one finite phase to the next. However, the goals for Phase Two are considered to have been successfully met. Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave was completed enough as a film in Phase Two to become available for the film festival circuit and exploring distribution options. Although HHC could not use the film as envisioned for in-person organizing purposes leading up to the 2020 elections, that does not mean the film could not still be successfully used as a creative and cultural organizing tool.

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Phase Three: Organizing and Advocacy

As an organizing and advocacy phase, Phase Three began in April 2020, and like Phase Two, continues at the time of this research project being made available to the public. As previously explained, neither the organizing nor creative processes set in motion in Phase One cease to move when one collection of processes may take more of the prominent position. The first official use of Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave as part of organizing processes was in January 2020. At that time, Yearwood used clips of the film as part of a stakeholder follow-up meeting with local influencer stakeholders at the Slover Library in Norfolk. This event was before any film clips were shared outside of the project’s communities. This event represents sustained engagement with the community and stakeholders that HHC sought to engage at the beginning of the HROP. People in the community were excited about the comedy shows when they happened, and showing how the film was developing was another valuable moment for building movement.

When a film does not grow out of an organizing project or is not being used as a creative and cultural organizing tool, it may wrap and charge forward driven by corporate purposes such as box office numbers. HHC does not organize nor produce creative and cultural events that are extractive to the communities being engaged. They consider present and future organizing as part of the often necessary long-term commitments to communities and those needed to further climate justice and other areas of social justice.

As the world continued to navigate a changed reality due to COVID-19 and uprisings, HHC shifted to thinking about how to affect change, educate, and shift culture through virtual platforms. The plan for the HROP organizing processes was to use Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave clips and discussions as part of localized non-partisan organizing and mobilizing events to get out the vote for 2020 national elections with the same push for climate justice and racial justice used in Virginia in 2019. The plan included expanding outside of Virginia to include additional states through using creative, cultural, and geographically relevant approaches. In place of in-person events, HHC continued organizing through its long-running Respect My Vote! platform, a voter registration and mobilizing campaign, and as part of broader strategic plans. Additionally, they provided content for partner’s virtual events. This organizing work continued HHC’s overall work on the inclusion of climate justice as an issue in all of their campaigns to get out the vote.

Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave is a comedy and brings joy, but it is also an organizing tool, and anywhere that clips or the film are shared is considered to offer opportunities for organizing. Within the scope of this research, film clips were shared in April 2020 by Yearwood as part of celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. Additionally, the trailer was shown in July 2020 as part of Climate Town during the Sundance Film Festival, and HHC submitted the film to the 2021 DC Environmental Film Festival (DCEFF). Outside this research project’s scope, DCEFF accepted the film into the festival as the first climate crisis stand-up comedy film in their history. It became the third most-watched film overall during the festival, and the film’s inclusion contributed to the continued creation of a proof of concept on using creative and cultural organizing strategies.

The film was also screened in 2021 in the St. Paul’s District at The Fuse Festival, an annual outdoor community celebration by Teens With a Purpose (TWP). Although outside of this project’s scope, showing the film at this festival is significant for Love as a community stakeholder. The festival’s inclusion is relevant because some people in St. Paul’s did not feel comfortable heading to the Attucks Theater for the live shows even though they were in their community. Love shares:

Being outdoors and in Purpose Park in the backyard, and with TWP, that’s different… [it’s] really important to me that they didn’t have to go to the Attucks, a place that they don’t even rock with or get. They can stay outside in their own community and see themselves be celebrated and be lifted up with humor.

Staying committed to communities and stakeholders who are part of culturally and creative organizing campaigns demands that organizations keep communities included in the ongoing processes every step of the way. Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave is not meant to only bring joy to communities who are the most impacted by injustices or to whoever will be reached through film distribution, but to the communities where the organizing project began and continues.

