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Eunique Jones Gibson On Celebrating Black Culture While Creating Space For Black Joy
Photo by: Eunique Jones Gibson and Ashleigh Bing

Eunique Jones Gibson On Celebrating Black Culture While Creating Space For Black Joy

"Oftentimes joy is all we have to look forward to. It's up to us to preserve it, protect it, and create the space for it."

BOSS UP

Growing up, Eunique Jones Gibson didn't have to look far for positive imagery that reflected who she was and where she came from. At a young age, Eunique's parents wasted no time instilling the importance of self-love and embracing the richness of Black culture. From her father's afrocentric, Cross Colours-based style to seeing herself through the lens of Lena James, Jada Pinkett's confident persona on A Different World, Eunique's surroundings began to paint a colorful portrait of the worlds that true representation could form. She points out, "That was my entryway into really embracing the culture and understanding the power of who we are and being critical of false narratives." It's no wonder that her work in representation through entertainment and media no less found her.


Early out in her career, the power to influence through advertisement served as a compass to direct her career pursuits, "When people used to ask me what I wanted to do that, I always said I wanted to influence decisions in 30 seconds or less. Because that's what commercials do." But for Eunique, the power to influence doesn't stop after the commercial ends, true impact transcends fleeting attention spans and viral moments that evaporate within the vapor of a swipe or click.

Photo by: Eunique Jones Gibson and Ashleigh Bing

The creative-entrepreneur proved this to be true, most noticeably through her Because of Them We Can campaign and instant-classic game, Culture Tags. In creating her Because of Them We Can campaign in 2013, Eunique recognized that Black History Month was in need of revitalization, "I wanted to refresh it, make it youthful, engaging, and inspiring. I saw the opportunity to do that through photographs and eventually to evolve it from that point." As the campaign grew in online popularity and potency, it garnered the attention of prominent figures like Oprah Winfrey to Kerry Washington, "I thought it was going to be a 28-day campaign, but I also realized that in order to be true to what I was trying to prove — which was that we need to reimage Black History, I had to lead by example."

The example that Eunique continues to set is one that's rooted in her mission to celebrate culture and community through the highest form of resistance: Black Joy. Her new game, Culture Tags, has served as an instrument for joy as many have looked for a delightful escape in the midst of quarantine. Restoring play and festivity back into our households, Culture Tags continues to find new life as outside reopens, guaranteeing to be the life of any cookout or rooftop party where the game makes an appearance. "As Black people, we've gone through and continue to go through so much as a community that oftentimes joy is all we have to look forward to. It's up to us to preserve it, protect it, and create the space for it."

xoNecole: Your project “Because Of Them We Can,” garnered viral success with the images that you shared of young Black children portraying notable Black figures. You mentioned once that you “wanted to refresh Black History,” could you tell us about that mission to refresh/reimagine Black History and how that’s evolved today?

Eunique Jones Gibson: When I started the campaign in 2013, I didn't see a captivating push that made Black History interesting and exciting and something that wasn't just Black and white photos. Black History was relegated to the narrative that in order to make history or be a figure or a person who could be acknowledged in Black History, it was a typical lineup of individuals that we learned about in school but it didn't expand beyond those individuals. It also typically ended up revolving around individuals who, when we talk about Black History Month, were older or people who were deceased and we know that Black History is constantly being made. It's always taking place, it's taking place right now as I'm talking to you.

I wanted to do something that would make it interesting to learn about figures throughout history that paved that way by refreshing those images and allowing folks to see them through the eyes of a child. Because then, you become a little more interested in the story and the individual beyond your bias or what you may think based on what you've heard or haven't heard.

Photo by: Eunique Jones Gibson and Ashleigh Bing

Because of all the success that you did receive from that campaign, was there anything that surprised you about the feedback you received or the response in general from your community?  

I think at the time what really surprised me was the fact that people wanted it to continue beyond Black History Month. It was almost as if it became my responsibility to keep it going. I had started something bigger than what I had initially thought it was. I thought it was going to be a 28-day campaign, but I also realized that in order to be true to what I was trying to prove, which was that we need to reimagine Black History, I had to lead by example. I don't think I expected it when I launched it and I certainly didn't expect to be eight years later to still be building upon that foundation.

Your game, Culture Tags, is one of the hottest new games for us. What inspired the creation of Culture Tags?

We are a big entertainment family; we love game nights and it really just dawned on me at some point that we needed more games! We needed more options that were rooted in our culture. Not games that we can play because we understand the rules and because they're fun, but games we can play because they bring back the nostalgia and excitement because we know that it was made with us in mind.

