Content creators of color that inspire: building black communities online

By
Elsie Bernaiche
,
Account Executive at ThoughtLeaders
June 11, 2020
“This is a time when we must embrace our differences and become more inclusive. No group should ever be targeted for racism, harassment or other form of discrimination." Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA


The world of influencer content has grown into the premier source of entertainment, advice, how-tos, TLDR quick bites, news and opinion pieces, and so much more. But it started out as a place to build community online. 


As the digital age opened up avenues for self expression for all identities, we’ve seen a proliferation of channels hosted by black creators dedicated to black audiences. YouTube and podcast are wonderful spaces to cultivate your own message - for once, general approval doesn’t matter in this new world of viral content - in fact, it’s preferred to have a specific message behind your work. History, modern-day race relations, personal finance, entrepreneurship, mental health, sports, music and film… creators of color have carved out spaces for their unique experiences and audiences, and we’re taking a moment from our usual sponsorship trend reports this week to elevate these creators’ channels.


Our industry was crafted in equal measure, and is immeasurably improved by, the efforts of POC influencers. It is important to us at ThoughtLeaders to use our platform to direct attention to these voices and their messages. What has taken course over the past weeks in the United States has brought about an opportunity for change, and we believe that process begins with every individual and every organization. This week and beyond, we remain dedicated to amplifying the work of creators of color and their contributions to shaping the future of digital content. 


Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship channels in particular have cultivated an especially loyal subscriber base by discussing key issues within and specific to the black community. Racism in the US has long operated on an imbalanced socioeconomic system that institutionalized discriminatory practices.


For this reason, there are amazing content creators working against this system to create methods for POC to combat generational poverty through financial independence. 


Two Black Guys with Good Credit is a show about two black guys from Canada living in the US for over 20 years - Arlington in Los Angeles and Shaun in Brooklyn. Both are business owners with successful track records and, of course, good credit! Each week they will bring you their ‘straight talk’ and at times humorous perspective on making, managing, and protecting your money. Two Black Guys with Good Credit will educate, entertain, and inspire you to achieve YOUR financial goals.


One of their earliest episodes tackles big topics like retirement and gives specific tips to black listeners looking for secure financial futures. 



They even do product reviews, which consumers tend to find extremely helpful - this is an example of high impact content that explains why their podcast has thousands of subscribers and hundreds of 5-star reviews.


Another podcast that has earned its audience’s loyalty is Trailblazers, a podcast hosted by Stephen A. Hart that explores the stories behind today's most successful black entrepreneurs, leaders and professionals. This podcast focuses on the next level up from savvy personal finance content to advice on how to scale up your business as a small business owner. Listeners gain access to the knowledge, resources and tools of these accomplished professionals and come away with the know-how, confidence and motivation needed to blaze their own trail. In just 246 episodes, this podcast discusses formulas for success at least 49 times.  


It’s incredibly important for black communities to hear and share stories of success - in a study done on media representations of various racial and ethnic identities, it was found that black people were more likely to be represented poorly and stereotypically than white counterparts. 70.9% of all U.S. businesses are white-owned, whereas black-owned business accounts for 9.5% of all U.S. businesses


Black business is a key component to combatting generational poverty, and that’s one of Hart’s key drivers behind his content and episode topics. 


The podcast is very upfront and honest about barriers to success, as well, and engages other expert opinions such as in this episode:



The #1 word used in the reviews to describe the content is “motivational” and “inspiring”, and speaks to a desire for more content like this that addresses black experiences in business:


Black women entrepreneurs

What’s even more unique is the number of female-focused entrepreneur podcasts that are dedicated to supporting black women in business. These podcasts understand the challenges facing black women are complex and intersecting: being a mother vs. being a mother to a black child vs. being a single mother and business owner are all very different realities, and these hosts speak to that fact and resultantly have crafted meaningful content. 


Nicaila Matthews Okome’s podcast Side Hustle Pro is one such place where women leaders in business and innovation come to tell their stories. The host Nicaila was born in Jamaica and raised in the Bronx and is an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and the University of Michigan (MBA). Her professional experience spans digital marketing, ad sales and social media strategy for NPR, Google, MTV Networks and more. Her mission with this podcast was to spotlight bold black women entrepreneurs who have scaled from side hustle to full time entrepreneur. It debuted in the Top 20 in Business category on iTunes. 


