On 17th and Telegraph, on the backside of YR Media's Oakland headquarters, there's a mural that stretches the length of the three story building. The colorful artwork was painted by Rachel Wolfe Goldsmith and shows two people: one with their fist raised to the sky wearing a shirt that says "they/them", and another person looking calmly at you, sort of inviting you in.
I was familiar with both Goldsmith and Stoney Creation before, but I didn't know Yanni until I posted a picture of the mural. A friend tagged Yanni in the post, and looking at their page, I got a glimpse into all the things they do.
I reached out to Yanni and learned how they went from shy, to living their life unapologetically. Now you can see them posing for Vogue, walking in New York Fashion Week, speaking at protests, using TikTok videos as a tool to teach self love and being the face of this HUGE MURAL in downtown Oakland.
This week on Rightnowish, Yanni Brump gives us a crash course on finding the courage within to trust in yourself.
Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Yanni Brump.
PEN: Bring us into your world, what are you known for?
YANNI: When I start to say things about me, I usually like go back to childhood... I'm the oldest of seven kids. I was raised by my grandmother. I was a second parent in my household. I feel like I have a lot of umph. And whatever I say I'm gonna do, I do it. That has a lot to do with my upbringing and how I was raised by very strong, powerful Black women. They instilled that in me... Very big energy. I'm outspoken. And you're going to notice me and I feel like it's for good reason that I'm that way. I feel like my purpose is to shed light on as many people as I possibly can and to bring love and to show people there's a way to just truly and authentically be yourself. Just being me is literally helping other people just be them...
I started producing a queer fashion show called Limitless, which was to bring more representation in the fashion industry for queer people, trans people, black people, indigenous people.
And I ran with that. I took it and I was like, this needs to be brought to so many other people… who need a place to feel like they're them. Just a space to just exist and to be their whole self. So I started doing a day party, Drip Bay Area, which was for us to have a safe space, to come to a party, but also to just be together and feel safe in our space.
And then I'm working with Tik Tok. I just partnered with them to do a creative learning fund where I am basically doing videos, advice, tips on self care and self love.
PEN: I'm over here smiling because you just ooze with community passion. Like anybody who knows me knows that's what I'm about. So, when you talk about self-love, what is your definition of it?
YANNI: Wow, OK. [laugh] Self-love is you accepting all of you wholeheartedly, unapologetically. It’s the way you look at yourself. It’s the way you think about yourself. It’s how tender you are with you, when you're maybe not meeting your expectations. It’s how you show up for you. I'm still working on it, but I'm working on it…
Expressing gratitude everyday, I would say, is like one of my top things, because the flow of abundance that comes from that is out of this world. I always feel like I'm living in a state of where I can give to other people, and every day is not going to be great. But being tender with yourself and being kind and speaking nice to yourself through it - it's so much better on the other side. [laugh] It is.
PEN: Yeah. You are greener where you water your grass. But at one point, you were shy. How did you break out of being shy to being on TikTok and on the side of a building and then all the things that you mentioned?
YANNI: When I was younger, I would be considered what they would say “overweight.” I was bullied. I didn't love myself. I didn't really know who I was. I was in denial for a really long time about my gender and my sexuality. And I had an ex-partner of mine who was doing runway, and I was super inspired by her. And she took me to a casting. I didn't want to go at first. But at the time, I identified as a woman and they were asking for masculine women to be in the show. And so I went on a whim and they made me walk in front of all these people. And I was like scared. But I did it. I did it. I kept doing it. And it and it starts to give me a sense of confidence. To just be me on a runway in front of all these people. Didn’t matter who was looking at me, what they thought about me. I was just able to be whatever version of myself that I chose to be.
Honestly, it felt like a portal or like me jumping into another version of myself. That was when I finally felt limitless in my life. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted to do. And I think it didn't solely come down to me. I think that it had a lot to do with my ancestors who I feel chosen by. And I know that they saw something or enough in me to actually, like, live it out. And they rejoiced. And so much joy came in my heart and I’m actually here every day pushing to do it. And I know that that made them happy, too, because I could feel it like. And I and I know that I'm doing the right thing.
It feels great to be like, I'm in vogue! There is a black nonbinary person there existing and I'm unapologetic. There is a black non binary person there existing and I'm unapologetic. I have a fucking tattoo on my face. I have fucking tattoos all over my fucking body. I'm not going to sit here and conform to what you want for me. I'm gonna just fucking be me. Too many people died before me for me to stop. And to not be a part of the revolution. Like, no. I feel wonderful. So I just know that it's possible because of. I've done it so far, which means that I could do all of it. And I'm going to keep doing it.
Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.