Inclusion is worth fighting for! Establishing and maintaining an inclusive workplace is an ongoing task, but any improvement in inclusion will inevitably improve the work-life for all involved. For example, Odyssey Impact began instituting Mental Health Mondays to help those struggling with their mental health during the pandemic. These days have been a wonderful benefit for all, which have now become a permanent fixture at Odyssey Impact.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jenise Ogle.
Jenise Ogle is a social impact professional, currently serving as the Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Multicultural Impact at Odyssey Impact, where she works closely with filmmakers, policymakers, and community organizations to raise awareness of pressing issues and drive social change. Prior to joining Odyssey Impact, Jenise co-developed Save Our Moms, a Viacom campaign that encouraged 6 million people to take greater responsibility for maternal health, and co-led successful legislative campaigns to protect survivors of gender-based violence including changing the minimum age of marriage in New York from 14 to 17. She is the current Board President of the Black Coalition for Safe Motherhood, a nonprofit organization, which seeks to support Black maternal health through the promotion of healthcare advocacy and community support of birthing people.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After graduating from college, I began working at a nonprofit organization in New York City providing direct services to survivors of gender-based violence. I became frustrated by the sheer number of people in need of support, and I felt that I could be doing more to address the cause of the issue. Simultaneously, there were new, popular voices using media to center traditionally underrepresented groups and bring attention to important social issues. Following their footsteps, I knew I had to do something that allowed me to leverage the power of the media to change “hearts and minds” and inspire social change.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My first exposure to social impact media occurred when I was in graduate school working toward my Master in Public Administration degree from Columbia University. I took a class on social impact campaigns with Professor Stephen Friedman. As a final project, I co-developed an idea for a campaign centering on Black maternal health as Black birthing people were 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than their White counterparts at the time. My professor pitched it to Viacom, and they hired me as a consultant to implement the project. The resultant campaign, Save Our Moms, was shared on the VH1, MTV, and Logo networks, and inspired more than 6 million people to take greater responsibility for Black maternal health. Shortly after its launch in May 2019, a retired OB-GYN and birth justice activist, Dr. Leslie Farrington, reached out to praise the project, but she said that there was much more work to be done. There was nothing more satisfying than to hear that the project resonated so deeply with an expert in the field, and it inspired me to continue working on the issue. Since then, Dr. Farrington and I have worked together to help create the Black Coalition for Safe Motherhood, which is a nonprofit organization that promotes healthcare advocacy and holistic community support of birthing people.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I joined Odyssey Impact, a Peabody-Award-winning social impact organization that drives social change through innovative storytelling and media, I began working with colleagues that had much more experience in media and the arts than I possessed. In an office discussion, one colleague remarked that she was going to see the play Madea. In response, I asked if she was a fan of Tyler Perry since I thought she was referring to the Madea character from his plays and movies, but, in fact, she was referring to the ancient Greek play Madea. During the conversation, we realized that neither of us knew the references the other was making. It was a very funny moment, but it also reminded me of the importance of perspective because we each bring our unique backgrounds to the workplace, which may include different cultural references. When you participate in cross-cultural collaborations, you can expand your knowledge and create products that are often more diverse and entertaining.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
Absolutely! I am thrilled to be spearheading Odyssey Impact’s #MyJustice Film Contest, in partnership with the Justice Film Festival NYC, and sponsored by the MTV Entertainment Group. The contest gives young change-makers, ages 18–30, the unique opportunity to make a difference by creating a 2 to 3-minute video short that highlights an issue challenging them or their communities that deserves greater public attention and can inspire others. Winners are eligible to receive up to 2,000.00 dollars, a year-long mentorship with a veteran film industry professional, and a chance to have their film premiered at the Justice Film Festival NYC in November 2021. The deadline to apply is Friday, September 3rd via FilmFreeway.
Darnella Fraiser changed the world when she filmed 9-minutes of video and exposed the truth behind George Floyd’s murder. Her incredible actions demonstrate how cell phones can be a powerful tool for justice. I am delighted to be able to share the #MyJustice Film Contest with young, emerging filmmakers, helping to give them greater access to film industry leaders as well as potentially their first exposure to the film festival circuit. “
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
Odyssey Impact recently produced the documentary film Descended from the Promised Land: The Legacy of Black Wall Street, which draws a century-long thread, from 1921 to 2021, that reveals the lingering economic, psychological and emotional impacts of the Tulsa Massacre through the lens of the descendants. The film’s social impact campaign is meant to educate the public on the Tulsa Race Massacre and acknowledge that it is a major historical event that is not widely known nor taught in schools.
