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Jessie Woo Is A Multihyphenate Force To Be Reckoned With

The Haitian seeester-in-chief is taking things up a notch as a triple threat.

BOSS UP

As we all know, the entertainment industry is a beast—especially for women of color. From television to music, it is fairly (or unfairly) understood that black women are often portrayed as aggressive, argumentative, or hyper-sexualized. Even for those of us who choose to celebrate their crowns through basic talent and hard work, the journey of "making it" comes with a unexpirable set of challenges.

And most frustrating of all, for those ladies who have a heavier dosage of melanin—such as the Justine Skyes or Normanis of the culture—that journey becomes that much more of a challenge, regardless of how talented they are. With knowing this, we have become highly aware of the fact that the resiliency to conquer this beast of an industry, must always, and only, be unwavered.

But what's a beast to a beast?

Someone who can explain entirely is Jessica Juste, the triple-threat, Haitian seeester-in-chief, who has affectionately captured our hearts, televisions, and social media scroll. We know her best as Jessie Woo: host, stand-up comedian, and ultra-talented vocalist, who has encapsulated her brand geniusly.

And with the recent release of her charting debut EP, Moods of a Cancer, Jessie Woo is proving her beast to be solid.

Ten-toes down, solid.

Courtesy of Jessie Woo

We sit down to discuss her evolution into music and womanhood since her last chat with us; and getting to know Jessie was admittedly a joy. She reminds me of a butterfly that is shy because it's blossoming from its caterpillar state, but also knows her new wings are poppin' as they emerge.

During our conversation, I study her presence. Her aura has a majestic possessiveness for her character and space, and she carries an unexpectedly stoic demeanor. She's fun but reserved and I am immediately enamored with the code switch from 'professional' to 'vibrant social media personality.'

I take note of her skilled approach, and ask how it feels to emerge from a class of fellow highly sought-after black women (Luvvie, Jackie Aina, Chrissle, etc.) with large platforms that the culture often looks to for their views on relevant topics. "I just keep it real," she says. "I'm not always joking, things aren't always funny. I've used my platform to speak on alot of things; politics, sexual abuse, Haiti, makeup, relationships. I think people gravitate towards folks who are honest; folks who aren't afraid to be transparent."

She's been a bit busy with being a host for various largely embraced platforms (Will Packer's Power Star Live, stages at Essence Fest, BETher red carpets, etc.) and managing a social media account of hilarious content that garners millions of views from her loyal 630K+ followers. And now, Jessie has slowly transitioned to a place she has always felt she should be, since she was a young girl: music.

With a standout single (and my jam) "Vacation" on the airwaves, and an EP peaking at number two on the R&B iTunes charts, Jessie is finally receiving well-deserved recognition for her music. "I was so scared to release this EP. Like, even the night before I asked myself, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' But I did. I wasn't going to let anything hold me back. So, we released it the next day and it beat Chris Brown, girl! I have the screenshot!" she says with a laugh.

"An evolution is happening for sure, in a great way. [Now] when people see me out and about, they talk about my music first."

Known as a boisterous ambassador for her ancestry of Haitian descent, she proudly flies the flag of her heritage through her music, comedy, and vibrant personality. "I grew up going [to Haiti] all the time. It's my favorite place to vacation. My mom is from Gonaïves (up north) and my dad is from Jeremie (down south). Unfortunately, people focus on the bad, the ghettos of Haiti, the political turmoil. Haiti has its issues just like every other island and every other black country in the world, but don't count us out. We've given too much to humanity to be cast aside."

Footage of boat rides on the clear waters, meetings with senators and tourism boards, and her roaming through the streets of Cap-Haïtien fill her instagram on her recent trip for a music video.

"Going back to Haiti to shoot the video for 'Vacation' was so important," she says. "It is very important to me that I use my platform to educate people about the Wakanda of the Carribean. It is beautiful. The beaches are unlike anything you are ever going to see. The food is incredible. The people are amazing."

I quickly realize that you can literally hear her smile and admiration of Haiti each time we discuss it.

"And 'Vacation' is the most popular song on the EP for obvious reasons. It's flavorful R&B, EDM and kompa all in one, so it all just made sense."

I take a moment to brag on her vocals and then I ask how she manages to balance the pressures of being a comedian, with wanting to be taken seriously as an artist. "You know what, that's a good question. I was just speaking with my manager, Shaft, about that. He worked with Cardi B on 'Bodak Yellow' and that's who he compared me to career-wise. I look to her as someone who has mastered the balance of the two beautifully. She is silly when she wants to be, but she is also serious when it's time to be serious. And whether you like her or not, one thing she is always serious about, is her music. And I feel we have that in common."

Another factor the two have in common is a stint in reality television. She speaks briefly on what she has learned through the process and if she would change anything. "Definitely. I wasn't prepared and I didn't know the politics behind it. I made mistakes in front of millions of people but God still had favor over me. What was meant to destroy me, turned out to be for my good."

I couldn't agree more.

"But I think my resume pre-reality TV, helped prevent reality TV from defining me. I hosted Essence Center Stage at Essence Fest this year. That was major. That opportunity didn't come from reality television. That came from Essence seeing my BET Breaks work, my BETher red carpet work, my Power Star Live work. Thank goodness I laid a solid foundation down so that opportunities could still roll in because chile," she laughs. "God is good!"

Courtesy of Jessie Woo

With her plate full and cup running over, I can't help but wonder how she manages to decompress and practice self-care. And although she hasn't quite figured out a routine yet (send her some tips, yall!), she does enjoy being in the quiet at home, which gives her the opportunity to think, talk to God, and process her feelings.

To keep her mental health in check, she does credit friends like Tanya Hoffler (BET producer), Jamila Mustafa (MTV's TRL), and Yves Carmelle (music agent at ICM) as women that she can look to for advice in navigating this chaotic industry. "[Yves] was one of the first people to reach out to me when folks started spreading my funny videos online. She's a successful Haitian woman who is well-respected and it means a lot to me to have access to her."

We close out with me asking her to describe herself. And without hesitation, she says, "Jessie Woo is a Haitian woman who loves God, has a great education and is talented beyond measure. She's not afraid to be herself, and make mistakes while reaching for every star destined to hang in her sky. She's a fearless go-getter, who is going to leave a major mark on this world."

I smile and think to myself: Wi, seeester. You already have.

For more of Jessie, follow her on Instagram @thejessiewoo. Moods of a Cancer is out now.

Featured image courtesy of Jessie Woo.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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