Coffee with: Jahi Mackey of The 821 Project
Based right here with us in Baton Rouge, Jahi Mackey took a minute to share a little about his nonprofit, The 821 Project. Focused on implementing the ideals of global citizenship, diversity, and inclusion within the Baton Rouge community, The 821 Project brings together people of various backgrounds to explore and celebrate diversity, and to discuss important issues from new perspectives.
What is The 821 Project?
The 821 Project is a nonprofit organization that promotes global citizenship in the southeast
Louisiana by providing intercultural and social justice education programming to the community.
How did The 821 Project start?
The journey of The 821 Project intersects with my life’s journey. Though I grew up in a working
class family, I’ve had many opportunities to be globally connected and socially conscious. Since middle school, I’ve interacted with people from different cultures, matriculated in multicultural educational environments and traveled inter-regionally as well as internationally. These experiences provided me with an opportunity to feel a deep sense of belonging and connection to my global community, which was significant to me being African American and from North Baton Rouge. However, most of these experiences took place outside of my hometown--and I wanted change that. The 821 Project seeks to fill a void in the community that exists for intercultural and social justice education programs, as well as to show southeast Louisiana thatwe are much more diverse than we realize.
Can you describe the moment in which you realized that there was this need for change,
and it was you who could take action to enact it?
One of the activities I was involved in as a college student at UNO was Model UN. Each spring,
I attended the National Model United Nations Conference with my classmates. At the
conference, participants had an opportunity to attend speaker panels where guests would share their personal and professional insights connected to international affairs and politics.
During my second year, I was disappointed at the lack of diversity among panelists, and later
discovered that there were very few women, non-Westerners and people of color who served as panelists over a decade long period. I felt that the professionals who came to spoke to us
should reflect our international and multi-ethnic backgrounds. In response to this, I wrote a letter to the president of the national conference addressing this issue. Though I did not get the response that I wanted, that moment pushed me towards being more vocal about diversity and inclusion, and ensuring that everyone can have a seat at the table.
What advice would you give to people who want to make a difference but aren’t sure
where to begin?
If you wish to make a difference, an honest and empathetic conversation with someone who you perceive to be different from you is one way to start. As human beings, we spend so much time obscuring our true selves to others and blocking our capacity for compassion and empathy to survive. Open up yourself to someone new and you may discover that you have more in common than you realize, and that learning about their differences can contribute to your personal growth. Many of my beliefs have shifted because I opened myself up to others in an honest and empathetic way.
Why do you think that learning about people with other backgrounds, cultures, and
experiences is so important?
My life experiences have shown me how empowering it is to have a connection with someone
who comes from a different background or culture than you. It expands and enriches your life,
and provides you with a sense of belonging and community that can keep you optimistic about
the state of our world. Regardless of where we grew up or our life experiences, we all want to
make the best out of life and be treated with basic human respect. If we all learned to appreciate the humanity that exists inside of all of us, the world would be a much better place to live in.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in this journey?
I am learning to not allow others to set the value of my work, vision and life experiences without my permission. Global citizenship and social justice are extremely important to me, and the programs of The 821 Project are my unique way of sharing this passion with my regional community. I’ve had to deal with insurmountable challenges and obstacles since starting The 821 Project, but I have worked very hard to overcome those challenges.
How did this particular cause become so important to you?
My complex upbringing made global citizenship and social justice very important to me. There
was no one big event that made this cause important, but more so a series of experiences on
my journey as a human being. I grew up in a predominantly Black community that was crippled
by environmental racism. I also grew up in an increasingly globally connected world, where
going to a racially and ethnically diverse school felt more normal than abnormal. All of these
experiences fueled my passion and drive to do what I do in the community.
In starting an organization or a movement, where do you recommend people start? What are
the very first steps?
Mental preparation is the imperative first step. Prepare yourself of the long haul and the reality
that it may take a while for that “light bulb” to click. Prepare yourself for learning from potential setbacks and changes in trajectory instead of throwing in the towel when things don’t go according to plan. When it comes to watching progress and growth, social media can make the years look like days. We assume that just because we see someone is getting a lot of traction on social media or getting interviews on the news that they just exploded with popularity, but we don’t see their years of struggling and hardship.
How would you like to see The 821 Project grow in the coming years?
I want 821 to be southeast Louisiana’s center for global citizenship. It is my hope that in the
coming years, our organization will continue to attract people from all over the world, reshaping how those outside of southeast Louisiana see our regional community. It is also my hope that 821 will continue to shift individuals towards becoming more globally connected and socially conscious, working to ensure that our region is an empowering place to live for people of all cultural identities. Moreover, we want to provide more intercultural and social education
resources for schools and universities, host conferences and influence political and civic leaders to become more socially conscious and embracing of global citizenship.
What steps can people take in their daily lives and in their communities to become more
culturally attuned and to promote global citizenship?
Global citizenship and cultural attunement requires us to do internal work. We must be willing to address our own prejudices and biases. Our life experiences and exposure to certain
misinformation may cause us to hold negative attitudes towards certain people, places and
things as well as diminish our capacity for empathy. Once we acknowledge that we harbor
certain prejudices and biases, we must find ways to confront them. Sometimes becoming more
culturally attuned and socially conscious doesn’t require a passport, an overseas flight, or even
attending a protest/rally. It can be just as simple as having a conversation with someone you
perceive to be different from you.
Most importantly, it is important that we confront zero-sum ways of thinking about our world.
Making room for human difference doesn’t take away from who we are, but only enriches the
quality of our lives. We will gain new knowledge about ourselves, expand our social circles and
add new experiences to share with others. If we can begin to see human difference as
complementary to our lives as opposed to adversarial, then we will be the better for it.
To learn more about The 821 Project and how to get involved, visit www.the821project.com.