Listen. Learn. Act: Normalizing Explorative Conversation Series Recap

min read
Listen. Learn. Act: Normalizing Explorative Conversation Series Recap

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Antwon Rose Jr. Philando Castile. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. Laquan McDonald. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. Oscar Grant. Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. Abner Louima. Malice Green. Rodney King. 

Their stories. Their lives. And countless others.

Taken. But not forgotten.

Black lives matter.

All around the world, people are marching and protesting for change. People are educating themselves and looking inward at their internal biases. People are fighting and pleading for equality for all. People are working endlessly to fix the systems and biases that are not set up to support all people, regardless of socioeconomic background or race. 

This is the time to stand up and be the change. To play a part in reshaping the old narrative and creating a new story. A new story for all people. A story where black lives matter. Where they are the heroes, not the victims. 

We believe change begins with conversation.

We believe stories enact change. 

And we want to help move important stories forward. 

So we introduced our first ever series Listen. Learn. Act: Normalizing Explorative Conversation.

Our host Brett Austin Jhonson gathered 5 guest speakers from all different backgrounds, to talk about traditionally very difficult conversations. There are stories we can all resonate with and there are stories we can learn from --- these completely candid and open conversations had both.  

We learned so much ourselves and hope you do too. We know this just the beginning, there is so much more we need, as a people, to continue to do in order to make a lasting change. We are excited about what the future holds for us as a nation and as a people, and we hope to play a small part in moving our world, and stories like these forward. 

Our Host: Brett Austin Johnson is an accomplished actor who has been acting since he was three-years-old with a strong regional theatre background but is most recently known for "Five Feet Apart" (2019). Brett Austin Johnson is an openly queer actor and social activist advocating for change on many fronts. We are proud and equally honored to have a friend, and one of our favorite UNUM ambassadors host this informative series.


The first day of conversation kicked off with Monica Matthews. Monica Matthews is an environmentalist working out of the Bay Area in California. She is passionate about all things related to justice and liberation for marginalized communities and backgrounds. She began her journey of Anti-racism as a banana slug in the UC Santa Cruz Political Science department and has never looked back. Her hope is to stand with Black folx in solidarity with their efforts, participate in efforts for justice and liberation that center Black and Indigenous folx, and provide support for Anti-racism education.

“No one man, or one woman has the ability to say what is right for all”

On the importance of conversation when creating and reforming systems

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“ At one point we need to recognize the more that we justify oppression, the more we get buried in white supremacy and unjust systems...we are only chipping at the iceberg”

  • Monica Matthews

“Just us having this conversation is the first step, it is important to be in a safe space to have it and to communicate with someone who you feel is hearing you”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“Even if you don’t have the answer, you can still contribute”

  • Monica Matthews

About the author

DAY 2:

Nneka Damali is an actor and writer based in NJ/NYC. She is a graduate of Spelman College where she studied comparative women’s studies; exploring the ways in which institutional power and ideology affect marginalized communities. She is constantly leaning into her art as a way to bridge both academia and storytelling, which is centered on illuminating the lived experiences of marginalized women, particularly black women. Her hope is to continue her studies in a MFA program and further make space, elevate, and tell the stories of those who are unheard.

“Lasting change is the goal, this is not a trend...I’m not only interested in fighting the system of white supremacy but looking at the root cause”

  • Nneka Damali

“As we are in the fight for justice, that allies understand the lived experience to re-humanize us, to understand how it has affected our lives and is still affecting our lives”

  • Nneka Damali

“I am looking forward to the day where schools like mine...we can start center to the experiences people of color and people of color”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“For a lot of people, would rather this to be packed up in to the closet of where it was a month or two ago, so the can regain what the would describe of peace and law and order”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“Restoring any normalcy or going back to any way to any system we functioned in prior to this is literally costing us our lives. We do not have a choice but to move forward, to remain uncomfortable, until there is change. Change is uncomfortable.”

  • Nneka Damali

DAY 3:

Julian “Fermino” Hall is a Filmmaker from PG County, Maryland.  Currently, he lives in Los Angeles, CA where he works at Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation as an executive assistant. He strives to show the perspective in every situation in his film work and his everyday life. As a novice in the entertainment industry, he aims to provide people with a different look inside of a story and bring diverse people together from all walks of life.

