May 2016 was a truly transformational month for me — a month filled with #BlackGirlMagic, #FeministPride, and getting into #FORMATION on two occasions in two cities.
To celebrate my transition from Corporate America into the non-profit sector — I’m the newly appointed creative director of Hip Hop University — my older sister and I went to Raleigh to see the one and only Queen Bey. But what made the Beyonce concert all the better was that, right before we reached the stadium, I got an email offering me an all-expense-paid trip to NYC to experience #BlackGirlMagic in a more business-focused capacity.
As a newbie in leadership at an organization with big, audacious goals, I knew I’d have a steep learning curve. That’s why I was so excited to get the email.
I would be traveling to New York City, for the very first time and courtesy of the Knight Foundation, to attend Blavity.com’s inaugural EmpowerHer Conference. That meant I’d get to network with, and learn from, a plethora of savvy, black women in the fields of technology, venture capital, marketing, branding, blogging, and journalism.
The Knight Foundation, which co-sponsored the conference, selected black women in Knight cities across the country to attend. The foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. Knight believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.
The foundation’s program director for Charlotte, Charles Thomas, reached out to several black women locally who he felt could bring back and implement the information they learned in New York. I was one of them, along with three other phenomenal, millennial black women from the Queen City — Davida Jackson, Jenifer Daniels, & Sherrell Dorsey.
I saw this as an chance to learn all I could in the City That Never Sleeps without having to worry about the cost of a flight, room & board, or event tickets. And, boy did I learn a lot!
Below you will find a recap of all of the takeaways I gained at Blavity’s EmpowerHer Conference.
Keynote Topic: Branding Like A Boss
Keynote Speaker: Luvvie Ajayi, award-winning writer, speaker and digital strategist
Direct Takeaway: The day started with a lively, awesomely funny speaker with killer red shoes. Blogger Luvvie Ajayi was going to teach us how to “boss up” when it came to the world of branding. She said that people have over-saturated the market with the words “Brand” and “Branding” and that many have no idea what a brand is. Ajayi said a person’s brand goes beyond a logo and style of dress. A brand, she said, is composed of several factors:
• Visual Identity
Critical Thinking Takeaway: By the end of her lecture, I realized that everyone has a brand, but it is up to us as individuals to take control of it.
Panel Topic: Putting Myself First: Learning Self-Care From the Inside Out
Elaine Welteroth, Editor of Teen Vogue
Lauren Ash, Health & Wellness Thought Leader
Ofunne Amaka, Founder of Beauty Tech Start-up ColorSwatches
Gabifresh, Style Blogger, Fashion Editor & Designer, Brand Consultant
Francheska, Wellness & Lifestyle YouTube Vlogger
Direct Takeaway: The most important thing I learned was that we must take a holistic approach when it comes to self-care. There was a strong emphasis on helping attendees understand that mental health is just as important, and just as real, as physiological health. The panelists all pushed the topic that your self-esteem is such an important part of taking care of yourself. They encouraged attendees to keep negative self-talk in check to make sure our self-esteem does not bottom out. Each shared tales of self-doubt and low self-esteem issues, but they also shared tips about how to make it through the lows and how to handle the highs.
Critical Thinking Takeaway: The way I processed this information can be summed up like this: If you let a person, a comment, or an idea kill your self-esteem, so too goes your mental health. When your mental health goes downhill, so too will go your physiological health. These successful health & wellness and beauty bloggers helped me understand that believing in me, even if it makes others uncomfortable, is THE most important key to self-care. If you are not taking care of self and believing in your own abilities you will not be able to care for others and push forward your business & brand.
Lunch Chat: Fireside Chat with Ferguson, Mo., activist & Blavity Co-Founder
Direct Takeaways: This informal meeting of the minds over a lunchtime chat taught me that goals are reached by building symbiotic relationships. These two ladies also explained that our relationships must be defined with boundaries to ensure that all parties benefit. This applies to personal relationships as well as to those in our professional lives.
Elzie and Debaun also stressed that understanding your audience, target market, stakeholders, or shareholders inside and out is one of the most important relationships to any business, initiative or campaign.
Critical Thinking Takeaway: The biggest takeaway for me was that standing firm for who we are as black women is okay, no matter if a male-focused and racist society tells us otherwise. The key for us as successful, black women is to know, without a doubt, that those who cannot comprehend our greatness or try to suppress our greatness (even if that person be family or friend) can kick rocks.
Breakout Topic: Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Side Hustle Into a Start-Up
Lenore Champagne Beirne, venture capitalist, associate at 645 Ventures
Kelechi Anyadiegwu, founder & CEO of Zuvaa, a global e-commerce marketplace
Stefanie A. Thomas, venture capitalist, senior associate at Impact America Fund
Direct Takeaway: I was so excited about this panel that I forgot to snap a shot of these amazing, black women. And the fact that there were two venture capitalist of color and a tech start-up owner simply took my happiness to pure-joy levels.
I could not stop scribbling in my journal during this panel. So many gems were dropped, some of the brightest being:
RESEARCH: Do a deep dive of the market and target customers/stakeholders before launching your business. Before you invest time, energy and money, you must research, research, research. And did I mention research?
KNOW MONEY: Not all capital is good capital. Before signing a VC contract, understand the terms of the deal being presented to you. When someone else is your main source of money and a lot of strings are attached, understand that it is your funder who is running the show.
IP PROTECTED: Protect your Intellectual Property with all your might and all the legal backing you can afford.
BE CONFIDENT IN YOUR VISION. It’s your vision, and if you don’t believe in it and believe in its value, no one else will.
Critical Thinking Takeaway: This panel helped me understand the danger of falling into analysis paralysis. Getting to market with a strong foundation of research is important, but unless your business is a research firm, don’t let research be your excuse for not taking the first step.
The most inspiring aspect of this panel for me was to see that women of color are in the venture capital world. It was so lovely to see that there are venture capital firms out there that hire people who look like me and have had similar experiences as me.
Panel Topic: Change The Game: Use internet to Empower Change
Sierra Jackson, business development manager, Political Advocacy and Public Affairs
April Reign, creator of hashtag #OscarsSoWhite & managing editor of Broadway Black
Feminista Jones, activist and editor of BlogHer.com
Direct Takeaway: For me, stepping into a leadership role for the non-profit Hip Hop University is exciting and still a bit unknown. The chance to attend this panel gave me great insight into nonprofit work and the power and dedication it will take to be an effective and highly impactful change-maker in the digital age.
My two biggest takeaways were: I must take the movement offline and build a mental toughness that matches my passion.
SOLDIERS: To affect change in our communities, we must use the Internet as the powerful tool that it is. However, you must pair that powerful tool with boots-on-the-ground tactics that have been proven over time. Intelligent and long-lasting changes in society all require boots on the ground.
MENTAL TOUGHNESS: We must maintain our mental health to fight the good fight. The work of social justice and change-making is one that requires participants and leaders to build a mental toughness like no other.
Critical Thinking Takeaway: For me, this panel confirmed that there are people and forces in the world that will fight relentlessly to keep the status quo. Those who accept the role of change-maker must be even more relentless.
The panel emphasized that change-makers must also prepare proteges. In other words, we must have intelligent and dedicated successors trained to lead in preparation for the day we leave the stage.
I hope this gives Qcitymetro readers insight into the value of my NY excursion. Even if you could not attend or were unaware of Blavity’s Inaugural EmpowerHer Conference, Qcitymetro was there to server as your ears and eyes. I can’t wait to go to my next conference!
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