Here’s the story behind Black History Month — and why it’s celebrated in February

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black history month sign

By , NPR

Every February, the U.S. honors the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation. Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history.

This year’s theme, Black Health and Wellness, pays homage to medical scholars and health care providers. The theme is especially timely as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected minority communities and placed unique burdens on Black health care professionals.

“There is no American history without African American history,” said Sara Clarke Kaplan, executive director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University in Washington, D.C. The Black experience, she said, is embedded in “everything we think of as ‘American history.’ ”

First, there was Negro History Week
Critics have long argued that Black history should be taught and celebrated year-round, not just during one month each year.

It was Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black history,” who first set out in 1926 to designate a time to promote and educate people about Black history and culture, according to W. Marvin Dulaney. He is a historian and the president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Woodson envisioned a weeklong celebration to encourage the coordinated teaching of Black history in public schools. He designated the second week of February as Negro History Week and galvanized fellow historians through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which he founded in 1915. (ASNLH later became ASALH.)

The idea wasn’t to place limitations but really to focus and broaden the nation’s consciousness.

“Woodson’s goal from the very beginning was to make the celebration of Black history in the field of history a ‘serious area of study,’ ” said Albert Broussard, a professor of Afro-American history at Texas A&M University.

The idea eventually grew in acceptance, and by the late 1960s, Negro History Week had evolved into what is now known as Black History Month. Protests around racial injustice, inequality and anti-imperialism that were occurring in many parts of the U.S. were pivotal to the change.

Colleges and universities also began to hold commemorations, with Kent State University being one of the first, according to Kaplan.

Fifty years after the first celebrations, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month during the country’s 1976 bicentennial. Ford called upon Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” History.com reports.

Why February was chosen as Black History Month
February was chosen primarily because the second week of the month coincides with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Lincoln was influential in the emancipation of slaves, and Douglass, a former slave, was a prominent leader in the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery.

Lincoln and Douglass were each born in the second week of February, so it was traditionally a time when African Americans would hold celebrations in honor of emancipation, Kaplan said. (Douglass’ exact date of birth wasn’t recorded, but he came to celebrate it on Feb. 14.)

Thus, Woodson created Negro History Week around the two birthdays as a way of “commemorating the black past,” according to ASALH.

Forty years after Ford formally recognized Black History Month, it was Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, who delivered a message of his own from the White House, a place built by slaves.

“Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington or from some of our sports heroes,” Obama said.

“It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America,” he continued.

(Canada also commemorates Black History Month in February, while the U.K. and Ireland celebrate it in October.)

There’s a new theme every year
ASALH designates a new theme for Black History Month each year, in keeping with the practice Woodson established for Negro History Week.

This year’s Black Health and Wellness theme is particularly appropriate, Dulaney said, as the U.S. continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“As [Black people], we have terrible health outcomes, and even the coronavirus has been affecting us disproportionately in terms of those of us who are catching it,” Dulaney said.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

3 Ways to Conquer Imposter Syndrome

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By Lori Pugh

I’ve spent most of my professional career in the high-tech field, surrounded by predominantly male leadership. While I will always be appreciative of the mentorship and guidance I have received over the years, I’ve often found self-comparison leading the way for me.

In the STEAM fields, you’re expected to be very innovative and forward-looking. While those around me exuded confidence and self-assurance, I have often felt like I was faking it. For the longest time, I became risk-averse for fear of looking stupid. As I climbed the corporate ladder, I was sure these feelings would leave me and was disappointed to find that they would intensify.

Then, one day, many years ago, an employee reached out to me asking for advice about overcoming “imposter syndrome.” Never having heard of this affliction, my interest was piqued. After reading more about it, I realized this term describes me. Discovering that others felt these feelings flooded me with relief. In my research, I found that this “syndrome” was felt mainly by women and people of color.

Instead of being stressed, I felt challenged to learn how to conquer it. I sought coaching to help me do so, which inspired me to help others with my newfound knowledge. It has been a monumental privilege to help others learn to conquer this debilitating condition. If you can relate to these feelings, then I know you can conquer them, too. Here are three ways to do so.

1. Build self-confidence. Nobody is born with confidence. That means it can be built! Self-confidence is an emotion guided by our thoughts. If we become aware of our thoughts and identify the driving factor of negative emotions, then we have the power to target and change them. We can alter beliefs about ourselves, our career, our relationships, our lives. It’s natural for fear to crop up. That’s just the primitive part of our brains trying to protect us. With practice, all of us can rise above those natural, fear-driven thoughts and create self-confidence in every area of our lives.

2. Recognize that failing is a crucial part of success. We’ve all been taught in some way that failure must be avoided. However, when I was surrounded by software engineers, I learned that we all need to fail to improve. They call it “failing fast.” When developing software, failures or “bugs” are a normal and natural part of the testing process. It helps developers improve what isn’t working in the coding. Rather than fearing failure, look at it as a sign that you’re learning and moving forward.

3. Stop agonizing over what others may think. It’s natural for us to ponder what others think about us, but it’s the worrying that paralyzes us because there’s nothing we can do about it. Worried thoughts, however, are notoriously inaccurate. In the end, you cannot control others’ thoughts, feelings or expectations. While you may still face times of worry, you also face a choice in those moments to have courage and move forward despite any discomfort. And in doing so, you will continue to build confidence in yourself.

The journey of creating self-confidence and conquering imposter syndrome can be a long and challenging process. But if you choose to be your authentic self and have confidence in your abilities, you’ve taken the first important step.

