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Meet Trailblazer Nora Rahimian

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nora Rahimian.

Nora, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war (bombs dropping the night I was born) and left the country as a refugee. I lived on three continents before I was 3, and when people ask why I do the social justice work that I do, I tell them that my whole life has been attempting to survive against geopolitics and systems of oppression set out to destroy me and the people I love.

I grew up in Glendale, which at the time, was very immigrant and working-class. Due to concerns about my “life trajectory”, my mom decided to move the whole family to Beverly Hills when I was 15, and it was there that I saw, very starkly, the differences in privilege and access, and what that meant for my old friends versus my new classmates. I was “the smart one”, which meant my homies always encouraged my academics, and I knew that school would be the way I’d “get out”. I left home as soon as I could after graduation, going to UC Santa Cruz where I learned all kinds of anti-oppression theory and practice.

It was in Santa Cruz that I started doing gang intervention, prison abolition, and peacebuilding work, doing everything from running alternative to incarceration and reentry programs to cleaning up stab wounds. The work was based in culture and community, and we focused on strength-based approaches to community healing and youth development.

Because the organization I worked with was super grassroots, we had a hard time getting funding, with lots of distrust about what the money would be used for. I decided to go back to school to get a Masters to “legitimize” the work I was doing. I started a program in International Affairs at The New School, and when, as part of our graduation requirements, they said we had to choose between summer school and an internship, I chose the internship.

That’s how I ended up in Liberia, working with a local community-based organization that did development work with former youth combatants of Liberia’s civil war. It was thru my internship that I met Takun J, a popular hip co-artist with a history of activism. Long-story short, Takun and I met, hit it off, and I was encouraged (peer pressured?) to manage. At the time, I knew nothing about the music industry or business. I was busy trying to overthrow capitalism and didn’t think there was a place for me in business, but I was inspired by the way Takun was able to motivate and direct his audience, so, applying what I had learned in my community organizing days and my talent at relationship building, I became the first artist manager in Liberia. I worked with Takun for three years, developing a model for entertainment-education that allowed NGOs to be more effective at what they were doing while creating a viable income stream for Liberian artists. He went from being arrested by the Liberian government for his music to being named an ambassador for the Ministry of Gender. Together, we started Liberia’s first hip co festival, bringing together 20,000 people over two days and getting VICE to write their first non-racist article about Liberia as a result of our work. Companies that initially ignored us reached out for endorsement deals, and Takun became the first Liberian artist with a multi-year endorsement deal with a major telecommunications company.

When I moved back to LA, I realized that I knew all these incredible people all over the world doing incredible things, but they didn’t know each other. That’s when, after meeting on Twitter, Natalie Crue and I founded #CultureFix, based on the ideas that (1) we have, within our own networks and circles, everything we need for success so that we don’t need to rely on colonial or oppressive systems and (2) that entrepreneurs and creatives can use their platforms for social change, shifting cultural paradigms and behaviors at a much quicker rate than the nonprofit industrial complex or legislation often could.

Since then, I’ve curated events (I co-produce an annual hip hop festival in Atlanta called Den Music Fest that’s focused on giving a platform to good people making good music regardless of vanity metrics like follower count), facilitated collaborations across borders, advised on entertainment-education campaigns, and consulted for brands and artists around the world, helping them both redefine success and achieve it without sacrificing their creative control or personal integrity. I frequently speak about mental health, redefining professionalism, authenticity as resistance, impactful activism, and building values-based, anti-capitalistic businesses. Ultimately, my goal is to use arts and culture to dismantle patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism, and to imagine the just and equitable systems that can replace them.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has not been a smooth road.

