Meet Transgender Law Center’s newest staff – Jill Marcellus, Communications Senior Manager and Ola Osaze, Development Senior Manager. In an interview, they wax philosophical on topics ranging from movement building, to feline friends, to your favorite television drama series. Read their candid interview with TLC Director of Advancement, C. Nathan Harris…
Nathan: Have you two met before?
Jill: I don’t think so.
Ola: Hi, Jill!
Jill: Hi, Ola!
N: Why don’t you take a minute to introduce yourselves and share a little about what makes you tick?
Ola: I am Nigerian. I’ve been in the States for over 20 years now. You know, home for me is Nigeria and the United States so there’s a complicated mess around my understanding of “home.”
I have a silly side to me and I can be a prankster…
N: You’re the guy who’ll encase my stapler in Jello?
Ola: Perfect! I needed new material!
Jill: I’m the daughter of a research librarian so I don’t do pranks. And I hate talking about myself.
Ola: I have a very cute and grumpy cat, named Fela. She’s a handful, named after the afro-jazz musician Fela Kuti who passed away in the ‘90s.
Jill: Also my cat…He is an asshole. He is cynical like me and his name is Nero. And there’s Archie… but for the record, he’s my wife’s cat so that doesn’t really count as me having two cats.
Ola: I love to write…Memoir, stories, essays, things like that…
Jill: I also love writing along the creative-non-fiction-memoir-essay-ish lines.
Ola: I LOVE food. I’m a foodie. Food is one thing that REALLY makes me tick.
Jill: Oh, yes! And, food. I love traveling primarily because I get to eat a lot and I remember places by the food I had there. Basically, I just copy everyone else’s answers.
N: Tell us about your professional history…
Ola: You want to start Jill?
Jill: Sure! When I started out with a degree in Victorian literature, I was aiming to become an academic. What I loved most about that, though, was studying the ways in which literature shaped contemporary perspectives and both reflected and influenced history. I shifted into movement work because I was feeling desperate about a lot of things happening today, and realized that analyzing how people historically used storytelling to cope with and impact the past was safe – I needed to work on storytelling to impact the present.
I really got started at Women’s Media Center, where I worked to change whose stories got a platform and whose perspectives were prioritized in mainstream media. During my four years at Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network) as Communications Manager, I worked to amplify queer and trans youth voices and saw how, through storytelling, young people were able to make an incredible impact in a way that celebrates them living their authentic lives. At Transgender Law Center, particularly now at this moment of transition and re-prioritization for the organization, I am excited to continue this work harnessing the power of our movement’s and individuals’ stories to create the world we want to live in.
Ola: My life was politicized growing up in Nigeria, where coups and corruption in high levels of government were and are commonplace. I grew up in a time when Nigeria was controlled by one military dictator after the other and these experiences taught me about power. They also taught me about the uselessness of sitting silently while this power overwhelms and oppresses communities. I brought this awareness when I came to the U.S. in 1991, but didn’t really put it to use till my mid 20’s when I started organizing with Sisters in Action for Power in Portland, Oregon. I worked alongside two incredible women of color organizers there who inspired and taught me a great deal. Eventually, after moving to NY, I started organizing in queer and trans people of color communities with orgnanizations like the Uhuru Wazobia, Audre Lorde Project, and Queers for Economic Justice.
Through that, and as I got older, I understood better how resources shaped movement work…And how generating resources means communities have more autonomy, power, and leadership. It means movements look more like us and reflect our priorities. Over time my interest in development grew, leading me to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project where for almost 3 years I served as Director of Grassroots Fundraising. It was incredible – fundraising for work that directly impacted my communities and doing this with a radical lens . Most recently, as the Development Coordinator at The Opportunity Agenda, I was focused on cultivating major donors and learning to balance this with maintaining the progressive politics and values of the organization.
At TLC – I am excited to be joining TLC at this moment of growth. The expansion into the south via partnering with SONG is really exciting. The organization’s focus on the epidemic of violence our communities face is crucial and important work.
N: What is your “dream big” vision for your role at Transgender Law Center?
Ola: During one of my interviews, I heard you (Nathan) say you wanted to create a more equitable distribution of support from individual donors and institutions. My big dream is to have an even a bigger percentage of Transgender Law Center’s budget supported by individual donors – like 80% or 90%. I want the organization to survive and thrive on individual donor investments which can be liberating from the agendas institutions sometimes bring to the table.
