Black Book LA: The Black Millennial's Guide To Los Angeles

Human Interest

I moved to Los Angeles less than a month ago and, upon arrival, I began to feel the cloud of overwhelm reach around my shoulders and whisper into my ear salty nothings.

Intimidation became a twin to my anxiety and I began to second-guess my decision. My craving for being around Blackness, feeling like I am connected to something other than the phone in my hand, and hungry for connection.

I decided to sell all of my things and pack my bags to move to Los Angeles to pursue my goals and plant my seeds in a community where I could be watered - culturally, spiritually, and mentally. Now that I am here, I am often looking over my shoulder, in digital threads for belonging, and in the small nooks of the city for women and men who also hear their own echoes of desire under a California moon.

How can one complain about the beach in their own backyard?

I am finding that I prefer the waters in my vicinity to be of depth and not shallow reminders of only dipping my toes into the abyss of life. I want to be around Blackness that is bold and carefree, who want to share memories of song, and laugh in the face of our plights. I crave game nights and museum exhibits and dance parties that remind us of our beauty.

Because it was not explicit in its presence, I was beginning to feel helpless in the pursuit of a tribe. I found myself questioning, "Where the HELL are all the Black people in LA?!"

And then alas, after tireless scrolling and Google searches, I came across the precious gem that is Black Book LA.

Black Book LA is a network and curated directory of the top events, spaces, and places for Black folk in Los Angeles. It's described as "the Black millennial's guide to Los Angeles."

From the outside looking in, one can look at LA and then scoff at the person who is claiming to feel "out of the loop" or "isolated" in such a city that is rich with so many people. But, through conversations with other young Black professionals and creatives who moved out to the City of Angels for a similar goal, it can sometimes feel like it is hard to paint the city with your colors or find the right tribe. Thus, Black Book LA is the exact compass a millennial woman-of-color needs to navigate this grandiose and yet obscure metropolis.

The name of the game is building a stronger community and Black Book LA aims to do so with a platform that curates everything from the best events and businesses, to the best places to live and work connections.

So far, it's succeeding.

On the @BlackBookLA website, they carefully crafted a directory to all of the Black-owned businesses in Los Angeles. And with their weekly newsletter, they direct you to all of the Black-created events in LA; the types of events range from wellness, to entertainment and career networking. Blackness is not monolithic and their website certainly appeals to all diagonals of the diaspora.

One of the creators of Black Book LA, Makiah Green, is a writer that sought to create the directory out of a need for representation, for others who looked like her, for the feeling of belonging to something that mirrored her own interests. Raised by LA - Compton to be exact - she felt the need to redefine her environment post-grad school. There was a genuineness missing; a genuineness that you feel around others who empathize with you and your story. "I rediscovered LA all over again," she said. "It made me want to know where all the real people are. I wanted more genuine people in my life and real connections."

She met Tyree Boyd-Pates through a mutual friend and the two instantly connected on the idea. It started with just a Squarespace landing page for people to sign up for newsletter updates. From 100 subscribers to 20,000 subscribers, their growth is a testament to dedication and intentional consistency in work that's even bigger than you.

As someone who came across her page in search for community, I got excited about a Black Panther party, as well as a healing yoga session for Black women. But being that I have my priorities straight so far in 2018, I was most excited about their housing network and job directory network on Facebook. It's evident that Black Book LA is not only about connecting Black folx but about providing essential services for them to prosper and grow.

"I made it a point to carve out community for self, and also cultivate community for others," Makiah said.

I admire Makiah's work with Black Book LA and her drive to not only create a world for the people of color out here in LA, but empower women in the process.

Makiah had some encouraging words of advice for budding entrepreneurs and community empowerment. "Don't look up, look around. There is brilliance all around you. Look around and acknowledge it. Who is in similar realms that you can build and grind with? That is how you make those real connections. It's not just about how can I help myself, but who can I help in the process?"

Coming across BBBLA feels like Makiah is saying "I see you" in a city that can leave one feeling otherwise invisible. She is truly filling the gaps for young Black women to find representation and curating the awareness that the city needs. I'm finding dope women who feed my soul, one event at a time. And who knows, maybe one day, my young black King will follow.

Follow Makiah on Twitter and be sure to check out the Black Book LA directory here.

Featured image by Getty Images

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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