“People Who Are Proud Of Who They Are Challenge The Rest Of Us To Be Greater.”
— Helen Owens, hair, makeup and wardrobe specialist for “Jerome and Joan”
PRIDE has special meaning for me this year.
Alongside my sister Helen Owens, I'm excited to join Joan Jett Blakk as one-half of her hair, makeup and wardrobe design team as she launches her one-night-only revival of the award-winning 90’s-LGBTQ-San-Francisco talk show “Late Night with Joan Jett Blakk.”
Titled “Jerome and Joan,” and running in conjunction with the "Found: The Lost Art of Jerome Caja" art exhibition, the event celebrates Ms. Blakk’s friend and fellow activist Jerome Caja’s powerful, avant-garde contributions to the 20th-century art world as a voice for LGBTQ people. Ms. Blakk is a celebrated legend in the LGBTQ community, and I am looking forward to embracing the love and light she’ll bring to this event.
Of equal significance is that we’re honoring these two luminaries on a date which holds special meaning for me.
“Jerome and Joan” takes place on June 19, also known to many as Juneteenth. This day of celebration originated in the African-American community and commemorates President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the decree granting enslaved people their freedom. (Fittingly, as I write this, the US Senate has just passed a bill that would establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday). As a cisgender Black female and LBGTQ family member who grew up on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, I’m moved by the opportunity to celebrate Mr. Caja and Ms. Blakk on a day that represents power and pride.
“Understand Your Brilliance. Know Your Power. Believe You Can Do Anything.”
The day I met Ms. Blakk at our hair and makeup test date I felt an instant connection. The moment Ms. Blakk’s alter ego Mr. Terence Smith climbed out of the car to greet me and my sister I saw past his signature 3-piece suit-and-hat wardrobe into the eyes of a black woman I instantly recognized.
Later, as I helped Mr. Smith slip into his Chanel-inspired jacket and elegant jewelry while he transformed into Ms. Blakk, a feeling of comfort came over me: I was with one of my own.
At that moment Ms. Blakk became a visual representation of the community of refined, forward-thinking African-American women that helped raise me into the woman I am today. These beautiful Black women were the leaders of the community and the glue that held Black families together. They were our Big Mammas in every way, helping to teach us Black children that we mattered, even when the world taught us we were invisible.
As I played in my mind Ms. Blakk’s historic 1991 mayoral run against Chicago’s Richard Daley, then her later 1992 and 1996 Presidential bids for the White House, I equated the thought with the pride I first felt as a child learning about Shirely Chisolm, the first black woman to make a run for the White House. Black women like these made me believe that I could do anything, even when the world at large considered my Black skin of zero value and purpose.
And here was one of my very own Big Mammas, looking chic and collected in her skirt and heels in my living room, reminding me that we Black girls are powerful and can be anything we choose.
“In Knowing Our Power We Live As the Greatest Versions of Ourselves”
— from “Finding Our She-Compass”
What I love most about being a part of this project is its commitment to visibility for underrepresented communities.
Like Jerome and Joan, my sister Helen and I have spent decades using our art to uplift people who feel defeated and unseen. As a custom wig/prosthesis maker to women suffering from hair loss due to illness or disfigurement, my sister makes it possible for her clients to be fully themselves, regaining their hair, reviving their self-worth and ultimately repowering their self-esteem. And as podcast hosts and authors of the 7-time award-winning book “Finding Our She-Compass,” Helen and I remain dedicated to elevating, uplifting, and empowering people through love and inspiration.
I’m thrilled to be a part of this historic project! “FOUND: The Lost Art of Jerome Caja” runs through Saturday June 26, 2021 at the Anglim/Trimble gallery, part of the Minnesota Street Project and featuring items donated for exhibit by the GLBT Historical Society.
by Jo Owens