Lori Pugh is the Chief People Officer for the nonprofit, Waterford.org. She is also a certified life coach specializing in helping women build their self-confidence and recognize their inherent brilliance. You can find more information on her website, loripugh.com, or by joining her Facebook group, “Women Walking Tall.”

Target says it will spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025

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People stand in line at Target in Kips Bay during the coronavirus pandemic on April 14, 2020 in New York City.

By Melissa Repko, CNBC

Target said it will hire more Black-owned companies, launch a program to identify and support promising minority entrepreneurs and add products from more than 500 Black-owned brands to its shelves or website.

Altogether, the discounter said Wednesday, it will spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025.

“We have a rich history of working with diverse businesses, but there’s more we can do to spark change across the retail industry, support the Black community and ensure Black guests feel welcomed and represented when they shop at Target,” chief growth officer Christina Hennington said in a news release.

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and protests across the country have ratcheted up pressure on corporate leaders to advance racial equity and do more than simply cut a check — or risk losing business. The uneven death toll of the coronavirus pandemic and financial toll of the recession also spotlighted the country’s sharp racial disparities with health care and economic opportunity.

Floyd was killed in Target’s hometown of Minneapolis, now the site of the murder trial for the police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck. One Target store, located near the site of Floyd’s death, had to be completely rebuilt and some of its other stores were damaged during rioting.

Companies have spoken out about diversity and inclusion as consumers pay attention and some direct their dollars toward businesses that align with their values. Generation Z — the group of teens and early 20-somethings who are aging into shopping and establishing relationships with brands — care more about social justice compared with former generations, according to an annual survey of teens by Piper Sandler released Wednesday. Teens surveyed by the firm ranked racial equity as their most important political and social issue, followed by the environment and Black Lives Matter.

Over the past year, major retailers like Nike, Walmart and Ulta Beauty have rolled out their own pledges, such as devoting more shelf space to Black-owned products, evaluating how they hire and promote employees, featuring more Black people in their ads and reducing the number of police or security in stores to prevent racial profiling. A growing number of retailers, including Macy’s, Sephora and Gap, have signed on to the 15 Percent Pledge, which aims to make Black-owned products on store shelves proportional to the country’s Black population.

Among Target’s changes, the retailer said it will more actively seek out advertising firms, suppliers, construction companies and other kinds of businesses that are Black-owned. It said it will create a program called Forward Founders for early-stage start-ups led by Black entrepreneurs to help them develop, test and scale products to sell at mass retailers like Target. It will be modeled off of Target Accelerators, a program for start-ups that the retailer uses to foster up-and-coming brands and ultimately, to sell fresh and exclusive products that attract customers and help it differentiate from competitors.

In some categories, such as beauty, Target said it already has 50 Black-owned and Black-founded brands — but would like to add more for other kinds of merchandise.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Meet The Founder Who Has Helped Women-Owned Businesses Secure Over $14 Million In Funding

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The Founder Who Has Helped Women-Owned Businesses Secure Over $14 Million In Funding

By Pauleanna Reid, Forbes

Black women have outpaced white men in starting a business according to recent studies. Yet despite being among the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs, only 3% of Black women are running mature businesses. This is largely because building a strong, growing entity that has moved past its starting stage requires access to capital. A barrier for growth that highlights the inequities women of colour continue to face in finance. Black women run businesses not only get approved for loans at rates 20 percent lower than men but also receive significantly smaller loan amounts as well.

For Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, a fintech and investing expert and founder of EnrichHER, her mission is to change that. EnrichHER, the only digital lending platform specializing in connecting diverse entrepreneurs to capital, is Novellus’ solution to fuel inclusive economic growth by providing business owners with capital, coaching, and connections.

“I believe that women entrepreneurs are the cornerstones of society; our businesses not only create jobs, but they strengthen economies and sustain whole communities,” states Dr. Novellus.

In 2017, Dr. Novellus founded EnrichHER by gathering 50 organizations in Atlanta to test her idea. The full program launched in February 2019, receiving applications from 3,000 women-led businesses. “EnrichHER is the perfect name because we’re trying to put money into companies that have gender diversity in the leadership position. And by doing so, we’re enriching the business and enriching her,” Dr. Novellus explained. The platform focuses on two different types of customers. One being the funder profile – either an angel investor or a small angel group – that wants to fund a new majority founder. The other funder type is for a larger organization such as PayPal to deploy greater sums of money to well-qualified business owners. Providing the ability to make a financial transaction directly through EnrichHER makes it frictionless for funders to make investments. “Everything is built into our platform, and they can walk away a year later with a principal plus interest payment and knowing that they have funded new majority founders,” stated Dr. Novellus.

In 2017, Dr. Novellus founded EnrichHER by gathering 50 organizations in Atlanta to test her idea. The full program launched in February 2019, receiving applications from 3,000 women-led businesses. “EnrichHER is the perfect name because we’re trying to put money into companies that have gender diversity in the leadership position. And by doing so, we’re enriching the business and enriching her,” Dr. Novellus explained. The platform focuses on two different types of customers. One being the funder profile – either an angel investor or a small angel group – that wants to fund a new majority founder. The other funder type is for a larger organization such as PayPal to deploy greater sums of money to well-qualified business owners. Providing the ability to make a financial transaction directly through EnrichHER makes it frictionless for funders to make investments. “Everything is built into our platform, and they can walk away a year later with a principal plus interest payment and knowing that they have funded new majority founders,” stated Dr. Novellus.

