LoveLakeland’s January 2019 CityMaker

Jenna Cherry

By Jonathan Camargo

Pictured: CREATE at Catapult, Gillian Fazio

For as beautiful as it can be, life isn’t easy, nor is it fair. In times of mental turmoil, with ships tied to shaky shores, perhaps the beacon of hope we so desperately seek lies within the depths of our own creative potential. For our latest Lakeland CityMaker, that means more than just finding the time to doodle – she’s changing lives and improving her own, one whimsical design at a time. Jenna Cherry is a senior at Southeastern University studying communications, on track to graduate this upcoming April. Oh, and she’s also quite the artist. An Empty Easel Jenna’s found a home in Lakeland, although she’s originally from Brandon. She attended high school at Lakeland Christian School before settling here for college, a decision that would propel her creativity to new heights in a city that’s been more than receptive to her talents. “Basically, I started selling prints and some yarn, wall-hanging things way back in the day and started doing local markets,” Jenna said. “It all kind of took off from there.”

Today, Jenna runs Twenty Seven, an artistic design company with a flair for all things retro, vintage, and covered-in-color. She’s done work for local clients such as Rafa Natural and Foundation Coffee and is a current vendor at The Shop Across The Street. The process getting there hasn’t always been so glamorous, though.

“I started Twenty Seven in my dorm room my second year at Southeastern,” Jenna shared. “Now, some of the local businesses have asked me to do design work for them and I LOVE that.”

It’s easy to see why these businesses want in on Jenna’s unique art style – it’s reminiscent of simpler times, with Lakeland at the core. A quick venture to Twenty Seven’s Instagram page nets you a bouquet of eye-candies saturated in color, highlighting the whimsical designs that Jenna’s best known for. That very same page serves as an important reminder to the struggles that members of our community face on an everyday basis, often kept tucked away from the glamour and limelight of social media.

A Brushstroke With Life

Twenty Seven may be focused on the arts now, but it wasn’t always that way. Originally started as a mental health blog, Twenty Seven was inspired by the challenges that Jenna faced in her day-to-day reality. Anxiety. Intrusive thoughts. Nightmares. Depression. These concerning mental health conditions not only impeded upon Jenna’s days – they regularly consumed them.

“The first time I ever went to the doctor for anxiety, I was 11,” Jenna shared. “So that’s kind of been like a thing that I’ve managed and balanced through high school.”

Conditions worsened in the summer before Jenna was slated to start college. From bouts of crushing sadness, even while with family and friends, to random outbursts of tears, Jenna’s emotions became a beast of their own, mercilessly placing strain on both her and her relationships with others.

After encouragement from her mother, Jenna started to see a counselor about the issues she was facing. Here, she was diagnosed with PMDD, otherwise known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

“It’s basically like PMS on steroids,” Jenna said.

PMDD causes those afflicted to experience debilitating physical and emotional symptoms, such as mood swings, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, irritability, and anxiousness, to name a few. Those affected by this condition are often unable to lead their normal lives while being overcome by the weight of their uncooperative mental states.

Diagnosis in-hand, Jenna tried a variety of medications to alleviate the symptoms of her condition, but these were done through means of trial and error, meaning that her struggles weren’t destined to disappear overnight.

“There was always like this five days out of the month where I was just totally not Jenna,” she said. “I would just sob, I couldn’t go to class, I could hardly talk to people. I would go to church and have to leave because I’d get so sad and it just wouldn’t stop.”

Things started on an upswing for Jenna after a recommendation that she see a psychiatrist for her condition. His suggestion to her was simple – well, as simple as neurotransmitters can be – she needed serotonin. This in mind, he prescribed Jenna an antidepressant, granting her a new chance to live life again, on her terms.

“Like, if you had to narrow down one thing that helped me the most, it was that because it got me to a place where I can manage it,” Jenna said.

Though the process wasn’t easy, Jenna’s efforts to attain a better quality of life have paid their weight in gold. She’s in a better place now, but the fight’s far from over. Even today, Jenna’s art serves as both an outlet and a reminder as to who she truly is.

“For me, it was more helpful to stop thinking about myself. Like, I don’t feel good or I feel anxious, so I’m just gonna focus on something else, and that’s been Twenty Seven for me,” Jenna said.

“It’s important to know that Jenna isn’t just using the platform to share the story of Twenty Seven – she uses it as a point of contact to reach those that also suffer from mental health issues, right in our own backyards.”

“It’s important to know that Jenna isn’t just using the platform to share the story of Twenty Seven – she uses it as a point of contact to reach those that also suffer from mental health issues, right in our own backyards.”

Yellow, the Life Color

Nowadays, Jenna uses her knowledge and experience to keep her struggles with mental health under control, but that doesn’t mean she hides them by any means. On Instagram, the most popular platform she uses for her business, Jenna notes that she gets the most engagement when she’s open and transparent about the issues she faces.

“Every time I post anything that is about mental health or about me having a really hard time, how I got better, or things like that, those are the most well-received posts I do,” Jenna shared.

“There’s been a lot of people who have approached me with similar stories to mine, or friends with similar stories, or significant others with similar stories, who’ve just said ‘thank you’ for sharing,” Jenna said. “We’ve really created a cool community for people who are looking for hope, cause everything I do has a little bit of hopefulness in it.”

Right down to her mission statement, Jenna truly does everything she can to “bring sunshine inside” for those that need it most.

In an effort to help others understand her condition, she came up with a color code to indicate how she was feeling on a given day. On blue days, her mental struggles took precedent above all else. On yellow days, Jenna felt like Jenna, with nothing blocking her genuine self from shining through.

“My goal with Twenty Seven has always been to spread yellow,” she said. “Simply, I just want to bring more yellow to Lakeland, kind of being a voice and an advocate for mental health, but also creating art that people really enjoy and find beautiful.”

A Brighter Future

In the present, Jenna’s still surprised by the receptiveness of our community to her art.

“It’s just been crazy how much support I’ve felt here,” Jenna said. “No one receives [my art] as well as people in Lakeland. They’re just so excited about artists and small business.”

With graduation only a few months away, Jenna’s goals have changed a little, but Lakeland remains central to almost everything she does.

“I just love Lakeland, there’s no where in the whole world like it,” Jenna shared. “My ultimate goal is to have my own brick-and-mortar store and to just have roots planted in this community.”

In her hopes for the future of our community, she’s optimistic given the direction we’re already headed, with more small businesses and a supportive community to back them.

As for Jenna, she’s helping pave the way for a brighter, sunnier, and more yellow Lakeland – something we can all celebrate.

If you’d like to support Jenna, you can visit her Instagram page here or attend her mural unveiling on January 19 at the Shop Across The Street, featuring food, live music, and Honey the Pug!