Q + A with Jess Patrice

Photo by Latoya Thorn

Jess Patrice, “The PR Handler”, creates and amplifies the stories of voices that need to be heard through the value of humanity. Based in Chicago, she communicates as an actor, model, PR professional, and beyond. PATTERN had the amazing opportunity to get to know Jess and her passions!

Isabella Daugherty: Who are you and how did you get to where you are today?

Jess Patrice: I am a professional communicator. It all started when I was four and practiced telling stories in my pre-kindergarten class. I would keep the kids up during nap time repeating Berenstain Bear stories. I spent my childhood on stage in different capacities whether it was theater or being in speech club. Then as I progressed through my high school years, I found that I had an affinity for writing and not just writing standard English, but creative writing and poetry. I carried that with me into college. I got my bachelor’s degree in communications, specializing in media. I started my corporate career working on the Got Milk? Campaign. There’s always something positive and negative to say about everything, but part of my job is to help people connect with the most meaningful parts of a message, a product, a service, or a story about someone who’s trying to put their best foot forward and that’s why people hire me. Now as a freelancer for five years, I am representing clients in the restaurant, travel, hospitality, and hotel industry. I now focus more on small businesses, artists, creative entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, particularly black and brown owned. As a black woman, it’s the natural comradery that I feel connecting with a client’s story and understanding the challenges of just existing, but also trying to live out your dream and passion. Not just in terms of how you may have been set back, but the character building and the strength and those aspects of a very nuanced story is what makes people really interesting. I really enjoy pulling that out and in various ways.

I am also a community builder. I started a pop-up event called Fresh Pressed Chicago. It was an experiential platform for people on the south and west sides of the city of Chicago to come together to celebrate things that were positive in their communities. I knew there were plenty of good things to talk about and so rather than starting my own magazine or newspaper I decided to create this more experiential space where people who are real advocates and proponents of their communities can come connect and share their news directly. So yeah, that is me in a nutshell!

What do you think is the greatest importance of telling and communicating stories?

For a legacy. Everyone has something positive to contribute to the world, whether or not we speak to five people or 5 million people. We have the opportunity to create an impact by sharing our story or sharing something that can be helpful to someone else. In our time in social media, we are all finding ways to tell people what we know best so I think that communication just provides a resource to make the world a better place and to leave a legacy. It leaves a real record of information and inspiration because when you share and talk about stories, people can look back and be inspired for decades and decades to come.

How did the year 2020 change you?

I am still really thinking about that. I consider myself to be kind of an ambivert. For a while, it was kind of a new experiment for me. I was asking how I can make the best of this, but I realized that it was really changing the way that I connect with people. I am a person who likes to bop around and take my laptop working remotely in different places. I am kind of a mole in addition to being a complete news hound so I need to understand the attitudes of what people think about certain things. So, I miss the organic or intentional run-ins with people at the coffee shop and starting a conversation with someone. I have been able to do that to some extent and learned that the answers vary greatly, but it is more fun in person. Even if you are a person who has great relationships and you managed to stay really connected the best you could throughout all of this, we still missed out on those casual everyday interactions with people that are familiar and add comfort to our lives. I do not think that people have paused to think about that and consider it a loss yet, but when things open back up again, we can start to revisit our favorite small businesses. We can all have a bit more appreciation for the people that make up our world.

Photo by Latoya Thorn.

Tell me about a project that you worked on that you are especially proud of?

A pretty well-known black-owned retail store here in Chicago called The Silver Room, which has been open for about 23 years puts on a really amazing party called The Silver Room Sound System Block Party. It started as a tiny block party in an alley in Wicker Park. It grew slowly as it went from 50 people to 50,000 last year. It is not just a retail space, but also a community space where there’s a lot of artistic programming. There is an art gallery, book talks, storytelling night, and dance parties. At that time, I had become very close with the owner and helped him with the transition to the new neighborhood with all of the media relations, outreach, and announcements that they were moving. What The Silver Room brings to the neighborhood was just sorely missing and to see how people have gravitated towards it and really appreciated it was uplifting. I was super proud to be a part of The Silver Rooms’ community and legacy.

