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In celebration of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s first ten years, we collaborated with our friends at Crystal Bridges to feature a few of the remarkable people contributing to the well-being of the Northwest Arkansas community. 
Inspired by Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting Rosie the Riveter, which turns attention to the American women who worked in factories during World War II, these profiles feature individuals in our region who contribute in essential ways to the needs of our community. Each person highlighted works tirelessly, and often without fanfare, to spread hope and healing.
The portraits in this series will be on display in the Community Champions section of Crystal Bridges at 10, which will open to the public from July 11, 2021 to September 27, 2021. Crystal Bridges at 10 is an immersive exhibition with 10 distinct art experiences celebrating the museum’s collection and the local community one decade into the museum’s lifetime.
Photo by B. Watts Photography

Joi McGowan (she, her, hers), Licensed Therapist, Fayetteville, AR

Growing up, Joi McGowan was the person with whom everyone felt comfortable sharing uncomfortable topics, which is how she knew from an early age that she wanted to be a therapist. Her first job was counseling victims of domestic violence at a shelter in Illinois. In Fayetteville, Joi first worked at local alternative schools to provide school-based therapy for youth impacted by the criminal justice system. Joi’s practice currently focuses on the social and emotional well-being of BIPOC communities.

Q&A w/ Joi

Since you’ve been present in Northwest Arkansas, where are the places you have found community? What are some of the local places, past or present, you go to celebrate?

  • I have found community at my local church, Fayetteville Public Library, Fayetteville park district through their events held for homeschool parents and community events they have had for encouraging hiking for our community.
  • I have found community by visiting several local parks with my kids and always finding the neighbors to be kind and welcoming to me and my children.
  • In the past, I think I have always found community in churches and community-led events. Growing up I went to an all-Black church and found community within the members. While going to college I was able to find community in groups that were centered on multiculturalism and mentoring others.
  • Presently, I find community still in the church, still within community organizations that I get to be a member of such as the NWA NAACP, and I find community with different spaces locally in our community.
  • These spaces help me to belong. For me belonging is a place where I can be all of me without apology. I’ve learned to bring all of me to spaces, even if I am the only Black woman/person present.

All of the artwork being featured in this exhibition traveled great distances before landing in Northwest Arkansas as part of the Crystal Bridges collection. What distances did you travel to arrive in Northwest Arkansas? When did you arrive? What about this place keeps you here?

I moved here from the Waukegan, Illinois area, which is right outside of North Chicago. I arrived here in 2017 with my husband and family. My brother was here first and I am very close with him. We came because my brother helped my husband find a church ministry job. What keeps me here is family. Watching how my family has grown and flourished in this place even if it has been difficult to transition. I know this is a good place to grow.

You are being recognized as part of this celebration, in part, because of the spirit of caring you bring to your interactions with others. To what and/or whom do you attribute the development of this spirit of caring to?

My church and the women I looked up to growing up. My mom had and still has this group of Black women, it’s four of them, who love each other so well. They celebrate each other and make space for each other’s pain. I grew up watching them love, invite, and welcome. I know that continues to influence me even now. I hope people find me inviting. It was these women who looked after me and showed up for me during my parents’ divorce as I was graduating high school. These women moved me into college. These women came to both my college and grad school graduation. Having Black women love me, see me, and care for me has cultivated this spirit of caring in my own being.

Part of this project was about celebrating you in your role as a therapist, what led you to become a therapist? What do you enjoy most about this work?

Growing up, I knew I wanted to do therapy or become a lawyer so I could work with youth in Juvenile Court. As I grew up I figured I could do more if I was in the role of therapist. As a young teen, lots of people would share stories with me of the abuse, pain, and grief they experienced. I was the go-to friend for everyone. I could meet people for the first time and they would immediately feel comfortable sharing their stories with me.

With my job you see people change, you see people redefine and rediscover themselves. I most enjoy watching clients find their own “Aha!” moments. It’s normally the places where they find healing, they gain clarity, they have taken some risks to engage in the community, and they have shown up in therapy in very vulnerable ways. I love watching people rediscover their own identities. I see identity as who we are and how we hope to show up in the world.

