Black Women in Media Storm Microsoft
“Can I ask you something?” As I rummaged through my clearance Kate Spade tote in search of my bus ticket a security guard spoke to me. I gave him an uncharacteristically bright smile, still on a high from a day spent discussing some of my favorite topics with some of my favorite people, and said “yea sure.”
“What was this?” he asked. “Who ARE ya’ll?”
The ‘what’ was the annual Black Women in Media conference. The ‘who’ was a group of incredible black women committed to changing the narrative about their communities.
On March 28th New York’s Microsoft building was stormed by clouds of coconut oil and determination as the technology giant hosted over 100 women gathered by Judith Jacques to listen to experts experiences, participants in workshops, receive pampering, and make invaluable connections.
Jacques was inspired to found Black Women in Media, an offshoot of BlackStreet, because “I was tired of hearing that the mainstream media controlled our story.”
While working to change the narrative of black people is rewarding for Jacques it presents her with challenges as well. “Sometimes I question it. Like God is that really what you want me to be? Can’t I do something else? Can't I be something else?” But despite her moments of doubt she knows her mission is clear. She spoke to the women in the room with confidence stating that “I'm much more than what the media portrays me as.”
The day began with a panel featuring two radio hosts who took two very different paths to defying expectations over the New York airwaves.
A Detroit native Jazzie Belle connected with the East Coast confidence of then radio host Wendy Williams right away. While beginning her career in hip-hop working for Michelle Carter she was drawn to the magnetism of the “day-time diva” but it was the effect Williams had on others that really sparked her interest. “She is demanding everyone’s attention and she’s not even here” said Jazzie Belle of Williams “I wanna be that girl.”With a new radio gig, buzzed about interviews, a devoted social media following, and even appearances on Williams' highly rated daily talk show she's clearly on her way.
For her fellow panelist Eutopia it was Angie Martinez who inspired her to give radio a try “You couldn’t tell me that she wasn’t my Puerto Rican cousin!”
Like her inspiration Eutopia had a genuine love for hip-hop but when she had to choose between two internships she chose the top forty station so she wouldn’t be tempted to fangirl her way out a solid opportunity. “I could just focus on learning.” The host stands out in “mainstream” radio as a black woman. She stated that “Everywhere I’ve worked in the past ten years there hasn’t been anyone who looks like me.” And while the democratization of media has made some fear market saturation she shrugged off concerns about potential competitors “There’s competition in everything you do in life.”
She advised attendees not to let pressure make them play small in the corporate world. “They may act like they doing you a favor, nah you doing them a favor! [My boss] I literally stalked this man for like a year and a half because I knew my talent would make that a better place. I beat Ryan Seacrest in the midday” she said, prompting the room to break out in applause, “no one was doing that.”
While many attendees had questions about the merits of formal education Jazzie Belle advised acquiring practical skills in addition to college credits. “I took every class, all of them. There’s nothing wrong with learning how to read a teleprompter or learning how to read a script.” She invested the time in learning software programs like Final Cut to make sure she didn’t have to rely on others to execute her vision. “I was the camera girl, I was the host, I was the producer, I was a one man show, one woman show excuse me.”
After the panel Jazzie Belle posed for pictures with attendees as well as her manager who smiled brightly as as she collected business cards from those who wanted to connect with the “Women In Hip Hop Podcast” host.
After a catered lunch that included several pasta options that were well worth the calories was served author and Queen Boss contestant Lucinda Cross stirred everyone up with a speech about the important of confidence in professional spaces. “Learn to accept a compliment” said Cross “If somebody tells you girl I like your shoes don’t say ‘oh these were only $30’ she didn’t ask you that!”
I’ll admit I saw myself reflected in her statements. Throughout the day I received a ton of compliments on my hair and shoes and I just had to tell anyone who would listen that they were from Target. I took out my Effie’s Paper notebook and paid close attention as she said “I need you be conceited today. I need you to embrace your power today. Whatever it is you do I want you to do it to the utmost be extra.”
When I was done internally dragging myself for my tendency to overshare I had time to notice that the networking didn’t just take place in the conference room. In the beauty lounge the vendors connected with one another admiring each other’s set-ups and exchanging information.
One of the owners of K2Nailpaint, who provided complimentary manicures, was in the corner with the owner of DC’s Snob Nail plotting on a master plan.