I also feel very close to my media relations with Leslé Honoré, who is a social justice poet because she writes phenomenal poetry that speaks to how we view what’s happening in the world through the black and brown experience. She does it really quickly and she’s a creative voice that is making national headlines. Public Relations can kind of be a little bit of a thankless job, especially when you are working for big companies and corporations. It can feel inauthentic at times. Leslé Honoré is probably the most authentic person I’ve ever worked with.

 What empowers and inspires you in your art and in the different things you create?

What inspires me is the changing nature of things. When there is a change or there’s a disruption, I love seeing the response and knowing how people have sprung into action. Especially in 2020, it has been so inspiring to use your voice to show up, to stand up, to be present in the face of changes and disruptions. It is super powerful and it is transformative, not just for you as a person, but for entire communities. I am an actor and a commercial model as well so I have had the opportunity to do commercials that actually intersect with some of the work I have done. Painting these different pictures of what wellness looks like and what the needs are to have a certain quality of life is something that I take very personally. It is fully embodying a representative of myself, but also many other women like me who have their own aspirations. Positive representation alone helps to do that.

When did you first start acting and modeling?

Modeling officially started for me in 2015. I was actually street cast in The Silver Room. I was there on a hot summer day and I had no idea about a casting where a local talent agency was looking for African-American women, 23 to 35 for a beverage commercial. They had 600 women who came through to take photos. At some point, one of the photographers said, “Are you going to take a photo”? I was in no way, shape, or form ready to take a photo.  So I just put some lip gloss on and took a photo right outside of the store in the best light and I got street cast out of 600 people. That started me out on a great five-year run of working with a lot of global brands from Blue-Chip to Marque. I’ve been a part of global campaigns from McDonald’s to the Hyatt to Sprite. Also, different commercials related to the health care industry and travel. After five years, I’m still with Planet Earth Agency, but after doing some print modeling I decided that I have more to say. So, I decided to do some acting classes. Over the course of two years, I have done everything from improv to working on acting as a craft, different technique classes, worked with various coaches, and I finally got an acting agent. So, I am represented by 10 Management. I’m excited to see what comes through with that relationship.

Photo by Jodi Dudek

You have a lot on your plate so how do you find time to relax and unwind?

I love rituals. I am a huge fan of this initiative called The Nap Ministry. It is an initiative where people gather to take a nap in public parks or the street as a way of protest. The message was that black bodies aren’t a commodity and we can take control over our lives by not running ourselves into the ground for this system that we call capitalism. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m taking daily naps yet, but I love doing a weekly bath. I love all my salts and bubbles. I get my best ideas when I am in the water, so it works out for me. I also love taking meditative walks and I am a trained yoga instructor so it would be perfect for me to say, “I practice yoga and meditate every day”, but it is something in my toolkit that I reach for when I do feel stress accumulating in my body. Journaling is something else I really love to do. Sometimes I just want to unplug and look at a magazine or book. I have a book club that I’ve been in a part of for five years, which I’m super proud of. So, this is how I unwind. I love to have my bath and be tucked away with my book, but I’m working on the nap thing.

If you could choose one word or phrase going into this year what would you choose?

The first thing that came to my mind was “recover”, but I want to choose a different word and say “revive”. I feel like 2021 is going to be a revival for me spiritually. Stepping into 2021 with newfound experience about what my personal resilience looks like and feeling empowered to move towards my goals. Also to be more gentle with myself or with other people and to be more aware of the things that we’re all going through. I think this was the first time in my lifetime, where we were all going through something. Not just COVID-19, but politics, uprisings, and murders. This gave me a new sense of awareness to be more gentle and compassionate, but just aware that our lives are so interconnected. Reviving in the sense of reenergizing and having a sense of zest for what’s coming next. I am open. I think my main focus is just to flourish where I am, be present with what we’re dealing with now, and appreciate the little things. So I’m looking forward to connecting again with everyone in the real world.

See more of Jess Patrice on Instagram, Twitter, and her website!

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