There are many gaps our generation is working to close. Whether it's the pay gap, the education gap, the wealth gap, or a combination of them all, the disparities that people of color face in their careers and education stem from years of inequality in our institutions.
Those institutions are vital to giving the next generation an opportunity to build and thrive in an equal competitive world, leaving many of us to wonder how we can create generational impact. More than ever, women are using their talents and gifts to make an impact through programming. Whether they are leaving their full-time jobs or creating side hustles, women are taking their underutilized talents in Corporate America and turning it into an opportunity to teach, help others gain access, become leaders, find jobs, and build their businesses. We are doing the work, by using our influence, our talents, and our God-given gifts to solve problems and help others.
Here are six women who have created programs and organizations by using their gifts to help create space and opportunities for other women:
Nicole A. Tinson, 27, Los Angeles/Atlanta
Nicole Tinson's organization is HBCU 20x20, which is working to prepare and connect 20,000 HBCU students and graduates to jobs and internships by the year 2020. It was launched on Labor Day of 2017 and is approaching its one-year anniversary. Nicole is a HBCU graduate of Dillard University and she attended Yale University, an Ivy League, for graduate school.
After graduating from Yale, she moved to her hometown of Los Angeles to find a job but experienced a rough job search. "I began applying to jobs only to realize that securing a job was much more difficult than I would have imagined. I struggled in securing employment, despite having the work experience and a great educational background. After one month of applying for jobs, I was finally able to secure a job in my field. I realized that if I did not have my social capital, I would not have had a job," she shared.
Six months later, she quit that job to create her non-profit Jobs R 4 U.
"We began partnering with local and national organizations to host workshops and career fairs for free in LA. In doing this, I realized so many colleagues and friends of friends also struggled in finding opportunities, particularly people who graduated from HBCUs. I would come across people with high GPAs, internship experience, campus and community involvement -- essentially everything we are told we need to secure a job in the 21st century, but for some reason, it still wasn't enough," she explained.
After doing some research and investigating, she wondered what diversity and inclusion looked like in action. From there, HBCU 20x20 was born.
Nicole is using her non-profit grassroot experience and the art of hustling to make Fortune 500 companies aware of the talent that's bred at HBCUs and connecting HBCU students with opportunities. The organization offers a plethora of resources to its members, from social media and text messaging software that keeps you up to date on opportunities, to an HBCU 20x20 GroupMe. "HBCU 20x20 is disrupting the way companies recruit and engage with a diverse talent pool by allowing us to do a lot of the heavy lifting so they can't say 'no.' We review resumes and forward them to hiring managers like a headhunter without the cost. We are disrupting the ways students and graduates prepare and connect to opportunities. We aren't just a job board. We are truly interested and [we are] meeting people where they are, and assisting them in getting to where they need to go," she shared.
Leigh Lovett & Kay White, 30, Nashville, TN
Six weeks prior to their first event, Leigh Lovett and Kay White met at a burger joint in Nashville to discuss how to bring the budding Nashville blogger and create a supportive environment that empowered the area's bloggers. That meeting birthed The Blogger Xchange, which focuses on collaboration over competition. It's a group that provides bloggers, creatives, and entrepreneurs classes, social events, and various art and workout experiences in Nashville, Memphis, and Minneapolis.
They noticed many prominent black bloggers in the city were being excluded from brand events. Those that were occasionally invited to brand events would comment later on being the only person of color in the room. "Kay and I decided we need to show that bloggers of all ethnicities have the same power to be influential as their white counterparts," Leigh explained.
Through their individual skill-sets in marketing and communications, and their social media influence, the Blogger Xchange has secured high quality local and national partnerships including Bud Light Nashville, Google Bulletin, Macy's, Forever 21, Lyft, and Cracker Barrel. This month, they are hosting their first Blogger Xchange Xpo, bringing 11 speakers together to educate bloggers with branding workshops, informative panels, and fun breakouts.
Tola Lawal, New York, NY
Ursula Stephens' former position as CEO of Xerox was a great stepping stone for black women in C-Suite positions, but since her departure, there's been little to no improvement on the presence of black women and women of color in leadership positions. Gyrl Wonder was created by Tola Lawal to change what the vision of success in our country looks like. "Our call to action from the beginning was to create lasting, proven, inspired and sorely needed pathways to success for our young girls of color. Statistics show alarmingly low numbers of women of color in leadership positions in our country. And in order for our younger generations to challenge that trend, they need the opportunities, programming, mentorship, and guidance to launch themselves as leaders in a world that desperately needs their presence," Tola shared.
