When you think about Black culture, a lot probably comes to mind. Art that illustrates our past and present realities, and visions of the future we deserve. Music that can transport us to unknown places that somehow, feel familiar. Symbols and designs that remind us we’re a part of something bigger. Culture is a powerful tool for transformation. Thankfully, there are people like Fresco Steez (she/her), who are honoring the legacy and influence of Black culture by making it an irresistible part of the contemporary fight for Black liberation.
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A native of the Southside of Chicago now residing in Atlanta, Fresco earned the unofficial title of Minister of Culture after years of creating iconic design work and cultural strategy for organizations across the Movement for Black Lives, a global ecosystem of more than 150 organizations committed to fighting for all Black people. She sees her contributions as a continuation of the creative work done by artists and radical freedom fighters before her, innovative people who deployed every tool at their disposal to combat the oppression their people experienced.
When reflecting on early influences, Fresco spoke lovingly of her mother, Sheila Rollins, a Pan-Africanist artist who raised her and her sister, while also serving her community in a number of ways. She exemplified the power that exists at the intersections of art and service. And like her, Fresco is using every skill she’s acquired to make life for her community safer, and more beautiful.
“I understand that my divine purpose is to use art as a tactic in the fight toward Black liberation,” Steez said. “ I compound political analysis, communications, creative design and organizing work to illustrate that Black folks have a culture despite white supremacy’s constant attempts to destroy it and us.”
A long-time organizer and co-creator of BYP100, a member-based organization of Black youth activists committed to fighting for justice for all Black people, Fresco is a sought-after cultural strategist and designer, acclaimed for her iconic designs during moments of social unrest, including the one we are inside of now. Using phrases like “Build Black Futures” and “Unapologetically Black” on clothing worn by organizers, thrust movement values into the mainstream. This, along with other design work amplifying demands that were rising up from communities around the country, like masks “Defund the Police” masks, set off a ripple effect resulting in the proliferation of movement values across various industries, including fashion.
“I could trust that the organizers wearing those garments would start conversations with those people that would move them further on the right side of history,” Steez said.
At only 29-years-old, Fresco has become an expert at using creative social impact to curate curiosity in Black people about what we’re fighting for and what we deserve. Fresco recently announced a special collaboration she designed for Levi’s 2021 Black History Month campaign, an opportunity intended to advance messages about justice and radical freedom to new audiences.
Having already worked as a digital organizer and strategist for a global movement, and designer and consultant for one of the nation’s largest brands, it’d be easy to assume that a lot of the bucket list boxes have been checked for Fresco, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I’m excited about what’s possible as we move deeper into collective consciousness as a people and a nation. But also, I’d really like to go to art school one day!,” Steez said. “Yale’s art school is my dream because it’s actually extremely cutting edge.”
As Fresco continues to deepen her knowledge and love of all things Black and culture, she wants us to keep something in mind …
“All we’ve done is design this world. Time and time again, we’ve had to reinvent and recreate our culture to hold onto it. So if you’re building something for our community, you have to value things that we have created as anchors for the continuance of Black culture. We’ve done it through hip-hop, streetwear, art and so much more. Regardless of what you’re doing, art and cultural work has to be a part of it because it’s a part of us.”
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