Jill: My perspective is that there are already so many people doing such amazing work, telling their own stories, organizing…Basically young people, and particularly trans folks of color, kicking ass on the front lines all across the country. I would love to be able to build more community around storytelling, not through some isolated programmatic, movement, or communications initiative – but something that recognizes and uses the power of community storytelling to shape our priorities and strategies for action. People shouldn’t be put in the position of speaking up in isolation, or being The Spokesperson for a single organization or issue; instead, trans folks and youth should be supported in creating and implementing their own goals as a community and building narratives across movement lines.
N: You’ve both talked about movement building – what does movement building look like when communications and development collaborate?
Ola: Collaboration between communications and development means the experiences of those most impacted determine the issues we take on and the strategies we use to address them. It also means that those voices are centralized in the stories we tell to raise money, resources and grow support for our work.
Jill: I’m excited we’ll be sharing an office. I’m pretty excited about that because right now I’m in there by myself and it is lonely. But more seriously, with movement building – it is essential that the folks at the center of the issues we’re working on be a part of and have ownership around all aspects of the work, including communications and development. It’s important to help facilitate true stakeholdership.
N: Jill’s former organization is across the San Francisco Bay and Ola’s is across the country. In light of that, what’s the longest cross country move you’ve made for a job?
Ola: This is it, man. This is the longest for a job. New York to CA.
Jill: Same for me…New York to CA but that was for GSA Network in 2011.
N: Me too. New York to CA, from SAGE for Transgender Law Center.
N: Which begs the question: Uhaul, Ryder, or Budget?
Ola: JetBlue. I am still trying to figure out how to get some of the heavier stuff out here…Maybe Amtrak?
Jill: I defy your categories! I packed my books in a suitcase and boarded…Which one of the airlines is TLC’s sponsor?
N: Favorite color?
Jill: This might be the question that’s giving me a bit of an identity crisis. It used to be purple. Is it still? Do I have just one?
Ola: It changes…Or I have a couple. Green is constant though. Yeah, I like green…
Jill: I like green and brown, maybe because of trees?
Ola: I like yellow too sometimes.
Jill: Are there any other colors we can name? Blue! I like Blue!
N: Good Wife, House of Cards, or Scandal? And, which character are you?
Ola: Good Wife. And, I know who I want to be…Kalinda.
Jill: Good Wife! This is so embarrassing…But I’ve definitely bought a dress because it made me feel like Alicia Florrick.
N: Me too. Good Wife. I’m an Eli Gold.
Jill: I like Scandal too…
Ola: I’m hooked on House of Cards…
Jill: I watched the first season of House of Cards and hated it because of the reporter character.
Ola: In Scandal, I feel sympathetic towards the computer nerd, IT guy who’s a serial killer.
N: You have to share an office with him, Jill.
Ola: I feel like I’ve already said too much.
Jill: I take back everything I said.
About Jill Marcellus
Jill joined Transgender Law Center as Senior Manager, Communications in March 2015. She honed her professional passion for storytelling that advances racial, gender, and educational justice as Communications Manager at Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network), a national LGBTQ and racial justice youth leadership organization. In her four years at GSA Network, Jill worked to shift the public narrative around LGBTQ youth, amplify the voices of young people working at the intersections of oppression, and train youth activists in transformative media organizing. Prior to joining GSA Network, Jill fought for a more inclusive media landscape at the Women’s Media Center, blogged for the Wall Street Journal’s “Hire Education,” and wrote and conducted research for findingDulcinea.com. Jill earned her BA in English from Barnard College and studied Victorian literature and history at Oxford University on her path to social justice activism through badass narrative.
About Ola Osaze
Ola brings over ten years of experience in development, community organizing, and program management, working for such organizations as The Opportunity Agenda, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Queers for Economic Justice, and CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. As a community activist, he’s been involved with the Audre Lorde Project in NYC – where he co-founded Trans Justice – and Uhuru Wazobia, one of the first LGBT groups for African immigrants in New York. Ola is a 2015 Lambda Literary Fellow. His writings have appeared in Black Public Media, Black Girl Dangerous, and anthologies, including Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought, Queer African Reader, and the soon to be released Outside the XY: Queer, Brown Masculinity. From a very young age Ola has had quite a sweet tooth and harbors a serious obsession for all things pie.