So, we caught up with Andrea Nicole, the badass behind For The Fem In You, a non-profit that’s all about creating safe spaces for women of color and the LGBTQIA+ community in Richmond, VA. She’s also a multi-talented artist, stylist, and event planner. We chatted about her journey as a community activist and what inspired her to start this amazing org. We also talked about the impact of the pandemic on her work, the importance of having a physical space and of bringing different generations together to make our communities stronger.
ed. note: For The Fem In You is currently running a GoFundMe to get funding for a new space. You can contribute HERE!
Who are you? What do you do?
I am Andrea Nicole. I am the founder of For the Fem in You, which is a 501C3 nonprofit that focuses on creating safe spaces for women of color. We’re based in Richmond, Virginia, and also inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community.
I’m also a singer and a songwriter. I curate events. There’s a long list of things. Style and fashion too.
So you’re a creative community activist? A mix of all those things together?
Where did that initial idea come from?
Well, this definitely started when I was a kid. I had two ex-military parents that respectfully thought that I was going to maneuver along that same path. And it was a definite no, from as early as age four or five. I was like, “I’m going to do art, I’m going to be crafty. I want to choose my life path.”
And it was always creative pursuits. It was always dance or art or music. That has evolved into styling, curating, and putting on events. When I do this work, I always try to create a space that I personally would want to be in. When I’m approaching vendor opportunities, and doing events, I want to create that type of atmosphere.
Do you feel like you’ve seen a lack of that kind of environment in your life?
For sure. if you’ve grown up in Richmond, you know that representation is a huge thing that we fight for here. I wanted to see the representation of Black-owned businesses. I wanted to see the representation of women-owned businesses and the inclusivity factor for the LGBT community. The combination of all those things is what we created.
You were working on this before the pandemic. Did anything change while we were all on pause?
We actually had a whole six-city tour to launch with For the Fem in You planned. It was in place– venues booked. Speakers lined up– paid. That was crazy. It was going to be New York, DC., Richmond, Atlanta, Miami, and LA. The first day of the tour was March 8th in New York. And that was the first day that news actually came out.
Yeah, I remember that. By March 14th, everything had shut down. How upset were you?
Oh, my God. I was devastated. My bank account was negative, I don’t know, a couple grand. It was crazy, having to rebuild and approach it differently. So we immediately had to come up with something virtual to stay tapped in. To stay relevant and in the faces of the people that we’re trying to support.
We had started back in 2017 or 2018, with Handmade in RVA, which was designed to create spaces for Black-owned businesses– period. And then it evolved into creating that nonprofit side of it with more of a focus on women.
Why do you think there was a lack of spaces for Black and LGBTQIA+ people before the pandemic? It feels like there’s a line between then and now. At least in my view, it seems like the arts are now being integrated better. There are Black muralists. There are Black spaces, we just had Black Restaurant Week. It seems like there’s been more awareness of the fact that everybody that lives here should be equally represented.
So let’s back it up. This is, of course, systematic, right? It’s very much systematic and very much intentional. We gotta remember, this is the Confederate capital. Richmond was a place where some horrific things took place, especially when discussing the experience of Black people here.
We’re just now getting to that point of seeing some type of amplification of Black faces and Black movements during and after the pandemic– because you couldn’t hide from it. You were looking at social media all day. So, for two years straight, you were looking at social media, you were looking at social things that were taking place, you were looking at the George Floyd events. It was amplified. You couldn’t hide from it any longer. You couldn’t say, “Oh, I didn’t see that.” Or, “Oh, I didn’t know.”
Now the visibility and awareness are clear. But it’s certainly not to the level of Atlanta, DC., New York, or LA. Our population is based on lots of African Americans. This city is crawling with that demographic, so there should be something on every corner for black people to be a part of.
But does it give you a bit of energy to see the changes that have happened?
Oh, yeah. It’s just like when you go to the bread aisle. You’re not saying, “Oh, well, we already have wheat.” Or, “We already have white. So we don’t need more of that.” No, you get all different types, you know. You try them all out. There’s room for it all. There’s a market for it; there’s a need.
I think a lot of the things that exist now are for, what I call, the 40-plus club. And there’s no shame to the 40-plus club, but we need to be bridging the gap. We’re in a city that is rampant with colleges everywhere. We have Union, State down in Petersburg, JSRCC, and VCU all within a mile radius. So, this city is crawling with students. There are artistic and free thinkers. And I really want to create spaces where they feel comfortable interacting and being in. Because I was one of those.
You’re looking for a physical space for your organization.
Why do you feel like you need that?
Well, For the Fem in You is blossoming very quickly. Just within the short timeframe since For the Fem in You began, we have gained access to over 1000 vendors, artists, performing artists, and individuals in production that are in our network. And it’s been a struggle to consistently have events at different locations. That’s another sign of systematic racism and redlining in obvious issues within that.
But, by having our own space, we’ll be able to create the reality that we want to see within that space. So we’re housing not only what the org wants to do programming-wise but also will become more active in the community. We’ll be able to do food giveaways and programs with children and teens. Having that as a home base and being able to house our vending events and our celebrations– that matters. And it needs to take place very quickly. It’s not something that can wait another five years. It’s necessary now.
You mentioned before the interview that you would prefer to be on Broad Street.
Yeah, off of Broad Street or within that. So, Franklin, Grace, any of that is also fair game. Jackson Ward area is also cool. We want to stay in the Arts District.