Dr. Novellus is no stranger to gaining access to resources. She is one of very few Black women founders who has raised over $1 million in venture capital. But her journey toward economic empowerment and leveraging the power of investments began when she was just 15 years old. Recognizing that she would require a strategic plan to reach her goals, Dr. Novellus raised over $600,000 in scholarships to fund 11 years of higher education. She achieved this herculean feat by reaching out to over 200 companies to inquire about scholarships. Her persistence worked, and companies decided to invest in her educational goals.

Much of her determination and advocacy for economic equality began with the conversations held in her household growing up. Defying common misconceptions about women and their perceived lack of financial knowledge, Dr. Novellus was taught differently, “My mother always told me that women were the best at managing money and managing finances, even though other people often tell us otherwise. Women are the best because they typically have to manage all the money in every household.” Dr. Novellus’ mother encouraged her daughter to be knowledgeable and feel confident in any kind of financial transaction by giving her hands-on experience from an early age. “Outside of learning how to invest in the stock market at 12, I told my mother that I wanted to do the taxes for our family, so she allowed me to read through the tax books. And she believed that I could do it,” Dr. Novellus explained.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

How Black tech entrepreneurs are tackling health care’s race gap

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entrepreneurs photo: (from left) Kevin Dedner founded Hurdle, a mental health startup that pairs patients with therapists. Ashlee Wisdom's company, Health in Her Hue, connects women of color with culturally sensitive medical providers. Nathan Pelzer's Clinify Health analyzes data to help doctors identify at-risk patients in underserved areas. Erica Plybeah's firm, MedHaul, arranges transport to medical appointments.

By Cara Anthony, NPR

When Ashlee Wisdom launched an early version of her health and wellness website, more than 34,000 users — most of them Black — visited the platform in the first two weeks. “It wasn’t the most fully functioning platform,” recalls Wisdom, 31. “It was not sexy.” But the launch was successful. Now, more than a year later, Wisdom’s company, Health in Her Hue, connects Black women and other women of color to culturally sensitive doctors, doulas, nurses and therapists nationally.

As more patients seek culturally competent care — the acknowledgment of a patient’s heritage, beliefs and values during treatment — a new wave of Black tech founders like Wisdom want to help. In the same way Uber Eats and Grubhub revolutionized food delivery, Black tech health startups across the United States want to change how people exercise, how they eat and also how they communicate with doctors.

Inspired by their own experiences, plus those of their parents and grandparents, Black entrepreneurs are launching startups that aim to close the cultural gap in health care with technology — and create profitable businesses at the same time.

Seeing problems and solutions others miss
“One of the most exciting growth opportunities across health innovation is to back underrepresented founders building health companies focusing on underserved markets,” says Unity Stoakes, president and co-founder of StartUp Health, a company headquartered in San Francisco that has invested in a number of health companies led by people of color. He says those leaders have “an essential and powerful understanding of how to solve some of the biggest challenges in health care.”

Platforms created by Black founders for Black people and communities of color continue to blossom because those entrepreneurs often see problems and solutions others might miss. Without diverse voices, entire categories and products simply would not exist in critical areas like health care, experts in business say.

“We’re really speaking to a need,” says Kevin Dedner, 45, founder of the mental health startup Hurdle. “Mission alone is not enough. You have to solve a problem.”

Dedner’s company, headquartered in Washington, D.C., pairs patients with therapists who “honor culture instead of ignoring it,” he says. He started the company three years ago, but more people turned to Hurdle after the killing of George Floyd.

In Memphis, Tenn., Erica Plybeah, 33, is focused on providing transportation. Her company, MedHaul, works with providers and patients to secure low-cost rides to get people to and from their medical appointments. Caregivers, patients or providers fill out a form on MedHaul’s website, then Plybeah’s team helps them schedule a ride.

While MedHaul is for everyone, Plybeah knows people of color, anyone with a low income and residents of rural areas are more likely to face transportation hurdles. She founded the company in 2017 after years of watching her mother take care of her grandmother, who’d had to have both legs amputated because of complications from Type 2 diabetes. They lived in the Mississippi Delta, where transportation options were scarce.

“For years, my family struggled with our transportation because my mom was her primary transporter,” Plybeah says. “Trying to schedule all of her doctor’s appointments around her work schedule was just a nightmare.”

Plybeah’s company recently received funding from Citi, the banking giant.

“I’m more than proud of her,” says Plybeah’s mother, Annie Steele. “Every step amazes me. What she is doing is going to help people for many years to come.”

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Pierrah Hilaire On Going Viral Teaching Her TikTok Followers About Black Fashion Brands

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Pierrah Hilaire wearing orange for her article On Going Viral Teaching Her TikTok Followers About Black Fashion Brands

By Robyn Mowatt, Okay Player

Pierrah Hilaire, a Brooklyn-based content creator, was on TikTok before the platform forced its way into the fashion conversation and became a go-to source for people to keep an eye on growing (and dying) trends. But she noticed a problem: that most of the creators behind “Fashion Tok” as she calls it were mostly filled with white creators who also weren’t highlighting the brands — especially Black ones — she admires and enjoys. So, she decided to fill a void and share the brands she had an affinity for, making her TikTok account a popular destination to learn about Black-owned brands and designer pieces in the process.

Originally from Miami, Florida, Hilaire’s roots in fashion stem from her parents; her father was always stylish, while her mother modeled in New York City during her twenties.

