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In honor of Jeannine “Cha Cha” Chartier (July 16, 1953–June 28, 2023)

Jeannine Chartier
Jeannine “Cha Cha” Chartier

Jeannine “Cha Cha” Chartier was unique, sharp, fearless, compassionate, funny, and above all an inspiration to so many people in the art community of Rhode Island and beyond. It is unthinkable to write about Jeannine in past tense. This is why it has taken me a year to be able to sit down and write this personal story about my relationship with her. 

Las Vegas 2014 with Jeannine
Las Vegas, November 2014

I first met Jeannine in August 2012, following an introduction email by Sherilyn (Sherry) Brown, then Education Director of Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA). At the Media Education Lab, our team had just finished teaching and researching First Star URI Ram Academy – a month-long program with foster youth at the University of Rhode Island (URI) library teaching media literacy. Jeannine had just got her Humanities award for her three decades of advocacy and artistic work to promote visibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion of people with disabilities as the Executive Director of Arts Equity (formally VSA Arts RI, the local chapter of the Kennedy Center’s national initiative). Jeannine came to pick me up in her car and we sat and talked about our work and passion to support children and adolescents who have disabilities. My eight years as a high school homeroom teacher to students with disabilities was no match to her decades of advocacy and support. Jeannine's stories of how society reacted to her coping with polio since infancy shaped her commitment to diversity, equity, visibility, and inclusion. Each time we met, I learned about new perspectives on her past and present struggles that inspired me to advocate more for diversity, equity, visibility, and inclusion. Over the years, we always referred to this meeting in her car as a beginning of a special relationship that would be more than just a professional one. In her words, “it is always dangerous to enter my car. You can never know what plans we will cook…”

CF Digital inaugural event
Central Falls 03.02.2014

And we certainly planned initiatives, executed programs and events that impacted the community…
We first collaborated on teacher training as part of RISCA GiveMe5 - a youth media challenge across the state of Rhode Island. A day after we first meet, Jeannine emailed AdoptionRI to plan what would become “My Digital Life”, an after-school club to teach media literacy to foster youth. We created CF Digital and supported the Public Library of Central Falls with a grant from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science and helped with the fundraising event that brought actor Alec Baldwin to support our work to provide youth development through media making. 


CF Digital Youth
Central Falls 03.02.2014

We gave workshops of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to professors and educators at Rhode Island College and URI. We produced a series of instructional videos about GiveMe5 daylong lab with youth across Rhode Island who created a one-minute movie following the format created with the support of Rhode Island Film & TV Office and our team of RI media educators. 

We shared our work at panels of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) conference in Philadelphia, the Midwest Symposium for Leadership in Behavior Disorders (MSLBD) in Kansas City, and at the National Communication Association (NCA) in Las Vegas. These panels lead to a special issue of the Journal of Media Literacy Education (JMLE) on media literacy and disability studies – an issue that our community of practice is still finding its way to discuss. All my knowledge of UDL started with our workshop together. 


Provincetown with Jeannine
Provincetown, 12.30.2014

In addition to all the impactful work we did together, Jeannine was an amazing friend. We sat for hours talking about art, accessibility, media, but also queerness, Studio 54, U.S. culture and politics. Jeannine would be my cultural translator. She would not shy away from difficult conversations, and I felt safe to share strange situations or encounters that she would demystify for me as a foreigner. 

She was the one who showed me Provincetown, introduced me to Mardi Gras Parade, Cajun cuisine, and Zydeco music

Anarchists Of Chicago
Anarchists of Chicago by Walter Crane

One great example of her special character was her gift to us as we moved to Chicago: a tea towel with Walter Crane's image the Chicago Anarchists. Initially, I was amused by the 19th century design and the notion of anarchists of Chicago. But as a lifelong educator and advocate, Jeannine was much more profound than just giving us a tea towel. As I started to read about the May 1st 1886 in Chicago's Haymarket Square, I realized that the "anarchists" were buried and commemorated in the cemetery across the street from our house. Moreover, it taught me about the global significance of their sacrifice and advocacy for just pay and humane working conditions. 
This was Jeannine! Always educating and advocating for accessibility and equity.



Friesem Wedding
Newport 7.7.2015 

For our wedding, Elizaveta and I asked Jeannine to be our officiant. Jeannine represented our values and brought a particular flavor to the special day. Jeannine was excited at the opportunity and took a short online course to be certified as an officiant in RI. I still remember our meeting at the dinner where Jeannine used the salt and pepper to show us how the ceremony of the wedding vows could go. On the wedding day, Jeannine performed the most beautiful ceremony with an unforgettable heartfelt speech. Reading her thank you email made me cry as I realize how much I missed her. Here is Jeannine’s full email typed on her phone:


The very best sharing of love...a perfect day (production & all that jazz -no easy task;-) that made everyone feel honored to be included in & share. Awesome combination of what was most meaningful with a little fun & sometimes funny ! 

AND, I am very happy that you asked - & had confidence in me - to officiate... The first ceremony from within the Chapel of ChaCha 

During the after party i observed a bazillion precious moments shared between friends - old + new- & family that you brought together. #lovewins 

hope u can relax a bit now, congratulations...

What.A.Fabulous.Day!! To the blue monster & the princess chicken  <3

all luv x0 

'ras' cha

To Jeannine “Cha Cha” Chartier,

Last Picture with Jeannine
Providence 7.29.2022

the irreplaceable fierce fighter and wicked good friend with the warmest heart.
Thank you for being an inspiration, and educator, and for sharing so many special moments and friends. You left us too soon, and as your chosen family, we mourn your absence from our lives. Wherever you are now, I am sure you are advocating for more accessibility, visibility, and art as you are plan your Mardi Gras parade in the Chapel of Cha Cha.



You are welcome to learn more about Jeannine and donate to the Jeannine Chartier Funds at the Rhode Island Foundation.

Brown University Blue Bear
Brown University 07.18.2018

By yonty,