Category: Message from OAR

Ocean Ana Rising's production of GYPSY & THE BULLY DOOR (July 2011)

Happy New Year! Ocean Ana Rising has been up to lots of good work all throughout 2011, and we are enthusiastic about continuing our mission into 2012 and beyond. We are approaching our 7th year of doing this work! We can’t believe how fast time flies, when committed to such an important mission! We want to share all that has been going on with us and all that is approaching. We have truly grown, expanding our community and work through ground breaking collaborations and a continued evolution of our programs.

20ll started out with our Safe Spaces Arts Outreach program joining DC Rape Crisis Center for a Day of Healing in January, featuring our Safe Spaces: The Soul’s Mask Workshop. OAR teaching artists, Sofale Ellis and Alexis Flanagan, led this workshop, during which women from DC Rape Crisis Center created beautiful masks, adorning them with paint, beads, and feathers, as personal expressions of discovery and healing.

In February of 2011, Ocean Ana Rising co produced and co curated our Women on Wednesdays Art and Culture Project with Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative and the Brecht Forum at the Brecht Forum in NYC for the second time! This series began in 2010 and has continued forward. During the series, women and girls of color were featured performers, as they shared their creative expressions through dance, poetry, music, theater arts and video. Some of our featured artists were vocalist Ayanna Williams; poets Cheyenne Sabrina and Carmen Mojica; The Body Ecology Performance Collective; Zoe Flowers and her theater ensemble; dancer J. Jewels Sandy; and youth performances from The Black Light Performance Ensemble, El Puente, and Medgar Evers College students. The series also grew to include two community arts residencies, through which professional artists who performed in the series led performance arts workshops with youth groups through Medgar Evers College Center for Women’s Development and El Puente-Bushwick. It was amazing to watch these young artists affirm their voices and realize empowerment through artistic expression. The 2011 series also expanded to include a Teach In and Healing Cipher, where cultural organizers and arts activists provided workshops dedicated to holistic wellness to the public. We opened with a yoga class led by Dehejia Maat, and opened out into workshops facilitated by Hip Hop Ambassador, Toni Blackman; a writing workshop led by Carmen Mojica, and a life planning workshop by Burn Bright Life Works. This Teach In and Healing Cipher also featured Ocean Ana Rising’s Safe Spaces: From Trauma to Triumph workshop. Though the series began in February, it extended into May, closing with a community arts residency with Medgar Evers College LIFE Club. What a series! We thank every artist, cultural organizer and collaborator who helped to make it all possible.

In June, Ocean Ana Rising began rehearsals for our workshop production of GYPSY & THE BULLY DOOR, a play emerging out of OAR’s Live On Stage program. Through this program, we hired Howard University Theater Arts students and alum for a laboratory production at the Warehouse Theatre during DC’s Fringe Festival. The show ran for five days in July and helped to expose emerging theater artists to the world of professional theatre, under the directorial guidance of Eric Ruffin.

Clearly, 2011 was a productive and exciting year for Ocean Ana Rising! And we’re taking that energy into the new year! Already, 2012 is off to a beautiful start. We’re bringing the Women on Wednesdays Art and Culture Project back to the Brecht Forum with our collaborating partners, Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative and the Brecht Forum, while expanding the team to include a new collaborator, GroundFloor, a visual arts program and exhibition featuring the visual art of women of color throughout the Brecht Forum while the Women on Wednesdays series goes on there. This year’s series includes the featured performances of women and girls of color in poetry, dance, film, theater arts and music, as is our tradition through this project. We have also added a Global Women’s Empowerment Forum discussion, which will engage our community in conversations about various issues affecting the lives and well being of women of color all around the world. We will also continue our Teach In and Healing Cipher through the series. Furthermore, Safe Spaces will be returning!

We thank you for your support! And we look forward to sharing our programs with you in the future!

Love and Light,
Ocean Ana Rising, Inc.


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