Millennial Girl Bosses Find Their Voice At Brown Girls Love Power Day
Maybe it’s the outspoken women trying to topple the patriarchy, or maybe it’s the slow and steady rise of intersectionality, but somehow the arrival of 2018 feels like an antidote to its predecessors.
That spirit was exhibited by the dozens of hopeful young women who attended the annual BrownGirlsLove POWER Day mini-conference. Hosted by style blogger, social media specialist, and LoveBrownSugar.com founder Christina Brown the mini-conference was developed to empower and motivate millennial women of color.
Attendees arrived to the marquee of the Helen Mills Theater bearing the pink, black and white Brown Girls Love logo and smiling images of the day’s speakers. The street was filled with vloggers hopping out of cabs selfie sticks extended trying to capture every second of the experience.
Staff clad in the signature black Brown Girls Love sweatshirts greeted everyone as they shimmied out of oversized coats and accessories like pearl adorned ear muffs handing them folders full of relevant information and directing them to the appropriate areas.
Photographer Joe Chea and videographer Sebastian Prudent dutifully captured the day but made sure to indulge in some of the delicious Caribbean Pearl catering available to attendees during their down time.
The day consisted of panels, workshops, and networking opportunities where brown girls could ask questions, learn trade secrets, and communicate with their online girl crushes. The first panel consisted of four women who were “Thriving and Under 30”.
Not only did the panelists discuss their success in cultivating influences and developing partnerships they revealed why they entered the digital space in the first place. Popular influencer Jade Kendle shared that she started her site as a response to dealing with advanced cyberbullying tactics like her picture being used to “catfish.” “I wanted people to know who I was” said Kendle. Bullying hasn’t been the only part of her digital life that has been difficult while becoming overwhelmed during her final semester of graduate school she actually thought about quitting blogging but the next week she was offered the opportunity to participate in a major campaign including a Colgate Commercial.
She told the audience that their darkest points were “when you have to be spiritually connected with your gifts and God and allow him to guide your steps.”
She is taking that spiritual connection with her to this next phase in her career. She described her transition from the beauty sphere into business as “natural” saying “to me it’s natural to take what you’ve learned and what you’ve been blessed with and pass it along to others.” While she is happy to share “tips and tricks” she doesn’t advocate for a cookie cutter approach to becoming a full time creative.“ I know that everyone has a special gift or something to bring to the table.”
Her fellow panelist Gia Peppers spoke about the importance of authenticity as well. “I would have more followers or more buzz if I did do certain things but I just can't do it” she said. “I’ve always been the type to look at the long game and the big picture more than what's trendy and what's hot. What’s trendy and what’s hot isn’t going to be hot in twenty years but I’m still trying to be here in 20 years. So when I look at career icons for me, like a Queen Latifah or like an Oprah they’re people who always stayed true to who they were no matter what.”
Having gone through “different management the past couple of years” Kendle managed to “learn alot from the people around me.” She credits her success to being able to work with, learn from, and support her peers. She and Brown connected over a long lunch in Houston and have been avid supporters of one another since.
While her career path is unconventional Kendle is not alone in being able to transition the skills derived from her formal education into an unexpected space. “I know a lot of creative people. It’s hard for them to be organized and its hard for them to get their stuff together” she said “but for me I do it really well and I think it's from me going to college, learning to balance everything, time management learning how to be flexible.”
She has a Bachelors of Science in Development and Family Studies and a Master’s in Educational Policy and leadership with a focus on higher education making her uniquely qualified to create content like hair tutorials. “It's almost the same” she said. “The same way that you think of making a lesson plan or a strategy for your group to learn a concept it's really like the same thing almost. It’s just a more creative way of doing it.”
While she “used to make agendas for meetings” and “set up outlines for papers” now she does “the exact same thing for my videos, I set up an outline.” She says “it’s really all about making sure you understand what your transferable skills are” and “being able to say ‘okay yes I had this experience but when I take away the specifics of that experience what do I have left? I have time management skills. I have the ability to work with a lot of different types of people.” While some criticize content creators for what they see as the dumbing down of culture she made it clear that “I know how to write an email. I know how to conduct myself professionally, those are the skills that you learn no matter what degree you get if you take advantage of your opportunities.”
She said being recognized by the LoveBrownSugar brand “feels amazing and like everything is coming full circle. I’ve been a huge supporter of Christina since day one and she’s been a huge supporter of me, a huge part of where I am today is because of Christina.”
A mother of two, Brown’s daughter Cadence was the inspiration behind the LoveBrownSugar satellite brand BabyBrownSugar.com, Brown wanted to ensure that mothers who were in entrepreneurs weren’t left out of the conversation.
The “Confessions of Mompreneur” panel featured hand crafted jewelry designer Melanie White, founder of the lauded boutique communications firm Whit PR Dreena Whit, founder of Lamik Beauty Kim Roxie, and Glamaholic Lifestyle founder Mia Ray.
