To call Anasa Troutman multi-talented feels wildly insufficient. The writer, producer, organizer and entrepreneur has followed a path of her own making since dropping her pre-med major to found a record label. After building her own creative consulting agency, working with globally renowned artists and sharing her love-filled messaging model across political, social and cultural spheres, she fell head over heels for Memphis. The city’s rich story and innovative spirit drew Anasa in from the start, and she was immediately struck by Clayborn Temple, the site of organization efforts for the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike and other civil rights actions. After months of collaboration with Memphis-based efforts, including cowriting and producing the musical, Union, Anasa has been named Executive Director of Clayborn Temple and will be leading the mission to uphold and advance the historic space’s legacy. Today, we introduce her as our newest FACE of Memphis.
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in New York. My parents were artists at the time — my father was a drummer, and my mother was a dancer. We had a whole community of people who expressed their culture, their politics, their spirituality — all through their art.
When I was 2, my parents decided to go back to school. My father went to medical school, and my mom went to law school, all at the same time. Apparently my parents didn’t believe in babysitters, so I went with them everywhere. Everything that they experienced, everything that they learned, I experienced and learned at the same time.
The question people would ask me was, “Are you going to be a doctor or a lawyer?” and I was like, “Why do I only have to be those?” To me, that was people putting me in a cage. I didn’t know that, for a little black girl, that was not normal. I grew up really with the world as an option.
When you arrived at Spelman College, did you have a sense of what direction you wanted to take?
What’s so funny is that by the time I got to Spelman, I actually did want to be a physician. I was going to be an orthopedic pediatric surgeon.
I spent a lot of my time off-campus, and I worked in a record store. I ended up meeting and working with a lot of artists. My world was really about this creative space and not the scientific space. Even though I really loved it, when it came time to think about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to affect the world, my default was art and creativity.
Your professional path has been incredibly rich and varied. How do you describe your overall direction?
I’ve always been very, very idealistic, and going to college, moving to a new city, interacting with people who were not in my family’s little group, I was like, “Oh my gosh, people do not like each other. They do not know how to treat each other. I want to spend my whole life figuring out how people can love.” I want to use culture and art and creativity to be able to have conversations and create actual change.
How did that artistic and cultural background factor into your political work?
I knew from being in the music industry that there are certain ways that you get to masses of people. I was thinking, “Oh, y’all don’t really like to talk to millions of people, do you? You like to talk to these same five people who believe exactly what you believe and do exactly what you do, and that’s not effective.” I spent three years in a fellowship really working to integrate what I had learned, as someone who understood music and branding and big broad messaging and touring, into what I was learning about community engagement and electoral work and policy change. I realized that the model that I built was viable and powerful, and it really actually could change the world in a real way, even if it was just a little small part of it.
What is the goal of your model and what does it comprise?
Our work, as people who believe that the world can be different, is about connecting with people who you don’t agree with and learning to love them and communicate with them through the difference — and have that difference be the ground that you work through together.
There are three basic components. One is about shared cultural experience: How can we tell a story that everyone can see themselves in? We feel like we’re connected because we were able to have the same experience, and we now have the same language around it.
Next is public engagement, which is really a combination of movement building and audience building. So you get the relationship and you get the depth, but you also get the flash and the splash.
And then the final part is opportunities for embodiment. The most powerful part of the model is helping people discover ways to practice whatever thing they want to take on, whether it’s personal or community-based or public policy.
What brought you to Memphis?
I had a relationship with the Memphis Music Initiative that funded a project I was working on that’s about girls learning how to be innovative through creativity and technology. I lived in Nashville at the time, but every time I’d come back, I would meet some new brilliant, creative, innovative, young person doing something crazy. This place felt so good and so generative and so future-facing that I kept coming back.
How is Memphis’ story changing?
One of the things that’s been interesting to me is being able to sit with the need for healing in this town and understanding that a big part of our work here at Clayborn Temple is going to have to be to create spaces of healing for people. That to me is very exciting and very daunting.
What do you see as the meaning and the potential for Clayborn Temple?
Listen, I love this place so much. My greatest aspiration for this place is that it does for other people what it did for me, which was just blow my heart open and help me see the possibility. Clayborn Temple was made famous and is historically significant 50 years later because of the sanitation workers and what they did, which was to have a conversation about race and class simultaneously.
If we can put ourselves in the middle of a 100-year arc and think about what it is we learned from the last 50 years and use that to inform how we go forward for the next 50, I think that’s a noble effort.
What are some of the places in Memphis where you’ve been most connected?
My favorite thing about Memphis is the river. That river is so powerful and so beautiful, and it connects me to the infinite history of this land. It’s a thing that’s consistent no matter who lives here or who thinks they’re in charge of whom. That river is the truest thing about this place. It gives me such serenity and calm and joy and hope.
What is your best advice?
Take the time to discover who you truly are and figure out how to have the courage to be that all the time.
What are three everyday things you can’t without?
Alkaline water, my Sonos speakers and, I don’t want to say my cell phone, but I have to.
Thank you Anasa for the noble work you’re doing and to Abbey Bratcher for the stunning photos!
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