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Meet The Refugee Sibling Duo Who Are The Mastermind Creators Behind Your Favorite Hollywood Parties

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Ever wonder who is the brain behind the most epic Hollywood parties? Or who is the creative genius that comes up with such unique ideas and concepts for the most talked about events in town? Well, if you've ever attended a Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, or Common party, you might have experienced the work of these two trailblazing sisters.


Miatta David Johnson and Massah David are the founders of creative agency MVDInc. The agency is an innovative branding company that focuses on strategic marketing/planning for a number of Hollywood's biggest names. Founded in 2002, these sisters have been busy working with a roster of A-list celebrities and Fortune 500 companies to help manifest their vision and create memorable experiences for all who attend. While these ladies have created a number of impressive events within their career over the last 15 years, what's most impressive, is their journey to success.

Miatta and Massah are originally Liberian refugees.

In 1980, there was a coup in their home country, that changed the lives of these sisters as they knew it. Their father was elected mayor of Monrovia, Liberia and their great uncle was the President of Liberia. The coup overtook the government, resulting in the murder of their uncle and the imprisonment of their father. Their father was then placed in a camp for approximately 18 months, as their mother worked vigorously to have him released. Once he was finally released, the family sought political asylum in the U.S but the entire family would not be granted simultaneously. Miatta alongside her two brothers and father came first, while her mother and Massah would arrive a couple years later.

The family was eventually reunited and neither their struggles or hardships shook their desire to succeed. Once in the U.S, they resided in Maryland, and Miatta and Massah went on to obtain degrees from top universities, Howard University and NYU respectively.

The first of many successes, the sisters then took their talents to NYC where Miatta worked on Wall Street and Massah worked in music management. Both careers were short lived when the sisters realized their real passion for entertainment and marketing, and then birthed their vision of MVDInc. And the rest is history.

Miatta and Massah chatted with xoNecole about being refugees, creating MVD Inc, and the most important lessons they've learned about entrepreneurship.

I know you two are originally from Liberia, what was it like having to leave your country?

Miatta: Our life changed forever after the coup in Liberia. We left behind everything we had. Our parents had to start all over. It was disruptive to say the least.

"Our life changed forever. We left behind everything we had."

Massah: I was very young when we left, so I honestly don't remember much. I look forward to going back and spending some much needed time there.

How has that experience affected you today?

Miatta: Witnessing the sheer drive and resilience to provide a full life for a family of six is not lost on us. It helped to define and mold us into the people we are today.

Massah: Based off of the stories that I've heard growing up, it makes me grateful to be alive and reminds me that I'm not here by mistake. It drives me to walk in purpose and live my best life.

Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

What led you two in creating MVD Inc? Take me back to where it all began and getting your very first client.

Miatta: MVD Inc was created to fill a void in how our stories are told. I wanted our firm to be known for tapping into the untold narrative and presenting it in a non-traditional way. Prior to MVD Inc, I worked as a financial reporter for Dow Jones. I began to lose my love for economic reporting and the emerging markets, my interest slowly shifted to my love of music. I was working for free as a publicist for a few friends in the music business while still at Dow Jones. After juggling both roles, I realized that I loved what I was doing for free more than my day job. Friends of ours encouraged me to pursue Music PR full-time. So I took a leap of faith, quit my job, and used my 401k to start the business. Those friends were Barkue Tubman and Blue Williams, who managed Outkast at the time. After watching me hustle to get them placements at no charge for a year, they decided to give us a shot and become our first client.

"MVD Inc was created to fill a void in how our stories are told."

Massah: I was working my way through the ranks in the music business, from intern to assistant to eventually an executive. So I would moonlight on the side with Miatta coming up with the vision for MVD Inc, the creative and marketing, etc while working at an independent label. Because I'm non-traditional in my approach to work, I yearned for the room to grow, be my own boss, and work on projects I was truly passionate about. So I left the label and dedicated all of [my] time to helping mold and grow MVD's event experiences.

What is the overall motive of MVD Inc?

Massah: The motive of MVD Inc is to make sure that we are represented in rooms and conversations we may typically not be invited to.

Miatta: We really want to change the view of what not just women but black women can accomplish.

What has being entrepreneurs taught you about yourself?

Massah: Being an entrepreneur has taught me that only you can place limits on what you can accomplish. It's reaffirmed for me that there is no one path to success, you pave your way as you see fit, and you don't have to conform to do so.

Miatta: Being an entrepreneur taught [me] that I'm stronger than I realize. I am not a fan of change but I've learned to become more open to pivoting and remaining laser focused on the bigger picture. The route may not be how you imagined but when your gut is your compass it never takes you off course.

How has it been working side by side with your sister on this journey?

Massah: Working side by side was challenging at first, because I wanted to make sure that my voice was heard and respected despite being the younger sibling. We both have our strengths. [For example] Miatta is left brain and I'm right, but you need to utilize both in order to function and thrive. So, it took a while for us to come to an understanding that at MVD we are sisters but partners first. It also helps that we truly have a love and respect for one another. That's rare to find in business.

Being black women in Hollywood with your own creative agency doesn't sound easy, what struggles did you two face or continue to face?

Miatta: It's not easy. Many of the struggles begin with the fact that we are in a male-dominated industry coupled with the fact that we are two black women. Often times people that may not be familiar with your work automatically have a preconceived notion of your capabilities and reach. So much of it is dispelling those notions and letting the work speak for itself.

For young women looking to step into this industry, what advice would you give them?

Miatta: Perfect your craft, learn and understand the business you are looking to pursue, and always trust your gut.

Massah: Remain true to who you are. Get hands-on experience because there is no better teacher.

You two are such a positive representation for women everywhere with all you have accomplished on your own, when it's all said and done, what do you want your legacy to be?

Massah: I would really want to continue our family's legacy of firsts. Our father was the first elected Mayor of Monrovia, our brother is the first black man and openly gay man to serve as chief counsel to the governor of New York. So needless to say we have very big shoes to fill (laughs).

Miatta: What she said (laughs)

To keep up with these trailblazing sisters, be sure to check out their website www.MVDinc.us and follow them at @Miattajohnson & @Massahdavid.

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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