The string lights of the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, North Carolina are dim, as a black and white projection of Muhammad Ali speaks to an audience in the pit below. To the left of the screen an artist on stage silently paints a canvas, and band members under the video prepare their instruments.
As Ali fades out and the band begins to play, the bedazzled shirt of Soteria Shepperson is guided by a purple light that illuminates the stage at her entrance.
“We redefinin’ what it means to be Black,” Shepperson shouts her opening line during "Black Friday," her first Headliner event, part of her performance platform “I Am Soteria.”
Shepperson began her platform in 2019, but had been exploring the idea for about five years before then through her brand of motivational speaking, music and poetry that fights injustice and racism.
Along with starting the nonprofit “Grow Your World” and beginning her own networking and poetry brand, Shepperson is also the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services’ new Race, Equity, Action and Leadership coordinator and co-manager of Carrboro coffee shop Johnny’s Gone Fishin’.
Under her brand, Shepperson has organized or performed at over 17 events, including venues like Red Hat Amphitheater, alongside artists like Chance the Rapper, and the Women’s March in Raleigh. During both, Shepperson performed her own poetry.
“Soteria has a magic to her of being able to keep a focus on racial justice, and create an event that allows everyone, whether they're black, persons of color, white, whatever to feel a part of,” said Jamie Jacobs, executive director at Reintegration Support Network.
Shepperson met Jacobs through the Johnson Service Corps, an organization focused on engaging young adults in a year of social justice work through spiritual practice. Working with the Service Corps was one of her most impactful jobs, Shepperson said.
It even helped her to travel outside of the country for the first time to Cologne, Germany. She said growing up, the only two ways to leave the country were through the military and playing sports. When she arrived, she expected Germany to be different from America, but didn’t expect for a country to alter her self-image.