Cookie Kendle has tried her hand at many things: theatre, dance, make-up artistry, fashion marketing and founding/publishing a magazine. Things didn’t work out. Her head was in it, but her heart was elsewhere. “I wasn’t being true to myself”, she says. It was this realisation, and a spliff with her partner and an Airbnb host, that lead her to conceive the idea for RUDE TRUTH.
RUDE TRUTH is a movement fighting against the oppression of marginalised people and of living. It took Cookie 18 months, 15 different business plans and gantt charts, 10 workshops, the fight for a $500 grant, homelessness, as well as many 18 hour work days, until in May 2016 RUDE TRUTH (RT) went live. At its core is support, communication, connection, education, care, community and expression. RT spreads their message through rallies, campaigns, panels, workshops and events. And in July, their first campaign and tour launched: #CanILive2k16. Starting in Toronto, the tour has been working its way around North America, uniting the hearts and minds of youth as it goes.
RT never rests: 365 and 24 hours a day. It is the vision of one person, and the tireless work of three. They believe in the strength of expression and the freedom of truth, in working towards establishing a world that does not fit the mould of current systematic constraints, and providing safe spaces for anyone and everyone who needs them. RT is picking up where the system lacking. We are feeling and seeing riffs, tensions, sadness, pain, inequality and threats all over the world. Every week hearts are broken and minds are exhausted. The energies, emotions and souls of our generation are depleting in the fight, but it is through movements like RT and people like Cookie where we realise, we are not alone. We are all trying to find our way in this shit-storm society, and by uniting, taking one another’s hand, we can make a difference. And as Cookie declares,
“inform, unite and empower”.
As soon as I came across RUDE TRUTH, I could feel the dedication, drive and devotion of their work, but who was behind the project and where they had come from? I wanted to learn more about the roots of RT and the person leading this fight against oppression, in favour of expression, empowerment and a social revolution. Below – and a few days before the release images of their main perks for RT’s campaign (September 1st) – I talk to founder Cookie Kendle.
There are three of you behind RUDE TRUTH, could you give a brief background on you all?
The managing, organising and executing is 98% done by me. I have a hard time giving a background on myself because we are bred in a society that prizes our quantifiable achievements. However, I believe my life experiences and identities are my “most prized achievements”.
I’m a tenth generation Canadian, 3/4 American and 4th generation slave descendant with aboriginal ancestry. Physically, I’m a black girl, so no one believes me when I say I’m Canadian. I’ve been a part of several communities, but none long enough to feel truly a part of it and identify as such. Other than being part of a neighbourhood gang from aged 16-23; it exposed me to so much information and insight about the world we live in. It was the source of self-confidence and new found fearlessness.
Post high school, I took business at night to keep fam content and pay my phone bills. And at 21 I became a full-time makeup artist. I started to freelance and try to make a living, which didn’t really happen as quickly as I anticipated. Finally, after a year of attempting, I enrolled in Fashion Marketing at LaSalle College to further my skills and abilities. In our third semester, I produced a fashion show called Capital Chronicles with 50 models and 40 something students. I had been working on ideas for the show over the summer, and to my ultimate joy, my concept was chosen and I was elected the head coordinator.
The show was extremely demanding. I ended up flunking out of every class and ultimately dropping out. My heart was broken; but I was so attached to the show, that it inspired me to produce fashion-art-culture magazine, Poppie.
During the summer of 2014, I produced Poppie and was simultaneously quickly growing my freelance career as a MUA/Stylist. I was Bianca Des Jardin’s right hand. The ‘Tokyo’ Issue of Poppie launched in September 2014 and my partner and I took Issue #2 to London. It didn’t work out. And after the disappointment, the depression brought me to a realisation, I had been using fashion as an escape, a way to suppress my frustrations about the world.
In November 2014, I conceived the idea and name RUDE TRUTH.
Alex Lyshyk is my partner, confidant, RT Recruiter and Art Director. She had been my right hand in the Capital Chronicles fashion show (where we became friends). She helped fill empty pages in Poppie at last minute (when people decided to fuck me over). And she insisted to be a part of RT, even though she is now all the way in Sweden trying to establish her new life. She is a creative with multiple talents and passions and is drawn to things like photography, nutrition, self care and fitness. Once RT’s website presence develops she will be shooting short recipe vids, yoga poses and writing informational articles on self care, nutrition and exercise.
