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From Intern To Director Of Creative Media: Maura Chanz Got Here By Risking It All & Moving To LA

"If I didn't take that leap, I would not be soaring like I am."

How She Got Here

In xoNecole's "How She Got Here", we uncover the journey of fearless, ambitious women at the top of their game with unconventional not-so-everyday careers. Instead of asking them about their careers, xoNecole dissects the hardships, rejections, and nontraditional roads traveled by these women to create the positions they have today.

It would be remiss of me to not pay homage to the woman who took me under her wing like a lost little sister and presented opportunities to me in the entertainment industry that sculpted me into the woman I am today. Maura Chanz is one of the leading creative minds behind Yara Shahidi's Unguided IGTV series, director of creative media at 7th Sun Productions, and my Spelman sister.

When I first met Maura, she was a media intern at the BronzeLens Film Festival and ambassador for BET's "What's At Stake?", a student-led digital series in Atlanta. After a stint in front of the camera as a host for Bossip TV, she moved to Los Angeles and is now making the film and television industry her b*tch by creating content, making a name for herself, and living her best melanated life.

For this installment of "How She Got Here", xoNecole spoke with the TRIBE founder about her working relationship with Gen Z powerhouse Yara Shahidi, the ballsy move of packing up and moving to Los Angeles on a whim, and the qualities needed most when pursuing a career like hers:

Buying Her Big-Girl Plane Ticket:

Maura was no stranger to the Los Angeles lifestyle—seeing as how she had moved there before in her early teens to pursue an acting career—but she was determined to move back after an opportunity had presented itself. She knew that this was the time to bet on herself. "I think it's just knowing that you don't know that you're going to get another opportunity—and it was an opportunity to move. I may not have gotten another one. Not to say I wouldn't, but I just don't know. When you get that moment, you have to take it," she told xoNecole about mustering up the courage to pack up and book her flight to L.A., which she noted as "the best decision of my life." Under the apprenticeship and mentorship of Mara Brock Akil when moving out to Los Angeles, Maura further poured into her passion for entertainment production and continued to spread her wings into an industry that welcomed her with open arms.

"I think it's just knowing that you don't know that you're going to get another opportunity—and it was an opportunity to move. I may not have gotten another one. Not to say I wouldn't, but I just don't know. When you get that moment, you have to take it."

Maura credits Los Angeles for reigniting her spark, drive, and ambition within herself all over again, almost as if the battery in her back was surged with 30-times the original energy capacity. "It almost was like having to prove myself again. I had to regain a certain level of hustle, and I had established myself a little more in that space in Atlanta. Coming here to a new market was a steep learning curve," Maura admitted to xoNecole about having to play larger.

Though she was transitioning from independently producing content to her first official Cali gig working on OWN's Love Is, she rose to the occasion of running up a steep learning curve. "Yes, there's TV and things there, but a lot of the jobs are still coming from [Los Angeles]. They're bringing people there. Getting to play on the scale that I'm at, I don't think that I would have been able to do that in Atlanta."

Maura had the security of knowing that she could go back to her Georgia home whenever she would like, but she couldn't imagine herself flourishing more in the Atlanta industry than she already had especially because the job market was booming in the South because of the West Coast. Moreover, as someone who received her degree from Spelman College in Comparative Women's Studies, Maura is quite certain that she will always land on her feet in the alternative event that pursuing her dream did not work out the way she intended.

Lucky for Maura, she never has to turn around again. Though there may have been a few shortcomings, she doesn't have a single regret about her decision. "I really had to minimize my lifestyle: I had my own place in Atlanta, I had to get a roommate here. I was actually making more in Atlanta working at Bossip and then transitioning to a production role, I took a pay cut," she said about making some adjustments upon her move to Los Angeles.

"I really had to minimize my lifestyle: I had my own place in Atlanta, I had to get a roommate here. I was actually making more in Atlanta working at Bossip and then transitioning to a production role, I took a pay cut."

Maura knew that the reward was greater than the risk at hand, including the rewarding feeling of self-assurance and learning to trust her gut feeling. "You're a smaller fish in a big pond as opposed to a bigger fish in a small pond and sometimes in those types of situations, some people are going to drown and some people are going to rise to the occasion. It's just about your dexterity, your tenacity and just pushing through. Honestly, it was the best decision I ever made in my life because if I didn't take that leap, I would not be soaring like I am," Maura said to xoNecole before going into more detail about her latest venture with a certain actrivist we all know and love.

maura-chanz-bandana

Photo courtesy of Maura Chanz

The Fateful Run-In With Yara That Turned Into An Opportunity of a Lifetime:

After ending her apprenticeship with the great Mara Brock-Akil around April 2018, Maura crossed paths with Grown-ish star and Gen-Z activist Yara Shahidi and her mother Keri, but this was not the first time they'd met. They actually met a year prior at ESSENCE Fest, but this time around Maura was developing a project and it was the perfect time to catch up. Once Maura let the young star and her mother in on her project development, they expressed immediate interest in learning more. Like the true go-getter she is, Maura offered to contribute her consulting services to the dynamic mother-daughter Shahidi duo who had their ABC deal coming up. Two years later, Maura is one of the creative minds behind Yara Shahidi's Unguided series on IGTV.