Begun in 2020, Phase Two and Three organizing and creative processes continue in parallel in 2021; they also continue to inform each other in a symbiotic relationship that necessitates fluidity, flexibility, and institutional creativity. While Phase One goals may seem more defined and connected to building movement, shifting cultures, and expanding community power, Phases Two and Three also continue to contribute to those happenings. The use of films as creative and cultural organizing tools creates endless possibilities for building movement through collective experiences and mobilizing communities to vote. Additionally, opportunities were created to shift the culture of comedy and how the climate crisis and the communities impacted are discussed, as well as to expand community power through sharing the story of Hampton Roads. Much like the successful shifting of post-production goals within creative processes, organizing processes shifted based on world and national events. Even though plans changed, successful organizing still occurred virtually.

The possibilities that are in front of HHC as organizing and creative processes continue forward are many. Underwater Projects is heading back into production in the summer of 2021, and Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave continues to be submitted to and screened at festivals. Additionally, HHC will be using Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave as a critical component for organizing and mobilizing people in Virginia during the upcoming 2021 midterm elections. The exploration of Phases One through Three of the HROP demonstrates a successful proof of concept for using creative and cultural organizing to create cultural events and tools and mobilize for climate justice. The organizing and creative processes involved are layered and complex, and justice rarely comes easy, so understanding the capacities HHC had within the HROP to allow these processes to begin and continue is another essential part of the story.

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Capacity is at the core of everything that’s possible, so capacity plus imagination.

Liz Havstad

Capacities Plus Imagination

Capacities are what is available to an organization or person to implement their organizing and creative visions and campaigns. Capacities of varying kinds can simultaneously be present with constraints. It is vital to understand what may impact existing capacities and then plan a strategy to maximize what one has and with whom they can partner or collaborate. Organizations are of different sizes and stages of development and thus have individual capacities and constraints. However, identifying any capacity constraints should not limit imagination but inspire the pushing of boundaries and the designing of creative solutions. Several key types of capacities have been present during the HROP, and they are explored below alongside any constraints:

Institutional Capacity

Institutional capacity is a core capacity within the HROP and all other organizing and advocacy work done by Hip Hop Caucus (HHC). HHC has developed the institutional capacity to design and facilitate creative and cultural organizing campaigns; cultivate cultural and grassroots leaders; present trusted creative and cultural events; impact all public policy layers through advocacy, organizing, and mobilizing; and support other organizations through partnership and thought leadership. Muhammad offers, “The institution of the Hip Hop Caucus, which is very key, is setting a precedence of how we should look at culture, how we should use culture.” Through continually collaborating with communities and organizations and bringing on volunteers, creatives, artists, organizers, and activists as part of their staff and network, they have added to institutional knowledge and capacity.

A constraint present was having a vision that was bigger than the institutional capacity present. Havstad explains:

We executed a big vision. And it was, in reality, a vision that was bigger than our institutional capacity at the time… Not everything could happen, how we would have exactly wanted to happen… but we approached it with a make it happen type approach…But, I wouldn’t recommend doing what we did at the scale where we were at the time. I would recommend having more scale in place or scaling up to be able to do the kind of strategies at the level that we did it.

An additional constraint on institutional capacity can be human capacity. HHC navigated implementing the vision of the HROP, including the organizing, the comedy shows, and the films with the people on hand and bringing in more people as possible. People had to wear multiple hats, and this stretched the HHC team thin. Still, they were able to work through challenges by drawing on their network and collaborators to fluidly accomplish the goals created for the project when it was still an idea. The institutional capacity level did not prevent HHC from being successful, but capacities must be considered when designing an organizing project.

Financial Capacity

As a cultural institution, HHC started in 2004 and has connected the hip hop community with political processes ever since. They have an established record of engaging and supporting Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities across the nation who are often not engaged around the need for climate justice and how the climate crisis is impacting them. HHC has been building financial capacities through demonstrated effectiveness, philanthropic grants, and other funding sources to run campaigns, support creative and cultural organizing and mobilizing projects such as the HROP, and produce creative and cultural events. For the HROP specifically, there was funding given in Phase One, and then what was being created was used to seek additional funding.

The constraints on this capacity in connection with the HROP are ones that many organizations face: budgets and fundraising effectiveness. When organizations address one or several areas of injustice in an ongoing way, institutional needs across the board can impact the allotment of funds towards developing and expanding campaigns, projects, and events. Seeking financial support from external organizations is often mandatory. Thinking about financial capacity and any constraints should be assessed across the life of an organizing project. The HROP is soon entering its third calendar year, and HHC continues to raise funds to actively support ongoing organizing and creative processes.

