Red Bull Amaphiko brings the people behind the Nasty Woman T-shirts and Overcoming Racism to talk shop and tell stories Tuesday.
[Updated] (This story marks the return of contributor Cara Lahr.}
Popular from the mid-nineteenth century up until World War II, medicine shows were traveling sales presentations for fraudulent “cure-all” elixirs punctuated with various entertainments and performances. The performers attracted the audience, and the salesman’s slick pitch parted folks from their money.
On Tuesday at the Civic Theatre, the New Orleans social innovation hub Propeller and the international social entrepreneurship platform Red Bull Amaphiko are resurrecting the format with a twist for The Medicine Show, a free evening of performances by artists and entertainers showcasing the stories of local entrepreneurs and their socially-conscious nonprofits and businesses. Performers include Baron Ahmon and Alexis Marceaux, and the people behind such organizations as The Lower 9th Ward Co-op Kitchen, The Juror Project, BNOLA.NET, True Love Movement and more. The event is particularly suited to the talents of featured entrepreneurs Matthew Kincaid and Amanda Brinkman, whose organizations are built upon the power of storytelling and collaboration.
“I’ve always had a really critical sense of justice, and race has always been something that’s been profound for me because of the different spaces I’ve had to navigate,” says Kincaid, founder of Overcoming Racism. He grew up in a black neighborhood in St. Louis while attending predominately white schools, and Kincaid often endured racism from “well-meaning adults.” It wasn’t until age 14, when he attended an eight-day institute for teens interested in social justice, that he was able to contextualize his own life experiences and observations through an understanding of how systemic oppression has caused and maintains social inequities.
“When I went to Anytown, it gave me the language to understand these raced worlds that I was living in growing up and had to understand and navigate on my own without a lot of adult assistance,” Kincaid says.
As a middle school social studies teacher at KIPP Believe College Prep in Hollygrove trying to impart the same knowledge he received on to his students years later, Kincaid came across study after study showing, he says, that “black and brown students not being given materials and resources that reflect them and their story leads to them having less investment in school and lower academic outcomes.” Inspired by these studies, as well as his own experience facilitating anti-racism workshops, Kincaid created a program to train his fellow teachers in culturally responsible pedagogy.
“After the first year of doing these trainings in my school,” says Kincaid, “we reduced our suspensions by 75 percent, we increased our student happiness by 15 percent, and we raised our school performance score.” Word spread of the program’s success, and the demand from other schools for similar programs became so great that Kincaid left KIPP last year to establish Overcoming Racism and pursue race and equity training for educators full-time.
“The impact that it was having on educators was significant, such that it just made sense for me to think about how can I invest our full time into doing this…making sure that the kids feel seen, valued, heard, and educated through a lens and a perspective that respects their culture, identity, and unique struggles.”
When Amanda Brinkman’s “Nasty Woman” T-shirt went viral last October, “it was really exciting,” she says, “but also, like, Oh shit, now I have to make 10,000 shirts.” The next month was a whirlwind, with Brinkman having to figure out everything from how to deal with the Federal Reserve (“The Fed shut down my bank account because it looked like money laundering”) to how to actually manufacture clothing (“I had only been designing some small objects, pins, accessories, that sort of thing”).
Once the dust settled, though, she started transforming her online store, Shrill Society, into a platform for the Nasty Woman feminist ethos. “I started contacting other designers who had a similar mindset and started adding their products onto the site in order to pull us all up and be able to show everything to a larger audience,” she says. Today, about half of Shrill Society’s merchandise (like this badass American Sign Language Nasty Woman shirt) was created by outside designers. “I’m constantly on my computer, looking at what people are doing and getting in contact and forming relationships.”
Brinkman also supports non-profits including Planned Parenthood and the ACLU by donating a portion of Shrill Society’s revenue to them, and she has partnered with woman-focused investment platform ElleVest to support She Should Run, an organization working to get 250,000 women running for office by 2030. “I definitely want to be spending a lot of time doing collaborations like the one with ElleVest,” Brinkman says, “which I think is really great and allows for both of us to do more.”
In the year ahead Brinkman will be focusing on her upcoming game Nasty Feminist: A Card Game, modeled after Cards Against Humanity (but with players creating their own responses). “Whoever has the best answer, the judge gives them the card,” Brinkman says. “You trade in those cards to get your Nasty Woman card, which are really amazing American women throughout history.”
She has no plans to abandon her collaborative ways, however. “My goal for 2018 is to add 50 more designers to the site. I really just want to make it a bigger platform for women doing interesting work.”
The Medicine Show is Tuesday, December 5 at the Civic Theatre. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Click here to reserve your seat. The show is free.
Updated at 5:28 p.m.
The card game is called Nasty Feminist, not Nasty Woman. The text has been changed to reflect this correction.