On Rebellion with Virginia Cumberbatch

On a misty, early Fall afternoon, we met Virginia on the stately grounds of the Commodore Perry in Austin. Virginia is the co-founder of Rosa Rebellion and the Rebel Fund (learn more about both in the following interview) where she leads the charge for co-agitation and rebellion against the status quo of systemic racism and cultural erasure. Read on to learn more about her roots, spiritual practice and the work she is doing on an international level towards restorative justice. 

What's your name, where are you from and what do you do for work & for fun?

My name is Virginia Ashleigh Cumberbatch. I named after my maternal great-grandmother Virginia Gordan, and Ashley, an intieration of my dad's name, Ashton. My surname has an interesting cultural journey - originally dutch, then reimagined through the British and ultimately a name given to many Black slaves in the Carribean. More specifically, Barbados where my dad's dad's family is from. The older I get, the more appreciation I have for my name. Growing up I only went by my nickname, Ginny. I thought Virginia sounded like an old lady's name. But knowing the intentionality, history of my name, I am so honored to carry these legacies and stories. 

I describe my work as at the intersection of creative activism, storytelling and racial justice. I have the honor of stewarding this work through the mission of Rosa Rebellion and as a racial justice educator. I co-founded Rosa Rebellion alongside Meagan Harding in 2019 and established my consultancy in 2020 after serving as the director of community engagement and equity at The University of Texas at Austin. I now work with brands around the world, helping them build an ethos of equity and challenging them to interrogate their practices of racial justice. As a storyteller, I am passionate about documenting untold stories, helping elevate voices of women of color. I am the co-author of As We Saw It: The Story of Integration and I am currently working on my second book, which as a lover of fashion and style, I am really excited about. 

I find joy in curating spaces for connection and community from a dinner party to my annual holiday Barnaza (yes it's a holiday party in a barn), I love designing an experience for friends. Outside of that, I'm a sports fanatic. From soccer, the NBA and tennis - I'm living for the World Cup right now. And while I haven't had as much time this past time, nothing excites me more than the hunt for a bargain and luxe thrift finds. I believe shoes should count as an investment in art. 

"I hope my daily decisions and consideration contribute to the "shalom" of my community, country and world."

What does spirituality mean to you, and how does it manifest in your daily life?

I love this question - not only because my faith is central to my being and how I navigate life, but also because I feel like these last few years have both challenged and deepened my spiritual practice. While I identify as a Christian, I've been grateful for the space and grace to explore what that actually looks like in practice. How I contend with the work of racial justice, equity and human rights knowing that people of faith and the church have also enacted harm. Reconciling that truth and fashioning my faith and spiritual convictions to align with love, justice and shalom is the foundation of my being. I think my faith used to direct my values and thus life decisions, now I think it shapes my ethos and contextualizes how I hope to live and love. That's why I love the word shalom so much. It's Hebrew for peace, wholeness, completeness. And ultimately I hope my daily decisions and consideration contribute to the "shalom" of my community, country and world. 

Please tell our readers about Rosa Rebellion and the Rebel Fund. How did you & Meagan become founders of this incredible org? How can our audience support this important work?

Launched at SXSW in 2019, Rosa Rebellion supports creative projects by women of color that serve to tell stories of resistance, resilience and radical change. We run several programs that serve to disrupt unjust systems and spaces not built for us, and document untold stories, stories of communities traditionally silenced and siloed. Meagan and I co-birthed this space hoping to fill a gap that we were actively experiencing. As a civil rights attorney and social justice practitioner, our work sat at the intersection of these systems and institutions that we were tasked with reconciling, while also having to endure the trauma and harm of navigating them as Black women. We sought to build a space that not only supported our labor as disruptors and agitators, but supported the innovation and creativity that is innate to our work as women of color. You can learn more about our programming, including Compose, our writing retreat for women of color, Rebel + Rest Retreat, and our program specifically designed for white women looking to define their role in racial justice here. Likewise, feel free to reach out with partner and collaboration interest via virginia@rosarebellion.com. 

The Rebel Fund is a non-profit 501-C3 organization connected to the mission of Rosa Rebellion. Our hope is to unapologetically write checks to incredible voices doing this work in their communities. Statistically women of color are the least invested in both the nonprofit and start-up space. We hope with the help of the community we can be a part of disrupting this reality. The fund will launch in early 2023 with a disruption of more than $50,000 in grants.

What resonates with you about the MBS Collection? Are there any pieces you are drawn to at the moment?

First off, I can't talk about MBS without talking about my deep admiration for its designer / maker. The aesthetic, sustainability commitment and centering of women is so emblematic of what I have come to experience in sharing time and space with Miranda. She is the epitome of generosity and grace. My first experiences of the MBS brand were in its opening of doors to friends who were artisans looking for space to work (the start of Aro and the launch of the Woke Beauty podcast). Even with its thoughtfulness in taking up space in East Austin, a historically Black and Brown commitment - there was such awareness and conscious effort to consider how the MBS footprint would impact the cultural landscape. I would hope current and future businesses would follow her lead.

I appreciate the intentionality around MBS fabric choices. And although I love a pop of color - my first love is that of neutrals. I love the color palette of each season's designs. It speaks to my mood and ease of fashioning a closet with the trifecta: gold, black and white. I am sucker for a coordinated set - I’m especially fond of the silk tie blouses with matching haram pants! I could wear it everyday.