“I’ve been obsessed with fashion ever since I could remember because of my parents,” she said over a Zoom call. “I’ve always loved [it].”

Hilaire began modeling as a teen; as she got older, she began dreaming of moving to New York and working in fashion in some capacity, inspired by all of the blogs she voraciously read about New York-based designers.

“The plan was to just go to medical school and stay in Florida,” she said when speaking of her life before taking the leap and moving to New York City. Even as she was studying psychology and putting in work at clinics, Hilaire was still making time for modeling.

“[I went] to school and studied,” she said. “There were times I would even go to clinics and help the physicians in the hospital. But then, I would have my bikini underneath and run to the beach for castings.”

In 2018, she decided to put her medical school ambitions behind her and told her parents she was relocating to New York (Brooklyn) to pursue modeling. The early stages were tough; although she had family support, money was hard to come by and she had only saved up a few month’s worth of salary from a hospital job. But she eventually landed on her feet when she began working in corporate for companies like PepsiCo, while also balancing a social media management side job and participating in as many fashion-related opportunities as she could.

Around this time, Hilaire began seeing Telfar bags in her neighborhood. Unfamiliar with the then-rising Black brand, she began researching it and other Black brands. This, paired with the racial reckoning of 2020 amid the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, led to Hilaire using her knowledge of fashion to shed light on Black-owned brands and designs on her TikTok account.

Hilaire sees TikTok as a fashion discovery tool, and even her first viral video on the platform reflects that. Highlighting bags by Telfar, Brandon Blackwood, Homage Year, and CISE, the video propped up names that have since become more known and popular in recent years, helping the video go viral in the process. Since then, she’s gone on to create additional compilation clips centered around menswear brands, gender-inclusive lines, sustainable fashion houses, and more.

We recently spoke with Hilaire about how she got her start in New York, the role she plays as a content creator, and the rise of Black luxury brands.

Do you feel you naturally fell into highlighting Black designers on your TikTok account?

Pierrah Hilaire: I think it was a mix. I didn’t see what I wanted in the TikTok space. It was predominantly non-black even though we were leading the trends. I always liked to know who was behind a brand that I was buying into. I would ask on Instagram all the time and people would tell me, “Oh, we’re black or women-owned.” And I liked knowing where my dollars were going.

Then, around the Black Lives Matter resurgence [in 2020], I realized, “What can I do to help out?” [Highlighting Black designers] was my form of activism. I went to some of the marches [and] donated to [organizations too].

I was literally sitting in Zoom meetings at my corporate job stressed out. At one point, we were in a lot of racial sensitivity trainings that weren’t even geared toward me. And I felt the least [I] could do [was] support the smaller Black businesses. So, I just started creating a list of brands that I would want to buy into or that I already have bought into, and I was on TikTok for a year already before I really took it seriously. So, when I posted it did really well, and I just kept it going.

How do you feel about the responsibility of sharing these brands with your followers?

As a creator, it’s great when the video does really well when it comes to numbers, but it’s not about the numbers. I think I care about the one person in the comment who’s like, “Oh, I didn’t know about this brand and I’m going to buy into it because ultimately it’s about supporting each other.”

But on top of that, what I love to see is growth. I hope people pay attention to [these] brands because — yes, I love them — but they’re doing amazing work not just for the business. A lot of these brands tend to help their community. I know my money’s not just going to the brand and the brand owner’s pockets, but to the community that they’re serving. That’s where you see the impact, and I think that’s the most important part of some of these videos.

Click here to read the full article on Okay Player

YOUR HEALTH MATTERS: African American models wear their natural hair and talk mental health

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African American models wear their natural hair and talk mental health

By Annie Krall, WBay

“A woman’s hair is her crown” a saying which takes on a deeper meaning for black women. Wearing their natural hair for example in afros or braids is a source of cultural pride. But it sometimes invites social and professional rejection.

Some of the African American women in our community and across the country tell us heavy is the head that wears the crown in the struggle for racial equality. For black women, having access to products and stylists who know how to care for their hair and makeup can be life-changing.

“Just access to basic products sometimes can be a huge barrier to being able to feel really good about how you’re looking,” Renita Robinson the vice-president of diversity and inclusion at Prevea Health shared. “So, with African American hair there are curl patterns and you can have super curly hair. My hair is super super curly. So, when my hair was longer when it was 12 inches long, when it got wet it was probably about an inch. It curls up super tight. You have to straighten it to have it look longer.”

It’s a local problem. Trying to find a hair stylist with different textured hair can be difficult. Which is why visiting black hair stylists like Shear Images Salon in Appleton is so crucial. However, it’s not just a problem of beauty access in Northeast Wisconsin. It’s a national issue.

“I’ve been on sets where I actually came with a full afro like this, it was actually bigger, and I left with my hair straight, and it wouldn’t revert back,” model, entrepreneur, and mental health advocate Tanaye White remembered. “I’ve been on sets where the makeup artists didn’t have my foundation color and I was literally on set looking like Casper the Ghost. I’ve been on sets where I’ve had to run into the bathroom and do my makeup myself because no one knew or had what I needed.”

Working for brands like Adidas, Sports Illustrated, and Juicy Couture featuring her natural afro, Tanaye said was a turning point in her career. As was the summer of 2020 for the modeling industry after the race riots with the creation of the Black Beauty Roster. An entertainment industry directory of hair and makeup artists with expertise on people of color.