As the often only woman (and almost always only Persian person) in a room, I have to do extra work around navigating people’s prejudices. Its things like, while negotiating a significant deal for a rapper I was working with, I was told by an older man to smile and “not be so aggressive”. Or an invitation to a studio session turns out to be an attempt to get me alone. Or when I’m in a room and a client comes in, says hello to all the men but ignores me, and only comes to his senses when one of the other men tells him, “Actually, it’s Nora that can help you.” As a woman in the industry, there’s always a having to be on-guard, always having to play all the different scenarios, that’s exhausting. But I’m thankful that I no longer feel like I have to “prove” myself or that I’d “lose an opportunity”. I decided quickly that occurrences like this are insight into the values of potential clients and collaborators, and that I can choose who I work with and support.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to carve out my own niche and way of doing things in the industry, but that’s also meant that I haven’t had any role models or blueprints to follow. Coming from an immigrant family, I haven’t had the social capital others have had to lean on, haven’t had people who look like me or who share my story that I can look to. So I’ve learned a lot from trial-and-error. It’s been a process of figuring it out as I go and overcoming the imposter syndrome.

We focus on giving women advice on how to navigate a misogynistic world without ever actually questioning the misogyny. That’s really where the focus should be. But in general, I would say don’t believe the myth that women don’t support each other. We do and don’t be afraid to reach out and celebrate, acknowledge, support connect with another woman or nonbinary person that you admire.

We’d love to hear more about #CultureFix.
I’m unapologetic about my values, and it shows up in all aspects of my work, both externally and internally, in terms of how I do what I do. My contracts, for example, have non-oppression and restorative justice clauses in place of traditional morality and litigation clauses; I offer sliding scale services because I never want money to be the reason why people can’t access services; the code of ethics in my partnership agreements includes language about consensus and do-no-harm principles, and I speak up, even if it means risking a so-called clout-worthy contact.

I’m authentically me as both a political and self-care practice, and I always put people first. I’m open with resources, with information, and with genuine care for others, and I use my public platforms to this effect. I refer people for opportunities. I offer to help strangers find low-cost mental health services if they need it. I advocate for creatives and cultural producers. I think what folks would tell you about me is that I’m a good person who is good at what I do, and I take pride in that.

At the core of what I do is the idea that you don’t have to compromise yourself to be successful. A lot of it is helping people unlearn the limits that capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy have normalized for us. Clients often tell me that I’ve changed the way they think about success and business, and I’m proud of that.

I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to do the work that I do without sacrificing my values or doing harm in the process. There are specific things, like being featured in some #HipHopEd books, putting together a 20,000 person festival with no budget after everyone said it couldn’t be done or helping performers turn “do it for the exposure” into fair performance fees or developing behavior change models that helped fight Ebola or connecting people for innovative collaborations. But really, I’m most proud of helping artists have impact.

I specialize in values-based business-building, especially for creative entrepreneurs. I have a special emphasis on working internationally (with clients in the UK, Nigeria, Brazil, Liberia, throughout the US, and elsewhere) and social impact. What that looks like in practice is consulting, speaking and teaching workshops, and curating events. I recently taught a webinar with Cynthia Pong (we connected on Instagram!) on negotiation as advocacy, and I often talk about how south-south and horizontal collaborations can place power back in the hands of artists and build power in smaller markets.

I also volunteer, mentoring youth thru YearUp and running support groups for survivors of domestic violence thru Sojourn.

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
I love networking because I genuinely love people.

Treat people like people. The strongest professional relationships I have were based on establishing a genuine, human connection, first. Cultivate that relationship over time: that looks like engaging meaningfully with their work, checking in occasionally, sharing resources or opportunities. It’s about quality of engagement, and you can’t rely on social media to bring people across your timeline; be intentional and create touch points with relationships you want to nurture. As you provide value, you also want to share about your projects and goals. The ask or return might not come right away, but when it does, I’ve found that it results in stronger opportunities and collaborations.

Finding a mentor is a different type of networking because there’s a different power exchange that happens there. When you’re ready to reach out to someone, introduce yourself with some detail; be clear about why you want them, specifically, to mentor you, and what you want out of the relationship; and take the lead on organizing the logistics of how that mentorship will take place (offer meeting dates and times, set up the call, etc.).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Malik the Martian

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