Justice Media is this month’s recipient of a Forward Community Investments’ Game Changer Grant for their photography and empowerment campaign “We Are Icons.”

“We were super-excited when we heard that we got this grant. Obviously, one of the biggest things when you’re trying to do something is to get a little capital. That was a big relief on our end. It’s really cool that people actually believe in what we are trying to do and this just fuels us even more to keep going and to get this done,” says Marie Justice, co-founder of Justice Media. “It’s always exciting when people are supporting what you are doing.

“There were so many organizations that put their names in the hat, so we were just really happy that we were chosen,” she adds. “There’s a lot of good people doing good work in this community.”

The FCI grant will be a boost to “We Are Icons,” a photography campaign and educational website that seeks to educate and empower people of color by recreating iconic images using people of color. The photos will become a calendar and eventually a coffee table book. The Justices hope to create income through their projects and they will create youth programs giving children of color access to the arts and other programs that teach tangible skills that are otherwise inaccessible to children with limited means.

Rockka Lashawn models Marilyn Monroe
Rockka Lashawn models Marilyn Monroe

“We feel like African Americans have been underrepresented and have not been given credit for the contributions that they have made artistically, economically, innovatively. When you internalize that as a person of color, you really feel like you can’t reach as far,” Marie Justice says. “It was important for us that we start challenging those subconscious views of what an American is, what an icon can be, what a hero looks like and all of those things that cross over to every walk of life. We wanted to challenge people’s stereotypes through imagery. We know that representation matters. How we view ourselves as individuals is directly linked to representation. We wanted to take those stereotypes on and put them on their head.”

The husband-and-wife team are the founders and co-owners of Justice Media, a firm that specializes in documentaries, photography, and branding, with a focus on using their creativity to help drive social change in the community and beyond. They recently produced the Intentionally Welcoming Communities documentary ‘Walk a Mile in Their Shoes,’ which is a very powerful documentary that showcases five people from marginalized communities who tell their stories in their own words in hopes of dispelling stereotypes and revealing their commonalities as human beings.

FCI is making the grant application process easier for small organizations that are responding to racial inequities in their communities through their Game Changer program. The application process consists of just one five-minute video — which could be just a cell phone selfie video — along with a one-page form. More than 50 organizations submitted videos for the first round of grants.

What makes the program especially unique is that it’s not just a one-time award; instead, one $3,000 grant winner is being announced every month throughout 2017. When people apply for the grant, they submit a video to talk about their project. As videographers, that must have been right up the Justices’ alley.

“Actually, we like being on the other side of the camera, for the most part,” Marie Justice laughs. “I think that Johnny and I are so passionate about the things that we believe in, it was just good for us to be able to talk about what we cared about.”

“Yeah, we just put the camera up against the wall and just talked because we believe in what we are doing so much,” added Johnny Justice.

Johnny and Marie Justice (Photo by Hedi Rudd)
Johnny and Marie Justice
(Photo by Hedi Rudd)

The Justices started “We Are Icons,” a social media photography campaign to empower people through imagery, to educate and empower people in the community.

“The campaign is going to create awareness and, ultimately, fund an art school starting with the first discipline being dance,” Marie Justice says.

There will be a 12-month calendar with 12 icons. There will also be miscellaneous merchandise including a trivia board game.

“We will also have a website where each month we are highlighting an icon where we actually interview the model and get their take on their experience of people a person of color in their journey,” Johnny Justice says.

The Justices are are still seeking and accepting participants for the campaign. If anyone is interested in participating they can send a message to them at: [email protected] or visit the page We Are Icons on Facebook and message them there.

The Justices are still in the process of getting their 501c3 completed for We Are Icons. “There are a lot of start-up costs involved,” she says.

The Justices also currently fund all of the costumes, make-up artists, hair stylists for the photo shoots that they do for “We Are Icons” and that can be really costly.

Brenna Tennell models Wonder Woman
Brenna Tennell models Wonder Woman

With all of that in mind, the new FCI grant will be a huge boost.

“We’re honored to be the June recipients of the FCI Game Changer grant. We are honored that people believe that we can do something. It really pushes you to create something really great that’s going to help other people. It’s empowering,” Marie Justice says. “It means everything to us. What we’re doing we believe can really make a difference in the lives of a lot of people.”

“We do photo shoots to empower your basic, average, normal person of color. We didn’t go for a bunch of models. We’d just see somebody in a store and ask them, “Hey, did you ever think about taking pictures?’ and talked to them about our ‘We Are Icons’ campaign,” says Johnny Justice. “Once we started to do the shoot, we could see that we were really empowering and inspiring people.

“We’re just ordinary people who want to make change in the world,” he adds. “We want people to know that if we can do it, they can do it, too!

In its capacity as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Forward Community Investments builds stronger and healthier communities by providing loans, advising, and grants to mission-based organizations that address the root causes of racial inequities and socioeconomic disparities. FCI supports initiatives that improve equity and make positive change possible. Its vision is an equitable and inclusive Wisconsin built on cooperative social action. For more information about FCI, go to www.forwardci.org.