Interview with
Saira Rao & Joy Benenson

Saira Ro & Joy Benenson
Joy Benenson & Saira Ro

Interview with Saira Rao, founder of Haven Media and artist Joy Benenson, founder of Giving Artist.

Haven Media is a ‘radical digital platform by and for women of color, dedicated to our continuous journey of healing.’ Haven was founded by Saira Rao, racial justice activist, former congressional candidate, and co-founder of In This Together Media and Race To Dinner.  

Giving Artist is an online art gallery whose net proceeds benefit non-profits, including Haven Media.  Giving Artist was founded by artist Joy Benenson.

R4S:    Saira, you describe Haven Media as a ‘radical digital platform by and for women of color, dedicated to our continuous journey of healing.’  What are your goals for the website?

SAIRA:    The mission of Haven Media is to give Black, Indigenous and brown women a space to talk about both our traumas and our joys as well as a place to find community – it focuses on achieving mental health through storytelling.

R4S:    What unmet needs in the community led you to found Haven?

SAIRA:    Black, Indigenous and brown women have deep trauma and mental health issues – yet we have poor access to mental health care. And when you consider who runs the mental health care industry – white people – that care is not adequate, even when you have the access.

Then, adding insult to injury, most media is owned and operated by white people. For instance, over 90% of publishers and editors at media houses - not just Fox news, mind you - but the Atlantic, New Yorker, everywhere, are white people.  And, white people don't want to hear our stories. Finally, we don't have a platform to express racialized trauma, so we’re constantly re-traumatized by erasure and silencing.

Anecdotally, I know of so many women across the country who are experiencing depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation – all of that, with literally no place to go. And, if you happen to live in a predominantly white city, like Denver, there's a whole other level of trauma beyond erasure and silence in our inability to find community.

Beyond providing a digital platform, Haven hopes to provide that community, a place where Black, Indigenous and brown women can come together in a way that doesn't revolve around electoral politics and professional networking.

"Trauma is passed down from our mothers and grandmothers like an heirloom. However, instead of treasured jewels and gems, the trauma we inherit is fueled by colonialism, slavery, rape, and Eurocentric beauty standards. Like our eye color, our skin, and our hair, trauma is woven into the very fabric of our identity, and we unravel it with each generation."  Dr. Tyffani Dent

R4S:    You plan to officially launch the site next year – how are you developing content for the site?

SAIRA:    So many women have already reached out to say they want to write for Haven because there's literally no place for us to write about this stuff. Also, I want to stress that we’re paying people to write their stories. Black, Indigenous, and brown women, we rarely get to tell our stories, and even if we do, we're not paid for that, we’re not taken seriously as writers. We’re not limiting the format either; we plan to feature art, videos, poems, whatever a person’s medium is.

Regional diversity is also important to us because conventional media is so east/west-coast heavy.  We want to support voices from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Mississippi, North Dakota, places that you typically don't hear voices and narratives from.

R4S:    What might success look like in five years’ time?

SAIRA:    For the digital site, a complete divestment from the white media establishment. The next step will be creating a publishing house and then we’ll focus on film and TV. Success would be no longer having to beg white people to let us tell our stories – which they then steal and make fortunes on.

Ultimately, white supremacy depends on the divide-and-conquer tactic, the oldest trick in the book. So, Haven Media aims to be a truly intersectional space, allowing a diverse group of women to work together to start chipping away at white supremacy.

R4S:    How will you fund the site?

SAIRA:    In my mind, Haven needs to be funded by white people.   Initially, I started down that road – but it was a disaster. You know, I’m done swallowing my pride asking white people for money and then having to listen to their racist comments.

So, it was incredibly serendipitous that my friend Joy Benenson, who previously supported my campaign for congress, came up with a unique funding strategy.

JOY:    Initially, I founded Giving Artist as a way I could provide more support to non-profits than I had in cash.  It’s a 501c3; all net proceeds go to non-profits.

Art is listed on the site for sale; each artist can designate which non-profit benefits from the sale of their work. We pay the artist the traditional 50% of the sale, like their gallery would, then the other 50% goes to the designated non-profit.

Everyone wins – the non-profit receives funding, the artist gets paid, and the donor receives a beautiful original artwork.

In this case, I’ve designated 100% of the net revenues (revenues less hard costs and transaction costs) from my art sales on Giving Artist to fund Haven Media. My sales have nearly quadrupled because Haven shows prospective donors my work and they want to buy multiple pieces.  What could be better?

SAIRA:    I’m excited that we’ve come up with both an important platform for Black, Indigenous and brown women plus a remarkably simple funding model that’s adaptable and scalable.

I mean, how great for other Black, Indigenous and brown women to realize, “I can do this too.” What if this model becomes a whole new revenue pipeline for funding multiple projects? What if we harness other artforms like music? The possibilities are endless.

R4S:    Joy’s support for Haven is unique – how does her support figure into the conversation surrounding the white ally movement and reparations?

SAIRA:     OK, this is critical: there’s a lot of nonsense going around about what real white allyship looks like.  Let’s be clear - liking my tweet, reposting it on social media - that is not what true white allyship is about. Anyone can wear a pin or put on a pink pussy hat – but, what does that really accomplish? Redistribution of wealth is what true white allyship looks like. And that's exactly what Joy is doing with her non-profit, Giving Artist.

JOY:     Look, I support the work Saira is doing whole heartedly; Haven Media fills a critical need in the community. And, as far as Giving Artist is concerned – what better way to support Saira’s work?  It’s a win-win for me, both as an artist, and as an advocate for racial justice.

Regina Jackson and Saira Rao speaqking at a Haven Media event supporting mental health and trauma healing for Black, Indigenous, and brown women in Denver, CO.  White women engaging in repair served as underwriters for the event.
Regina Jackson and Saira Rao speaqking at a Haven Media event supporting mental health and trauma healing for Black, Indigenous, and brown women in Denver, CO. White women engaging in repair served as underwriters for the event.

Micro-Reparations

What’s a micro-reparation?  It’s the opposite of a micro-aggression: a simple way for white people to show support and advocate for the well-being of African Americans, while we all work to effect long term social change.

Has your family benefitted from a tradition of therapy? Consider partnering with any of these organizations to extend those benefits to African Americans.

Haven Media – a radical digital platform for Black, Indigenous and brown women to explore trauma and healing
Giving Artist – a 501c3 that supports Haven Media through art sales
The Loveland Foundation - a 501c3 that provides therapy funds for black women and girls 
Black Men Heal - a 501c3 providing mental health support to Black men in the Philadelphia area.
Therapy for Black Girls - know a young woman who needs counseling or mental health resources designed by and for African Americans?  Refer her here.
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Saira Ro & Joy Benenson
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