Through intimate conversations with professionals, programming, and constant reminders of the power of self-love, Gyrl Wonder equips their participants with the tools they'll need to shine in a world that may want to dim their light. This summer, Gyrl Wonder hosted its first Summer Leadership Academy where students were able to visit some of the top media and entertainment companies to hear from women in leadership within an intimate setting, and they plan to host another one during the winter season. "On all fronts, the images that our young girls receive from popular media and our national representation has grown more diverse, but the underlying messages are still clear: women who look like them are still too scarcely seen as leading figures in our culture and our national history. This is the narrative that has fueled our work and urgency to ensure that our young girls see and remember that they are in fact, Gyrl Wonders."
When it comes to getting the resources she needs for programs or finding mentors to spend time with her participants, Tola has been able to manage and grow Gyrl Wonder with her attribute as a connector. "I'm a connector, marketer, and entrepreneur by nature. I love connecting with like minds and have no problem sliding into someone's DM or sending a blind email. It's ALWAYS worked for me. LinkedIn is my best friend," she revealed.
Milan Rouge, 29, Philadelphia, PA
This founder took her apparel brand, Milano di Rouge, and turned it into an empowerment movement to remind women they can make their dreams a reality by creating the Womanaire Club. "After building Milano di Rouge to the level of success it has reached today, I would get so many inquiries from women, notably women of color, on how to launch a business or get to the next of level of success that I decided I wanted to launch the Womanaire Club as a way to help other women entrepreneurs. A space where fellow women building brands and businesses can connect and gain knowledge from each other," Milan Rouge explained.
The Womanaire Club hosts a variety of programming, including meetups, sleepovers, workshops, and retreats. She used her journey to success to help educate other women on how to manage and grow their businesses. "It's not just that t-shirt anymore, I have an entire brand," she said.
Michelene Wilkerson, 24, Staten Island, NY
Michelene Wilkerson used her experience working in book publishing to find talent and her love for culture and art to create a community for young, emerging black creators. That community is called Soul Elevated, an arts and culture hub created in 2017. "When I started it, Soul Elevated was a retro-minimal moodboard. Fast forward a year later, the page is evolving into a creative community, multidisciplinary forum, and discovery platform," she explained.
The moodboard that started Soul Elevated featured thousands of inspiring visual works Michelene had screenshotted and hoarded on her phone. "When I finished the first moodboard, I had this exhilarating aha moment. I saw a space, a fresh world. I saw what I believe is a new lane, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it."
What she envisioned was a community that highlights emerging artists and other cool creators, solely focusing on emerging talent instead of established names and trending artists to showcase fresh faces and content. "More people deserve to eat--- but are we willing to give them a seat at the table? Or are we going to leave the reserved signs up and keep the feast exclusive? There's space for bloggers, but what about the experimental photographers, designers, stylists, musicians, and video creators? What about the fresh entrepreneurs and publishers who are working towards their big break?"
She began curating Soul Elevated's Instagram page and worked her way from there. "I'm familiar with the Black creative ecosystem on Instagram, so it just made sense to stay in my lane and use Instagram to create the world I wanted to see," she explained.
From there, pure, genuine relationships started to form and her followers wanted more so she started to brainstorm offline opportunities to bring Soul Elevated. As a result, Michelene created the first quarterly event series Young, Black and Rising. She never put together event before, but since the first YBR, she's had over 100 attend each event and has partnered with brands like Urban Outfitters and Penguin Random House. "I think it shows how necessary this work is. It's bound to go far."
Her future goal is to turn Soul Elevated into a digital media production company and editorial website. "Right now I'm building my community and building my external network. If Donald Trump can be elected president, you cannot stop me from living and fulfilling my best Black life. Never."
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Brittney Oliver is a marketing communications professional from Greater Nashville. Over the past three years, Brittney has built her platform Lemons 2 Lemonade to help Millennials turn life's obstacles around. Her platform is known for its networking mixers, which has brought over 300 NYC young professionals, entrepreneurs, and creatives together to turn life's lemons into lemonade. Brittney is a contributing writer for Fast Company and ESSENCE, among other media outlets.
When Megan Thee Stallion dropped “Hiss,” a shift happened. From the audacious lyrics to the striking visuals, there was no doubt that the song and video would go viral. The opening of the video shows the H-town hottie rocking a barely there Shibari red dress, showing off her voluptuous frame. It was a sexy moment created by Timeekah Murphy of Alani Taylor. The designer exclusively tells us how the opportunity came about and what it was like seeing her design on Megan for the first time.
xoNecole: How did the opportunity to create such an iconic look for Megan Thee Stallion's "Hiss" video come about?