Stakeholder Engagement Capacity

HHC prioritizes organizing with communities and stakeholders in non-extractive ways. They are committed to engaging, connecting, and building long-term relationships with communities and other stakeholders through grassroots organizing work. As with other capacity types, HHC has a record of being committed to communities being the most impacted by injustices and helping to amplify and address culturally and geography-relevant issues. Having relationships with stakeholders across the nation and various subcultures and organizations involved in movement work, “From the streets to the suites!” as Yearwood says, is essential to sustaining and increasing this capacity.

The trust of stakeholders demands to be identified as a constraint possibility in relationship with this capacity type. Organizations and organizers must be authentic to earn the trust of stakeholders as they can invite organizers in and kick them out! Stakeholders and communities should not be taken for granted and should be present and involved throughout the life of organizing projects. HHC actively and authentically worked and continues to work on building movement and expanding community power with the stakeholders and communities in the Hampton Roads region and within all other projects and campaigns.

Community Response Capacity

Having the capacity to respond to community needs can be understood as going into a community to organize around one issue, realizing communities or community members are facing other challenges, and then expanding to support their needs. Understanding that communities and stakeholders may be facing a variety of challenges from poverty to violence to food insecurity, and living through intersecting inequalities, should be continuously informed by research and listening to the community.

Constraints with this capacity type may be connected with financial or stakeholder engagement capacities. While there were constraints present in those areas, HHC met community needs when possible, such as providing food for community members and stakeholders during the project. The HHC team did not make assumptions about what community members may need regarding other forms of support. Learning what will be helpful directly from the community is part of responsive listening and organizing work.

Creative and Cultural Capacities

HHC successfully builds its creative and cultural capacities by facilitating creative and cultural organizing, engaging creatives and artists, and producing creative and cultural events that provide valuable insights for growing. HHC as a cultural organization has always been grounded in hip hop culture. Allowing creatives to lead is valorized by HHC. Trusting and empowering those who are brought on can help increase creative and cultural capacities.

Havstad notes:

Hip Hop Caucus has a unique capacity to facilitate and bring together creatives and embark on a creative process, and trust a creative process, and allow a creative process to happen in a way in which the organization doesn’t need to control what’s being said, which is something that happens often.

Hip hop is a constantly evolving culture. Like it, HHC has continued to grow by releasing music, organizing tours and concerts, starting a podcast, and has now put on comedy shows and has a developing film division. Teaching themselves and collaborating with creatives and partners allows them to continually shift hip hop culture in connection with social justice. HHC also shifts culture within the climate movement in collaboration with the communities being disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, other environmental injustices, and about what climate and racial justice can and should be. Through doing this work creatively and grounded in culture, HHC continues to expand these capacities.

Some constraints with this capacity type include HHC not having experience producing comedy shows or feature-length films. People involved in the creative processes had to work within the constraints they faced. The HHC team drew on collaborators such as CMSI for help with finding and leading writers and comedians, and editing advice. Additionally, HHC drew from its expansive network to fill specific roles within filmmaking, such as the director, editor, colorist, project coordinator, and more. However, Veaux did not start with all of the equipment he needed for editing but could expand his tools for editing as the work continued. Karriem states, “In film, you always could use more of everything. More time, more personnel, more capital, more cameras, more of everything, particularly time and people.” However, a six-person crew effectively provided high-quality content for HHC films to be made.

Drawing on their institutional knowledge and their network, plus evaluating their capacities and any constraints along the way, HHC was able to gradually move forward with the HROP and the creative and organizing processes within it. Accessing capacities and imagination can help set creative and cultural organizing projects in motion. Just as evaluation of the capacities and constraints of an organization should be ongoing, understanding the glows and grows that occur throughout a project helps with serving communities and furthering climate justice while attaining future project and campaign goals.

Grows, Glows, and Wisdom

Grows and Glows

How organizations, practitioners, organizers, creatives, artists, and visual storytellers evaluate and learn from their work can help them serve future projects and campaigns. HHC calls these lessons glows and grows. According to Havstad, “Glows are the lessons learned that an organization would want to do again and build from, and grows are the lessons learned that they would want to adjust to or improve on in future projects.” Glows and grows should not be confined to post-reflection on organizing or creative work; identifying them is better served as part of an iterative process that can function as part of organizing and creative processes throughout the life of a project.