We produced a virtual discussion on the film, which highlighted how historically the perpetrators falsely referred to the tragedy as a “riot” instead of a “massacre” because this prevented victims from filing insurance claims for their losses. Now, survivors and descendants are setting the record straight and demanding that people acknowledge the truth of the crime by referring to it as a “massacre.” During the event, a librarian shared that her system still referred to the incident as a riot, but that she would recategorize it as a massacre as a result of the conversation. Now, any future person accessing materials on the Tulsa Race Massacre in this library will now know the truth about the tragedy. This was an incredibly powerful reminder of the tangible impacts that documentary film can have on individuals and communities.
As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
Media can sometimes be the only means of exposure that some communities have to people of different cultures and backgrounds. If a group is purposefully excluded from this space, then there may be large swaths of the population without knowledge of different underrepresented groups and identities that deserve respect and protection. When important public policies are under consideration, some people may be disinclined to support them since they may have no knowledge or understanding of these communities and their needs.
Unfortunately, the media has also been used in insidious ways to spread harmful stereotypes; thus, I think it is only just to use it to promote positive messages and undo the harm that was once done. Additionally, it is important for young people to see themselves in positive and affirming ways since the media can impact how people see themselves and their self-worth.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
It is incredibly important for industry leaders to diversify their networks and make sure they are meeting people from all backgrounds. It is not enough to hire one or two people of color and then ask them to do the hard work of finding other underrepresented people to hire. It is burdensome to ask them to do this type of labor alone. Moreover, improving diversity and inclusion should be the responsibility of everyone at an organization. This recommendation may require leaders to go out of their comfort zones and enter new spaces with humility and a willingness to listen and learn.
Relatedly, mentorship is incredibly important. People in positions of power have the responsibility to pay it forward by helping someone else climb the ladder. I always recommend mentoring someone that is unlike yourself since you can help a mentee by exposing them to a network that they may not have access to. Lastly, I think it is critical to build a pipeline for talent. Supporting initiatives that are providing opportunities for young people to learn and demonstrate marketable skills is important. I am proud to be spearheading Odyssey Impact’s #MyJustice Film Contest, which is doing exactly that.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Personally, I believe that leadership refers to a specific set of skills that enable other people to thrive and be the best professionals that they are capable of being. The best leaders are great observers and listeners who can see someone’s potential and place them in a situation to flourish. In my experience, leaders do not need a formal title to lead a group of people to success.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Lead with kindness! The entertainment industry is notorious for bullying and big egos. Being able to both spread and receive kindness can benefit your career in unimaginable ways. Frankly, I believe that I have been able to advance in my career largely because I always lead with positive energy.
- Relatedly, know that you bring value to any project and/or workplace that you join. As a woman of color, working in an industry that is largely dominated by White men, I know that it is easy for folks from underrepresented communities to question whether they belong, but people like myself are completely deserving of what we have received.
- Always follow your moral compass. Unfortunately, the exploitation of underrepresented communities is rife in the media industry, especially the documentary field, and it is important to remember that people should be given the knowledge and agency to make educated decisions regarding how their stories are used. We should keep their best interest in mind.
- Don’t overthink it. There will always be important decisions that need to be made, but you do not need to spend an inordinate amount of time making them. As a best practice, I try to break up big challenges into smaller ones in order to make my next steps and decisions more manageable.
- Inclusion is worth fighting for! Establishing and maintaining an inclusive workplace is an ongoing task, but any improvement in inclusion will inevitably improve the work-life for all involved. For example, Odyssey Impact began instituting Mental Health Mondays to help those struggling with their mental health during the pandemic. These days have been a wonderful benefit for all, which have now become a permanent fixture at Odyssey Impact.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
At this moment, I would love to inspire a kindness movement that encourages people to show consideration for each other. The world seems so divided, but I think that this is because there are segments of the media that are focusing on our differences rather than our commonalities. If we did the latter, then I think people would naturally have more goodwill toward each other.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The latest quote that has been inspiring me is from an Essentia Water campaign that states, “Someone is going to do that thing you really, really want to do. It might as well be you.” As a woman of color, I often struggle with imposter syndrome, which can cause me to doubt my achievements and abilities. This quote is a good reminder that I need to keep striving towards my goals. If I do not pursue them other people will and that may prevent me from making my dreams a reality.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet former President Barack Obama. I admire that he spent many years in public office working to advance important social justice issues. Even after he ended his presidency, he decided to continue this important work through his media company Higher Ground Productions.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow me on Twitter at Jenise_O.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!