Chicago-born media maven and social entrepreneur Anna DeShawn has been a mover and shaker within Chicago's LGBTQ community her entire adult life.
One of the ways DeShawn has made an impact is through her media company E3 Radioan online radio network curated from a queer point of view. Her show, Anna DeShawn & the QCrew, is co-hosted with Brandee Dyson and has been live every Thursday night for the past eight years. The next show to join the lineup was Conversations with Angie Harvey. Harvey has been helping grown folks grow up on her show since 2012. Recently, DeShawn expanded E3 Radio's reach from two to three concurrent shows to being on the air around the clock.
"My vision for E3 Radio has always been to grow, expand and be the number one queer radio network in the country," said DeShawn. "It started as an online college radio network that distributed PSA's and grew from there. E3 Radio produces authentically edgy streams that I call the new age NPR. With this expansion, we have more shows joining the lineup and we play dope queer and independent artists in high rotation. We are #QueerRadioDoneRight. I am invested in us thriving and not just surviving. We deserve a platform created by us, for us."
E3 Radio operates on three pillars: education, enlightenment and entertainment. These pillars drive everything DeShawn and her team does in terms of programming and community outreach efforts.
DeShawn said that Lena Waithe and the late Vernita Gray's appearances on her show were the most memorable.
"When we had Lena on the show she was an up and coming writer and now she is an Emmy award winning writer. She was so down to earth and has been supportive of what we are building," said DeShawn. "Interviewing Vernita was an honor. I had the opportunity on a couple of occasions and each time was so meaningful. She is a legend and what I love about doing this work is not only talking with people and hearing their stories but being able to share that with the world."
Among her many E3 Radio team members across the country is music curator Jace Smith.
"I have enjoyed working with the entire E3 radio family in my various roles within the company," said Smith. "We cover stories that are pertinent to our community and raise the Black queer voice loud and proud. Most importantly, we bring our authentic selves to the work. Anna is a natural born leader and has invested her time and expertise into growing her brand. It is beautiful to watch her dream unfold and it is even more exciting to be on the journey alongside her. Anna is grounded in her faith, and with that is able to do this hard work while breaking ground in radio."
Media has always been DeShawn's passion going back to her childhood watching ESPN with her dad. Her first on-air inspiration was Robin Roberts who covered many major sporting events before moving on to general reporting and Good Morning America.
DeShawn grew up on Chicago's south side and graduated from Drake University with a degree in radio/television and Ithaca College with a master's in communication. During her undergrad years, DeShawn learned how important it is for people in marginalized communities to tell their stories from their perspective.
For DeShawn, being in leadership positions has been a given since high school where she was the student body president. She was also Drake University's Coalition of Black Students president and is currently Affinity Community Services' board president along with her ownership of E3 Radio.
Through Affinity, DeShawn showcases her activism on a daily basis.
"I have always advocated for equity even before I knew what equity meant," said DeShawn. "For example, during high school I thought it absurd that the cheerleaders did not cheer for the girls basketball team. So, when I became student body president we changed it. The core of my activist work is justice."
DeShawn has been a part of Affinity for 13 years beginning with the young adult drop-in group XPU. She came to the organization because she wanted to find community.
"I followed them a long time before I built up the courage to go visit during a break from college," said DeShawn. "I remember having so much anxiety. I actually make it a point not to forget that feeling because it grounds me. It reminds me that I was not always confident in who I am and who I love. I was not always comfortable in my own skin. Affinity provided a space for me."
Over the years DeShawn has helped Affinity with their website and other creative work. Five years ago, former Executive Director Kim Hunt reached out to her about joining the board and at first she was not sure about it but one question kept cropping up while she was contemplating the invitation, "What are you doing to help sustain Affinity?" and her answer was always, "Not enough."
That answer sealed the deal for DeShawn and she has been on the board ever since. She calls being the board president an honor and a huge responsibility.
"I am humbled by all the work, love and commitment that is poured in by our executive director, Imani Rupert-Gordon, our Board and core group of volunteers," said DeShawn. "We are in our 23rd year and it is our job to ensure the organization is here for many years to come."
"I could not be more impressed with Anna across the board," said Rupert-Gordon. "Even in the short time that she has served in this role; her love, appreciation and respect for Affinity shines through all of her ideas and decisions. I am excited for what our team has been able to accomplish together, and even more excited for what we will accomplish in the future. I love working in partnership with Anna, and I am inspired by her leadership at Affinity."
Another piece of DeShawn's activism emerges around faith and sexuality. In 2011, DeShawn joined the Church Within a Church Movement ( CWACM ). CWACM is a collection of LGBTQA theologians, scholars, and members who intentionally disrupt privilege, fight against religious violence, develop justice ministries across the country, and celebrate the spectrum of identities. DeShawn has previously served on the coordinating team and in 2013 collaborated with CWACM for the "My God is Not a Bully" campaign. They interviewed over 40 people about their relationships or non-relationship with God as well as how they have reconciled with their faith and sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Additionally, E3 Radio has hosted the annual Purple Tie Affair benefit gala ( since 2014 ) at Sidetrack. To date, the event has gifted over $4,000 to various Chicago non-profits. This year's gala will take place Oct. 4 at Sidetrack with the proceeds earmarked for Affinity and CWACM.
When DeShawn is not busy with E3 Radio; she likes to cook, run and watch/play basketball. She also loves spending time with her wife Kaya Rainey.
In terms of DeShawn's commitment to the greater community and her vision for the future she said, "I am determined to ride media into its next era by utilizing online radio streams to tell the stories that need to be heard. We must build and own our own. I want to be a part of the social entrepreneur movement that believes you can be a successful business owner while giving back at the same time."
See www.E3radio.fm/, affinity95.org/ and www.mygodisnotabully.com/ for more information.