Adventures in Kekeland: Seeing the Gold I Want to Hold at the 2nd Annual 35 Heirs Gala
After watching The Grammys double down on a legacy of gatekeeping singer Solange Knowles issued a gilded battle cry on social media in February of 2017. The singer instructed her followers to “create your own committees, build your own institutions, give your friends awards, award yourself, and be the gold you wanna hold.” And while some were content just to thrust the message across their timelines others acted on it.
Sherrod Lewis was one of the later. The founder of Heir PR, a boutique PR firm, with a history of supporting artists with large visions and few resources decided to use his contacts to develop “The Heirs List” to recognize “those who redefine what it means to be [an] HEIR by courageously breaking down barriers to enrich the lives of others.” Divided into categories including “Look” “Listen” “Watched” and “Penned” it seeks to “highlight achievements within our community annually to people of color, from ages 18 to 35.”
This weekend, the iPhone 8 Plus that refused to stay in my pocket and I had the pleasure of attending the second annual celebration as a honoree. And as I walked into the Brooklyn event space I was floored by the amount of effort that it must have taken the organizer and volunteers to turn this Bushwick location into their interpretation of “Wakanda.”
Lush green centerpieces were surrounded by gold chairs and royal purple accents highlighted each place setting as groups of friends and colleagues raised their Martini & Rossi topped cocktails.
Lewis spoke about his inspiration for the evening’s theme with passion in his voice. He cited the many heroes and heroines that don’t get celebrated each February and remarked that it was important that the attendees realize that “Wakanda is here.”
The event was a remarkable and affirmative experience for me. Everywhere I turned there was a smile or a kind word. As I made my way to the front of the room to collect my certificate I passed people I respected. I passed people I admired. And their faces all looked like mine.
But the day after I didn’t see the media outlets that are supposed to represent me, the ones that often cover mainstream events they aren’t even invited to talking about it.
One of the presenters jewelry designer Maliya McNaughton, a dear friend of Lewis', shared how proud she was of him for putting the event together and praised him for being able to secure a liquor sponsor, something not many independently owned and financed black public relations firms are able to do despite it seeming like a small task to outsiders.
On the premiere episode of “The Red Pill” podcast host Van Lathan pointed out to actor Taye Diggs that “we seem to get really upset about situations like the Oscars, or the Emmys, or The Grammys… however we have awards shows that celebrate African-Americans exclusively and it’s very hard to get some of the A-list stars to go to those awards shows, to accept those awards.” Diggs replied that “Black people we’re still behind and that’s not necessarily our fault. We’re still playing catch up in certain instances.” He went on to say that when it comes to black award ceremonies “these shows may not run as smoothly as those that have been on the air longer.”
While I too have been subject to lackluster experiences produced by people who thought that watching reruns of “The Hills” and following Karen Civil on Instagram was all they needed to be an effective party planner, I’ve also seen people everyday putting everything they have into trying to create change not receiving the support they deserve. As a Heir’s List honoree my praise for the effort their team put into making obviously can’t be considered impartial but Lewis isn’t the only organizer I have seen not getting his just due.
I’ve seen reporters who practically elbow one another to get standing room only at fashion shows skip presentations from black designers where they’re seated in the front row altogether. I’ve seen influencers opt out of wearing clothes they’re gifted until they see them on J.Lo or Kendall Jenner first. I’ve overheard attendees complain about things like the catering or the size of the gift bags without considering the sweat equity that was put into securing them in the first place. I’ve watched black blogs ignore black-owned businesses started in their backyards until they’re acknowledged by mainstream media.
The allure of the perks that come with being a creative is strong. Everyone wants to feel like they’ve made it to that top tier (whether those at the top want them there or not). But as we send unfulfilled interview requests and get left out of major awards shows we should as Diggs said be “willing to consider” that our institutions don’t have the benefit of generations of financial support or social capital to underwrite their attempts to celebrate us. And that in order to get it they’re going to need our help spreading the word about what they're trying to do.
Until we invest the same energy in actively appreciating our own communities as we do in seeking validation from institutions that were never designed to celebrate our creativity and traditions that leave little room for our experiences we’re always going to be disappointed.
Because being “the gold you want to hold” is about more than a retweet. It’s about showing up.
Photo Credits: Eshama J