Artist, poet, and author Cleo Wade is a woman making history. Her streams of consciousness and signature writing style housed on her Instagram profile, not only gained her a huge social following and slew of reposts, but also cemented her as a force to be reckoned with and one that won't be silenced. "I write mainly about love and the human condition, and I use my work very often to address current affairs and what's happening in our current political climate and the world we live in," Cleo begins. Passionate about self-care and bringing light to race equality, gender equality, and poverty, she has become one of the most sought-after activists of this generation.
Wise beyond her years (she's not even 30 yet), Cleo has already come into a life and career rooted in service. "I think it's so important to make sure that you don't live your life or your dreams fully for yourself," says Cleo. She continues, "I grew up in New Orleans, which is such a wonderfully beautiful, and diverse, incredible place, and I lived there through (Hurricane) Katrina so I saw incredible environmental racism. I saw incredible race inequality and incredible lack of equity. And as I grew more into the space of creating public art installations and putting my work in the public sphere, I knew that I wanted to speak to the people who I felt weren't being spoken to or see the people that I felt weren't being seen because I remember growing up and feeling like we weren't seen - hearing things that people weren't acknowledging my own existence and my own Black skin because they were saying something racist or misogynistic around me."
Cleo's experience with racism echoes the experience of many around the world. The difference here, is that she faced these issues in the way truest to her - with words - many of which she has shared online, with friends, and in her new book, Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life. "I would say that one of our greatest healing tools is our ability to write down what we feel because it helps us move it out of our bodies and put it in front of us and take it apart," says Cleo.
Becoming the "Millennial Oprah" (as she's been referenced many times) didn't happen overnight. Cleo found her voice and grew confident addressing the tough topics and issues by literally putting her pen to paper. In her advice to young people looking to find themselves and ultimately reach this level of enlightenment, she says, "Start writing. I think it's an incredibly important way to get to know yourself. And the more you get to know yourself, the more you understand how to take care of yourself. The more you understand how to love yourself, the more you understand how to use your love to change the world."
Using her uplifting and oftentimes palpable words that have formed poetry, think pieces, and speeches, Cleo has found fans in corporate partners, fashion houses, and even a home and kitchen store. Even with this fanfare, Cleo feels a responsibility to continue writing and speaking on inequality across race, gender, and class. She says, "Well, I think if you look at the world with the right eyes you see yourself in every woman. And I think that it's so important to speak to, like Audre Lorde says 'There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.' Being a part of two oppressed groups - being Black and a woman - you see so clearly that the issues are linked and not ranked. They both define themselves within me and I think the conversation that is so important to have in the United States is we talk about equality but we don't talk about equity. We don't talk about groups having the same opportunities and abilities to grow and progress and find and gain life skills to move out of poverty. And this country constantly tells you to pick yourselves by your boot straps, but we don't speak to people who are born with no boots, and I try to make sure that, my work inherently speaks to that."
As the author of so many mantras, one must wonder where a woman like Cleo finds her inspiration. There's a collection of amazing women that she credits for providing the template that has helped her find her voice. "Anytime someone asks me who my favorite writers are, I always end up speaking about women who are more contemporary writers, like Alice Walker, Angela Davis, or Gloria Steinem because they were really the first women who were able to turn their craft or their skill or their work into language that activated others to show up. I feel like that was really my first template, I wasn't sure how to be or what to do with the words I had inside of me." She continues, "I think that women who are able to dominate in their field and be the best at what they do and also stand for love along the way and kindness are really the women I respect the most, whether that's activists or writers. My friend Stevona (Elem-Rogers) is one of my greatest inspirations. She has a movement in New Orleans called 'Black Women are for Grown Ups' and she's like my sister. She's just able to live with a level of sensitivity that I find to be so earthshaking to know and it's inspired me so much."
Though inspired by these talented women, Cleo is also looking to the future as a wave of young visionaries take charge this year. "What excites me so much is that there are so many young people - whether it's the kids who are organizing to end gun violence, all the kids who are at women's marches, all the kids that are filling the streets, writing their senators, and speaking out on their social media - caring so deeply about the world. Sometimes I think we forget that MLK was 26. He was a kid; he was not like Uncle MLK, you know?" She continues, "So I think our rights and our progress are only as powerful as our ability to continuously maintain them, evolve them, push them forward, and critique them. The more engaged we are, the more progress we have. I think we only really get great progress in our world and move further and further towards a fair, more equal, more loving, more understanding space is if the work is done every day and with every generation. My favorite Coretta Scott King line is, 'Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.' I feel so hopeful when I see these young people kind of embodying that and understanding that and joining movements and creating movements."
Our sentiments are the same. We look forward to watching these movements unfold with a shared goal of equality for all, helmed by women and young people alike.
In celebration of International Women's Day, Cleo's poignant phrases will appear globally on Gucci and CHIME FOR CHANGE social media platforms and in a worldwide advertising campaign, giving voice to the movement. CHIME FOR CHANGE is a global campaign founded by Gucci in 2013 to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for girls and women around the world, with a focus on Education, Health and Justice.
Two organizations Cleo holds close to her heart are the Lower East Side Girls Club and the Women's Prison Association. BeyGOOD and learn more about how you can get involved with them below.
Lower East Side Girls Club - https://girlsclub.org
Women's Prison Association - http://www.wpaonline.org
To learn more about Cleo Wade, visit cleowade.com.
Throughout the month of March in celebration of Women's History Month we'll continue to highlight women making history.
Written by: Kamaria Gboro