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Earth Pearl Collective seeks to lead queer Black womyn
by Melissa Wasserman
2013-01-02

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Teaming to lead the outlet for queer Black womyn known as Earth Pearl Collective, Iman Crutcher and Katrina Sanford sat down for an interview with Windy City Times to discuss their involvement with the group along with its focus and various activities to aid and entertain the community.

Windy City Times: What's the idea behind Earth Pearl Collective?

Katrina Sanford: thought there's a lot going on and we could use help and want to collaborate with people, so we've been reaching out to all these organizations around the city. We don't collaborate enough in our community.

Affinity Community Services, they've been a huge supporter since the beginning. So it's nice to have some kind of support within the community as well, not just an outsider's point of view, which is fine because the point is to have more people who are in the community know about the community or want to be involved with the community so it's not so segregated.

[However,] neither of us is from here; she's from Tennessee and I'm from Virginia, so we're transplants. So there's that whole other element. I think it's actually kind of a good thing that neither of us are from here because with our work so far we're realizing how segregated the city is; but neither of us are from here, so we don't have that mentality.

Iman Crutcher: That mentality to say, "we have to do events on this side of town…" we do events where it's convenient, where the price is good, and hope that everybody comes out. I think that's the good thing about us. We don't belong to a particular group or a particular anything. It's just like here we are, people don't know who we are, so come find out. Come check it out!

WCT: What is the overall mission?

Katrina Sanford: We're a social justice/arts collective and our primary goal is to promote and showcase queer womyn of color. We're a community that's silenced a lot and I think a lot of people don't understand the talent and "amazingness" that comes out of this queer womyn of color community. So we want to promote womyn, we want to showcase these womyn and educate outside our community.

Actually, a good example is that we've been working on trying to get the vote out. We did voter registration and we've been trying to educate people on who's running here, who's running federally and their platforms. So educating our community, educating communities outside our community so they know that these are the issues we're dealing with—we're here, too, and we want to be more visible. We just want our community to be more visible.

Iman Crutcher: More visible as all of those identities. Not just we'll just put you with womyn, we'll just put you with the Black people, we'll put you with the gay people. By recognizing if you are queer, you are Black and you are a womyn—if you are those things, there are certain elements of your life, certain issues that you deal with that nobody else has to deal with.

It might have to do with a little bit of this and a little bit of this, but there's the combination of all of that, it's intense. It's intense for the people involved and it's easy for everybody else to say, "you're fine." That's what we want to make people more aware of, but not to be like, "We're more oppressed than you." Not at all! We are, too; let's all work together and we can talk about these things. We should be able to put it out on the table without there being so much backlash. All the communities have a voice and it doesn't matter what that voice says; it's their voice.

WCT: So it's a welcoming place for people who are in those categories?

Iman Crutcher: We use the terms "queer," "Black" and "womyn" very broadly. When we say, "queer," we don't necessarily mean just lesbians. Definitely bi, definitely questioning, definitely whatever the wind blows in. When we say, "womyn," we are including trans womyn or womyn on the line, or womyn who are just saying "I want to be involved in your movement." When we say, "Black," it's mostly "of color" and if you have some sort of African ancestry. When we say, "Black," we're using it very broadly. You can identify with these things.

Katrina Sanford: We don't want exclusivity. In general, people need to work together, whether it's in a particular community or outside that community.

WCT: Can you tell me about the Earth Pearl Collective performances?

Iman Crutcher: There was a collaboration between Earth Pearl and [weekly spoken-word venue] POW-WOW and it was "The Revival Tour"—an all-womyn's group. It was salon-style performance; they were from Atlanta, D.C. and New York and they've been touring around literally in a van going to different cities across the U.S .and in Canada.

That's the kind of collaboration we want to do. Just somebody says, "Hey, you're doing this? I know this group, they can help you out." So they came, they sent us some flyers, we made sure to get the flyers out, put it on the website, put it on our e-blast and we sent it out to everybody, making sure that people came to see these talented womyn do their thing. You have to see it to believe it. There's so many talented womyn just in Chicago, but to have somebody coming from out of town—it's like, "Look what else is out there. We're not alone; look at this group, look at this next project." It's like, "You want in on this, you want to do something, you want us to help you with something? Let's go."

WCT: How's the experience been with the organization overall?

Katrina Sanford: It's been absolutely amazing. Both of us are also in school. Earth Pearl is a full-time job we're trying to do with all this other full-time stuff that we have. It keeps us busy, but I absolutely love it because I'm in graduate school right now and I'm almost out and I'm thinking what am I going to do with my life after this. We're doing Earth Pearl and it merges the art and it merges psychology with that. We'll have our artistic side of it and then I can bring in the psychology—it's a perfect match.

Iman Crutcher: She's in school for psychology and I'm in school for massage therapy, so it keeps getting wider and wider, as far the things that we're going to be able to do in the next few months.

WCT: How did you come up with the name "Earth Pearl?"

Iman Crutcher: The original womyn who was working with me on minor details, we were at the beach one day. It had been one of those bad days, so we decided to go for a walk on the beach. We were walking and started picking up rocks and saying, "Oh, this one's nice; this one's nice." So we started picking up pebbles and like every pebble we picked up was just beautiful. It was like, "Oh my God, these are beautiful. I wish I could drill a hole in them, I want to wear them." She said, "These are like Earth's pearls." And I was like that should be the name of something. That sounds wonderful. It was just beautiful rocks and beautiful weather kind of erasing all the negativity we were going through at the time. Just being in this moment—natural, beautiful, Earth Pearl Collective, let's go.

WCT: Are there any current events that interest you, especially in relation to your work with Earth Pearl?

Iman Crutcher: The elections are something we want to come after hardcore. Just because of all the issues dealing with womyn in general that are going on in elections this year. I wouldn't say Earth Pearl is political at all, but because of all the issues that came about within this year we had to. Especially in our community, just going out and talking to people we realized how many people were like "Oh, no. Basically since Bush got elected last time I voted, I don't vote anymore because I felt like my vote got thrown out." The amount of people we talked to when we were trying to get people registered to vote who had thoughts like that and ideas like that, it's like "Oh, you haven't been able to hear what's going on and why it's so important." We really wanted to go out of our way to write down detail. Katrina did all kinds of research to say, "This is your candidate and these are the issues."

Katrina Sanford: State and federally.

Iman Crutcher: Things locally, we would like to be able to do more stuff as far as mentoring with youth. We have amazing womyn who have some amazing skills with youth as far as mentoring, teaching, dance classes, acting classes, vocal lessons, all this stuff. It's definitely an avenue we'd like to get more into.

For more information on Earth Pearl Collective visit www.earthpearlcollective.com .


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