The intention behind publicly sharing some of the glows and grows from the HROP is to provide additional opportunities for collective learning. This research project is for educating and engaging. After the grows and glows, four wisdom sections are shared to deepen those opportunities in relation to organizing and creative processes and visual storytelling through film. HHC believes in creating and shifting cultures and sharing knowledge—the more people engaged in creative and cultural organizing for climate and racial justice, the more building movement, shifting of cultures, expanding community power, and achieving justice that can happen!

The glows identified by Muhammad and Havstad are:

  • The HHC team was fluid throughout the three phases of the project explored in this research project.
  • HHC facilitated sustainable relationships with and between stakeholders from various subcultures, and many of the stakeholders continue to engage with each other and HHC.
  • HHC completed the comedy special film, and a documentary film is in production. The films add to the creative and cultural tools that are and will be available for future organizing projects and campaigns.
  • HHC team members were able to respond to community needs (a grow and a glow).
  • The HROP created professional and personal growth and development opportunities for HHC team members, the community, and creatives and artists.
  • Jordan and Sawyer, the two youth poets and artivists from Teens With a Purpose who were part of the comedy shows and are featured in Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave, received a national platform for their art.

The grows identified by Muhammad and Havstad are:

  • The comedians should have been embedded with the Norfolk community before they started writing. This way, they would have had a more internalized understanding earlier on of what is happening in the community, the stakeholders involved, and the history and complexities of the issues in the region.
  • Looking for multi-faceted creatives to write and perform the comedy show was not efficient. Keeping creatives in their expertise areas would have been more productive.
  • Efficiency is not necessarily the most effective approach when involved with creatives or creative endeavors.

Youth organizers are important because if we don’t start having more youth organizers, the movement will die.

Malik Jordan


Drawing directly from participants who are part of this research project, four wisdom sections are shared. Providing insights into the creative and organizing processes of the HROP is helpful for further understanding how a creative and cultural organizing project was initiated, implemented, and continues to grow. However, providing direct wisdom may be valuable as imagination is sparked and you (whoever you are) work to create a proof of concept through creative and cultural organizing work for climate justice. The wisdom sections are for organizations, practitioners and organizers; creatives and artists; and visual storytellers using film as their medium. The wisdom is for those who range from having years of experience to those who may just be beginning to explore doing the work necessary to further climate justice.

Wisdom for Organizations

  1. Love must drive the work being done.
  2. Smaller organizations often have much more in-depth knowledge of the communities they serve than larger organizations. While institutional and funding capacities may be present, some of the most substantial resources are within the communities being engaged and served.
  3. The use of visual storytelling, particularly film, is an excellent value investment and can provide unlimited content for organizing campaigns, but once started, sticking through it will be necessary.
  4. Enlist creatives as partners from the beginning and then support them in their process.
  5. Keep momentum—doing one creative and cultural organizing event and then thinking the organizing is over will not further climate justice.
  6. Creatives are profoundly feeling people. Honor them and have clear communication to assure organizational or campaign goals are aligned.
  7. Have a sense of empathy for the people you are working with within creative and cultural projects. Try and hear people where they are and do what you can to give them what they need.
  8. Filmmaking offers opportunities for mentorship and connecting people within creative and organizing processes.
  9. Using films for organizing can be helpful because they allow for autonomous consumption through personal lenses on many platforms.
  10. Create quality creative content. People are often overwhelmed by content, so make your content count.
  11. The entertainment industry is challenging to navigate—be careful not to let industry people derail projects into those that are not aligned with organizing goals.