I overheard a few of the ladies raving about their facials from Up Spa, an Upper Westside new comer that has quickly become an influencer favorite. I first heard about their services on Lip Service and after I snapped a few pictures of them melting someone’s frown lines I made a mental note to stack a few coins and take a trip uptown.
I ran into one of my favorite Jersey girls Leigh, and after she got a massage by ANOZ she was kind enough to snap a few pictures of me getting my makeup and eyelashes done by the phenomenal woman behind Belleistry.
After seeing how cute singer (and my fellow Heir's List honoree) Morgan Taylor Jones looked I knew spending some time in the beauty lounge was a must.
During the television and production panel producer and attorney Wendy Credle instructed attendees to “not take the person sitting next to you for granted” during their journey to success. She added that “It’s not about networking with the president of networks. It’s about networking at your level because those people are going to become the presidents of networks.”
That approach, which has gained popularity after an interview where it was advocated for by Issa Rae went viral, has served her well in the entertainment industry. She’s been able to create and maintain relationships that have led to her working on a number of high profile projects including spearheading a couple of non-scripted series and developing another television project she was not yet able to talk about.
Actress, digital influencer, and beauty entrepreneur Africa Miranda (who happens to be my birthday twin) talked about the importance of relationships as well. She shared how she was able to turn a partnership with Kia Motors into an opportunity not only for herself but for other creators such as Chantae Cann and India Shawn.
She spoke about how inspired she was by the women in the room including her fellow panelist Charell Star who she praised. “The fact that I look around and my peers are women that are starting blogs and are making movies, making films. How you’ve gone from starting a blog to being featured on these national platforms, you’re guiding what fashion is and what the stories that we’re telling are.”
Star recalled how determined she was to book a television appearance even volunteering to be a model for a segment to get started. “I am not a not a good model” she said laughing “but I was like you know what? This is going to be my in.”
She doesn’t resent the hard work or rejection she encounter on her way to becoming a sought-after on-air host. “If you asked me what my definition of black girl magic is is knowing that you have to work twice as hard and still being willing to do that, still be willing to get up and put in that effort.”
In the workshop on social media best practices BET’s Senior Director of Social Media & Digital Strategy Tatiana Holifeld-Arthur reminded everyone that a DM isn’t the only way to shoot your professional shot. “Keep in mind a DM is not the only way to reach people. I know that’s the millennial way to do it but check them out on LinkedIn. Do a google search. Try to find their email address.”
With algorithms “constantly changing” tips on social media best practices are always being revised but Holifeld-Arthur responded to participants’ concerns by reminding them to focus on their overall goals and messaging over scheduling asserting that “It starts with knowing your audience.”
At a time where digital footprints are trumping offline skills the woman Forbes dubbed “the next Steve Jobs” emphasized the importance of real life connections. During the digital and technology panel Angel Rich cited “Mavis Beacon” as an example of a company whose legacy was cemented by their offline presence. “We have what we call tech and touch. Even as a tech person I don’t believe that anything can be all tech. I think that you have to have a certain amount of touch with it or it won’t be sustainable.”
A panel on literature and publishing featured In Her Shoes Founder Renae Bluitt who talked about why she’s committed to mentoring “It’s really not enough for us to walk in the door and close the door. We have to open it up and create opportunities for other women.” The moderator expressed appreciation for Bluitt’s work singling her out for the way she helps others even stating that “I feel like you’re downplaying yourself right now.”
During the question and answer portion an attendee reinforced the moderators feelings telling Bluit that “Everything I know about black women in business I know because of you.”
This particular gathering of professional black women differed from the many others that often take place across the country because it included a space for men to have their say.
The panelists were adamant about the need for black men to reciprocate the adoration, protection, and support black women have shown them.
They were also steadfast in the value of the black woman with Author Enitan Bereola saying “We see you, we applaud you, we thank you. We need you to survive.”
He didn't just drop jewels. He added to my signed book collection!
Men were also welcomed as attendees. Daniel Cox, who was there promoting someone else’s business in her absence, shared that he was there to “support and promote the powerful women in my life Sasa Juste and Sandra Wilson.”
Before I walked out of the impressive lobby and headed back to Port Authority I pointed out two of the other powerful women in attendance to the security guard “She’s in two huge commercials and she just made a movie.”
“For real?” he replied, his eyes widening, “Damn. That’s what’s up.”