Recently, Nicaila has opened up to answering questions from her audience, showing just how deep the level of engagement goes. She’s also offering an entire course on podcast development - take notice! 


Creating a step-by-step to her own success and offering other black women the key to creating their own platform is one of the main ways Nicaila, like other creators of color, is shaping the future. 


Another leader in the space is Demarra Gardner, MA, LPC, CAC, the host of the Black Women About Business (BWAB) podcast. BWAB was created to provide business and wellness support for black female leaders and entrepreneurs. The podcast “brings together some of the best and the brightest black females doing their thing in business and life.” 


Recently Gardner has been interviewed on a leadership podcast to discuss her vision for the community she has cultivated in large part through her podcast. Gardner runs a consulting firm that provides business planning, executive coaching, training, retreats, and resources. As the podcast discusses, “Demarra has led successful ventures (for-profit and nonprofit) while guiding others to launch and scale their businesses. Her business success has allowed her to travel to twenty-five countries across six continents, be engaged with her community in meaningful ways, and help individuals from all walks of life have greater fulfillment and purpose.”


Here are some other content creators using their platform to promote female leadership in business and inspire future generations of forward thinking women:

Black Woman CEO

Black Woman Working

Black Women Talk Work

Trill MBA Show

Online Business for Black Women

Uplifting Conversations for Black Women


History

Historical content is another important way that black creators are using their platforms to fill in the gaps and provide their own resources for the community. Lionel Kimble, vice president for programs at ASALH, told ABC News on the topic of Black History Month, “we have to really build on the study of black history and get people to understand the important roles of black folks in the larger narrative of the United States." Historical channels on YouTube do well because they typically have a focus, and in this case, the focus is to educate black communities on many historical moments that were most likely left out of their public school education. 


From Nothing is a notable channel putting out entertaining and animated retellings of key African, diasporic, and colonialist events throughout history. Many viewers see this channel as a source of information that institutional history books do not mention. 



Blacksdahistory YouTube channel: historic videos on famous black 7th Day Adventists (a surprisingly small but diverse religious group in the US)


Black History Buff & Black History Studies: short interviews and storytelling from communities


We also have some content on podcast to tune into:


Here’s the main issue around this type of content: just a quick Google Trends search shows us that the majority of Americans only care during one month of the year about this content.


Searches of “black history” across all major web engines:


But here’s the amount of content being made around the topic of black history:


That means more and more content creators are emerging discussing this topic every year. With just under 1000 content creators mentioning black history since 2010, the topic is getting as much attention as topics like social justice and equal rights. 


Design

The first podcast to be featured in the Smithsonian NMAAHC, the Revision Path podcast is an award-winning weekly showcase of Black designers, developers, and digital creatives from all over the world. Each week, host Maurice Cherry interviews these creators about their work, their goals, what inspires them, and much more. 


What’s important about this podcast is just how white-dominated this space truly is. In a study as recent as 2017, the design industry is just 3% black and 73% white. This podcast is one of a kind in its industry and as a community builder for people of color in design. The format of the podcast, as we have come to observe in some of the previous examples, is to uplift stories and successes of other people of color and to develop a mentor-like, motivational tone to each episode. 


For example, Cherry interviews Noble Ackerson about founding his own company to working at the National Democratic Institute to what he’s doing now.


When he was asked about his time in university (Lynchberg), he stated, “I love it so much, I’m on the board, and I’ll tell you why…”. He did Tech Writers, a volunteer program that secured equipment donations from major brands and set up computer literacy training programs in underserved areas in Virginia, which most often included communities of color. 


His podcast is a true archive of the brilliant minds that often go unnoticed in their fields because of discrimination, making it valuable to current listeners and as a piece of history.


Film

Film, like the Design industry, is also dominantly white. Hollywood, and even the world of influencer content, is afflicted by discrimination whether we are conscious of it or not. White men still comprise 80% of film directors and filmmakers, and we have some creatives focusing on film who have taken on the elephant in the room and have dedicated themselves to black-only content. 