I’m definitely seeing a lot of spaces pop up that are moving in the right direction of what Richmond needs artistically. And through a business lens. There are a bunch of really cool shops over there. And Jackson Ward is historically black, it’s historically ours and something that was separated and needs to be reclaimed in a different way. So I would love to be a part of that. I’m sure the organization and the members in it, equally feel the same way.
What is coming up programming-wise that you’d like to talk about?
The Afro-Vegan Social is coming up. Afro-Vegan Social pretty much embodies us and shows individuals that vegan food is not nasty. So rethinking what vegan food tastes like, and introducing it to our community in a different way. And then adding the fashion and the Afrobeats musical component. That is super important in Afro-Vegan Social. It’s something that is free to come to, though you can pay for your food and whatever. Proceeds go back to the individuals that prepared it, as well as the org.
We also have Black AF, which we just successfully pulled off at Tang and Biscuit. We’re going to do a Juneteenth edition of that on the 25th– that’s a Sunday. And Black AF is really focused on business owners, artists, and performing artists. That day is completely filled with performances, poets, singers, and songwriters. We also do a big, either 45 minutes to an-hour set of a band that people know in the area. And we have Last Stop, which is really dope. Last Stop is an all-women’s DJ experience.
Clearly, we know that representation and visibility in that industry are really slim for women. The music industry is predominantly run by men. So we’re trying to make an imprint by creating a space where black women-queer-DJs are able to come and express themselves within that. The ICA is probably going to assist us in doing a summer series with that. And then we want to take that on the road because that’s something special. We want to implement it in each city that we’re already familiar with or already have relationships with.
We’re gonna start our kids’ markets back up. I think we’re going to do that more so towards the holidays, so they have more time out of school. It’s a pop-up market where we focus on kids and teens and teach them how to exist in small businesses and how to market their products from the beginning, from conception to actually selling it. That is what I have for now.
I think some people reading this might wonder if they would be invited to come to these events if they’re not Black. Can we address that?
Yeah, let’s address that. So, it’s literally a moment for Black celebration. If you’re an ally, you are more than welcome to come and participate. We had white people at the last Black AF. They were comfortable, they had a good time, they ate good. They enjoyed the music and they donated. If you’re into reparations, you can give towards a cause that you can see in front of you taking place. It’s not a space for us to discriminate. This is for sure a space where everybody’s gonna be welcome. But just understand that the focus is amplifying Black people, Black voices, Black art, and Black music.
I ask that because it hasn’t been represented that well in Richmond. And being a city that’s half Black, we need to have these conversations.
We do. And ultimately we’re bridging the gap and creating healthy dialogue and points of understanding. And you can’t do that if you’re not there. Just because it says Black AF doesn’t mean you’re not welcome to come. Participate and pour back into our community. Pour back into the businesses as well, they need your participation.
Right. Is there anything that I missed?
I want to give a huge shout-out to Khadijah Ruffin. She was one of the people that were in the trenches with us, like, when this was just an idea. Just something coming out of my mouth. It hadn’t matriculated to this, but she was like, “Yes, let’s go, I got your back.”
What was the first step after that?
It was really the networking. Like linking up with Nikiya Ellis who has the Diverse Birth Collective, and her husband. It was linking up with individuals that were already like-minded and involved in the community to secure locations and spaces that were interested in helping us, grow this. That was really the first step, knowing that there was a community of individuals that felt the same way.
Baron of 3rd Galaxi Art was the first DJ that was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it. I’ll help.” He, Khadijah, Nikiya, and her husband Duron were really the first bunch of people that were like, “Yo, do it.” It now has evolved into this, where we really do have a great team of supporters. And org-wise, we have great foundations to be able to produce these things. So, Khadijah Ruffin is a 60-plus-year-old, Muslim Black woman who is just fiery, honest, and will give you her last. This past year, she lost her husband and her daughter within the same six months.
You would never know that when you meet her. She’s gonna have a smile on her face. She’s gonna pour her all into it, regardless of what’s going on. In a lot of ways, talking with her about the experiences that she had, has really helped me to bridge the gap. That’s a 60-plus-year-old woman. I’m only 31. So there’s a lot in between there, and maybe people would think that we wouldn’t have much to talk about. But I can talk to this lady every day. She calls me every day, and we have honest, fun conversations. And she’s always in my ear about, “Maybe don’t do that. Maybe try this.” And it’s always with love. So I wanted to make sure to acknowledge her.
Isn’t that how a community really starts though? When you connect the different age groups and experiences of elders. I think some of that is missing now; it feels like wild packs of young kids versus jaded, older folks.
That’s what I’m hoping to bridge here. Because you have her, you have me right in the middle, and then we have some younger individuals that are coming in, whether they’re performers or the Social Media Manager we just brought on. It just all works together in that way.
Do you ever feel pressure about acting as the main cog in this conversation? And making sure that everybody that’s involved with you feels comfortable and excited about what’s going on?
There’s pressure, but I work well under pressure. I’ve always been there. I’ve always operated well in that space. I’m a solutions-based person. For me, it’s like, “Alright, that’s the problem.” Let’s move on to how we can fix it. I always go straight there. I don’t want to wallow in it. I don’t want to sit in it.
If something’s really bothering me, I have to just turn and face it. Because what else are you going to do? You can’t just lie down.
No, you can’t. That’s not going to pay the bills; that’s not going to do anything.
Check out the For The Fem In You website: www.forthefeminyou.com
Follow The Fem In You @forthefeminyou