Walking down a street with Katie Usher in her hometown, you’d immediately notice her radiant personality. Her smile radiates and catches onto everyone she sees; she knows nearly half of the people that we pass. “Hi, Mr. Ben! How are you today?” She grins, exuding happiness and passing it along to Mr. Ben. His own beaming face is enough proof of Katie’s contagious smile.
What you might not immediately notice is that Usher lives in a country where there is an 83.33% chance she makes less income than she would in the U.S.; a country with 41% of the population living below the poverty line (to compare, the U.S. has around 13.5%). A country with high rates of juvenile delinquency, gang crime, and school dropouts. Vibrant, lively, and full of passion, Usher is a bright light of hope in the teeming downtown of Belize City, Belize.
An artist, co-editor for a cultural magazine, manager, writer, and children’s yoga teacher, Usher seemingly does it all. At only 30 years old, she takes bold strides to push for her passions—women’s rights, children and education, the environment, poverty, and mental health, to name a few. And her most important medium for expression? Social media. Usher has found success in “sounding the alarm” on social media for causes she cares about, and has taken action in the real world as a result. Her most recent success: The Women in Art in Belize exhibit.
This state-sponsored, yearly exhibit has showcased women artists from around the country for the month of March — International Women’s History Month — for the past 15 years. It was unexpectedly cancelled this year without reason. Usher, a strong proponent of women artists, immediately took action. She began a Facebook campaign using the hashtag “womeninartinbelize2017.” Says Usher: “I don’t think it’s right that we don’t have our month. You know, there’s so few spaces for us to exhibit, and so few opportunities to just showcase women in art. So I sounded the call– ‘Do you guys want to do something? We don’t even need a space, we could do it online, could just use a hashtag.’”
As soon as her message was out, Usher was receiving exciting replies. “Immediately there was an art gallery in San Ignacio that said, ‘My space is open!” And then a friend, who has a vegan restaurant…said, ‘You can use my space as well.’ And then one of the women who is going to the exhibit with us reached out to a cafe in Belize City. And interestingly enough, I got a call this morning from the National Institute of Culture and History saying, ‘How can we help?’ Which was cool, because I mean, this should be their project.”
Usher’s guerilla movement has since gained the momentum to become a full-fledged exhibit, with five separate locations. This space that her community has created is crucial, she says, especially for young people. “I keep pushing because I see the value in this, and I really want this not just for myself but for the young Belizeans, the little kids coming up.”