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Wisdom for Practitioners and Organizers

  1. Draw on something greater than yourself before you become cynical—create healthy coping mechanisms—root yourself.
  2. As organizers of color, we must be true to ourselves and not recreate what we are fighting against by thinking we must follow other’s approaches.
  3. Talk with people in communities and not at them—no one wants to be talked down to.
  4. If you are not a youth organizer, include them in all phases of your organizing work.
  5. Engage people of color and have people from the community involved in your organizing projects from the very beginning—not just on camera.
  6. There is always something for you to do!
  7. Keep organizing—don’t start, and then just stop.
  8. Be genuine and stay connected with the community.
  9. There will not be a savior that will drop down—you are a solution builder as a community member.
  10. People may not understand or say environmental justice or climate change, but they know their worth.
  11. Never assume that community members do not care. Communities are fighting but often living through traumatic experiences and balancing a plethora of challenges such as poverty, police brutality, food scarcity, the pandemic, and pollution. Be responsive to the communities being engaged.

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Wisdom for Creatives

  1. Do your research; stand your ground; and, believe in yourself.
  2. Include messages in your art—messages grounded in your purpose — let people know that they are not alone and creatively teach them something new.
  3. Your art is only half the work; social justice work is the other part.
  4. Creativity opens doors for political and community engagement and can take you into places you never imagined you would be.
  5. Use your voice; it’s the most powerful thing that we have. Use it in the unique ways that our legacies and cultures have taught us to as people of color.
  6. People, particularly children and youth, are watching you.

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Wisdom for Visual Storytelling Through Films

  1. People in front of and behind the camera, and on every step of the way, need to be connected to the places, people, or issues that you are telling stories about (identity, geography, life experience, the context of generation, etc.). This wisdom goes for everyone involved in the creative processes that happen after shooting the content and includes the editing, the music, who is producing, and more.
  2. Match your approach, budget, and the visual aesthetic you are trying to create with your strategy and audience.
  3. Use the filmmaking process to bring together stakeholders who may not communicate daily to talk about the same subject. Doing this can help facilitate stakeholder relationships, foster community, and make sure different viewpoints are included in the content.
  4. Use filmmaking as an opportunity to give access to people who have not had opportunities to operate cameras. At the end of the day, what you are doing is not really about the cinematography. It is about the story that you are telling.
  5. You can get fantastic footage on a phone but pay attention to the content and sound that you are getting. Do not use the sound on the phone. Good sound is less expensive than fantastic cinematography.
  6. Use tripods for interviews and spend time getting good angles and lighting. You can use sheet bounce boards to bounce light onto the people you are filming.
  7. Learn to edit because it will open other universes and expand your understanding as you develop as a storyteller.
  8. The idea of being creative, being a listener, and being a storyteller is all the same.
  9. If you have a decent budget, purchase a camera, tripod, audio equipment, powerful computers, storage space, lighting supplies, and an editing program.
  10. If you only have a few thousand dollars, get a fast computer for editing, and a camera that shoots 4K with detachable lenses (can be found for less than $1500) that captures high-quality audio and that has video outputs that you can stream through right away.
  11. Visual storytelling is an excellent investment that offers almost unlimited ways to use what you shoot (as a creator, organizer, or organization).

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The goal is for these pieces of wisdom to help inspire and guide you. However, there is no one way to organize, be a creative or artist, or create and produce films as cultural tools. There are ways to organize in culturally responsive, inclusive, and innovative ways that are not extractive and center and include communities around building solutions, movement, and expanding community power. There are ways as creatives or artists to incorporate purpose and pursuits of justice in our work to help shift the cultures of our crafts, communities, or even movements. Lastly, there are ways as an organization within the climate movement to organize for climate justice through uplifting communities of color and the solutions within them. As organizations, you can help shift the culture of the climate movement by centering the people and communities most impacted by the climate crisis. Collectively, organizers, creatives and artists, and organizations can push forward the need for climate justice. Not just in communities such as Norfolk and the broader Hampton Roads region but around the world. As glows and grows are evaluated, and wisdom is built, pass them on—the future of the human species and Planet Earth are interconnected within the climate crisis. The future of climate justice and community informed solutions is now.