"Yara's such a dynamic person. I learn so much from her literally every day, and I wanted to bring the pillars of her life to something that was fun and engaging, but also something unfamiliar," she praised the young actress. Upon the beginning stages of conception, Unguided was brainstormed to be more than a stereotypical vlog collaboration through a social media platform with a Gen Z influencer. These non-traditional concepts included Yara not looking directly into the camera and hearing her end-of-day reflections in her journal about her daily experiences. "I wanted to share that piece and I think sometimes there is a lot of value of not doing things in the moment," she described the series.

"Yara's such a dynamic person. I learn so much from her literally every day, and I wanted to bring the pillars of her life to something that was fun and engaging, but also something unfamiliar."

For the debut episode, the production team, including Yara and Keri, invited Maura to Paris, France to which she agreed almost instantly. In Maura's mind, she wanted to pursue Unguided from the angles of what she wanted to know about Yara's mind and how she views the world. From building a personal relationship with Yara, it rang a bell that she was very passionate about her favorite author James Baldwin - which encouraged Maura to pitch the retracing of Baldwin's steps through Paris by "leaning into Yara's brilliance and mind for the delivery."

With the Shahidi team on deck, including Afshin Shahidi, Yara's father, on the creatives, each episode comes together seamlessly to tell the unguided stories of Yara Shahidi - pun intended. "A large part of my job is taking Unguided and ensuring that Yara's through line is through the projects that you see and Yara's values are visible and incorporated across different forms of media. Whether that be doing digital content, social content or even TV and film," Maura said as she continued to peel back the layers of Yara Shahidi for xoNecole. "People only know so much about her but she has an incredible sense of humor, she's really into all types of quirky things that people may not know so even ensuring those things that you may not think are innately Yara but I know they are." Today, Maura serves as the Director of Creative Media at 7th Sun Productions, which recently inked a first-look deal with ABC a few months ago. On her thoughts on the projection of the production company, she expressed her excitement to see Yara "in that producerial capacity."

"When Yara comes into a conversation, it's going to be elevated so I expect for the world to see themselves reflected all in this landscape, see people of color getting to exist and piercing that veil that we barely get to pierce. Yara and Keri are really passionate about being gatekeepers and opening that door wide for new emerging talent; they love collaborating in that way. I expect for you all to discover your new faves through the work that the company's doing," she boasted about her new role and what's next for 7th Sun.

To anyone who may be looking to collaborate with any established figure in the entertainment industry—especially on Yara Shahidi's level—Maura advises one thing: make it about them and not you. "The one thing you need to do is discover what's unique about them. It's about taking the time to learn that person. I know what makes her excited so when I'm producing and developing ideas, I know her so well at this point and that just comes from really paying attention," Maura said transparently about her creative process. "When you're coming into something and collaborating especially with somebody of Yara's stature, this isn't about my creative ideas. Maura's very different from Yara. As someone who is working with talent, it's not about my perspective, it's Yara's."

"When you're coming into something and collaborating especially with somebody of Yara's stature, this isn't about my creative ideas. Maura's very different from Yara. As someone who is working with talent, it's not about my perspective, it's Yara's."

Part of Maura's process is asking Yara about her interests, what she listens to and her own curiosities while entangling the story that they're both trying to tell. "We prioritize things that are important to her and I'm led by her. I think it's humbling yourself in some way and yeah, you may have brilliant ideas but how is that connected to the party that you're collaborating with? Whose platform is this being used on? Is that what their audience connects with? It's not about what's my vision because those things may be very different," she continued to challenge xoNecole readers about their perspective.

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Photo courtesy of Maura Chanz

5 Lessons We Can Learn From Maura Chanz's Journey:

Change your perspective on hearing the word "no".

"I don't think I even ingest 'no's'. Maybe I've had one and I didn't even read it as a no. I can't think of one but I'm sure there has been one. It's just all about perspective."

When one door closes, another will open.

"I was fired toward the tail end of Love Is… and it was really just a steep learning curve. Coming in at that level of where you're assisting a showrunner who's producing and directing, I didn't come from having a background as a [production assistant] or really being outside of talent. I didn't have any behind-the-scenes experience. I actually got on unemployment and figured out what I learned from this.

"From the outside, it looked like a failure, but it wasn't. That led me to developing the project that got the attention of Keri [Shahidi] and Yara [Shahidi]. The bounce back was just taking a moment of stillness."

Confidence can get you in the right rooms.

"Confidence. A lot of people are creative and a lot of people have a lot of these things, but you have to believe that you deserve to be in this space. You have to believe that you have value, that you will change this industry, and that you have something to contribute. If you can walk with that confidence and remember that value, you will remain undaunted, and that's the biggest piece about this industry—seeing it through.

"This is not a 'you go through four years of school and you're a doctor' type of thing; you may not see the fruits of your labor for 30 years. Everyone's journey is going to be different because there's no linear path, but if you keep that confidence, you'll be OK."

Consistently create and the right opportunities will find you.

"Create. I've always been creative: I started my site, I was producing with Kofi [Siriboe], and what drew people to me was the work I was already doing prior to me pursuing other things with them that I created. I had respect, and I had something to show for my own pursuits. You can't wait to be on the set of a movie for that to be the first time you're creating anything."

Know your worth.

"I never doubted my values, knowing I have unique values in every space I'm in and not being afraid to share that."

For more information on Maura Chanz, follow her on Instagram or check out her official website.

Featured image courtesy of Maura Chanz

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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