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Race & Equity

Charlotte's Ohavia Phillips continues to spread love through activism and conversations

Whether it’s posting positive words with “Afrobeats and Affirmations” on Instagram or participating in campaigns and conversations that highlight the work being done in marginalized communities around Charlotte, Ohavia Phillips does the work with one goal in mind: to lead with and spread love.

“I'm the type of person that believes love conquers all,” she said. “I believe love is the strategy.”

Kaytlyn Gill
Ohavia Phillips

Love has always been Phillips’s message. But she says with so much racial discrimination and injustice going on, she felt it was important to really push it in her community. So, in February 2021, she purchased a billboard in uptown with the words “Lead with Love” in big, bold black and white letters and began stamping the message on sidewalks throughout the city.

Then Phillips’s career started to take off.

After the billboard, she took her YouTube show, “The Oh Show,” live at Blumenthal Performing Arts. Then she did another one at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. In between, she led conversations around activism and hosted a slew of events, including the baby shower of High Point’s very own singer Fantasia Barrino.

Eventually, the work Phillips was doing lead to her own podcast backed by OrthoCarolina’s Queen City Podcast Network — and a conversation with Georgia politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams at the Ovens Auditorium, which Phillips says has changed the trajectory of her life and career.

She says the conversation also made her feel seen.

“What I loved about that opportunity with Stacey Abrams is, in retrospect, it’s two women who were told, ‘Your look cannot survive your work,’” Phillips said. “There's a young girl who will see that post one day, maybe 2030, 2040. She's going to be a dark-skinned woman. She's going to identify as something completely what the world would say is off-kilter, and she will show the world, I deserve to be here, too. Forget your seat at the table and forget building the table. I'm the table.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Phillips was fully focused on being an entrepreneur, an activist and media mogul. Her talk show was doing pretty well. But once the pandemic hit and guests began canceling, Phillips didn’t know what to do next, causing her to feel depressed. Her show was her livelihood.

Ohavia Phillips
Ohavia Phillips stands with Stacey Abrams for a conversation at the Ovens Auditorium for Abrams' speaking tour.

But she got a job at a coffee shop and continued to work on her show and put herself out there, using her money from the coffee shop to cover show expenses. Eventually, the opportunities started flowing in. She also worked on being stronger emotionally so she could show up fully for herself and her community.

This year, she says she’s in a much better place mentally because she decided to focus on the only narrative she can control: her own.

“I had to learn to be comfortable in being uncomfortable. I had to learn that everybody's not going to like me,” Phillips said. “I had to learn that everybody's not going to want to hear the message of love. And the hardest thing to actually really accept was everybody doesn't want common unity.”

And she doesn’t let any of that stop her from spreading the message of love and advocating for those in her community. In fact, she says it’s her life experiences that make her better at her job.

“I had to go through the shelter experience to show up as a better, authentic advocate for the homeless. I had to know what it feels like to go through different (Charlotte-Mecklenburg) schools to advocate better for youth from different CMS schools,” Phillips said. “I had to work at a coffee house, a couple coffeehouses, a couple side hustles to know how to advocate better, and specifically for people who do not have the average 9-to-5’s, who do not have the proverbial normal jobs. So, all of these things, even as hard as it was and as heavy as it was, literally led to me just being a better advocate.”

Ohavia Phillips
Ohavia Phillips hosted the 2021 HBCU Culture Homecoming Battle of the Bands at the Bojangles Coliseum.

In addition to her job as an activist and host, she also works in the Communications, Marketing and Advertising Department at Central Piedmont Community College and is a new member of the school’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion board.

She’s also won numerous awards in 2021, including being named the Activist of the Year by Queen City Nerve and Influencer of the Year by Charlotte magazine.

Overall, Phillips says, this year’s accomplishments have made her feel grateful.

“Sometimes you don't see your foot in the fog," she said. "Sometimes you can't really tell where the step is going to take you. And it was such a breath of fresh air to get to the top for now, to get to this top and breathe and see it all come together.”

Today, Phillips says she finally feels like she’s doing what she’s called to do and impacting the city in ways that make her heart full.

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