“It’s easy to help people, if you have a stake in the game. It is harder to help if it does not affect your life”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“When I look at the film industry it is dominated by white change the narrative we have to look at it as a sense that, when black people are in stories or movies you don’t see it as a black movie”

  • Julian Hall

“Anyone with a platform engaging in Performative Activism, even if you are just doing it to share, it is doing more help than harm”

  • Julian Hall

“I am done hoping for the best, I want to use every ounce of effort to make sure we are really going at it”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“If we vote on the local level and understand how much power we have, i feel that it will really get the message across. People do not understand the power we have when we vote, when it comes to the politicians on the local level”

  • Julian Hall

“We need to change the criminal justice system...after you get out of jail, you can’t vote and you can’t make the change that you are fighting for”

  • Julian Hall

“There is nothing that separates me from George Floyd”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

DAY 4:

Nikita Anastasia Pope, also known as “Storm”, is a 29 year-old Black woman of trans experience currently residing in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Ms. Pope is an alumnus of the historic Morehouse College where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. Previously, Ms. Pope attended West Virginia State University from 2014-2916 where she studied political science before transferring to Morehouse in the spring semester of 2017. What makes Ms. Pope’s story interesting is that she is the first transsexual female student to graduate from Morehouse college in the schools 150+ history. During undergraduate, Ms. Pope worked as an intern producer with Jazz WCLK 91.9 FM at Clark Atlanta University. There she curated content for a segment she developed called Public Life Today, a segment that focused on topics ranging from politics, healthcare, housing, race and gender, education and the environment. Presently, Ms. Pope is preparing for a multifaceted career as a radio personality, interior decorator and attorney.

“Black Lives Matter, was really created by Black Queer it’s only right to keep it at the center of Black Lives Matter. The attention that cis gender men men have gotten in the movement is fair since their lives matter as well. We are not asking them to not be promoted, we are not asking them to not be talked about, what we are asking is that you can include the other Black lives that also matter.”

  • Nikita Pope

“We have so much opportunity to create lasting space, why not create as much of it as we possibly can”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“I had a fear with coming out...There were a lot more doors that were open in the heteronormative standard that I was fitting in..I was lucky that that the world started to change”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“It’s powerful when you can say those words, I’m not scared anymore. At that point, you don’t care what anybody says, what anybody thinks, because it is your life”

  • Nikita Pope

DAY 5:

Nicole Rodriguez-Rowe, is a 23 year old Afro-Latina artist and activist from Clifton, NJ. She uses photography and art as a medium to display a call for more representation and celebration of diversity.

“Centering means a re-shifting or refocusing, zooming in. Saying, for this population what are the particular issues, what are the particular challenges, how have we failed this population, how we have silenced this population. For everyone else to collectively help uplift but for those people, specifically black women and black femmes, to be able to tell their own stories and not equate blackness to this unintentional message of black men alone”

  • Nicole Rodriguez-Rowe

“It is important in this movement to prioritize self care and know that it is a marathon, not a print, think of longevity in these things”

  • Nicole Rodriguez-Rowe

“We have the keys to undo part of the oppression, we may not have every key to solve every aspect of the racist systemic oppression but we do have the keys within our own community”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“I think it is important to understand the pain, because that is where the validity and the empathy come from”

  • Nicole Rodriguez-Rowe


Demetri Morris is a rising entrepreneur and brand director passionate about empowering people to unleash their full potential. He graduated with an undergraduate degree in Management Information Systems.

He is the co-founder of a non-profit organization, alongside Emmy-nominated producer Jon Ross, called Somebody’s Nobody, on a mission to identify people with a dream in the entertainment industry, partner them up with a mentor and help them define their identity along the way.

“Something about Cops, the job doesn’t make them evil, it exposes their evil. Unfortunately, that evil outweighs the good.”

  • Demetri Morris

“Do your research and find a lane to activate that truth...everybody needs to be in a lane of activism, even if it is in conversation”

  • Demetri Morris

“Let’s change the format, in an effort to add how you are intaking a different culture ”

  • Brett Austin Johnson

“We need people tangibly inside of these situations and are listening to create change...the biggest thing is where do you start…we can be the catalyst”

  • Demetri Morris

                     It is important for us to keep the momentum of current events and remember the importance of engaging in difficult conversations with those around us. The only way to open our perspective is through seeing the world through each other’s eyes. From the actions of the past few weeks we have already seen a massive push towards the redistribution of funding to help reduce the systemic inequality. We hope this series serves as a catalyst and template for how you can go about carrying expansive conversations in your own life. Although they may be seemingly difficult, creating awareness and educating yourself and others is the best way to understand the matters at hand, in order to create and advocate for change.


Brett Austin Johnson:

Monica Matthews:

Nneka Damali

Nikita Pope

Nicole Rodriquez-Rowe

Demetri Morris

June 18, 2020

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