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How Melissa Kimble Spun A Hashtag Into An Invaluable Platform For #blkcreatives

BOSS UP

On any given day of the week, the #blkcreatives network can be found bridging the gap between black creatives and their goals.


But its founder Melissa Kimble never envisioned she would ignite a community that currently connects over 45,000 people across social media. Fresh out of college, it was hard enough for the brains behind the hashtag to land a writing gig at a magazine or newspaper.

Her love for all things creative had humble beginnings when Melissa was no older than 12. During a cleaning day in her grandmother's home, Melissa stumbled across a box flooded with The Source, Vibe, and XXL magazines, which more than likely belonged to her brother who had just moved out. Having had no concept of hip-hop journalism, she pored over words penned by Danyel Smith to Kim Osorio. "This is someone's job to put this together?" she thought as she moved from cover to cover.

While Melissa always had a flair for reading and writing, thanks to her single mom placing books in her hands when she was merely two, this was different. "Finding those magazines and seeing how the music I was listening to on the radio was being turned into stories was the moment that I discovered my natural love for print," she reminisces. "It opened up a whole new world for me."

"It opened up a whole new world for me."

During our morning call, the Chicago native sounds as bright as the sunlight piercing through my window. "I've been feeling very clear this week," she tells me at the dawn of our conversation, miles from one of the lowest moments of her life.

In May 2009, Melissa's job hunt unraveled into a series of no's as she prepared to cross the stage at the University of Tennessee at Martin. "At that time, trying to go into media seemed impossible," she reflects.

With the Great Recession gnawing at her childhood dreams and communications degree, the recent grad landed face down in defeat at a FedEx center in Memphis. "Having a degree and then immediately having to go throw boxes just to make money was humbling in hindsight but super difficult [at the time]," she explains.

As a means to keep her pen afloat, Melissa dabbled in celebrity news and gossip in her spare time but was ultimately unfulfilled. "It stretched my muscle, but over time, I got tired of contributing to that particular conversation and wanted to find a way to tell stories," she maintains. "I felt like I wasn't doing that."

After lending her talent to several sites, developing her own space online came to mind as early as 2010. Since she couldn't keep her phone on her during FedEx shifts, Melissa would scribble her ideas on paper and tuck them away for later review. As a bookworm, she contemplated interviewing black authors about their latest titles until a larger vision crept into view. "Given where I was in my life, it was so important for me to see examples of people who had created their own lane or career out of nothing," she muses.

From there, My Creative Connection was born.

When she launched her blog in 2012, Melissa panned to self-starting women like relationships guru Demetria Lucas and digital influencer Christina S. Brown before zooming in on men as well. One year later, she was listed among the "Top 14 Empowering & Inspiring Black Women to Follow Online in 2013."

Despite the traction, Melissa admits she was "off and on" with her project for three years before hitting her stride. Her skills began to tilt towards social media, she explains.

It started with Twitter chats. She had participated in a few, but soon realized they weren't curated with black creatives in mind. "I always feel like there are two different conversations going on in this world: one where the conversation is being controlled by the media and the government and what they want us to see, and then there's the conversations that we are having with each other and with ourselves that are necessary for the mainstream to see, and I felt like the latter part was missing from social media," Melissa expresses.

"I felt like the latter part was missing from social media."

In response to that void, she launched My Creative Connection's first Twitter chat in April 2015. Driven by four guests, including Black Actress creator Andrea Lewis, the exchange on "Owning Your Creativity" lured a number of eyes. "People kept asking, 'When's the next one?'" Melissa describes the demand for more. "There was nobody else online who looked like us doing Twitter chats, so we were able to really capitalize off of that."

By the fifth chat, she adopted the name #blkcreatives from a friend, which marked a definitive chapter for her platform.

With each discussion, the hashtag swelled into a network that, to date, reaches tens of thousands.

The success of #blkcreatives catches Melissa off guard at times, but she's aware it didn't manifest by accident. "We found this lane where we're like the creative's best friend or thought partner," the social media strategist explains. "We have this energy around us that's really personable and open, very informative but with a heart and mission for service, and I feel people can feel that when they come in contact with the network."

Scroll their Twitter page, and you'll spot plenty sharing their intentions for the week, revisiting their wins for the month, and holding themselves accountable for where they fall short. There are tons of job opportunities to mull over too, but Melissa insists, "You can't pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of business."

"You can't pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of business."

It was through a chance encounter at a networking event that the digital maven landed a job at Ebony in December 2015, but had she not done "the inner work," chances are she wouldn't have left much of a mark as their onetime senior social media manager.

The moment she accepted the position, she knew she wanted to dig through the magazine's archives, which spanned 70 years of black history and culture. Under the direction of then Editor-In-Chief Kierna Mayo (whose words she once marveled over as an aspiring writer), Melissa unearthed classic Ebony covers to establish "On This Day" features. When she commemorated the 44th anniversary of Sanford and Son's premiere, her post reached over one million people on Facebook within 24 hours, a rare feat for the publication at the time.

Looking back at how she fueled Ebony's visibility, she cites more than doubling their social media following as a standout accomplishment. "I'm most happy that I was able to take a legacy brand and make it relevant on a daily basis online," she shares.

Before she could ring in a second year at the magazine, however, Melissa and much of her team were laid off in May 2017 as #EbonyOwes became a trending topic on the web. "A lot of what the public was finding out at the time, I was finding out as well," she recalls, referencing the dozens of freelancers who accused the company of nonpayment last year.

The sudden dismissal left Melissa upset and lost yet, ultimately, relieved. "I say this as a person of faith, but I definitely feel like it was God getting us off the Titanic before it sunk," she reflects.

"I definitely feel like it was God getting us off the Titanic before it sunk."

She had already been searching for new opportunities, which sparked a move to New York less than a month later, but credits #blkcreatives for seeing her through the unexpected. Between words of support and regular job leads, Melissa felt far from alone. "I was able to tap into my own community to help myself," she says, pointing to the value of the network she built. "It's definitely tested (laughs)."

Today, Melissa is helping Vibe veteran Mimi Valdes build her digital platform Kaleido Beauty all while managing social media for co-working space Dream Village and Sanaia Applesauce. Ask her how she does it all, and she'll list daily prayer and meditation as life changers. "I always try to make sure I'm putting myself first," she explains, adding that she's intentional about meeting her physical and emotional needs. If she could use help along the way, she won't mince words either. "Up until now, I've thought of balance as a solo effort when, really, it can be a group effort," she affirms.

As for the future of #blkcreatives, Melissa has set her sights beyond the Internet in more ways than one. She imagines she'll start an official nonprofit that will inspire black creatives to give back to youth through literacy and tech within the next three years. In the meantime, her team has launched a $5,000 fundraiser in support of Children of Promise, a Brooklyn organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.

In deep thought on the limitless possibilities for her network, she also reveals hopes of maturing into a digital marketing agency, cementing an annual conference, and hosting events in an effort to make a fuller impact on visionaries across the country.

"It's not just about one person," Melissa ensures. "I could've easily slipped my personal brand in front of #blkcreatives and allow that to elevate me higher than I am now, but it's never been about that. #blkcreatives is really about the community, and I think that shows in everything that we do."

For more Melissa, follow her on Instagram. You can also check out #blkcreatives by using their hashtag and following them on Instagram too.

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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