Having dance as a constant throughout my life has really shaped who I am. It’s also been really important in me understanding my own creative process and what creativity looks like for different people. I’m a movement artist, model, storyteller, and founder of Allies Doing Work. I’m from Baltimore but I moved to New York in 2014, to study human rights and race studies at Columbia — and to dance. Realizing the passion I had for human rights work once I started college, combined with the creative outlets that play a central role in my life — it was these converging that fueled me to start Allies Doing Work, which I launched in May 2020.
When I started, I was building without any intention or thought that is would grow or that people would follow it. Allies Doing Work was a space for me and my friends to amplify the conversations that we were already having among ourselves. I’ve always had friends of varied cultural backgrounds, and the work I did in college exposed me to learning how to share space with other people and make room for everyone’s story. I wanted to mimic the type of space that I have cultivated in my personal life.
Allies Doing Work is a space for people of color to talk about things like anti-Blackness, race, gender, sexuality from a non-white-centric point of view. Last year, we were seeing lots of people talking about race, which was great and long-overdue. But I felt that we were missing spaces, particularly for people of color to have hard conversations within their own groups and cross-culturally. The general space was just becoming something catered to a wide audience, and I wanted to carve out a space where that isn’t our intention and will never be our goal. Instead, our space is for people of color to ask the hard questions of themselves and of their peers, and in their dating lives and within their families. Doing that in spaces where you’re sharing with other people of color is very different to when you’re in a mainly white space.
Across industries, I think true representation starts within a company. Marketing and campaigns showing different body types, skin colors, genders, and so on is amazing — but it needs to be supported by the internal pulse of the brand. When the company is truly open and dedicated to those things behind the scenes, in those hard conversations and those hard moments, but that's what makes all those campaigns really ring true and really click with people. There's nothing worse than finding out that a brand that has great marketing treats their people terribly, and that's something we saw a lot of in 2020. The disappointment that the consumer felt, where it was like, ‘Hey, I really believe this campaign that you guys put out, I wish you paid your Black talent fairly. Those were conversations that we were seeing pop up. You have to address both sides of that. People will dig, people are going to ask questions, people are going to challenge the status quo.
Representation is wildly important but I'm more concerned right now about company structures, set up, fair pay, and fair treatment. People of color in roles of choice and power is very, very, very important. And also, cultivating workspaces that are safe for people of color and non-binary folks — that to me is more important than just casting a diverse campaign. We have made incredible headway over the last five to ten years, but I think we can continue to push that narrative even further when we're talking specifically about beauty.
When I say beauty, I mean skincare and makeup in that larger category but I think that representation needs to be at every single level of the process. Whether you're creating makeup or skincare, or both— the types of products you make are catering to all skin tones. Can those products work for people of color for the multiple shades that we have in this whole world. When you make a skin product, do the colors come in a shade that will work for me and people darker than me? So, we need people of color in those roles to make sure that the products, the marketing, and the ethos behind any one given product or brand is actually meant to serve all people. And I think that, again, beauty really falls into the trap of just casting people for a campaign or for a product shoot and thinking that's enough. I think consumers and those who are passionate about beauty really want to know who's making these formulas. Is this formula made for someone with skin like me? That's where the consumer is becoming very challenging and smart and pushing for this better world, too.
"I hope we can get to a place where people of color, Black people, Native people, non-binary people — anyone who has been marginalized, any group of people that has been hurt, whether in this country or on a global scale is able to live a life of freedom, dignity, and safety. The most marginalized groups that we have in this country and in this world deserve to craft their own lives."
I feel the most beautiful when I'm not picking myself apart. When I accept myself fully and wholly. I think this has evolved over time because, for me, I definitely thought that there was one particular type of beauty — like you had to have a certain shaped nose, you had to have a certain skin tone, you had to have a certain eye color or eye shape. But then I go out into the world and I see so many different people who are so beautiful who don't look anything like each other. So, to me, beauty is when you can really look at someone completely — their full story and total essence — and realize ‘Wow, that is a stunning person inside and out.’
I keep my beauty routine really, really simple these days. Some of the beauty tools that I really love to use are the Gua Sha or the micro-current tools. I flip between the Gua Sha with the RITUAL SERUM or with a micro-current tool. I probably use the BIOACTIVE MASQUE once or twice a week depending on the climate and what my lifestyle was like. I use the REFINING CLEANSER, the serum and then a sunscreen for summertime. I freed myself from that notion of having to buy every single new thing. My skin really likes balance, it likes routine, it likes using the same products, week after week and month after month.
In the future, I hope to continue having this career that I’m crafting, collectively. That’s the biggest gift my mom gave me — seeing her being proactive about what she wanted for her career, as a Vice President of Technology by day and an amazing pediatric nurse on nights and weekends. I just want to always have full ownership, to be in the driver’s seat, for my work which is a huge source of my happiness. I hope, eventually, to work on an animated film. Especially as the dancing scaled back, I’ll start working on bigger projects that can make a mark on the cultural landscape. Even if it only happens once, to me that is enough.
For the future of humanity, I hope we can get to a place where people of color, Black people, Native people, non-binary people — anyone who has been marginalized, any group of people that has been hurt, whether in this country or on a global scale is able to live a life of freedom, dignity, and safety. The most marginalized groups that we have in this country and in this world deserve to craft their own lives, in the way that I am. I know that the reason that I am able to do that is because of the sacrifices of my parents and family, and the privilege that I do hold. I want every single person, especially those who come from marginalized groups to be able to write their own story as well. It's just incredibly heartbreaking when we don’t; when people aren't given the freedom and the rights and the safety, to live life on their terms. And that people feel that they aren't able to dream because of their skin color or race or gender, or sexual orientation. I need that to change. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to have dreamed as much as I have, and that my parents gave me outlets to hope, like through dance or through school. I believe every single person needs that for themselves.
ERYN DANIELLE of ALLIES DOING WORK, photographed by CAROLYNE LORÉE TESTON.