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Interview with Renita Manley Garrett, Founder and Executive Director of The Arts of Humanity

Photo credit: Renita Manley-Garrett

Renita Manley Garrett is the Founder and Executive Director of The Arts of Humanity, an organization that educates the public about advancing human welfare through the arts. The Arts of Humanity front-running project, the Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF) annually awards local leaders for using the arts for their humanitarian efforts. The project’s mission is unique considering this sort of recognition is usually bestowed upon celebrity philanthropists. For the first time, an initiative honors local creative heroes and connects their good deeds to their communities, with the mission to cultivate more creative humanitarians.

In our interview, Ms. Manley-Garrett reveals how the idea formulated for the successful innovation.

Women For Action: Can you tell us about your background and what led to an interest in the work you are doing today?

Renita Manley-Garrett: My interest in human welfare began early as a child. My father was a Vietnam veteran, and it was a struggle watching him cope with Vietnam Syndrome. However, it opened my eyes to the human condition and in general, human welfare.

I figured I could help people and the human condition by becoming a teacher. I attended Northern Illinois University and worked toward my B.A. in English Education. While student teaching, I took more of an interest in the public policies and community issues that directly affected my students, their families, and their communities. Instead of becoming a teacher right away, I wanted to learn more about public administration, so I enrolled in Governors State University, where I studied Public Administration and policies, earning my Masters in Public Administration and cultivating my childhood interest in human welfare.

Women For Action: You were a life coach to people who were formerly incarcerated. How did you get involved in that and what was it like?

Renita Manley-Garrett: While I was in graduate school, I had an opportunity to work as a Life Coach for the formerly incarcerated. It was a great way for me to blend my academic education, other skills, and my desire to work with willing people on their positive contributions to society. I built and modified curriculum that focused on conflict resolution, image enhancement, developing personal skills, dressing for success, making choices, and so on. It was a very rewarding experience because I learned why and how many formerly incarcerated individuals make decisions, and what life or community circumstances led to many of their choices.  

Women For Action: What led to your departure as a life coach?

Renita Manley-Garrett: As with many non-profits, a decrease in funding prompted me to decide if I wanted to work in another department or begin teaching. I decided to start teaching. I also just gave birth to my oldest daughter, so teaching had additional benefits that were in my family’s favor.  

Women For Action: You founded The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF). Tell us about the mission and vision. What led to this different path? Can you tell us how are the two projects different and how are they related?

Renita Manley-Garrett: Yes I did, and it remains such an amazing journey. The Arts of Humanity is a 501(c) 3 organization that cares about teaching, developing, and recognizing creative humanitarians. We focus on creativity via the arts. Our vision is a world of creative humanitarians.  

I think this path was always a part of my destiny. I’ve always been involved with the arts and fashion. When I was a child and teenager, I studied and play both the violin and piano.  While I was in undergraduate and graduate school, I developed a keen interest in fashion. The topic of my master’s thesis was “How do I Look: How Personal Appearance Affects American Politicians’ Image”.  

I remember being in the computer lab, in Graduate School, and praying about how I can blend fashion and helping people. I loved the arts, and I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to advancing human lives. That’s what led to me becoming an Image Consultant, which also played a big role in my Life Coach position, and ultimately, to the creation of Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete.

While I was an emerging Image Consultant in Chicago, I met a lot of people in the industry who advanced humanity, and who were using fashion to advance humanity. Unfortunately, they fell under the radar, as the fashion industry can be presumptuously stereotyped as shallow.  A colleague and I put together a fashion show called Fashion Fetish Fete, with the main purpose of shining a spotlight on some notable entities that used fashion to advance human welfare. The show also featured makeovers from veterans who were participants in Catholic Charities veteran programs. The following year, I renamed the show to include all the arts and to put more emphasis on humanity, creating Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF).

Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF) became known as an annual awards show that honors businesses, individuals, and organizations that use the arts to advance human welfare. After the second annual FAHF, a lot of attendees wanted to know how they could get involved with the honorees, and they asked would I be doing anything to include youth since the show was full of great role models and inspiration. I figured, I can do more than inspire the youth. All FAHF honorees embody similar characteristics that our youth and adults should possess to be great contributors to the world. This is how The Arts of Humanity was born; the Arts of Humanity is the bigger picture, it’s an organization that cares about teaching, developing, and recognizing creative humanitarians.  After the founding of The Arts of Humanity, Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete became one of three sub programs of the organization, however, it is the organization’s most popular program.

Women For Action: What kind of feedback are you getting for The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete Awards?

Renita Manley-Garrett: Oh my goodness! People are so excited to see positivity in the spotlight! Not only that, attendees and critics love learning more about all the creative humanitarians that are out here. The curriculum that we developed for The Arts of Humanity has been well received by students and teachers. Both really appreciate being introduced to programming that enforces creativity, as well as humane characteristics. The Arts of Humanity has created the perfect strategy for blending the arts and advancing human welfare. People are really enthusiastic about The Arts of Humanity!

Women For Action: Tell us about FAHF 2015. What should we expect to see?

