InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This week we catch up with Nicole Henry, creator of the youth empowerment program Round Edges.
ELIXHER: Tell us a little about yourself.
NICOLE: I’m 31 years old. I was born and raised in Germany. As of 2008, I am a D.C. resident, also an army brat. I’m the founder of Round Edges.
ELIXHER: Can you tell us a little about Round Edges?
NICOLE: Round Edges is an enrichment program designed to bring art-based and life skills workshops to underserved youth in the D.C. area. What we do is partner with organizations that have youth-centered programming and bring in facilitators from the community—local artists, working professionals—to share some aspects of their lives with the youth. Currently we’re working with grades 5 through 12.
ELIXHER: What compelled you to create Round Edges?
NICOLE: Because I was an army brat, I got to meet a lot of different people who consequently taught me a lot of different things. I was inspired by that because they took the time out to relate to a child and not necessarily treat me as a child. It exposed me to something that I didn’t know which then in turn increased my creativity, increased my curiosity, and it just allowed me more options in figuring what I wanted to do with my life and how I wanted to use my life.
ELIXHER: That’s great. It’s a fairly new project. What has been the response so far?
NICOLE: The response has been great. Thus far we’ve worked with Covenant House, and a few other organizations. The response from the kids has been enormous. They seem to really enjoy the program; they have a good time exchanging with the facilitators. The facilitators also are affected by the kids. It’s really interesting to see what they talk about, to see what’s on these children’s minds, what is guiding and inspiring them.
ELIXHER: Has it been a challenge to find the facilitators to pair up with the youth?
NICOLE: Absolutely not. I think that’s one of the good things about this program. It seems to be needed. Everywhere I turn there are people asking about Round Edges, trying to see where Round Edges can fit with their organization. There definitely does seem to be a huge need for a format where adults are connecting with youth in the community.
ELIXHER: Who are the youth that you target?
NICOLE: I decided to target the youth that I see in my community. I know that in this community, arts programs have been cut. Many programs that were once offered in schools are now being cut because of lack of government funds, because of the recession and all kinds of economic things that are going on at this point in time. I decided to direct my intentions and direct Round Edges to the group that I know is being most affected by these cuts in programming and it turns out that they are minority youth in this city.
The LGBTQ community definitely has many aspects that involve entertainment. We foster a lot of healing through getting together, celebrating and partying. We also have to start at the ground level. It’s okay to party and have fun, but there’s also a time where we can really reach people in the community before they become adults. We can help build their foundation so they can become inspired adults who branch out into different things.
ELIXHER: How can people be more proactive about being mentors?
NICOLE: Number one is people should be aware about what’s going on in their communities. From that point they can begin to assess the need. There is a myriad of organizations that call out for volunteers and help. Round Edges kind of takes the work out of people having to find something to do. We provide opportunities for people to get involved. Round Edges is kind of a one-stop shop for connecting with the community.
ELIXHER: Earlier you mentioned the budget cuts that have been happening to arts programs. Are you also an artist?
NICOLE: I’m not an artist in the sense of producing anything tangible. I think of myself as an artist when it comes to organizing, facilitating different ideas, just being creative as far as group-thinking and pushing ideas forward.
EIXHER: Let’s shift gears a little bit to talk more about your personal journey and how you’ve arrived to where you are today. Who or what inspires you?
NICOLE: My mother. Watching my mother as a child be of service and constantly be in contribution to not only my family but the community around her was a huge inspiration for me. My friends definitely inspire me. I have a lot of artist friends, friends who are very loving and very open. That has really fostered a wonderful and welcoming community for me that’s been very inspiring. I derive inspiration from just about everything, just seeing the God in everyone and everything.
EIXHER: Where did the name “Round Edges” come from?
NICOLE: I came up with the name “Round Edges” sort of as a play on being well-rounded. My mother always made sure that I was enriching my life as a kid, whether that was playing basketball or volunteering in different ways. Those experiences made me well-rounded. The people that I came in contact with and learned from made me more of a well-rounded person. Everyone has edges and angles to them. Rounding them out was what I wanted to do for myself in my own journey, increasing my knowledge of things and increasing my experience of the world. The idea just popped into my head one day and I justified the logic later. [Laughs.]
ELIXHER: [Laughs.] So you talked about these “edges” and these things that shape who we are. What is a challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
NICOLE: A challenge I had in my twenties was trying to figure out what my purpose was. I looked everywhere for it. What I ended up realizing was that your purpose isn’t something that is necessarily going be glaring in front of your face in neon letters. Sometimes it’s up to us to create that purpose. So a lot of my challenge was understanding that I can take responsibility for my purpose and I could create my purpose.
ELIXHER: How did you get to the point where you realized that?
NICOLE: A lot of living definitely. A lot of trial and error. A lot of looking around in places pursuing things that I wanted to do or that I had an interest in. Discovering that I didn’t want to do it later on or maybe I did want to do it but didn’t necessarily have the know all to do it. That’s really been maturity.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be part of the Black queer community?
NICOLE: Black queer people are just awesome. They’re a hotbed of creativity. Their intellect prowess is amazing. It’s so diverse. There’s so much that the queer community has to offer. There are so many ways in which the queer community touches people. Just simply creating a community allows people to see their reflections and not feel so alone or feel so alienated. The queer community provides a home for people.
ELIXHER: What are some areas that the community can grow?
NICOLE: We do have a long way to go. We can definitely be more connected in the queer community, especially in the Black queer community. In aspects of the Black queer community there exists a lot of tension. There exists maybe some alienation still. There still seems to be sort of a disconnect. I think if we have dialogue around those things, if we foster an environment of openness, we will end up growing.
ELXHER: Are you referring to our individual interactions with one another or beyond that?
NICOLE: I think it’s with our individual interactions and beyond that. For instance, if I go to a party, there seems to be this tension with other masculine-identified women for some reason. Or if I’m walking on the street and I see someone from the Black queer community, a lot of times people don’t say hello. We can definitely be more friendly on the surface, but then also look for avenues and channels where we can actually get together and create something.
ELIXHER: Definitely. So what’s next for Nicole?
NICOLE: I plan on taking Round Edges to wherever it wants to go. I’d like to make it a national program. I’d like to see Round Edges go international. I’d like to see Round Edges extend the program to adults. I’d like to see Round Edges in elementary schools and high schools. What’s next for me personally, I plan to continue traveling the world. I love to travel. I plan to extend my thinking, to open myself to more opportunities, new communities, find ways to uplift my community a little bit more, to make connections and find possibilities everywhere.