Hello, Created For family! I am so excited to be in the room today. Wow, thank you for having me. And I’m so, so excited to share a little bit about my story, and hopefully align with the overarching theme of “Being While Becoming,” focusing specifically on becoming — my process of becoming and how I wanted to use my passions, my skills, a need I saw in the world, and combine them to walk out my present purpose, or what I felt like God has been calling me to do specifically in this season with my gifts.
So before I jump all the way into that, let me introduce myself a little bit better. My name is Danielle Coke, and I’m an illustrator and activist from Atlanta, Georgia. I say that I like to use my art to encourage faith, inspire justice and help good people become better neighbors, or helping people understand better about how to love their neighbors as themselves. And so that topic has spanned multiple different areas from justice, to empathy, to hope and equity, and all those things in between. And I really aim to let my work equip and inspire others to see, not only that these are important issues in the world today but that we each have an individual responsibility to use our gifts, our talents, our spheres of influence, and make a difference in the world around us. And so I’d like to share a little bit about how I got here and some inspiration for you as you decide to navigate through that journey of figuring out what this means for yourself.
So, in 2019, I up and quit my job. I’m going to just say it straight. I was working for a small business, and I was the only Black woman in the company. While working there, I noticed a lot of different things. And if you are a Black or brown person in a predominantly white space, this comes as no surprise to you. But I noticed some things like microaggressions, some outright racist or discriminatory behavior. And I wanted to bring it to the attention of the company’s owner and kind of say, “Hey, I would love to explore what a solution for this could look like.” So we sat down, and I described to him, “I would really love to see some DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives in the company. Something that could make Black people like me who are here feel included and welcome in the space and that we’re dedicated to continue learning.” And my boss told me that not only did he not want to do that, but he had no passion for anything like that and couldn’t understand why I would want him to use company money or time towards something like that. And so he decided that that’s not something he wanted to do. And I decided that that’s not a place that I wanted to be.
And so, with my marketing and graphic design experience, I took a great leap of faith and decided to start my own business. And at the time, I called it “So Happy Social.” And the mission and goal of it was to use my art and words to help positive, mission-based brands get maximum social impact from their online presence. And so that is something that I decided to dive into and explore. And as I did that, around the same year, 2019 — the end of 2019 — I got an iPad for Christmas. And I was like: “Oh, whoa, this is fun. I can do digital artwork.” I had no digital art experience, but I thought I could bring a little bit of myself to it and use the art to talk about things that mattered to me.
So, January of 2020, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the first day that I put out a piece of art about social justice. And it basically just said: “Martin Luther King was not this passive peacekeeper, but a radical disrupter, a peacemaker who challenged the status quo through organized, civil disobedience. And I just wanted to put that thought out there because, you know me, I’m very passionate about these things.” And so I put it out there. And it was the very first piece that I noticed was shared by people who I didn’t know, shared by people beyond my family and friends. And so, Black History Month was right around the corner, and I decided, “Hey, why not keep this going and see if people would be more inclined to join the hard conversations about justice and equity if it was pretty to look at?” And sure enough, my thesis proved to be correct. And throughout that next month, all the way up through summer, when we saw the resurgence of Black Lives Matter conversations taking front and center in America, I noticed that the artwork continued to make its rounds, until in one week, I gained about 300,000 followers on Instagram. And I just started noticing that God was doing something so unbelievable with the work, something that I never anticipated or saw coming for myself.
And that all reminded me of the idea of “present purpose.” Purpose, in and of itself, is a very loaded, heavy concept to think about. I remember growing up not knowing what I wanted my purpose to be, or not knowing what my purpose in life was, or what God wanted me to do necessarily, holistically. But when I started thinking about the concept of present purpose, it took the weight off. And it basically reminded myself, “Hey, I don’t have to have it all figured out right now.” But what can I do to combine my passions, my skill set, and a perceived need that I see in the world, and put it all together — along with my community, my sphere of influence and identifying who that was — putting that all together and finding at the intersection of all of those things what my present purpose was? So I’d love to walk through those four things with you very quickly just to give you an overarching bird’s eye view of the concept of present purpose.
So the first one would be passions. Passions can be anything from causes that you care about to things that stir your heart, things that you’re really passionate about doing. What are those passions that you have in your life? And putting those aside, I would say even writing those down. Your skill sets: what are you naturally good at or inclined to? What are areas that people are constantly affirming you in? And what are skills that you know that you have and that you’ve practiced or honed, or can practice or hone? Write those down.
And then, a need that you see in the world. For me, that need that I saw in the world at the time of 2020 when I started doing this artwork was a need for accessible information as it related to racial justice conversations. How could I find ways to make that more tangible, more accessible, more digestible for people without changing the weight and the importance of the message itself? So that was a need that I saw. Maybe you see different needs where you are. Write those down: needs that you see in the world. It can be a list of causes or issues as well.
And then finally, your community, your sphere of influence. Where are you planted? Who is around you? Think of places that you find yourself on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Who are you interacting with consistently? That is a very important thing to take note of, and I would write that down as well. And so when you have all four of these sections written down, or you’re thinking through them, think about how you can put them all together to identify what I like to call your present purpose.
I think that finding and identifying an action that you can take at the intersection of all of those things really gives you a very pointed, specific direction to go in when trying to navigate actions that you can take. So for me, I sat down with all this and I said, “I will use my passion for racial justice, my skills for digital art (that were not perfect — I was working on it, I was learning, but I used it as a skill), and a need I see in the world (which was access to digestible and accessible information regarding race), and I will use all of those things to take the action of creating artwork that would encourage faith, inspire justice and guide people to loving their neighbors well in these areas of justice and equity.”
And so I decided that my community, my sphere, was going to be the entire Internet. And I was going to post these for whosoever will. And by putting that together, I identified that my present purpose in the here and now would be to make that artwork and just use my voice to make an impact in that area. And you might not be an artist, you might be a creative, you might not even be a creative. Whatever it is that you do — that you gravitate towards, that you love, that you’re passionate about — find ways that you can take those things and intersect them with a need that you see in the world today. And what you’ll find is not only an opportunity to pursue that present purpose, but a sense of fulfillment as you realize that you are walking out the calling that God has placed on your life.
And before I go, I want to remind you of three things that you have that no one else has when you start to feel like you can’t do this or you’re not qualified. Remember, nobody has your style, your flair; the way you do and approach things is completely unique to you. No one has your story, where you’re from, how you got here, and even where you’re going — that in and of itself is unique to you too. And thirdly, like I’ve already said, your sphere of influence — the people you are around, who you surround yourself with, and who you may be influencing without even knowing it — these are people who I may never contact or have the same amount of influence on that you do. Your sphere of influence is unique to you. So keeping all those things in mind, remembering that you have what it takes, you’re fully equipped to walk out whatever your present purpose is in the here and now. And that even though if you’re not an artist, remember: perfection is not a prerequisite to participation. This is something that I like to tell everyone. You don’t have to be perfect to get going, and you can be while becoming at the same time.
I hope this encouraged you, and I hope you enjoy the rest of Created For. Bye.