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The Struggle Continues… By Sherry Cannon “We’re Going to Be Alright”

Recently I sat down with the young adults who make up the Yani Collective. They gathered on a Sunday afternoon at my house for an interview for this piece, which lasted four hours. Marc Supreme, Greg Wilson, Chanel Hargrave-Murry, Taryn Bradley, and Lexii Loushel are Yani Collective. The founder, Marc Supreme, chose the name because he likes its vibe. Yani stands for “You Are Not Involved.”

Yani Collective members: Greg Wilson, Chanel Hargrave-Murry, Marc Supreme, Taryn Bradley, Lexii Loushel and Mike Gills at the Sophisticated Ratchet Art Fair and Modeling Show.  Photo by Ezra Murry / Joker Visuals

Yani’s mission is “to enhance the Black texture of our society.” And the beautiful thing is they are committed to staying in Peoria. Often our young people go away to college, and never return to live here. These five are committed to bringing that “Big City Vibe” and infuse it into Peoria, and to providing “dope” family-friendly events that keep our dollars in Peoria, while bridging the gap between the old school and their peer group.

Yani Collective stressed that they are unapologetically Black, Young, and Educated. They refuse to be put in a particular mold, nor are they waiting on anyone or asking permission from anybody. Taryn added they do this respectfully and humbly, but they are unashamedly being their authentic selves.

Marc is the Program Director for 90.7 FM, Strictly Hip Hop, and Executive Producer and host of Rap Politics, a collaboration with Peoria Journal Star. He is writing his first book.

Taryn is a professor at ISU, where she teaches a course called the Social Foundation of Education, and she sells weed on the weekend. When I asked her should I print that, she laughed and said on the weekends she works at a Dispensary. Taryn is also in a Ph.D. Program at ISU. She is the creative design person of Yani Collective.

Yani Collective. Photo by Antwaun Banks / Product of the Projects

Greg’s day job is the Community Outreach Manager at Illinois Central College. He serves as President of the District 150 Board of Education and is working on a Ph.D. in business. Greg is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the co-founder of SikFramez, an online health and wellness company.

Chanel is the Director of Programs at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Peoria. She relocated to Peoria from California with a young daughter and what a couple of suitcases could hold. Chanel remembered working multiple jobs when she got here because failure was not an option. She brings that same hustle to Yani Collective.

The baby of the group is Lexii. She was raised in Peoria but has lived in New York City, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Houston. She was a contestant on America’s Next Top Model in 2018. Lexii is a Parent Advocate with Peoria Public Schools. Her dream is to open up her own modeling agency. Lexii says instead of running away from Peoria she decided to create what she envisions here in Peoria.

Yani Collective members and panelists at the DIGIM College Fair. Photo by Ezra Murry / Joker Visuals

Last November, Chanel, Greg, and Marc were selected by Peoria Magazine as part of its “40 Leaders under 40” recipients. For the past 28-years, Peoria Magazine has honored Stars of Central Illinois with this recognition.

All of the Yani Collective members have had their share of struggles and were transparent that it took a lot of hard work to get to the places they’re at now. It is clear to me, that those struggles have built character, commitment, hustle, and passion in each of them.

When asked if they plan to expand Yani Collective’s membership, they all said that they are good rocking with this core group. The group was formed out of the 2021 Juneteenth planning committee. When co-chairs Greg and Marc made the decision to take on the Juneteenth celebration, they put out a call-to-action to the African American community.

Marc said it was important for him to reach out to the people that had been holding down events like Juneteenth and get their blessing. He said that Sherry Carter-Allen, VP of NAACP Peoria Branch, told him “Do not mess this up, build on the past and make it a bigger and better event.”

The Juneteenth celebration was a huge success, it brought out hundreds of people to the John H. Gwynn Park and put a lot of dollars in Black vendors’ pockets. The event created a collaboration of dozens of organizations. Marc said without the sponsors, partners, and donors they could not have pulled it off.

Yani Collective also hosted Sophisticated Ratchet Art Fair and Modeling Show; Minds OverMatter Book Drive, where over 1,000 books of substance were donated to the Juvenile Detention Center; Toys N Da Neighborhood Toy Giveaway, where they partnered with Product of the Project, Black Chamber of Commerce, and Councilman Andre Allen. They provided toys and computers to over 300 families.

Yani collective’s latest event was held on February 1, 2022, at Carver Community Center, where they hosted the DIGIM (D*mn I Graduate In May) College Fair. This was a unique college fair experience, for students from Manual, Peoria High, Richwoods, and Quest High School.

A total of 23 colleges were in attendance, including 15 HBCUs. The students were able to participate in four panel discussions related to Government/Politics/Non-Profit, Business & Entrepreneurship, Arts & Entertainment, and Information Technology.

A few of the panel participants were Illinois State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D’Lamonte Gothitz, Producer for Grand Hustle Records, and Alexis Flakes, Digital Host & Producer for The Grio, a digital website whose content is geared toward African Americans.

Joker Visuals, owned and operated by Erza Murry, and Chanel’s husband provided the sound and music for the fair.

When I asked the group if they thought of themselves as role models, Lexii was the only one who embraced that idea. She shared that it was her personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which has made her comfortable in that space of role-modeling, in-particularly with young girls. She also mentors young boys, at the school where she works, on the appropriate way to address young ladies.

I closed out our marathon interview by giving them four of my favorite words and asked them to describe how the word relates to who they are.

Marc took on the word intentional, saying that Yani Collective operates from an end-goal. They are intentional about what they do, as well as what they won’t do.

Greg said that the word opportunity means no limits to what Yani Collective can do. He believes some of the events they’ve done will expand and go to another level.

As long as Yani Collective can make it make sense, be smart, and protect their brand, the possibilities are endless Taryn believes.

For Chanel, the word curious is all about where Yani Collective will be in 10-years. They may be going in different directions in their personal career paths, but what she knows for sure is that they will be friends forever.

I’m betting on these five amazing, smart, funny, innovative, and dope individuals; and because of that, what I know for sure, We’re Going to Be Alright!