Who are some people or groups locally you are inspired by? Why?

  • The Historic St. James Missionary Baptist Church
    • This church has left an impact on the community. I love that they are involved in tangibly supporting the homeless in our city. My son has a big heart for those without homes. And this ministry allows me to get my son involved in loving every neighbor he has in this community.
  • Genesis Church
    • It was my brother who told me of the work that Genesis Church is doing locally to support our community. I love how they were providing meals and connecting others to tangible support.
  • TASC NWA
    • I love this organization! They are working with a population that normally has no place to go after and in between high school. I love how they are inclusive and welcoming to everyone in our community.
  • I could literally go on and on, I love DAYVISION, MIKE DAY who continues to create films for black and brown people in our community by highlighting our creativity and skills. Secondhand Smoke and My-T By Design. These two groups are always reaching community members who need support. The work they have done to connect to those who are on the margins is remarkable. Truly inspirational! It encourages me to join in this effort, finding my own niche where I can advocate and assist my community. For me, it’s in regards to mental health and the Black community.

What are some of the causes you are passionate about?

  • Theology – understanding theology as it grounds me in my ability to see value in all people.
  • Mental Health – I am so passionate about advocating for mental health for the black and brown community. I believe that our communities need mental health that is accessible and affordable. I think we need education on why mental health needs to be a priority for our healthy living.
  • Equity – As a mom of two black sons, issues of equity and justice are near and dear to my heart. With much pride, I serve as the secretary for the NWA NAACP. With much passion, I work toward a more equitable future for my son’s generation. I truly believe change will come.

What milestones, moments, victories and/or achievements in your life are you most proud of?

  • Landing my dream job right after graduate school as the Housing Coordinator of A Safe Place, I’ve always wanted to work with women and children who were victims of abuse.
  • Giving birth to my sons―their birth stories are difficult but all the same beautiful
  • Moments – I am so proud to be the Secretary of the NAACP for NWA Branch #60AC
  • Becoming licensed in the state of Arkansas as a Counselor

Let’s lighten it up a bit: What are some of your favorite places to eat in Northwest Arkansas?

  • Chicken-Headz
  • Wright’s Barbecue
  • Sushi House
  • Ronaldo’s
  • Prelude
  • Arsaga’s Mill District
  • Tea – Savoy Tea Co.
  • Bordino’s
  • Farmer’s Table
  • Emelia’s Kitchen
  • Los Plomo’s
  • Feltner’s Burgers

What are you current favorite musicians or songs?

  • “Zion” by Lauryn Hill

Local Artists:

  • Jasper Logan, he’s my brother!
  • BAANG, a good friend of my brother and my children love him! 
  • Pura Coco, amazing voice! I’m always star-struck when I see her in person 
  • Mark Harmony, completely star-struck when I met them in person! Such amazing talent.

Finally, Crystal Bridges at 10 was designed to both mark the museum’s first 10 years and set the precedent for the decade to come. Looking out into the future, what do you hope for our region and community?

  • I hope NWA becomes more diverse.
  • I hope our state is able to pass laws that encourage safety, accountability, and transparency within its police departments.
  • I hope we lead the nation in how to make a community more accepting and safe for all identities.
  • I hope we lead the nation in innovative services to support community members with finding access to medical care, mental health, as well as fair and equitable/affordable housing, and police reform.

Please list some things people should know about or do in Northwest Arkansas:

  • Biking is so much fun and we have the best trails locally in every major city.
  • Hiking is for all of us! NWA has some beautiful spots to see and experience
  • Theater here is growing and that is so exciting!
  • NWA is a place that is growing in diversity. There are many minority leaders creating change and supporting one another
  • There are some healthy minority online communities for families of color moving here for the first time.
  • Healthy living is possible here, the major cities are working to have walkable paths throughout the area, this means access to safe walking and biking trails becomes accessible to all of us no matter where we live
  • It’s a small town meets small city. Enough city life to not be overwhelmed but enough small-town life to raise a family.
  • Enjoy the lake!
  • Chase the waterfalls! There are plenty to explore. Find them all! And enjoy! NWA is a beautiful place! Remember you BELONG HERE!

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