February 2020 cover woman Virginia Cumberbatch has followed her passion to pour into other underrepresented womxn’s passions.
The last time Virginia Cumberbatch was in this position, she expressed her passion for the fight for social justice and explained her plan to do something about it. She spoke on her belief in “the art of neighboring” and how sheer perseverance and faith were able to push and guide her throughout her journey. Three years later, her fire is still very much ignited, persisting through the nearly two and a half year–long pandemic.
In 2018, Cumberbatch co-founded Rosa Rebellion with Meagan Harding. The organization’s sole purpose is to invite women of color to design and produce through different creative forums and give them the means to do so.
“Our vision was to create a space where we could intentionally invest in and support what we have coined ‘creative activism,’” Cumberbatch explains. “This is the work of disrupting systems that weren’t built for us and doing that using storytelling and art as a medium for disruption.”
With this vision in mind, Rosa Rebellion will soon offer their second year of Compose, a writing retreat for women of color to surround each other with support and feel heard through expression in their creative projects. In 2022, Rosa Rebellion founded The Rebel Fund, a separate nonprofit whose purpose is to provide financial support to creative projects. But the creative world is not where Cumberbatch would like her work to end. A born-and-bred Austinite, she has observed the issues people of color face in the city.
There’s the quote from Shirley Chisholm, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair.’ I think we’ve decided we’re just going to build our own table. I look at Rosa Rebellion; I look at work my friends do in the creative space; I look at different businesses and the fact that they weren’t going to rely on the political system to hear their voices; they were going to create their own space to do that.Virginia Cumberbatch
Photo by Riley Blanks Reed
“I really wanted to support these larger conversations. And I think my work in Austin over the last decade has equipped me to do that,” Cumberbatch says. “At large, that is my challenge to both cities and individual entities. Will we be sustained participants in this liberative work of equity?”
For Cumberbatch, one drastic change over the last three years has been the willingness for people of color to stand up and take action to create their own spaces.
“There was a dynamic of relying on cultural institutions to see us and to hear us and include us. We were exhausted by the practice of having to ask and are now building it ourselves.”
With this exhaustion now transformed into a powerful force, Cumberbatch sees how people of color have truly taken their voices not back, but to places they have created themselves.
“There’s the quote from Shirley Chisholm, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair,’” Cumberbatch says. “I think we’ve decided we’re just going to build our own table. I look at Rosa Rebellion. At work my friends do in the creative space. I look at different businesses and the fact that they weren’t going to rely on the political system to hear their voices. They were going to create their own space to do that.”
Cumberbatch has previously spoken about her faith, which she is still rooted in. In her walk with Christ, she considers her work to be a labor of love for her community.
“It’s a radical act to love thy neighbor,” she insists. “It’s a radical act to love your parents or your siblings. Even moreso, it must be a radical act to love strangers, to be patient with strangers, to forgive strangers. One of the ways love can be defined is through justice.”
Back in 2020, Cumberbatch spoke about what it truly means to be a good neighbor. Growing up in the only Black family in her neighborhood, she knew it was important for her to live around others she could connect with. With Austin being a place where many people move for job opportunities or a love for the city, Cumberbatch stresses the importance of being a good neighbor to those in the present and those who may have lived here in the past.
“There’s a way we can move in spaces where we honor that space. We can recognize how we enter that community has an impact on people’s sense of belonging. On a macro level, the question is, how are we serving one another in this city?”
Throughout her experience in Rosa Rebellion and around Austin over the past three years, Cumberbatch still holds these values to her core and works toward making more inclusive and caring spaces for herself and her community.
“I use the idea of ‘shalom,’ a Hebrew word for peace and wholeness. We each seek out what our role is to bring about shalom in whatever community or space that we occupy.”