Timeekah Murphy: The opportunity came from a DM from celebrity stylist Zerina Akers. She asked for a unique Shibari piece for Megan, and I needed to get it done in two days. So, of course, I did everything in my power to make it happen. I've always wanted to design for Megan, so this was an awesome opportunity for me.
xoN: What was that initial feeling of seeing the dress on her for the first time?
TM: I was shocked because, at first, I thought it hadn't been used. I saw Megan's last video and thought, damn, maybe it didn't fit. So, to see it on such an amazing video was breathtaking. I was beyond excited to finally say I designed for her.
xoN: Did you meet her? If so, how was that moment?
TM: I didn't meet Megan during the shoot, but during my time in LA, I got the opportunity to meet her at LA Pride with Tiffany Haddish, Common, and EJ King (stylist). Megan is such an amazing person, so it made it even better to know that my designs were going to be worn by her. I was shocked because, at first, I thought it hadn't been used. I saw Megan's last video and thought, damn, maybe it didn't fit. So, to see it on such an amazing video was breathtaking. I was beyond excited to finally say I designed for her.
"I was shocked because, at first, I thought it hadn't been used. I saw Megan's last video and thought, damn, maybe it didn't fit. So, to see it on such an amazing video was breathtaking. I was beyond excited to finally say I designed for her."
xoN: Walk us through the creation of the dress. How did you come up with the look, and how long did it take to make it?
TM: I was the co-designer for a brand called Deviant in 2018-2020, and we used to make custom Shibari pieces. That's how Zerina knew me. So I'm very familiar with making these types of pieces. We made plenty for Beyoncé, Cardi B, Tiffany Haddish, Tyra Banks, and so many others. So Zerina knew exactly what she wanted.
To get it done, it took me a day and a half. It's very intricate and time-consuming, so I spent about six hours making it then I sent an image of it to Zerina, and she didn't approve the first one, so I had to start from scratch again after getting my guidance and understanding of what was needed. The next day, I went to The Lab and created another version, and she approved it. I had to get it shipped overnight so that she would get it in time and fast forward to seeing it on the big screen.
xoN: What's next for you?
TM: Everything. The sky is not my limit, so the Alani Taylor brand is expanding into so many different avenues. We are getting involved in the community more, offering sewing classes to the youth. I've opened up a store for my brand in Atlanta and now preparing for fall/winter Fashion Week.
Megan Thee Stallion "Hiss" video/ YouTube
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I love working in media; more specifically, I love being a writer and editor in the media space. It allows me to use my skills to tell riveting and relatable stories that can be useful for readers. Working at xoNecole has allowed me the freedom to tell those stories on a grander scale, and seeing the response from our readers gives me the greatest pleasure, and it lets me know that we are doing something right.
It’s been 11 years since I embarked on a career in journalism. I’ve worked at a variety of outlets, some freelance and some full-time, and have discovered so many facets of the industry. So, would you be surprised if I told you that I never saw this career in the cards for me?
When I recall my years in school, there were two subjects I always loved: History and English. History because I just loved learning about different cultures, religions, and the world before I arrived and English because I loved to write. I enjoyed writing assignments, and my teachers would always tell me how good of a writer I was. In my spare time, I enjoyed reading magazines and began writing poetry and songs about love and heartbreak (y’all remember how intense high school romances were).
I took journalism as an elective and was even on the Yearbook staff. However, when it came down to choosing my college major and a possible career, media/ journalism was nowhere on my radar. I loved writing, but was it a career? Could I make money from it?
Throughout my matriculation, I changed my major a few times. I mean, I knew I wanted to do something creative, but what? I finally settled on journalism only because I knew I enjoyed writing, and at that point, I needed to choose something and stick with it. But even with the fun class projects and internships, I still didn’t believe journalism would be my career path. However, I was good at it, and I was networking with others in the industry. So, after graduating, I worked other jobs but continued writing. Finally, I got my big break as an editor, and I haven’t looked back since.
Looking at my journey, you can say that being an editor was divine, and maybe I was running from it. A lot of us are taught to find a steady career that pays well, and baby, I always saw myself living large. But I was always a creative, and I knew that I wanted a career path that would allow me to express myself.
While you can have a lucrative career in media, a lot of people don’t, and with the current layoffs that started at the top of this year, it’s even scarier to think of the future of this industry. However, to not be obsolete, writers and editors must stay ahead of the curve and be open to change. No one should be able to tell you that you can’t turn your passion into your profession.
If you’re interested in becoming an editor or learning about the media industry, join my writers’ workshop on Feb 20 by clicking the link here.
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Feature image by Milan Markovic/ Getty Images