The inspiration behind Culture Tags is that same inspiration behind all of my work: it's to celebrate culture and community and to make sure we are represented. I started to think about it back in 2019. One day, I was online and saw a really long abbreviation or acronym and all these people were commenting, "Why do I know what this means?" I was definitely in that same group where I was like, "Yo, this is wild, I know what this says!" I've tried to train my mind to see the opportunities beyond what's on the surface, I immediately said, this is a game!

Courtesy of: Eunique Jones Gibson

Your agency, Culture Brands, has recently been tapped to become Hyundai’s African American agency of record. Why do you think it’s important for big brands to tap firms and agencies that are actually of the culture, especially when it comes to portraying our images in advertisements?

Because we exist. We live it, we eat it, we breathe it. It isn't something that we have to study, it's something that we innately know. In order for brands to portray an authentic representation of their customer base when they are targeting Black folks, they should have experts at the table who can present an authentic story and picture. You can't do that when you are not of the culture.

There are certain things that you will miss, certain things that you will overlook, and that will never enter the conversation because you don't have that first-hand knowledge. You have to bring in people who eat, sleep, and breathe it — and people who can respect it. It's one thing to create culturally relevant content but the content also has to be responsible; it can't be exploitative.

Someone who is of the culture should know how to ensure that we are represented without allowing a brand to co-op the culture or present themselves as a culture vulture. There has to be people at the table with a voice to guide in that direction. A lot of times you have people who are in the room but are not at the table or people who are at the table but don't have a voice, or if they have a voice, no one is listening. We have to make sure that when brands invite multicultural or African-American companies to the table, that they are ready to listen and learn and to implicate the learnings and expertise that these agencies are offering.

"It's one thing to create culturally relevant content but the content also has to be responsible; it can't be exploitative. Someone who is of the culture should know how to ensure that we are represented without allowing a brand to co-op the culture or present themselves as a culture vulture."

I was listening to your interview on Luuvie’s IG Live and one of the things that really resonated was when you shared, “You’ve got to trust your vision. People steal ideas all day, but you can not steal a vision.” In your eyes, what is the difference between an idea and a vision?

Ideas come and go, and oftentimes they are inspired by a need. They are inspired by the environment and things that are happening around us but I think that the difference between an idea and a vision is that a vision makes the idea scaleable. A vision makes the idea sustainable; and gives [the vision] value and validates it beyond that moment. And it gives you direction. It helps to guide the direction that you move in. Oftentimes your ideas may change, but they should back into your vision.

Beyond that, I also don't think it's a good idea to fall in love with your ideas. I think you can execute them and like them, but you should not fall in love with them. You should commit yourself to whatever your anticipated goal is: fall in love with the goal, not with the idea that might get you there because that idea can shift, but if you commit to the goal, you might see that there are multiple ways to get there. Which is why you have to anchor yourself in the vision.

"A lot of times you have people who are in the room but are not at the table or people who are at the table but don't have a voice, or if they have a voice, no one is listening."

Something that many creatives may experience along their journey is analysis paralysis in not really knowing where to start with their ideas. What advice would you give to someone who may be sitting on an idea or hesitant to take a leap into their dreams?

I always say, "Date your dreams." A lot of times you can look at an idea as a dream or something that you want to execute or explore and I think you have to date it and spend time with it. You have to obsess over it, analyze it from different angles, poke holes in it. What's good about this, what's bad about it? What makes sense, what makes this crazy? You date it.

I also think you have to be willing to bet on yourself. After you've gone through that process, if you've come out on the other side, you've got to be willing to fail. If you're not willing to fail, then you will never try. If you're willing to fail, then you can take the risk to move forward with the idea understanding that if you failed, you really just learned.

Photo by: Eunique Jones Gibson and Ashleigh Bing

"Mistakes happen for us to patch the holes, to ensure that our baskets stay full once the blessings start coming in."

What’s something that felt like a mistake in the moment, but turned out to be a pivotal lesson for you along your journey?

I've had multiple moments like that. My mentor tells me, sometimes the thing that feels horrible that we lament over because they happened to us, really happened for us. He likened it to medicine that tastes horrible but at the end of the day, it does us some good. I think it can only do us good if we maintain the perspective that it's all an opportunity to learn and improve and not make the same mistakes that we made before because we are more informed this time.

Failure has been a consistent part of my process and they have been big and small, and costly - whether it's cost me money or peace of mind, they are not inexpensive! But I have learned from each one of them to ensure that I do not make the same mistake again. Mistakes happen for us to patch the holes, to endure that our baskets stay full once the blessings start coming in.

For more of Eunique, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Eunique Jones Gibson

Black Women, We Deserve More

When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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Featured image: Getty Images

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