In 2020 Harness was a leading organization in the cultural strategies sector piloting new and innovative strategies for change.
Marya Bangee is the founding Executive Director of Harness, an organization started by America Ferrera, Ryan Piers Williams, and Wilmer Valderrama, to center the stories of underrepresented communities in popular culture.
Marya works with culture-makers to promote more authentic narratives. She started as a community organizer in the Muslim community, where she represented her community in national media like the New York Times and NPR. Her career took her from organizing with low-income black and brown communities in Los Angeles to serving as a Project Director at UCLA, where she worked to increase access to higher education in Los Angeles.
“We are a community of artists and activist leaders who have come together at Harness. We believe in the power of storytelling to change the world. We call our work cultural organizing, which is using the power of culture to really move forward, to advance social justice. […]
We bring in proximity some of the most powerful people in the world with some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Harness was started by America, Wilmer Valderrama and Ryan Pierce Williams. America, and Wilmer, might be known to some of the listeners as actors, producers. They both have been on very well-known shows like Ugly Betty and That Seventies Show. They are very prominent leaders in Hollywood, especially now, around creating different forms of content. Harness was actually started in response to the 2016 presidential election. After our previous president, who I will not name, was elected in 2016, America decided to pull together her community and she connected with Wilmer and they did a gathering in his living room. For that gathering they brought leaders from some of the most vulnerable communities. And those leaders shared what they needed. And the people in the room said, we’ve got you and we’re going to make this happen. […]
And so we set out to build a community that believes in the power of culture and storytelling, but bringing together some of the top movement leaders in the country, including the founders of Black Lives Matter, organizers from Standing Rock, undocumented leaders, with some of the most established artists in the world, whether that be Katy Perry or Alicia keys, and many others. And so during this last election, this last election felt like the combination of the last four years and what Harness was trying to do. And we did a lot last year.” (Marya Bangee)
In response to the public health, economic and political impacts of COVID-19, and a pivotal national election year, Harness launched numerous large scale and critical projects including Culture Surge, Protect the Sacred and Poderistas. A through-line across these projects is the belief that artists and culture makers are the visionary leaders needed to galvanize communities towards a future rooted in justice, care, and connection.
“I think things are changing and that is just really, really incredible. I feel like the fact that we’re finally seeing the type of change in the cultural sector that we need, it means that there’s so much more opportunity for greater justice for all of us. I love this community. I think that this community is so powerful. It can be so transformative.” (Marya Bangee)