Jay is also my partner, but in life, RT head of R&D and the silent (not-so-silent) investor. Jay is the reason I haven’t attempted suicide in the last 9 years we’ve been together, and is the main reason why I can work 100 hour work weeks on RT and not have to worry about the funds to feed or house myself. He is a former dope boy, survivor of 2 bullet wounds (reason why we needed to leave MTL) and the most intellectual thinker I know. Without a high school diploma, he seizes to amaze academics with his range of political, environmental and esoteric knowledge. He is my #1 inspiration.
Explain what happened when you first started RT.
I started to work towards establishing RT in 2014 and applied for our first grant in March 2015. After not receiving the funds, I realised I needed to maybe learn more and develop the foundation better. I applied to a program that would support me financially, as well as with the structural development of RT, for 6 months. I was successful until the last round of applicants and was declined, due to RT not having a “financial focus”. This was the breaking point.
The lack of support and my cognitive dissonance preventing me from working regular jobs sent me into homelessness. I lived in shelters (traumatic af) for two seasons and it killed my motivation to work on RT, so I picked up painting & crocheting in the meantime. Finally, in October I was back in a home and back to working full time on RT. I took several workshops and programs in Toronto to help strengthen the its foundation, and on May 11th 2016 RT was officially digitally live.
#CanILive2k16 is the first campaign and tour. Tell us about it.
#CanILive2k16 is an extension of the RT mission. I believe our power is limitless the second we unite. And that is the purpose of having a campaign separate from RT, to invite other initiatives like SUNDAY LA to collaborate and support a simple common right. Being of multiple marginalised identities (but still having privileges), and not being immersed in the activist realm until recently, gave me a necessary and critical outlook. It ultimately gave me a more holistic compassion, which drove me to build an unbiased movement and try to connect with people on basic fundamental rights.
RT has a lot planned in order to inform, unite and empower. And #CanILive2k16 was the best place to start. After reading the Declaration of Human Rights, and noticing all were currently being violated, I decided to start with the most relatable, the 3rd: EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO LIFE.
Through our docu-series interviews, and articles we will be posting and the workshops we intend to host, we will inform young people on the vast range of systemic oppressions that lead to making life hard to live, or at times, live at all. The goal is to get different communities and initiatives on the same page, and to build from there.
How much planning went into this beforehand?
I’ve been actively developing #CanILive2k16 since March 2016, while establishing RT. However, I have been developing the concept of an awareness campaign and tour since November 2014. I regularly work 18 hours straight — without breaks. Occasionally, I even work 32-36 hour shifts where I don’t even take a 10 minute nap. It’s so much (much, much, very much) planning, and yet never enough.
The campaign kicked off in Toronto in July, what have been some of the ebbs and flows, ups and downs of the journey so far?
July 15th was our first event to launch #CanILive2k16 and screen our campaign video. It was so humbling. And from the event and the video I have made exceptional connections that are continuing to support, uplift and collaborate with me towards the success of the campaign.
The thing most shocking thing has been the feeling of being ‘othered’ in ‘safe spaces’, and around people that portray themselves to be inclusive and community-oriented. However, I have a deep emotional understanding of being a human and I continue to analyse my behaviour, and that of others, to be as compassionate as I can. I recognise these personality traits to be systemic social programming and try to not hold it against the people that hurt me. The biggest struggles have been trying to do it all, doubting myself and finding the right team.
RUDE TRUTH is doing what the education system is not: educating or connecting youth when it comes to fighting oppression and how to live. What are your thoughts?
I think every established and powerful institution on the face of the earth works towards the destruction of the human race — in all its forms. The best way to deteriorate the fundamental and natural divinity of the human race would be to divide each other, and completely remove any essential life training from the education system. It’s working wonders…
For three people to take this on, it is a lot to juggle. Who/what outside support have you had?
My #1 support — aside from Jay and Alex — has been my grandmother. She supports RT financially, she supports me emotionally and continues to be the most accepting, loving and overall bad-ass ride or die BFF I’ve had to date.
