Ladies To The Front: Virginia A. Cumberbatch

This is the third and final feature in our third season of Ladies To The Front, a blog series celebrating exceptional women in our lady-boss network.

Virginia Cumberbatch is the Director of the Community Engagement Center at The University of Texas at Austin Division of Diversity and also the co-founder of HUX Storyhouse. She has be recognized for her influence and activism working to bridge racial and economic gaps in the Austin community. Virginia was also recently awarded the Anti-Defamation League of Austin’s Social Justice Award. Did we mention she’s brilliant with a killer sense of style? Both of which seem to run in the family.

Tell us about your current role at UT and HUX Storyhouse. What inspired you to
be a part of these organizations?

I like to synthesize our work at the Community Engagement Center (CEC) on creating opportunities to make UT less of an ivory tower and more of a community anchor. My role is to identify research, thought leadership and resources to allocate and leverage ways to help address issues concerning equity and access in historically under-served communities. We focus on health disparities, education equity, gentrification/affordability and criminal justice. And because I am a storyteller at heart, I’m very committed to doing so not just through data and policy, but in creating time, space and opportunity for folks to share their experience and stories, because amplifying voices is extremely powerful and part of breaking down barriers of bias.

Aligned with my work at the CEC, I co-founded a creative collective with my brother and cousin called HUX Storyhouse. This was birthed out of our combined experience and observation of the creative, marketing and public affairs arenas failing to authentically or accurately capture OUR stories. Our passion is to use culturally relevant storytelling to help clients engage thoughtfully with markets across the black diaspora. We are a strategic ally for black-centric brands looking to tell their stories to a larger audience and a cross-cultural advocate for black consumers. HUX is a house for new thinking and new doing, a consultant and a practitioner, a producer of content and ideas—igniting new brand perspectives and connecting clients to the resources that best suit their goals.

Both of these professional efforts align with what I believe to be my innate calling, to serve. I’ve always felt called to use storytelling to empower and provide spaces for people to feel affirmed, be empowered and feel a part of the process to reconcile injustice. My favorite quote is, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by amazing women throughout my adolescence. But some of the most influential women in my life have been those in my family. My maternal grandmother modeled what I like to call an integrated life. As a mother, wife, educator, advocate and woman she showed no clear demarcation between her various hats/roles, each of them served her overall purpose – to serve others. She also modeled for me that you can be a supportive wife and a present mother and still pursue your personal calling. After birthing all five of her children, she went back to get her bachelors, becoming the first black woman to graduate Wake Forest. At age 55 she received her PhD, and just now at 79, she is retiring from being a professor at USC. She believes she still has something to contribute to her community and so she continues to sow. I’m so in awe of her passion to uplift and empower – she is an advocate through and through and I cherish our conversations and her perspective. We don’t have a lot of opportunity for intergenerational dialogue these days and I live for the mornings that I wake up to a text from my gmom (yes she texts) encouraging me in my work or just letting me know that she loves me.

On a side note/celebrity tip – I’ve always been a huge fan of two amazing afro-toting women – professor and activist Angela Davis and actress and style icon, Tracee Ellis Ross, both style icons, activists and scholars in their own right. As a woman of color who considers the work of these people and the art that is clothing inspiring, I appreciate both their perspectives and contributions to pop culture, policy and the narrative of black women.

What is some of the best advice you’ve been given?

Trust God, he’s always faithful.

What do you love about living and working in Austin?

I’m a native Austinite, so I’ve always known the magic that is Austin. It can be a bit of an eye roll that everyone is moving here now, like they discovered something, but having said that, the one steadfast thing about Austin that I will always appreciate is that we truly live/patronize local. I hope that continues, because it’s what makes us special/unique.

Shout out to another ladyboss that you are inspired by:

God has blessed me to be connected to a lot of boss women so there are too many for me to just name one, so I will name several for a variety of reasons and tag them, so you can discover why they are #bossbases for yourself.

Nikki Johnson - @nchanel

Nikisha Brunson - @nikishabrunson

Evelyn Ngugi – @evelynfromtheinternets

Meagan Harding – @meagapixel

Gabrielle Woodson – @gabfest

Natalie Cofield – @nmc35

Angela Oguntala – @awillowdawn

Tania Quintalla – @tqphoto

Jennifer Cumberbatch – @sweettater_

Recommended Reading/Listening:

I Am Not Your Negro, Afro-Pessimism, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, Relevant Magazine.

Photo by Tania Quintanilla. Hair styling and Makeup artistry by Amber Griffin.

Meet all of our Ladies To The Front here.

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Trove Artist Management Spring/Summer 2017 Booklet

Our Spring/Summer 2017 booklets were designed as a mini production guide to Austin, Texas, included in the SXSW 2017 Style Speaker gift bags. We’re proud to showcase our Austin talent as more commercial production finds its way to our diverse and affordable sunny locations and increasingly competitive pool of seasoned photographers, producers, and stylists living in and moving to Texas.

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New Work: Tania Quintanilla // Fashion

Our fashion and beauty photographer Tania Quintanilla recently teamed up with our celebrity hair stylist Bianca Castillo, Austin, Texas fashion wardrobe stylist Jane Black, and NYC makeup artist Clarissa Luna for a menswear inspired fashion shoot at SHDW Studios.

Model is Magdalene Groves/Nomad Model Management

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