Sometimes we go looking for a deeper purpose and sometimes it finds us.
One Saturday after the death of George Floyd, that purpose – in the form of a moving sea of protestors – found Jason Rhee.
Perhaps Jason, the owner of Rheefined Company, an award-winning wedding and event planning firm, wasn’t looking to become an activist, but that day, as some of those rioters left graffiti on the large plate glass facing into his studio, his sense of purpose became as clear as that window.
“While I didn’t believe in the message they left that day, I realized that I have the perfect canvas for a message I do believe in,” Jason explains.
That canvas is located at the corner of Fairfax and Santa Monica Boulevards, a very busy and well-known intersection in West Hollywood. The message he wanted to convey gelled when he saw the work of Joy Proctor, a wedding designer in Portland, Oregon. In honor of Juneteenth she produced a memorial honoring 175 lives taken by police brutality, injustice and racism. The first of several “Say Their Names Memorials,” #SayTheirNamesMemorial this one was installed on a chain link fence surrounding a public space by friends and even passersby who helped put up photos and bouquets.
After her first one, Joy helped other memorials get started in other cities and started a Go Fund Me account for them. Sadly some of those created in public spaces were taken down by neighbors who didn’t share the sentiments. Jason’s private studio space ensured that his could stay up for a while.
“Joy onboarded us with a Google document with imagery, names and stories and encouraged us to work with our community.” Soon his window design was underway with candles, flowers donated by Designer Dana and a strong layout of 243 photos and names that could be seen from the cars on the street. He will continue to support @saytheirnamesmemorial however he can.
A Growing Sense of Purpose
More than the outward actions, the sense of purpose has grown within Jason as he considers the wedding and event industry and where it stands on this issue. “I’ve been privileged as a gay Asian man to find a place within this industry but on the whole, the wedding industry is majorly lacking in its support and promotion of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color]. In an industry based on love, we need to acknowledge this. We also need to not only respect the Black wedding industry, but support and promote them to make a equitable industry. I think a new generation is coming up now that will make these changes happen.”
Today he goes forward into new projects with more thoughtfulness, choosing the projects and people with whom he works. “I’m being more careful with where I put my time, money and support now, even down to making sure I work with people and associations who share my sensibility. It’s not about politics,” he says,” It’s about being in an industry that is on the side of human rights and love.”
Taking it a step further, Jason and Anika Warden, another leading wedding professional, drafted a diversity checklist inspired by similar documents in the arts industry, “It asks the important questions to help build and ensure racial diversity and inclusion.” Download it here.
Jason plans to use his voice, and his window, for more messaging in the coming months. In a way, that window might mark the beginning of a new type of activist – one that doesn’t have to go out to create the change because change happens right from where he is located – at the busy intersection of old and new thinking.
If you would like to create a “Say Their Names Memorial” in your city, email Joy Proctor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three Brand Therapy Tips for Creating Value-Based Marketing
Take a Stand
Author Mark Schaefer, Marketing Rebellion, has worked with top brands thorough many cultural upheavals. Here are three great tips from him on creative a values-based marketing strategy. The most important thing to keep in mind is that today’s clients are looking to do business with people and companies that align with their values.
- Be clear not only on your “why” but on your customer’s. For instance, when a company like Patagonia makes a stand against land development it makes sense. This is not for everyone, but if it makes sense for you, find that sweet spot that aligns you with your clients’ concerns.
- Re-discover your purpose. Is your company grounded on tradition alone, or does the purpose for being in business need to be updated through a modern lens?
- Use your unique voice. Having a “true north” such as the kind that Jason expressed can be an effective filter for future actions and business, down to what partners you chose to do business with.