By Josh Watkins
By opening hearts, expanding minds, and creating space, HTX People Project founder Bria Davis is upping the ante for creative minority groups. Her project is a queer-people-of-color collective that aims to represent the “intersecting experience of real people, real lives, real history, and real conversation.”
Davis holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Texas Southern University. She started the project by purchasing a cheap tape recorder and taking to the streets of urban neighborhoods to approach strangers with a simple, straightforward statement: “Tell me about yourself.”
People would tell Davis more than she anticipated, and some of their greatest vulnerabilities, insecurities, hardships, and victories were captured on her tape recorder. Partnered with her girlfriend, Morganne Nikole, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Texas, the duo saw in those pivotal encounters the power and potential of simple storytelling.
The initial idea for the project was stimulated by the realization that many people speak on behalf of marginalized individuals who rarely get the opportunity to have their own voices heard. Davis and Nikole wanted to change that. “We grounded ourselves in providing a voice to the voiceless,” they say.
As the HTX People Project’s collection of narratives grew, it quickly evolved into the medium of film. The project’s debut documentary, NAKED, gives eight women the opportunity to “truthfully tell their stories of struggle, adversity, insecurity, and perseverance.” Through the documentary, Davis and Nikole sought to challenge the standard assumptions that society tends to have about the experiences and attitudes of black women. “[Our mission is] to diminish the separation between rich and poor, or black and white, and place everyone in a position to matter,” they say. “We speak. And we make them listen.”
The collective aims to use their documentaries to “bring disruptive conversations to the forefront of a larger society.” As black gay women, Davis and Nikole understand how they are perceived in negative ways by society. But instead of falling victim to society’s perceptions, they use their vulnerability and experiences to cultivate strength through storytelling.
A year after NAKED, HTX People Project released its second documentary, c r e a t i n g s p a c e, which captures the raw and uncensored voices of “six black LGBT-identified individuals who proactively aim to challenge societal standards and conformist ideals.” Those conversations confronted religion, race, sexuality, the gender binary, societal rejection, societal acceptance, and cultural oppression.
Both NAKED and c r e a t i n g s p a c e aim to build a safe space for often-silenced individuals—a space that allows those individuals to tell their own narrative and “evaluate their positioning within society from the perspective of active participants and observers.”
Presently, Davis and Nikole are pushing to drive c r e a t i n g s p a c e into as many spaces as possible. Considering the current state of the nation under a Trump administration, they feel “it is critical, now more than ever, for us to use our creative media to cultivate conversations that can educate and unravel unprogressive thinking and oppression.” Through films that bridge the separation among various groups, the HTX People Project wants to create a togetherness that respects differences and embraces similarities—ultimately “transforming closed minds into open minds, even if it falls outside of [what people think of as ‘normal’].”
When asked how they navigate the masses of people in such a diverse city like Houston, Davis and Nikole proudly stated, “We disrupt the masses. We are unapologetic in our approach. We aren’t aggressive or confrontational, but we don’t censor our truths.” Knowing that not everyone can be as bold and courageous, the project strives to create a space for both the participant and the observer to feel liberated and encouraged to leave their comfort zones. “We hope our art offers hope, love, freedom, affirmation of importance, and motivation for people to wear their authentic selves,” they explain.
Looking back on what they’ve created so far, the HTX People Project team says that they are most proud of the way in which the project has increased their ability to share love with one another—first as partners, and then as a collective. They want to use that love to create more art and spread more love into the world.
For more information, visit thepplproject.com.
Josh Watkins is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.