Renita Manley-Garrett: FAHF 2014 sold out! This year, we have secured a bigger space, more special guest appearances, and increased attendee engagement.  You should expect to see some of the best nonprofits come out for an evening of honor, recognition, and celebration. Our FAHF team like to say that FAHF is like the Grammy’s of Arts and Humanity. That’s how it is set up. Great people, great arts performances, opportunity for learning, and opportunities to become involved in progressing humanity.

Women For Action: Why do you think this work is so important? Why do you think the public should care about missions such as The Arts of Humanity?

Renita Manley-Garrett: There’s no other organization out there that recognizes entities who use the arts to advance human welfare, especially, grass-roots to mid-sized entities. We are always bombarded with images of celebrities who use their platform for humane purposes. But, there are even more creatives out there doing the same. Celebrities, more often than not, inspire individuals to think of how they can make a change, but because they are celebrities, it may seem as if you can only have a huge impact if you have a huge platform. At FAHF, we provide a platform where local and mid-sized creative humanitarians can not only be recognized but provide genuine inspiration to attendees.

The Arts of Humanity wants everyone to connect with their individuality, uniqueness, and creativity to give back to society. We can all be equipped with the knowledge, information, and motivation to be unforgettable volunteers, do-gooders, and humanitarians.

One thing that really makes us standout is that we go beyond encouraging volunteering. We strive to equip participants and our supporters with knowledge regarding how they can become memorable volunteers, thus creating a lasting effect. The knowledge that The Arts of Humanity provides encourages people to think daily about advancing humanity, beginning with self, our neighborhoods, and globally.

Women For Action: How are you dealing with diversity through your platforms? What methods are you using to ensure that women are being recognized and heard?

Renita Manley-Garrett: Diversity is no problem for The Arts of Humanity. It’s actually not difficult to find women who are serving mankind, especially in a creative manner.

Women For Action: What sort of projects are you currently working on?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I’m currently going into full FAHF mode. We are reviewing nominations that are pouring in and confirming the line-up for FAHF 2015. Additionally, we are revising our curriculum for our Who CARES program. Who CARES is The Arts of Humanity’s program that teaches youth, specifically, how to be creative humanitarians. We are in the process of making our curriculum more aligned with Common Core Standards, and then we will be publishing this curriculum on ITunes University and our website.

Women For Action: If any, what sort of obstacles have you faced as a woman throughout your career? Do you feel there are disadvantages being a woman of color, working as a leader? If so, tell us about them.

Renita Manley-Garrett: In the beginning, it was difficult to get men involved. Many were immediately disinterested when they heard the word “fashion”. When we added “Arts” to the title, and made men more visible at FAHF, we overcame that problem. We even got more women involved when we changed our name. Any obstacles that I may face as a woman of color are met with a great team of individuals who are fighters, and who believe in The Arts of Humanity. As we have grown as an organization and seek larger partnerships, as a predominantly woman ran organization, we have to make sure we are error free in negotiations, meetings, and unexpected professional encounters.  

Women For Action: Do you have any other career plans or ventures that you foresee in the future?

Renita Manley-Garrett: We are prepping The Arts of Humanity to be a national organization with ready curriculum for educators and we plan to develop workshops that offer teachers CPDUs for maintaining professional development requirements.  We are also looking to partner with more vetted organizations to develop volunteer opportunities for creatives and supporters of the creative industries. Additionally, we are in the planning process for developing FAHF into a nationally televised awards show.

Women For Action: Looking ahead, how would you envision The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete Awards Show will grow?

Renita Manley-Garrett: The Arts of Humanity will be a highly recognized social and emotional development organization that offers related resources to the public, educators, and organizations. We will continue to remain involved in local and national volunteer efforts and campaigns. Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete will be a nationally televised program with national/international honorees and it will feature big name appearances.

Women For Action: What career achievement are you most proud of?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I’m most proud of the team I have developed over the years. They are loyal, motivating, and supportive. They push me to do better and strive for more than I want at times. Sometimes, in life, receiving that extra push from your team, friends, and family is vital. I’m blessed to have such an amazing team.

Women For Action: What sort of advice would you lend to a young girl that is interested in following in your footsteps?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I tell my daughters, “Don’t be like mommy; be better than mommy.” I don’t want anyone to follow in my footsteps. I’m making my own mark in this world leaving behind a great legacy.  If someone follows my footsteps, who will remember him or her? When I’m no longer able to run The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete, I want someone to continue my legacy and make it bigger than I ever envisioned.

To any young girls who are inspired by my journey, the first thing they have to know is that at times, it can get lonely. You feel like you are out here with this huge vision that only you can see. Remain persistent and believe in your vision. That’s easier said than done, but it’s true, especially because you have to make others believe in your vision as well. Also, I heard this saying, and remind myself of this weekly: Happiness is a direction, not a destination.

Women For Action: Lastly, what do you want the Women For Action audience to know about you?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I don’t know if there is much else to know about me; these were some great questions! Honestly, I’m simply honored to be recognized in the Women’s Equality Exhibit and I’m looking forward to learning about other remarkable women taking action to advance their communities and humanity. 

Renita Manley Garrett is a change-maker and we congratulate her on leadership. To find out about the Women History Maker Project visit,

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Julene Allen