An initiative to prevent models showing up to fashion shows and feeling, “just exhausting,” Mamè Adjei, a model, actress, and activist, emphasized. “Exhausting and a little traumatizing to be honest because we’ll go on set and I would just love to get up and be on set like my white counterparts and not worry about doing my hair or makeup. But I have to come prepared as with anything in life.”

When asked about having that expertise about different skin tones and different hair types, how important is that to sort of see makeup artists who are able to work on models like you, who actually have that familiarity that a lot of times wasn’t there.

“I love Black Beauty Roster because they really amplify the voice of D&I,” Tanaye replied.

Showcasing the beauty and strength of black women in Northeast Wisconsin.

“If a person doesn’t feel good about belonging or has issues around belonging and those kind of things,” Renita said. “Of course not looking good is only going to exacerbate it particularly if there is bullying. Or if there are environments where people are making comments to make you feel more vulnerable.”

These black women emphasized three points. First, fostering positivity and understanding even if you don’t regularly have to think about your hair. Secondly, to use resources like YouTube to learn more and be an ally or do outreach. Finally supporting local black hair stylists or joining the Black Beauty Roster to inspire change.

Click here to read the full article on WBay.

Dr. Dre helps break ground on new Compton High School performing arts center

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Dr. Dre

By ABC 7

A performing arts center at Compton High School that’s being built with the help of music mogul Dr. Dre is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Compton native – who donated $10 million to the project – joined city and school leaders for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the first step in getting the center up and running.

The facility will include a 1,200-seat theater and will be a place for young people to be creative in a way that will help further their education and positively define their future.

“When I was approached about funding a performing arts center that would provide an arts and technological education to students and be accessible for the community at large, I was all in,” said Dr. Dre. “I wanted to give the young people of Compton something I never had.”

Dr. Dre – born Andre Young – grew up in Compton and first rose to fame as a member of NWA, whose debut album was titled “Straight Outta Compton.”

He later found success as a solo artist, producer and businessman.

The performing arts center will be the first new high school facility to be built in almost a decade in the greater Los Angeles area.

Compton High School is more than 100 years old.

“This is very historical for Compton,” said Compton Unified School District Board President Micah Ali.

Click here to read the full article on ABC 7.

Kevin Hart Signs $100 Million Investment Agreement To Create HARTBEAT, Which Will Be Led By An All Black Leadership Team

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HARTBEAT Team L to R: CCO Bryan Smiley, Chairman Kevin Hart, CEO Thai Randolph, and CDO Jeff Clanagan

By Corein Carter, Forbes

Kevin Hart, trailblazing entrepreneur, executive, and entertainer, has now combined Laugh Out Loud and HartBeat Productions to create one of the leading sources of comedic storytelling and experiences with HARTBEAT, after more than a decade of leveraging his individual success to build the two high-growth companies.

With the mission of keeping the world laughing together, the multi-platform company creates entertainment at the intersection of comedy and culture. Hartbeat Productions’ best-in-class television and film production capabilities are combined with Laugh Out Loud’s extensive distribution network, as well as marketing, sales, experiential, branded content, digital, and social capabilities.

HARTBEAT was established with a $100 million investment from Abry Partners, a private equity firm that took a minority stake in the new company. Evolution Media Capital and a team from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP led by Sophia Yen, a partner in the Entertainment Group, advised HARTBEAT on the deal.

The creation of HARTBEAT and the capital raised with Abry Partners mark the beginning of a new era in comedy. Hart is proud of what has been delivered. As part of the agreement, Nicolas Massard, a partner at Abry Partners, will join the HARTBEAT board as part of the agreement. Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, will remain a shareholder in Laugh Out Loud after signing a multi-year, first look deal and taking an equity stake in the network in 2020.

Hart discusses his commitment to building the most innovative and inclusive comedy storytelling company. “In an industry where people love to say no and shut doors, I’ve been confident in forging our own path and using our success to open doors for others. We’re taking the new entertainment blueprint we’ve built to the next level with this merger and funding, paving the way for a new generation of comedic talent. I can’t wait to bring more comedians, experiences, and heartfelt stories to the world.”

HARTBEAT intends to use the funds to expand its team, accelerate growth for existing brands and franchises, and develop a new IP that will appeal to a global audience. This will be accomplished by collaborating with today’s most influential stars and rising comedic talent, both in front of and behind the camera, using HARTBEAT’s creative engine, relationships, and resources.

The existing leadership from Hartbeat Productions and Laugh Out Loud will continue to oversee day-to-day operations. Thai Randolph, who previously served as President & COO of Laugh Out Loud and COO of Hartbeat Productions, has been appointed CEO of the new entity. Hart will serve as Chairman in the interim. Bryan Smiley of Hartbeat Productions will become President & Chief Content Officer, and Jeff Clanagan of LOL will become President & Chief Distribution Officer. Leland Wigington, co-founder of HartBeat Productions, will lead a new production banner under HARTBEAT.

Randolph spoke with For(bes) The Culture about the emergence of HARTBEAT.

“Commercially, it’s a milestone moment. In terms of the company’s capitalization and valuation, as well as the possibility of expanding the team to create more content. We are breathing rare air when it comes to scaling companies of this size, especially when it comes to having a company that is minority owned and run by people of color.” Randolph continues, “We don’t consider diversity to be an initiative because, the composition is more than half women and half people of color. We are diverse by design because it’s just good business. With the mission of keeping the world laughing together, we have a team that looks like the world around us, so we can program relevantly to those audiences.”