The Future Is Now

This research project explored the first three phases of the Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project (HROP) to more fully understand and share the creative and organizing processes within it; how the project has contributed to building movement, shifting culture, and expanding community power; and wisdom that may be of use to guide and inspire communities, organizations, organizers, and creatives and artists. The creative and organizing processes within the project move in parallel. They also intersect and are involved in a symbiotic relationship. Hip Hop Caucus (HHC) team members from the President to the Virginia Leadership Coordinator, alongside community members and other stakeholders, worked collectively, endlessly, responsively, and fluidly to produce successful comedy events, mobilize the community to the polls, and create films as cultural tools for organizing. In this way, stakeholders who may not have previously come together around the need for climate justice began to build sustainable relationships that continue to this day. Through the production of comedy shows and films and facilitating with and among stakeholders, this project is helping to shift the culture of who owns the stories in and around the climate crisis and solutions in Hampton Roads while expanding the boundaries of what can be imagined as possible within the climate movement through using comedy and films.

Through non-extractive collective and grassroots creative and cultural organizing, HHC achieved the overall goals designed for the HROP and those within Phases One through Three in a shifting world around racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizing and creative processes are continuous, and the phases are not finite. Phases Two and Three began to run simultaneously as creative processes expanded to include two films. There are now two films that grew out of the HROP being used and developed as cultural organizing tools to shift cultures in communities, the arts, the climate movement, engage communities, and further climate justice as racial justice. There are two films to help amplify the lived experiences and need for climate justice throughout Hamptons Roads—particularly in primarily Black communities such as St. Paul’s, which is experiencing climate gentrification, sinking, and is at risk for tragic losses as waters rise and the from lack of sea walls.

The phases within the HROP coexist and continue to inform each other because the organizing work will never be complete until the communities are centered, and people have safety from the water, housing justice, racial justice, climate justice, and equitable partnerships in creating solutions. The phases do not have finite completion dates. This development represents what can happen when movement work builds on itself by expanding the creative, cultural, and organizing work and develops through dynamic processes.

The HROP is ongoing as of the public presentation of this research. The communities and Naval Station Norfolk continue to be sinking and under the threat of a climate-driven water event that causes massive destruction and the loss of lives and cultures. HHC continues to engage stakeholders and plans to use Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave across stakeholder subcultures in the fall of 2021. The future campaign is part of ongoing voter mobilization and education connected with climate justice and the upcoming 2021 Virginia election cycle. The campaign will continue to use comedy to uplift joy in Black communities. This campaign will further expand HHC’s proof of concept for using creative and cultural organizing to mobilize communities to vote and push for climate justice. HHC will roll out the model in other states in 2022 if the model in Virginia is successful.

Hip Hop Caucus seeks to continue collaborating with communities, creatives, artists, organizations in the climate movement that uplift climate justice. They seek to work with other stakeholders across the nation who recognize the power of hip hop culture, creative and cultural organizing led by people and communities of color, and the creation and use of cultural tools such as comedy and films. No argument is being made that the creative and cultural organizing approach being used by HHC within the HROP and the findings of this research project are generalizable; however, the research findings do provide wisdom to help light the paths for others to begin or deepen their work for climate justice. Drawing from the findings within this research project, I recommend future research explore the importance of creative and cultural organizing work that includes films as creative and cultural tools in relationship with non-extractive organizing and storytelling.

Recognizing and achieving climate justice as racial justice needs to happen now. May your imaginations be sparked by the Think 100% Hampton Roads Organizing Project. May you take away that you, as an organizer or creative or artist of color, you as an organization that centers or wants to center climate justice, you as someone who wants to create change, that you can build a proof of concept for yourselves and your communities and spark the imaginations of others. Through creative and cultural organizing, reimagining(s) of the world, new narratives, and directions for solutions and approaches presented by Millennial and Gen Z Black, Brown, and Indigenous leaders can become the future in the right now that is needed to piece by piece achieve climate justice. May the people and stories from Hampton Roads and the ongoing fight to protect their lives and communities from the climate crisis and climate gentrification be an additional catalyst for understanding that what we have in the future of right now is the power of the people to create the future that will come to be. Those futures are tied to preventing a further escalation of the climate crisis and protecting the communities and peoples being disproportionately impacted and who are most at risk because of the crisis. Organize, organize, organize, and use every ounce of imagination, creativity, and culture that you have. The future is now.


Thank you to all of the participants who agreed to be interviewed for this research project—without your stories, this story would never be told.

This research was made possible with the support of the Climate Advocacy Lab.