For Black History Month, we are highlighting the people and projects you should know about all year long.
For queer, trans, and nonbinary folks looking to meet others, it can be difficult to find a social event that doesn't involve alcohol in some manner. Enter Cuties, a Black and queer-owned community organization based in Los Angeles that offers fun events like game nights and speed dating while centering emotional, spiritual, and practical needs.
Originally a coffee shop and gathering space whose physical space closed in 2020, Cuties now operates as a virtual support system for L.A.'s QTBIPOC community, organizing monthly meditations, poetry readings, musician meet-ups, queer poetry nights, and other programs. Past events have taken place at locations like Reparations Club and Junior High.
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Scrolling through Cuties' joyous Instagram account feels like perusing the community board of your dreams, where you can gush over the Cutie of the Week, donate to a crowdfund, or get a live tarot reading.
Cuties is run by Sasha Jones, who started out as a part-time barista before gaining ownership of the organization in 2020. For Jones, Cuties is a natural extension of her own community-oriented background, which stems from a desire to bring Black queer folks together in ways that affirm their varied perspectives and interests. Along with social media and events coordinator Toni Robinson, Jones works to ensure that QTBIPOC folks have a place to commune and exist freely.
We caught up with Jones to discuss building safe spaces and more.
Hunker: Could you describe your journey into community organizing? Was there a specific moment that led you to this work?
Sasha Jones: It really started in 2018 with POC Camp, a group camping trip for Black and brown folks to camp together. My partner Tracee and I created POC Camp out of a desire to see more Black folks camping. In May 2018, we were camping and had a discussion about WHY we don't see Black folks camping, trying to figure out the root of it. We were so used to being the only Black folks when we'd camp, and we wanted to change that. It was really as simple as creating an Instagram post with a photo of us camping, opening up our conversation and asking other Black folks what their experience with camping has been; why they think Black folks don't camp; and if they'd be down to camp with us. And they were SO down to camp with us. We had our first trip in October 2018. That was my first experience noticing a community/space lacking, and taking the steps to create that community.
Hunker: Many of Cuties' events center emotional, spiritual, and sexual wellbeing. There's also a resource page for tips on affordable housing, mental health, and more. Why do you think it's important to make space for these conversations?
SJ: Because we need to be having these conversations, and we need to be communing in ways that nourish us and heal us. It hasn't been very long that queer and trans folks have been able to gather safely, and in the daylight. And for some queer and trans folks, they still can't. For so long we have been forced to keep our queerness quiet, we've had to meet in secret, we gathered at night over alcohol and hard drugs. Cuties gives you other ways to connect on a deeper level — that's always been our goal.
Hunker: One of your newest monthly offerings is Queer Family Picnic. How did this program come about?
SJ: Again, this was just me noticing what was missing! I had a few conversations with friends of mine who are queer parents, and asked them if they'd like something like this, and if it would benefit them. And everyone said yes — so I said yes, too! I know that it can be difficult for parents to meet other parents and families, so I wanted to make a space for that. I also created this space in hopes that queer parents can share their experiences with other queer folks who are considering becoming a parent. As queer folks, starting a family can be really challenging. I want people to have a safe space to have these conversations and share knowledge.
Hunker: Cuties often spotlights local artists and creatives. What artists/poets/thinkers do you turn to for inspiration and joy?
SJ: I've been listening to Beautiful Chorus' album Mantras in Love daily [and get inspiration from] Little Simz, Nayyirah Waheed, Amber J. Phillips, and Jamila Reddy always. Also, my nail tech Kristen aka @plantyofnails whose nail art literally brings me the most joy right now. She's my current fave artist.
Hunker: You're also the co-organizer of POC Camp and the resource space Very Close Ties, along with your partner Tracee. Could you talk more about your interest in camping and ethical non-monogamy, and how that intersects with your community work?
SJ: My interest in camping really just comes from a deep, deep love and respect for Earth and nature. I love getting out of the city, having space to think and clear my mind, I love setting up camp and creating a home away from home. It soothes me as it challenges me.
Being a Black queer person who loves camping and is non-monogamous can potentially be pretty isolating, which is why we created POC Camp and Very Close Ties — to, one, remind ourselves that we aren't the only ones, and two, let others know they aren't the only ones either. It feels easy and natural when the space you create for others is a space you need yourself, as well. Collective healing.
Hunker: In addition to running a business and pouring back into the community, you are a proud mom to 50 plants! How do plants feed into your healing practice?
SJ: Plants allow me to slow down. They give me space to be present, space to be attentive. They ground me and help me feel embodied and not so in my head. They also show me the importance of steady nurturing and tending to. I have a very reciprocal relationship with my plants, we take care of each other.
You can support Cuties through its Patreon, which allows the organization to pay collaborators, offer free events, and save funds for a new space in the future.