The LOL! Network was named one of the top 10 media publishers in an April 2021 Conviva report that ranked the size of social media audiences across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube. It came in ahead of major players like Hulu. The merger and capital raise will allow HARTBEAT to expand and invest in the future of comedic entertainment, producing more in-demand content and experiences where comedy meets culture.

HARTBEAT is a full-service entertainment company that develops, markets, and distributes the most culturally relevant IP and experiences in comedy and beyond. The company is divided into three divisions:

● HARTBEAT Studios led by Bryan Smiley finances, develops, and produces comedy and culture-related film, television, and content.

● HARTBEAT Media, under the leadership of Jeff Clanagan, connects with consumers all over the world through events, gaming, music publishing, Web3 initiatives, and a vast distribution network.

● PULSE, the company’s branded entertainment studio, works with companies like P&G, Lyft, Sam’s Club, Chase, and Verizon to provide creative and cultural consulting.

Operating under HARTBEAT Media, the LOL! Network will continue to be the company’s flagship consumer brand, reaching audiences across its O&O social media, audio (SiriusXM) and OTT partners (Peacock, Roku, Tubi, PlutoTV, Vizio, Redbox, Xumo, and more).

With projects featuring Tiffany Haddish, Hasan Minhaj, Amanda Seales, Deon Cole, and Affion Crockett, HARTBEAT creates hit vehicles for A-list comedians and brings the next generation of comedic voices into the mainstream.

HARTBEAT is currently working on more than 60 projects with 15+ entertainment partners, all of which are in various stages of development. The company also has several multi-year strategic partnerships, including the unscripted first look deal with NBCU’s Peacock, a film deal with Netflix, a partnership with SiriusXM, and a deal with Audible via the joint venture SBH Productions with Charlamagne Tha God.

Among the upcoming projects include: Me Time (Netflix) with Mark Wahlberg and Regina Hall, “Storytown” (HBO Max), the F. Gary Gray action heist Lift (Netflix), #1 on the Call Sheet documentary (Apple TV+), “Die Hart” season 2 (Roku), “So Dumb It’s Criminal” with Snoop Dogg (Peacock), and a new season of the Hart-led sports talk show “Cold as Balls” (LOL Network).

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

How Black Men Changed the World

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Two black men, one father and one son.

By THE SMITHSONIAN

Too often Black men are seen as threatening. Over the generations, whether they are boys like Emmett Till, Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, or adults like Philando Castille, Eric Garner or George Floyd, or the thousands of victims of lynching in the 19th and 20th centuries, their deaths were made to seem justified by a fear based solely on their race. Only on rare occasions is someone held accountable. It’s even evident with the recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery, killed by three men while he was out for a run, that the “lynching” of Black men is still happening today.

The Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “Men of Change: Power, Triumph, Truth,” now on view at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, delivers a world of ideas about who Black men actually are and works to dismantle myths. The show supports the diversity of Black male identities in their capacity as role models, and amplifies the many positive ways their work and endeavors impact the Black community and the world.

Unfortunate, as it is, that there is a need for such an exhibition, Marquette Folley, who is content director for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, hopes the show is not only affirming for Black men, but that the messaging is potent enough to shift the cultural experience for all visitors. “Hard dialogues are occurring in the galleries,” she says.

Kendrick Lamar by Derrick Adams
Figure in the Urban Landscape #25 (portrait of Kendrick Lamar) by Derrick Adams, 2018 Courtesy of the Artist
Muhammad Ali by David Alekhuogie
Know Your Right [Muhammad Ali] by David Alekhuogie, 2018 Courtesy of the Artist

Powerful personalities like Kendrick Lamar, Muhammad Ali and James Baldwin are featured because their work in music, sports and literature, appeals to a larger audience and is very much concerned with how their struggles and undertakings impact freedom and rights for all Americans, but especially African Americans.

“We’re reckoning, looking at a broad landscape of what is human, which humans are worth looking at, and noting excellence without stereotyping what that excellence looks like,” Folley says.

While there are countless Black men in our world impacting many sectors and industries, the men were especially chosen, not solely because of their achievements, but because they made conscious decisions to help the world and uplift us all, and there is no one right way to do that.

The larger society from diverse backgrounds can also witness the variety of Black male identities possible. As our country becomes more diverse every day, the stories that we tell ourselves about strangers we live with have an impact on the collective. An exhibition such as this one is a chance for people unfamiliar with the history of the United States to educate themselves and their families about pivotal members of our society—Black men.

“It’s an affirmation of truth for African Americans. There is not one African American who doesn’t recognize a reality that was interesting and remains interesting within the exhibition, it is that those truths remain almost fairy tale to people who are not raised Black in America. And so there was the moment for culture’s storytellers to ask, can we effectively start changing the dialog,” Folley says.

Dick Gregory by Shaunte Gates
Light Side Dark Side [Dick Gregory] by Shaunte Gates, 2018 Courtesy of the Artist

Though this exhibition features just a few of the countless people who have impacted the world, the lightbox displays interspersed throughout the galleries includes the names, images, quotes and writing of Black men and some women.

“It’s not a story necessarily for African Americans. It’s a story for Americans,” Folley says.

Sarah Nelson Jackson and Jonathan Jackson, the founders of WeShouldDoItAll, a contemporary design studio in Brooklyn, New York, were enlisted to aid with the exhibition. In addition to the lightboxes that house photographic images and text, they suggested that the exhibition include artworks by Black visual artists in dialogue with the Black male personalities featured in the exhibition.