In the last couple of months I’ve received tremendous support from Ken Folk (zine maker, artist & activist and interviewee), Rivka Yeker (Co-founder & managing editor of Hooligan Mag and interviewee), Hannah Kucharzak (poet, visual artists & interviewee) and Megan Stulberg (artist, blogger, activist & interviewee). And since our first ever Skype on August 4th, Ada Rajkovic (Co-founder and Executive Director of Sunday LA) has been my sidekick in solidifying the logistics and building the #CanILive2k16 tour. These people support me with resources and tasks, yes, but also the emotional support that they so generously offer to me whenever I might be showing signs of distress. It’s those times, without a doubt, that KEEP ME GOING.
What responses have you seen from backers and participants so far?
Participants and backers have expressed complete excitement about the project, perks (especially the #CanILive2k16 tee), and prospect tour. The most reoccurring response I’ve gotten from both backers and participants is “this is needed“, and I agree. I believe there is an undeniable necessity to have safe spaces for specific communities to go to heal, feel safe and share common experiences, but, for true action and progression there needs to be a plug. An entity that can serve as a connecting force, because ultimately, we have the same battle to fight: systemic oppression. The key word is systemic and the source is the system and the target is all of us.
Tell us a bit about your collaboration with Red Lighter Films?
On April 19th 2016, I hit up Chloe Feller with the proposition to have RLF be the production company behind the #CanILive2k16 campaign video. By June 17, we were shooting in Los Angeles. And by July 2, we had shot all 20 interviewees in five cities, finished shooting my part and I was sending Hobbes off, back to LA. The collaboration has taught me a lot, and brought my vision — that I had a hard time articulating — to life.
The first interview features Hannah Kucharzak talking about vulnerability. Often, people can forget that speaking about our imperfections and anxieties with ourselves and the world is just as vital in the fight against oppression as it is to discuss strengths. Is this one of the reasons you decide to ask “What is living?”
I completely agree, being open about our imperfections and flaws allows us to grow, and within a community, I believe it is the glue that holds people together. Without that vulnerability, pride eats at us and, of course, the outside perception is always shinier than the reality and those inaccurate perceptions can sever connections. But, the true reason why I asked “what is living?” was because of the direction of the campaign. We really want to bring a fundamental and universal message to the forefront and luckily for us, despite the different backgrounds & identities, all 20 responses were extremely fundamental and extremely universal. It always came back to existing as oneself and surviving, despite challenges or oppressions against people being themselves.
To you, what is living?
Living is an innate right, and I believe it’s a right we need to collectively fight for. So, true to MLK Jr.’s words “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, if we as a society allow the right to live to be violated for anyone, and anywhere in the world, then we allow that right to be violated for all.
The tour concludes in NY in December. What is going to be happening leading up to the event?
From now until the end of the year we will continue to collaborate with creatives, artists, activists, community leaders, organisations and initiatives to host workshops and events in 20+ cities all around the theme of living, surviving and thriving. Some of these workshops will be on wild harvesting, financial literacy and self-love. Events will be exhibits, pop-up markets and panels. We are collaborating with Honey Martin to exclusively show an art collection of five artists interpreting internet racism, it will be installed on the bus. Also, we will continue interviewing community influencers and experts towards the production of a full informative documentary.
After #CanILive2k16 is over, what are your plans?
The goal of #CanILive2k16 is to introduce the understanding of our rights being universal and expose how frequently and rampantly they are being violated. And, to ultimately, unite on that understanding. From there, we want to act against these violations and instead of asking ‘can we live?’, demanding ‘let us live’.
My short term goals are to get out of the business person role and get into conceptualising and styling informative editorials, designing sustainable merch and writing articles, instead of sponsorship proposals and grant applications — lol. My long term goals are to have a full-time international Rude Truth staff where everyone receives well over minimum wage, benefits, and paid work and personal vacations.
At that point, I see Rude Truth being an international social enterprise uniting communities, working towards turning rights into realities and offering free resources and grants to young people worldwide. I can’t fucking wait.
Words by Mollie Pyne.