We all know America Ferrera as a familiar face on our television screens, from NBC’s Superstore to her breakout role as the title character in ABC’s Ugly Betty. But in the past few years she’s emerged in the public eye in a very different way: as a leader on the frontlines of the activist movement. Her organization Harness, which she co-founded with husband Ryan Piers Williams and fellow actor Wilmer Valderrama, sets its sights on getting communities engaged in the protection of human rights and the marginalized. “We use the power of relationship and storytelling to connect hearts and activate people around social issues they really care about,” she tells us, adding that its impact can come full circle, enacting very real change in the entertainment industry—including the shows and music you love. Learn more—and get inspired—in our chat here with America.
A community of artists and grassroots leaders who envision a world where human rights are protected by the power of the people. Harness works to center the stories of marginalized communities in popular culture so that their rights can be protected.
And the mission at its very core?
To build deep relationships between artists and frontline activists who have the power to create art and culture that can compel our world toward a more representative and just place for all.
Why was this cause, and launching this organization, so important for you?
We started Harness after the 2016 election. Many of us were feeling like we wanted to do something to support communities that were under attack. I knew a lot of leaders from those communities because of the years I've spent advocating for causes I believe in, so I worked with my husband, Ryan Piers Williams, and our friend Wilmer Valderrama, to bring together leaders from vulnerable communities with our personal community for a conversation, just days after the election. That first meeting was magic and sparked many ways that people were able to support each other. We wanted to continue to bring together people who have resources and influence with the communities who need it the most. We started as a group of friends in a living room and have grown to a community that has amplified the voices of organizations to reach millions.
What did you discover in bringing these two groups, activists and artists, together?
Simply that there were very few spaces built for these two powerful communities to engage meaningfully. Throughout my career I’ve experienced all the surface ways that artists are asked to support causes and I craved a deeper involvement and understanding of the issues I was being asked to support in transactional ways. We use the power of relationship and storytelling to connect hearts and activate people around social issues they really care about. We educate and engage with organizers and activists to articulate and reclaim their narratives in popular culture; we engage with artists and influencers to help them best use and leverage their power and platform; and we create spaces for activists and artists to build community, inspire one another, and form collaborations.
Could you tell us about some of the programs and the social issues they address?
Harness does work in three main areas:
1. We are building a community of artists and activists who are in deep relationship with each other and are working together to support our most vulnerable communities.
2. We are working with writers and executives at television networks like NBCUniversal and Netflix to tell more authentic, diverse stories on television and in film.
3. We are working with media companies like Now This to amplify the most important narratives of our time online to millions of viewers.