Each artist interpreted the assignment of creating an artwork about Black men differently. The artwork about the award-winning journalist and author, Ta-Nahesi Coates, was created by the New York-based artist Robert Pruitt, known for his figurative drawings. The image of a woman with a map depicting redlining on her head is based on the critically acclaimed article, “The Case for Reparations” that Coates wrote for The Atlantic in 2014.

Ta-Nehisi Coats by Robert Pruitt
Monumental [Ta-Nehisi Coates] by Robert Pruitt, 2018 Courtesy of the Artist and Koplin Del Rio, Seattle, Adam Reich Photography

These are not traditional portraits. An artwork about the Pulitzer-prize winning playwright August Wilson by Radcliffe Bailey is an assemblage of disparate items of locusts, dirt and a book.

Ryan Coogler is a global phenomenon. The writer and director of the film Black Panther created another world, one where for the first time, Black people were central to its narrative. His portrait created by the Atlanta-based artist Alfred Conteh is painted with the artist’s signature style of destressed colorful figures against a patterned backdrop. In this instance, Conteh is not painting Black people he identified on Atlanta streets to represent economic disparity, he’s painting one of the most influential filmmakers of today.

Kehinde Wiley, the artist who did Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait, uses visual art to explode representation of the Black image into largely white spaces. Wiley has been painting portraits of everyday Black men and women from cities around the world including, Harlem, South Central LA, Mumbai, Senegal, Dakar and Rio de Janeiro, and positions their bodies in a manner similar to that of the Old Masters. In this way, he makes the claim on the worth and importance of the Black body.

Now Wiley is himself the subject of a portrait painted by Devan Shimoyama whose signature style of bright colors, bejeweled with rhinestones and sequins and other mixed media, speaks to queerness in the Black community and challenges the myths surrounding Black masculinity.

Andrew Young, who worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, U.S. Congressman from Georgia, U.S. Ambassador at the United Nations, and 55th Mayor of Atlanta. His portrait, angular with a cartoonish feel, was created by Nina Chanel Abney as if in juxtaposition of the gravity and seriousness of Young’s accomplishments. But she is employing symbols to represent the many aspects of Young’s efforts.

Click here to read the full article on The Smithsonian.

Diversity in the Healthcare Industry, at Every Step

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business woman seated at desk smiling with hand on laptop

Abbott and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) recently announced a $37.5 million initiative to empower diverse small businesses to help create a more diverse healthcare supply chain. The initiative will provide diverse small-business owners with the tailored solutions, support and resources they need to grow, compete and create jobs – enabling greater diversity in healthcare and a more inclusive supply chain for Abbott and other healthcare companies.

This work advances Abbott and LISC’s shared commitment to create a more diverse healthcare industry and generate jobs and stronger economies in underinvested communities.

This funding opportunity is open to qualified diverse small businesses and offers support through:

  • Growth capital: interest-free capital to help businesses overcome hurdles to expansion, such as investing in management systems to comply with regulatory and environmental requirements
  • Business loans: flexible, affordable loans that would not typically be available through conventional lenders
  • Tailored coaching and technical assistance: targeted, customized support, including help with fulfilling investment and loan requirements and identifying and addressing specific business challenges

Eligible diverse small businesses for program participation and funding must be:

  • Diverse-owned, defined as those that are majority owned by people of color (including Black, Latino, Asian and Native Americans), women, veterans, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ, and other historically underrepresented groups;
  • In business for more than two years and are based in the U.S. with an annual revenue of $250,000 or more; and
  • Focused on manufacturing nutrition, diagnostics, medical devices or other health technologies, or offering business-to-business products and services that the healthcare industry can use.
  • Sole proprietors are not eligible for the program.

For more information about this initiative, please visit the LISC site. And to learn more about Abbott’s work to support a more diverse supply chain, visit Abbott’s site.

Black women start to talk about uterine fibroids, a condition many get but few speak about

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Uterine Fibroids patient Daye Covington after treatment

By , NBC News

When Daye Covington visited her doctor for a routine physical last year, she expressed concern about weight gain in her belly that she said made her look seven months pregnant. But she knew she wasn’t pregnant, and she had a healthy lifestyle. An MRI revealed that she had multiple uterine fibroids — noncancerous growths in the uterus — the size of cantaloupes.

“First, I was relieved to know that I was not pregnant because I was not trying to be pregnant,” she told NBC News, “and then I was scared because I didn’t know much about fibroids.”

Uterine fibroids are rarely discussed, despite being a common condition, particularly for Black women. Experts say that by age 35, about half of Black women have had them, and by age 50, 80 percent of Black women have them, compared to 70 percent of white women. Black women are also more likely to have higher fibroid growth than other racial groups. While most cases require no treatment, in some instances, they can cause weight gain, heavy periods, frequent urination or pelvic pain, and they may require surgery.

Now, some Black women, like Covington, who shared her experience on are speaking up about their struggles and are encouraging others to educate themselves about the condition, so they can identify the symptoms and seek treatment, if necessary. Former star of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” Cynthia Bailey, 55, recently shared her experience with uterine fibroids with People, saying she endured heavy bleeding during periods, fatigue and an expanded belly, which led fans to assume she was pregnant. She also said her mental health took a toll.

 

31-year-old Daye Covington’s stomach is shown before and after her myomectomy.
31-year-old Daye Covington’s stomach is shown before and after her surgery to remove fibroids. Daye Covington

“It’s very hard to be in a good space mentally when you’re bleeding all the time and when you don’t have any energy, and you’re anemic,” she told the magazine.

