TJ Willis, 2023. Courtesy of the Artist.
A Visionary Activist Weaving Art and Liberation
TJ (they/them), an artist, activist, and community worker, is a visionary who has harnessed the power of art and activism to reshape the world around them.
At the core of TJ's journey is a profound commitment to self-discovery and an unwavering embrace of their identity as a Black, queer, trans, and disabled individual. This rich intersection of identities has woven a life marked by resilience and courage, guided by a relentless pursuit of artistic expression and personal authenticity.
Their artistic journey initiated with words, inspired by the enthralling narratives of science fiction. But it was the magnetic pull of Maya Angelou's prose that captured their heart, setting them on a poetic voyage of self-discovery. TJ's mother was a gifted rapper and poet, laying the groundwork for a future that would be defined by storytelling.
As a teenager, TJ embarked on a transformative journey into the world of slam poetry. Armed with a pen and the skills of a seasoned caregiver and facilitator, they became a beacon of inspiration for their peers, teaching poetry as a means of unlocking the voices of those yearning to be heard. Yet, their artistic journey would encompass far more than poetry alone.
The stage became a canvas for TJ's boundless creativity. At San Francisco's Harvey Milk Center, they breathed life into characters and stories that resonated deeply with audiences. Amidst this artistic whirlwind, one passion stood out—singing. TJ humorously claims that they emerged from the womb singing, and perhaps it was this deep connection to music that ultimately led them to poetry.
However, TJ is not merely an artist who creates for personal catharsis. Their art serves as a conduit for healing, both for themselves and for others. They have navigated a world that often struggles to understand the depth of their multi-marginalized existence, yet their bravery and authenticity have illuminated paths to liberation across borders. They have evolved into a DEI Specialist, multifaceted facilitator, executive coach, and peer counselor.
Nevertheless, life's trials have brought TJ to a precipice. The ongoing pandemic has thrust them into financial uncertainty, threatening the looming specter of homelessness—a stark reminder of the struggles artists often face. TJ raises a clarion call, urging support for individual artists and arts organizations, particularly those representing marginalized communities.
TJ's story doesn't end with adversity. Their journey of self-discovery led them to embrace their neurodivergent identity, particularly as someone on the autistic spectrum with ADHD. Understanding their own mind has paved new pathways for artistic exploration, enabling them to express themselves in profound and innovative ways.
But TJ is not just an artist and a healer; they are an activist on the frontlines of change. They have lent their voice and their passion to the Black Lives Matter movement in San Francisco and served as the visionary for Youth Speaks, Martin Luther King Bringing The Noise event to life. This groundbreaking event was Youth Speak's first cis women & femme only showcase to share their powerful stories through art.
In their 9-to-5 role, TJ champions diversity, equity, and inclusion, using their talents to make meaningful changes in the world. Their journey is a testament to the power of storytelling, the healing force of art, and the beauty of embracing one's true self. They are a transformative force, a guiding light, and a catalyst for profound change.
Tassiana Willis, #ResistanceIsBeautiful. Artistic Director: Tassiana Willis in collaboration with BANDALOOP. Full list of collaborators on YouTube.
Tassiana Willis, The Longest Mile.