I sat down over coffee with Brittni Joy, Michelle “True” Francois, and Sunnei Dais, the trio that comprise Agape, a cultural events planning initiative in the UAE. We chatted about their commitment to community through positivity and educationâ€¦
Dorian: Where are you all originally from and how has growing up there impacted your world view?
Brittni: I’m from Denver originally. My parents traveled a lot with me so I couldn’t wait to see the rest of the world. Now, it feels like I’m at home wherever I go. It’s amazing.
True: I am originally from the Washington, DC area. I have had the privilege to grow up around a very diverse population. It allows me to see people as they are. I try not to stereotype individuals based on nationality or ethnicity because for someone who fits the stereotype there is someone who doesn’t.
Sunnei: My world view consisted of a 30 mile radius within the confines of inner city Detroit. Aside from my visits to grandparents in North Carolina, Detroit was the world to me. Essentially, my view was limited until I began my university studies. It was there that I realized that if the world was a beach, my existence and experiences represented merely a grain of sand on that beach. It was there that my appreciation for international travel, intercultural interaction, and languages blossomed.
Dorian: Even before the formal foundation of Agape, you three have worked together with events for over five years in the UAE. What are some of the events you have organized since you’ve been in the UAE?
Brittni: Â We began by having poetry on a private rooftop. Then, it transitioned to a White Party in Al Ain. After that, we collaborated with an American history programme. Then, Agape was officially formed and, from there, we’ve hosted poetry and financial education workshops. Words and Wings is our
poetry show in Al Ain. Juneteenth celebrates our heritage. It’s so wonderful building a community that comes from our love and sisterhood.
Dorian: So when did Agape formally get started?
Sunnei: Although we have collaborated for years, we became an official force as Agape in 2015.
Dorian: There are many social events for Western expatriates in the UAE. What is the inspiration behind organizing events that focus more on education, culture, and self-betterment?
True: We decided it was only right that we put together something that educated the masses. We realized this was truly our niche and that we had to continue to uplift and educate.
Dorian: Thatâ€™s truly beautiful. My favourite event that you all organize is the annual American history programme that focuses on African-Americans and their impact on American history. I love how the youth are a big part of the programme. I also enjoy the mix of drama, dance, poetry, and more. Which of your events are your personal favourites?
Brittni: I actually love Words and Wings. It’s a chance for everyone all over the emirate to come to a small intimate setting and share their talents with each other. We also get a chance to shout out other community events and celebrate those in the community.
True: Slamming on the Roof was definitely my baby and my favourite. It was raw, uncut, authentic, and pure. It was right on time because when got to the UAE in 2011, nothing like it was going on. It was truly a family affair with kids selling cupcakes, a football team BBQing, DJ A.L.L.A.D. spinning the best tunes, and spoken word and comedy like no other. It puts a smile on my face thinking about it.
Sunnei: I agree with you, Dorian. It has to be the American History programme as well. This event is our opportunity to watch a programme blossom from an idea. Not only that, it’s a pleasure to work with the children. We are able to watch them mature over the weeks of practice. It is most certainly our most challenging endeavor, but it is the most rewarding.
Dorian: Many poetry enthusiasts do not know that you three were very instrumental in building a poetry community as your private
poetry show, Poetry Slammin’ On The Roof, was the UAE’s first poetry open mic and a major inspiration to the foundation of Rooftop Rhythms.
Now, you all have launched the popular, monthly show, Words and Wings. How does it feel to have another regular poetry platform in Al Ain?
True: Poetry is my love so whenever I’m able to grace the stage it is a blessing. It feels even better when I know I have hand in creating something that gives people an opportunity to have a voice. I’m excited to bring poetry back to Al Ain and pray it continues even when we’re gone.
Dorian: What are your thoughts about the UAE?
Brittni: I’ve already spent six years of my life here. I like it. It’s a place that not only has beauty but also allows me to experience culture in a different way. With so many nationalities from so many different countries, it’s truly a melting pot filled with love and experiences of a lifetime. Every year, I say it’s my last year, and I’m still here so, who knows? Life is what happens in between your plans.
True: I have always said the UAE is where dreams come true. Living here I have been able to spend more time with my family, write books, travel, create events and see the world from a different perceptive. I truly don’t know how long I will be here, but I will enjoy my time until the end.
Sunnei: The UAE has been instrumental to my development. Â I have met some of the most interesting and amazing people here. However, we (my
husband and I) believe that our next country may be on the horizon soon, God willing.
Dorian: The UAE will truly miss you all. Where do you see yourself five years from now? Ten years?
Brittni: Five years from now, inshallah, I’ll be traveling and improving my event planning travel company. In ten years, I’ll be relaxing on my
beach bungalow setting up people with amazing experiences that will last their lifetime.
True: I honestly can’t answer that question because I don’t know. The five years I’ve lived in this country haven’t gone as planned but it has been better than expected, so I’ve learned to just go with flow. Maybe I will continue to teach, maybe I won’t. Â Maybe we’ll head back to the USA, maybe not. I truly donâ€™t know, but one thing is for certain. I will definitely continue to travel and see the world as it really is and not how the media portrays it.
Sunnei: I’d hope to be settled in the country where my husband and I can raise happy and healthy children. Â My overall goal is to have my own business. I’m already in the development stage for a few of the ideas. In ten years, I’d love for my business to be able to fund our family’s international travel. Essentially, my hope is to do what I love, working for me.
Dorian: The UAE is putting a lot of investment in to promoting happiness. How do you define happiness?
Brittni: Well my nickname is Joyful, so happiness is in my soul. Happiness is a feeling that fills your heart and your mind. Usually it transforms into joy, and Joy is everlasting. So be joy-filled!
Dorian: On June 3, Agape is planning a Juneteenth event. Educate us on the history of Juneteenth, and tell us what attendees can expect from this event..
Sunnei: In America, the 16th president of the United States signed a declaration to free anyone deemed a slave. The decree was to take effect on January 1, 1863. However, for those in the state of Texas and in many living in the South, that decree was of no effect as they didn’t receive the news until June 19, 1865, two and a half years later. Despite the late notice, it was a time of great celebration for millions of our ancestors. We continue to celebrate Juneteenth because those they came before us paved a way for our success. Presently, celebrations include family-style barbecues, music, dance, and a portion highlighting the accomplishments of those within our community. Our celebration will be identical to that. We’re bringing a taste of home to the UAE.
Dorian: How can we contact Agape on social media?
Brittni: You can reach us on our Facebook page Agape. Â You can also check me out on Instagram. My IG name is Bwareimjoyful. Same on
True: I can reached on Facebook and Instagram at Michelle TRUE Francois
Sunnei: Facebook: Sunnei Dais, Twitter: Sunnei Dais, Email: Sunneidais@gmail.com
Dorian: And lastly, who can I contact about the check for the coffee? Do I split it in to three and email to each of you separately, or does one of you want to treat?
*All three stare at Dorian blankly.