While all women are at risk for developing uterine fibroids, Black women are disproportionately affected, with one study showing that Black women are three times more likely to develop them than white women and that Black women are more likely to need surgical treatment.

The reasons for this disparity, however, are less clear, said Eric Hardee, a physician and co-founder of Houston Fibroids and Texas Endovascular Associates. A family history of fibroids increases a woman’s risk. Obesity, diet and environmental factors may also play a role. Hair relaxers have also been linked to increased risk of uterine fibroid development.

Black women may also be less likely to seek help.

Cynthia Talla, 28, said despite her severe symptoms, she felt like she had to endure her pain alone. When she did seek help after dealing with fibroid symptoms as a teen, Talla said the medical professionals made her feel that Black women are able to bear the pain.

After Talla had surgery in 2020, she recalled telling her mother how good she was finally feeling.

“I remember crying, like, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t feel like this for years,’” she said. “So it’s very bad.”

Sara Harris, who serves on the board of the reproductive health organization Resilient Sisterhood Project, agreed.

“I do think there’s that superwoman phenomena, that Black women can do it all,” she said, “and speaking from my own personal experience, not wanting to ask for help because you know that you can take care of your own stuff, and you have to take care of everyone else around you at the same time.”

Harris added that many Black women also feel a taboo talking about these issues. Resilient Sisterhood Project offers support groups and virtual webinars with Black health experts to answer questions about topics on endometriosis, infertility and HPV, as well as training for universities and health care organizations about reproductive health and Black women’s needs in accessing health care.

Another issue with uterine fibroids, Harris said, is that they’re often misdiagnosed.

“Black women might be misdiagnosed for having an STI [sexually transmitted infection] or misdiagnosed for being pregnant or treated for preventing pregnancy, rather than looking at sort of what could be a deeper cause of the same symptoms that a Black woman is facing — like pelvic pain or prolonged menstrual bleeding,” Harris said.

Click here to read the full article on NBC News.

The CROWN Act highlights years of workplace hair discrimination finally being legally reprehensible

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Linda Husser modeling Zoom meeting crown (hair)

By Amiah Taylor, Fortune

The House of Representatives passed legislation on Friday, March 18, in a vote of 235-189, that would ban hair-related discrimination.

The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, first introduced to Congress in March 2019, prohibits prejudicial treatment towards individuals on the basis of their hair texture or hairstyle. This is the first step on a federal level needed to officially get the bill signed into law. The bill now goes to the Senate.

“Routinely, people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, or Afros,” according to the bill.

Personal style and grooming choices do have negative educational and employment consequences for Black people in ways that are not consistent for white individuals. For example, in clinical settings, Black nurses have been told to cut their hair for the sake of ‘infection control’ whereas their white peers are merely told to tie their hair up. “Black nurses worldwide have experienced ‘racial gaslighting’ through the profiling and policing of their hair, to the point of being driven out of nursing,” according to the Journal of Nursing Management.

Black nurses are not the only professionals who have been threatened with dismissal over “looking unprofessional,” when they show up to work with their hair in its natural state. In 2016, a Black woman was allegedly fired from her position as a waitress for wearing her natural hair in a bun. In 2019, a Black news anchor was fired over wearing a natural style, because of a company policy which stated on-air talent could not have “shaggy and unkempt,” hair. In 2021, a Black woman who stopped wearing wigs over her afro-textured hair was fired promptly from her sales position at American Screening.

Studies show that Black women with “Afrocentric hairstyles” are viewed as less professional than their counterparts who wear Eurocentric hairstyles, that are rooted in European standards of beauty which often emphasize straight hair. Whether it’s corporate America or the service industry, Black people have historically been expected to change their appearances to fit into the aesthetic norms of white professional settings. Echoing this sentiment, in a Feb. 28 statement in support of the CROWN Act, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler cited a 2019 study conducted by the JOY Collective in which 80% of Black women said they believed they had to alter their natural hair to gain acceptance in the office.

“While this study illustrates the prevalence of hair discrimination, it is the people behind those numbers that make this legislation so vital,” Nadler said. “For example, a Texas student was told that he would not be allowed to walk at graduation because his dreadlocks were too long; a Florida boy was turned away from his first day of school because his hair was too long; and a New Orleans-area girl was sent home from school for wearing braids.”

Nadler’s point about how hair racism affects school aged children is apparent in the petition of Latrenda Rush, which has gained over 89,000 signatures as of Mar. 21.

Rush was preparing for her son Joshua’s graduation from Abeka Academy, a Florida-based Christian school, when she was informed that he would be barred from walking during the graduation ceremony because of his hair. Abeka Academy’s grooming policy required male students not to have hair that exceeded their ears and specifically banned Black hairstyles such as braids and dreadlocks.

Abeka Academy has since apologized on Facebook, stating regret over their “insensitive rule,” and removing their ban on dreadlocks. However, the fact remains that without Rush’s vigilance, and the social pressure of a public outcry, Joshua and other Black students like him may have been excluded from walking during their graduation ceremony because of implicit bias against their racial hairstyles.

If passed in the Senate, the CROWN Act could potentially rectify the ongoing discrimination Black people face for wearing their hair in natural styles, by adding legal consequences for schools and employers alike. The social media response was that inclusive work and academic environments that do not chastise people of color for their natural hair are long overdue.

Click here to read the full article on Fortune.

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