To listen to Felecia Outsey bubble with enthusiasm over the myriad projects she has going on at once, you’d never think she struggled with a stutter as a child. Two things helped her tackle that obstacle: falling in love with poetry and a grandmother who encouraged her participation in the creative arts, particularly dance and theater.
“I fell in love with poetry,” Outsey said while giving a nod to Knoxville native, Nikki Giovanni. “It made me a different person.”
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Outsey said her stutter was likely the result of trauma from a dysfunctional home life. Peace and stability were found on stays at her grandmother’s house.
“For one thing, she kept me in church and encouraged me to perform. Church is a good place to do all of that,” she said. “Grandma’s house is also where I learned the value of hard work and living a life of service to others.”
Though there were many good influences in her young life, she said she saw too many young people lost to violence in the African American community in Birmingham. She said she was both relieved and blessed to attend Berea College in Kentucky where she majored in dance and physical education. Not long after graduation, another blessing took her on a three-week trip to Ghana.
“It was so enlightening, there was so much to bring back to my community,” she said. “We tell our stories though art and dance. I think sometimes we don’t even know how rich we are, and too many don’t know their history.”
Outsey, 41, has lived in Knoxville with her five children for 16 years now. She is the owner and director of Divine Urban eXpressions Arts n Dance Productions, an event-production company. She is the founder of M.O.V.E. In L.O.V.E. Knoxville, an extension of her L.O.V.E. is the Answer community in response to the loss of five Austin-East students this year to gun violence. M.O.V.E. stands for motivation to overcome violence through expression.
“What we’re dealing with here is a violence-impacted community,” she said. “We have to strengthen the community, get to the core of these problems. There is a lot of focus on the kids, as there should be, but what about the family? What’s going on with the mother? What’s going on with the father?”
She has organized peaceful youth marches, has worked with A-E students for the past seven years through the S.M.A.R.T. Institute, and puts together community talent showcases. Right now she is preparing for the Teen Talent Showcase at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 30, at UT Gardens. This Sunday, June 13, Divine Urban Expressions is presenting a community showcase livestream (go here for more info or tickets to this paid event). She’s also working with MYNARK Tribe Inc. at Muse Knoxville for the Summer Forever Youth Empowerment Program.
Basically, Outsey has her hands full all the time trying to help improve her community in any way she can, primarily through art. In all things, she is informed by her faith. The message conveyed in “whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me” is her North Star.
“Whatever you want for yourself, you should want that for others, too,” Outsey said. “We have to ‘love up’ ourselves to strengthen the community. Love is a discipline.”
For info on M.O.V.E. In L.O.V.E. Knoxville go here.
For info in Divine Urban eXpressions go here.
For info on the Summer Forever Youth Program go here.