Peace. I want to welcome you to the Ocean Ana Rising family.  We’ve just started our blog.  And though we’ve been around since 2005, we’re expanding our community, hoping that you will find this space familiar and free.  We want to share this forum with you, because we believe that it is crucial for us to build global forums for critical conversation and creativity.  But first I want to let you all know a little about Ocean Ana Rising, how we got started and what we hope to share with you through this blog.

In 2004, I was writing “Gutta Beautiful,” a play that began as a personal journey toward healing from the hard-core ills of urban life in this nation.  I’d been troubling home and love after surviving a family member’s substance abuse addiction and its impact on many lives.  The personal fall-out was intense: spiritual, emotional, and economic instability; layers of scar-tissue I didn’t even realize existed, and a soul-rocking scavenger hunt for myself.  In the process of writing my way out of all of that, I took a journey to Ghana with one of my closest friends from college, Roslyn Satchel Augustine.  During that journey, we visited the dungeons used to hold enslaved Africans hostage as they were forced to wait for ships to carry them over the Atlantic to what would become the Americas.  Inside those dungeons, the spirits of our ancestors cried, moved, and demanded my attention.  While I felt deep sorrow for the intense strife born during their capture and Middle Passage, I also recognized the undeniable strength of a people who would eventually build many countries on the Western hemisphere.  I took that experience and lesson back home with me, and it became a spark that set off a fire of infinite fortitude and love.

When I returned to Washington, DC, I continued writing “Gutta Beautiful.”  At the same time, my mother, Janis James Mercer, began the process of researching our family’s history.  She was able to trace her mother’s lineage from Birmingham, Alabama to East Asia, the United Kingdom, and the Yoruba people of Nigeria.  One of the most poignant stories she collected from family elders in Birmingham was about a woman they lovingly called Ocean Ana; she was given that name because she was born to her mother while on one of those ships transporting enslaved Africans over the Atlantic Ocean during the Middle Passage.

When I realized that I would need to produce “Gutta Beautiful” for an audience, I was also faced with the urgent need to incorporate a non profit organization to birth the production and support the team we would need to develop for the project’s success.  And in determining what the name of that organization would be, I thought about Ocean Ana, my ancestor and her lineage, and the countless others from whom we have all descended.  I thought about the endurance, persistence, and creativity they had to maintain to survive and thrive on this side of their crossing over.  I recalled the energy I felt in the dungeons of Elmina and Cape Coast, Ghana, and how that energy helped to inspire me to push forward in my life, connecting me more intimately to the continuum of rebirth and communal uplift that has been our ancestors’ greatest gift to us all.  And I decided that I wanted the non profit organization to bear the name and mission of that collective legacy, its tenacity and deep-rooted love.  I knew then that Ocean Ana Rising would help to birth many artistic projects by emerging and seasoned artists, responding to the global need to sustain the lives and stories of women of color in the tradition of our ancestral mothers.

Since our first production in 2005, OAR has continued producing theatrical productions, film & digital media projects, and outreach workshops.  We have collaborated with D.C. Crime Victims Compensation Unit, Barrios Unidos-Virginia Chapter, The Gathering for Justice, Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative, Brecht Forum NYC, and the Amnesty International Human Rights Arts Festivals. And we have worked with countless amazing artists! As we continue to move forward as an organization, our work expands, and so does our community.  This blog is part of that growth.  We want to extend the opportunity to tell (y)our stories while building a stronger community bond in the process, opening up a forum for us to share our lives, transcending our differences.  We know that silence is never an option in a world that often seems heavily weighted against our testimony, beauty, and transformation in the face of global tensions. We also believe that when space is opened for the voices of women of color, we will ALL get free.  So, we welcome you to take the mic, the stage, and the page here on this blog no matter your cultural and ethnic origins, or your gender.  Our intimate and global healing depends on empowered diversity and the ability to let real talk happen and share vision beyond our historic divides.  This mission belongs to all of us; it is love; it is our legacy in perpetual motion.  Let’s build!

In the spirit of love forever becoming and our healing,

Nina Angela Mercer, OAR Founder and Executive Director