Black on Black Cinema: Black on Black Cinema is a bi-weekly podcast where 3 guys discuss the ins and outs of Black films. With a touch of humor and a drive for relevant discussion, Black on Black Cinema will entertain as well as inform. Hosted by Jay, Micah, Rob and Terrence, the podcast was formed after the 4 were tearing into a Tyler Perry film on a Facebook group chat. 




Focusing on black films from Spike Lee and Tyler Perry to historic flicks and other impactful works that revealed key narratives and truths about black life in America, their more than 350 episodes take on black film as a category. Here’s what they had to say in an interview by roger-ebert.com in 2016:


Interviewer: Recently, you did an episode where you reviewed "Tangerine" and discussed whether the movie is a black movie or not. What constitutes as a "black movie" to you guys?


MICAH PAYNE: I think a “black movie” is one of those things classified as “knowing it when you see it.” I have my own personal set of loosely followed rules:

1) The film should star a black person.

2) The film should talk about some issue facing the black community.

3) The film should be made by black people.

4) Any combination of the three.


ROB SHIVELY: For me, it has more to do with a film that touches on the experience of a black person in some way, shape or form. Thinking back, I'd have to say "Tangerine" isn't the first film we've done that I wouldn't consider a black film. "After Earth" comes to mind—unfortunately—which was done because it stars a well-known black actor and his son. For his part, Will Smith can most certainly speak to the black experience growing up. I have no idea what anyone in "Tangerine" has experienced and didn't learn about them in this film. I'd like to see at least a little of that in the films we watch.”


One review on iTunes perfectly summarizes why this channel is pioneering content and doesn’t care about pleasing all audiences: 


See also: 

The Podglomerate: Two Men. One Podcast. Every Black Film Ever. Len Webb and Vince Williams are on the MICHEAUX MISSION - to watch and review every Black feature film ever released.


Nightlight: A Horror Fiction Podcast:stories written by black authors performed by black actors.


Even in spaces which have been traditionally claimed by whiter audiences, content creators of color are creating space for black people within these subgenres. Take anime for instance: only an estimated 3-10% of fans across all levels of anime fans (and yes, there are levels of fandom for anime) are black, and less than 20% of fans are of hispanic or asian backgrounds, whereas nearly 90% of anime fans are white, and dominantly male. 


Yet we have content creators like King Vader that are carving a path for their unique experiences of content that has wide appeal and caters to a white demographic. Vice did a whole piece on this guy’s creative work, and describe his journey from Vine to monetized content on YouTube: 


“While some former Vine stars have found viability in TV, film, and music like Shawn Mendes and King Bach, the vast majority either faded into obscurity when the app shuttered, or like Barrett, migrated to other social media, like Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, and later, TikTok, where they post similar content to their Vines. Almost three years later, Barrett's videos have gotten steadily more and more elaborate, more heavy on the special effects and even more ridiculous. And have proven a viable source of income for him. He left his childhood home in Maryland to move to Los Angeles for more opportunities. And he’s done endorsement deals for Burger King and other companies and was invited to showcase his character “Hood Naruto” at LA Comic Con.” 


Beauty

Black beauty and makeup bloggers have also created channels with content dedicated to the black community specifically within a larger genre. Makeup tutorials and “my morning routine” videos have been popular since YouTube started picking up speed in 2010, but at first much of the content appealed to a whiter demographic. The history of makeup and advertising makeup to women has been fraught with discriminatory practices, and there’s a ton of cool content talking about the evolution of skin tones and makeup throughout history, like this video from Refinery 29. Here’s some of the biggest creatives in beauty blogging on YouTube that are representing dark skin and natural hair in the industry. 


*Note: it’s important to note that there are many black-owned and operated brands dedicated to products specifically designed for the black community, and they’re out there making content that focuses on diversity and inclusiveness, like Fenty’s YouTube tutorials

 

Nyma Tang originally gained traction for her YouTube channel by testing various makeup brands for their “darkest shade” to prove exactly how the industry was defining “light vs. dark”. It was a case study that became part of her greater message, which is to redefine beauty standards in the cosmetics industry. 


Check out her review of Fenty below, it’s a great episode! 


Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Foundation Review|| Nyma Tang #thedarkestshade


Fellow prominent black influencers also include: 

Tiarra Monet, featured influencer on E! and with Revlon and known for working with wigs and hairpieces 

Patricia Bright, whose influencer deals include Diet Coke and the cover of British Glamour 

Chanel Ambrose, known for being a plus size fashion icon pushing the skinny narrative and promoting curvy figures


Fitness

In an opinion piece from Self.com in 2018, author Chrissy King perfectly summarizes some key issues in the fitness industry that are, sadly, still relevant today.


“The fitness industry has long been catering to a predominantly white audience. As a result, it’s usually oblivious to issues of access, diversity, inclusivity, and intersectionality, as are a great many of its trainers and instructors, both in terms of staff at a given gym and more prominent influencers.”


But there are channels that have their own unique ways of motivating their communities. 


Brittne Babe, considered the “Queen of Home Workouts” and one of the most fit women in the YouTube space, she’s representing dark skinned black women in an otherwise white-washed industry 


Koboko Fitness, a certified personal trainer making videos since 2016 dedicated to bodyweight, easy-to-do exercises. She’s written a few books including STORY STORY: How I Found Ways to Make a Difference and Do Work I Love


JaxBlade, a fitness trainer who uses his love of anime to engage viewers in the world of fitness


When there is a sheer lack of representation and conversation around topics of health among communities, it’s a reflection of a lack of education and resources, which is a byproduct of systemic racism in the US. The CDC currently states that prevalence of obesity is highest among communities of color (38.4%) citing that it is “closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage” like less parks to play in, less sports programs after school, and access to healthy, whole, and fresh foods. 


Medicine

Within the medical profession, we can also find a unique channel dedicated to black male clinicians. There are many documented stories of the unique challenges black men face in university, medical school, and beyond as professionals, and this podcast covers all of those experiences and more. This is one of those podcasts that a viewer will find and say, “finally, something for me.” 


Black Men in White Coats: Black Men in White Coats podcast is dedicated to telling the stories of black male clinicians. Hosted and founded by Dale Okorodudu, MD, its goal is to inspire others to pursue careers in healthcare, and to promote a positive narrative for black men overall. By allowing black male clinicians to tell their stories, the podcast aims to touch minds and hearts. 


The most recent episode takes on a topic driven by the pandemic: barber shops are forced to remain closed amid threats of spreading the virus, and this has a monumentally detrimental impact on the social health of black communities.


Mental Health

Wellness is an emergent topic for all communities, but mental health is a stigmatized topic and one people are only starting to normalize as part of everyday wellness through the world of content. Podcast is a format where we can hear from licensed clinicians on key topics, and for communities of color in particular, this can be a safe space that substitutes for the lack of other social and institutional resources due to discrimination and stigma.


Tatiana Smith’s podcast Talking off the Couch is a weekly podcast that focuses on mental health and mental wellness within the communities of color. Smith believes it's time to shed light and break stigmas within the black culture about mental health/illness and mental wellness as well as in other communities of color. This podcast is a voice for the mental health community as well as the average person who may be struggling with anxiety, stress, depression and is unsure of what to do or where to go for help. The message of each episode’s content emphasizes, “it's OK not being OK all the time.”


We also have tons of conversations happening on news-related channels that heavily discuss mental wellness and what impacts the black community. Host of podcast Pod Save the People DeRay Mckesson is often joined by his repeat guests Samuel Sinyangwe, Clint Smith, and Brittany Packnett to discuss contemporary issues in the black community. 


Of 165 current episodes, they have discussed the black community and racial disparities as the core topic of the episode at least 54 times, showing a true dedication to engaging audiences on the issues. 


Just a few other creators worth mentioning:

Therapy for Black Girls

Tasso, conversations on sexuality in the black community 

The Only One in the Room, podcast sharing raw stories of people from various backgrounds and identities being “othered” in the hopes that it can break down stigmas


CONCLUSION

At ThoughtLeaders we alone can’t break the wall of injustice that has stood tall for centuries - but we can try our best to make a dent. We can, like with this article, raise the profiles of content creators of color. But we also recognize that really isn’t enough. 

We would like to make sure that more sponsorship money is getting into the hands of creators of color, so if you are a brand who shares that goal or if you are a creator of color reach out to us and we will do our utmost to make that happen.

For our current clients we will be making recommendations for you directly of how you can work with creators of color.

It's a small thing, it’s doing what we do, but it’s doing it with a just future in mind.