White, who Brown joked was “looking like Vanna White” in her satin tea length dress, was adamant about not losing herself in her mommy duties. Instead of changing her entire life after becoming a mother she opted to make her daughter Ann Drew apart of her life instead. In fact the toddler is her mother’s youngest employee “when we’re packing orders she’s right there with me.” She teaches her daughter who has already booked modeling gigs with Macy's, Target, and Children’s Place that “inner beauty is the most important thing. You have to be beautiful inside or else it doesn’t matter. You won't get the connections, people won’t want to work with you. I’m big on being personable and nice to everybody.”
In attendance was past panelist and founder of LIT Brooklyn Denequa Williams who was thrilled to finally meet Ray in person.
Like many millennial entrepreneurs the two connected digitally and had produced a sold out collaboration together without ever being in the same room.
Also there was Africa Miranda, a frequent collaborator of Brown’s and a fellow entrpuenrer. Her Beauty by Africa Miranda cosmetics line has just expanded to include a luxe body mist.
Brown spoke about the need to employ guilt-free “hard stops” with clients to make time for herself and her children. This tactic is used by Peppers to ensure she meets her commitment to the D.C. Wizards as an NBA in-arena host. “Amtrak is an incredible tool” said Peppers “It gets you to DC in like 2 ½, 3 hours...so if I'm working in an office that day or working on a shoot in the morning I’ll be like I have to be out by 12:30.”
The next panel titled “Your Voice, Your Way” consisted of black women excelling in the podcasting space.
Peppers spoke about her experience being apart of “The Black Girl Podcast.” “It's almost like an audio diary” she said “you can go back to the first episode and all of us were so different and just growing together. It’s such a beautiful thing. And impacting other people? That's crazy to me, that people love us! It’s so awesome to just put that in the world, that energy, that togetherness, that you okay sis. None of us are perfect but we’re all trying and so Black Girl Podcast has been such a blessing. I’m honored to work with my friends. I respect them. I love them. I celebrate them and they are some of the most incredible women I’ve ever met.”
While reality stars, comedians, and models come into the space with existing audiences it can be difficult for someone without an existing “brand” to stand out no matter how good their content. Dreams in Drive host Rana Campbell spoke about her experience starting her podcast without a following.
“You have to really be in it for the long haul” she said to the audience sharing that “I have two thousand downloads per week now but for thirty-two weeks I didn’t break two hundred downloads.”
Having a built in audience isn’t a guaranteed slam dunk. Charli Penn talked about Essence needing to lead their audience into the medium and talked about how determined she and her co-hosts were to continue growing the podcast to offer their community something different.
“Cori, Yolanda, and myself decided to do the podcast because we are coworkers and we have this amazing synergy. We’ve worked together for over 7 years so we have this unique coworker, sister, girlfriend vibe… so we wanted to take that synergy and that magic and share it with everybody else. We wanted everyone to feel like they're working at black girl magic headquarters for even just an hour.”
Outside of black girl magic headquarters the medium can seem really bleak for women of color. While black women are overrepresented in areas like music and pop culture the most prominent faces in business themed podcasts are mostly white and male. Campbell wasn’t shy about wondering aloud “where are the black women?”
While she and her fellow panelist host of the Side Hustle Pro podcast Nicaila Matthews Okom could easily compete against one another they choose to work with each other instead.
Matthew Okom was frank about the need for collaboration in the space. Addressing the crowd she asked “Who here likes their coins?” as the manicured hands rose into the air she said “then you need to be collaborating.” She then went on to explain that without the founder of the Joblouges podcast she would not have known the industry standard for advertising rates reminding everyone that it’s easy to “underprice yourself” and that “these corporations will let you.”
When an audience member asked about the panelists experiences with brands reluctance to work with companies explicitly catered towards women of color they held no punches about their personal difficulties. Ever the optimist though Charli Penn pointed out that when the undeniable impact of phrases like “black girl magic” starts popping up on Japanese websites it’s clear that society is “coming around."
A sign of that of that is the returning of Essence to its roots. The magazine was recently acquired by entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Richelieu Dennis making it once again black owned.
Penn shared that “this is an exciting time for Essence. The brand has always been relevant and important and I'm excited to see how much more we can grow under his leadership and under his care. So Essence Ventures is about to be lit!”
She might seem like a natural on the “Yes, Girl!”podcast but the trained journalist was initially nervous to start telling her own story. Luckily though “At essence you have to wear a lot of hats. So it was like ‘oh girl go do that video on camera’ ‘go on stage in front of 2000 people at Essence Fest’ ‘go!’ And you didn't have a chance to think about it.” She’s now grateful for the challenge because as she said “the fear does pass.”
After participants were treated to beauty experiences by Lamik Beauty and The Mane Choice they had the chance to get up close and personal with a new Toyota. Brown was glad to work with the car company, the event’s presenting sponsor, because “they do so much for our community.”
She referred to them as a “blessing” and said their “Lets Go Places” hashtag fit right in because all of the women there “can’t stay in the same place.”
The day ended with Brown extending a heartfelt thank you to everyone in attendance including members of her own family would could be seen scurrying about throughout the day making sure that everyone was having the best time possible.
Attendees could be seen taking selfies and swapping information as they left ready to face 2018 by embracing their power and leaving the fear behind.
Photo Credits: Joe Chea for LoveBrownSugar