As Black women continue to lead the charge in advocacy, the focus on the intersection of social justice and entertainment has increasingly become a force to be reckoned with.
“Now we have the benefit of having contacts, having access to radio, using our own platforms and not having to rely on others to find benefit to our story or to find that our stories are important,” Melissa Potter said in an interview with HelloBeautiful.
Potter, 34, is the head of Social Impact and Communications for Odyssey Impact, a non-profit organization which aims to unite faith based social justice awareness through the power of film.
One of Odyssey’s most recent documentaries, “The Rape Of Recy Taylor,” covers the 1944 sexual assault of Taylor, who at the time was 24-years-old. Taylor was abducted by gunpoint and raped by six white men as she journeyed home from church. The film is scheduled to premiere July 2 on Starz Network.
“We use film and storytelling to bridge the gap between what could be extremely complex messaging that the typical person that’s not watching MSNBC everyday or isn’t reading an Michelle Alexander book might not come into contact with,” Potter said. “Issues like mass incarceration or sexual assault.”
Though Taylor was vocal about her experience (even working with Rosa Parks who at the time, served as the lead investigator through the NAACP) she never saw her abusers brought to justice. For many years her story remained unknown to the general public. But, after numerous women came forward in the #MeToo movement, Taylor’s story became more important than ever.
“She [Taylor] really took a stance and she was unafraid. How do women today–how can we look at Recy and be insipired to also be unafraid? To also live in our truth and to advocate for ourselves,” said Potter.
Potter, was born in New York and has over 17 years of experience in public relations working at the intersection of advocacy and entertainment. Some of her past clients include the NAACP and the ACLU, along with notable entertainers like Missy Elliott, 50 Cent, The Roots and Wynton Marsalis.
During her time as a student at Northeastern University she majored in a five-year program which allowed her to work six months in the field, then attend class for six months.
“I’ve always been so enthralled by music and film and that passion has really carried me through my life, my schooling and my career,” she said. Potter also majored in sociology which further sparked her appeal of philanthropy and impact.
“That really allowed me to dip my toe in different areas, whether it was public relations, A&R, music management and I found that I had a passion for connecting people and writing,” she said.
But as a young Black woman working in a predominately white male space, Potter said she faced challenges of ageism, sexism and being labeled the “token.”
“There was a reticent from many people that were working with me to trust that I had the knowledge to guide them where they needed to go,” she said.
Her position at Odyssey came about after longing to tie her two worlds together. “It’s the first time in my life where I actually looked at each bullet point where I thought….this role is absolutely perfect,” she said.
Odyssey seeks groups within their private and non-profit social justice networks to find ways to amplify and uplift the stories those specific communities aim to get across.
“It really allows us to create content that can spark a conversation that not only contains awareness an attitudes, but also drives people to action,” she said.
Odyssey’s next project, “Healing The Healers,” will focus on spiritual and wellness advisors who “find themselves thrown in really stressful and trying times,” dealing with everything from mass shootings to community healing.
In terms of her own self-care, Potter says that she relies on her family and friends and a limited consumption of the heavy news cycle at night.
She names media mogul Mona Scott and music executive, Rhonda Cowan, as the two most influential women in her career. But there are other women in the industry who she admires for their openness and fortitude.
“I think Gabrielle Union has from the beginning of her career been open about the sexual assault that she experienced as a young woman, a college student,” she said. Potter believes Union would serve as a great ambassador for the Recy Taylor film, as their stories are eerily parallel.
Her advice for anyone who wants a career in content creation is simple: go rouge.
“Create stuff that you like to do and someone will find it interesting. Don’t follow a prescribed path, Potter said.