If you are a creative woman of color, its likely that at some point you have come across the Blkcreatives Twitter chat or hashtag. The woman behind one of the most supportive communities online, Blkcreatives, is Melissa Kimble. When she isn't creating opportunities for Black creatives to shine, the Chicago native is working as the senior social media strategist for Ebony Magazine.
What started as a way to connect creatives of color to talk about important issues faced in the industry and cultural communities, has now evolved into a brand and talent agency advocating on behalf of Blkcreatives everywhere. When you see a tweet with the hashtag #Blkcreatives, it can be anything from an inspirational quote to a link to a great job opportunity. The hashtag has served as the missing link between our next job, client and even friend. Kimble shared with us what the future holds for Blkcreatives and what purpose she hopes to serve with the brand.
What prompted you to start My Creative Connection and what was your vision for it when you started? What did you feel was missing that made you want to create a space for creatives?
I started it back in 2012 and my vision for it initially was to give myself a platform to express and write about the things that mattered the most to me, and really to give a platform for ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We get so much content, and I was like ‘we feature a lot of celebrities but I know so many amazing people who look like me, think like me and are just in my circle or are a part of circles that I really admire and respect, and they’re doing things on a daily basis that are either really innovative or just creating the vision they see for themselves.' I thought those stories needed just as much light and that was the basis for why I started and it just evolved into Blkcreatives.
I think just a mutual respect for each other was missing, and a sense of community around what we’re doing. But what I’ve learned from my career trajectory and all these different stories is just you can only be successful to a specific limit by yourself. It really does take a village to build your dreams and I think we kind of overlook that. We’re in the age of social media and self-promotion is at an all-time high and you can boast about your accomplishments and things that you’ve done, we just can’t overlook that there have been some people or someone behind us that have taken us to where we are now.
"I didn’t want to leave out the importance of community as a creative, especially as a Black creative. There’s not a lot of spaces that are specifically geared towards us and I really wanted to address that and create a safe place where we can just express ourselves and also build with each other."
What prompted you to start the #blkcreatives twitter chat and what were your goals for it? Has it exceeded your goals?
I worked in social media for some years now, about 6 or 7 and as a social media professional I had already been participating in a lot of twitter chats and a lot of it was just industry based at first in the digital and marketing space. I just thought it was a really great way to have a conversation online, it was very organized, and I felt it was a great opportunity to connect with people in a different way. I thought this could be something we could do that would allow different creatives to come together and make their own connections, there’s only so much we can do as a brand, but we wanted to create a community around what we’re doing and what we’re striving to achieve. When I looked at the conversations we were having online there was no one really talking about the issues we genuinely face. It’s one thing to talk about how to build your website or how to build your brand but what about the issues we face on a day to day basis that are unique to us as Black people.
My overall goal was to focus on the issues that we’re all facing but just not talking about and get really intentional about the conversations that we’re having. I just had the goal that if this chat can just help people then its successful enough but since 2015 its just grown and grown since then and now we use the blkcreatives chat to bring purpose and intention to not just what we’re building but supporting and uplifting each other.
Why did you chose #blkcreatives instead of #mycreativeconnection at the time when you started the twitter chat?
Actually a friend of mine came up with the hashtag one day and when I saw that I was like ‘Can I use that? Because that’s dope’. I still don’t know exactly where she got it from but when she introduced someone to me on Twitter she used that hashtag and I thought it really sticks. It also just made sense from a functional standpoint, it was easy to identify and it was simple. I really wanted the chat to act as a calling card for the brand so that’s what made me use it.
The genuine support and comradery that has stemmed from the twitter chat is amazing to witness. What do you think was key to your success in building such a large, engaging online community and following?
For one, definitely being authentic and not painting this pretty picture of what being a creative is like. I think we see a lot of ‘Oh if you take this course, and go to this school and hang out with this specific group of people and you’ll be successful, and a lot of the content right now that is directed towards creatives really sugarcoats how hard it is especially if you’re trying to do it while you have a full time job or a side hustle. And we don’t shy away from it, how we can sometimes get in our own way or there are external obstacles and I think from the very beginning we’ve always been really open and honest about those issues. And we do it in a way that’s easy to understand for our audience. In a way that gives us an advantage too because we’re creating content and we’re speaking to ourselves essentially when we’re speaking to our audience. I think that level of transparency is unmatched.
We like to keep it very real and very honest especially when it comes to our twitter chat topics. People know when they participate in a blkcreative chat its really going to speak to where they are in their life. I also think that because there’s not a huge focus on me, the founder and its more about the community that makes a huge difference. Now if there’s a job posting, freelance gig or an event going on now people don’t wait for us to put it out there.
"Because we just focus on us as a whole and not an individual, people see that we’re about win-win situations for everyone."
The #blkcreatives twitter chat has evolved into more than talk about business goals, but real discussion on issues that plague our community. What made you open the floor to discuss sensitive topics that we sometimes avoid as a culture?
It definitely has a lot to do with my own personal journey and how I was raised. I was raised by a single mother that believed in being involved in the community. And being open and ware about what’s going on and our history, from a really young age. So naturally that’s just who I am as a person, just paying attention to what’s going on around me. It just goes back to not being afraid to speak up for our community.
"For every 10 people you see sharing something online there are even more people out there in our community who are really doing the work. It would be a dishonor to people who are doing the work in our community to not speak about the issues that plague us."
I’ve never been shy about sharing my own personal struggles, and I didn’t want to do that with the brand whether it be a personal or political thing because it affects us and as Black creatives we have a different set of issues that affect us than our counterparts. That’s just something that can’t be overlooked, especially in the Trump era – we can’t gloss over that and it goes back to the reality of the things we face. It’s not all about glitz and glamour, we have to stay true to the things going on in our world.
Has MYCC completely evolved to blkcreatives? How does the blkcreatives Agency differ from your initial vision for MYCC?
Yes My Creative Connection has completely evolved into Blkcreatives. There’s not really a difference in the visions per say it’s just a matter of execution or function. So while MYCC was strictly just a platform, Blkcreatives is an agency that happens to have a platform. So we’ll still have content on our site and of course the twitter chat but also act as a liaison to the brands and corporations that profit off of our culture. You’ll see a lot of big businesses, and I’ve worked for some, who will us our intellectual property, creativity, slang and hot words of the moment and they’ll have not one Black person working in the departments or a their agencies. Or out of 100+ employees five will be Black and it’ll be all women, no men. I’ve worked in spaces like that.
I really want to create Blkcreative as an agency not just create content that matters to us but work as a creative job firm and help these brands to hire us and put us in the position to make decisions. Its definitely a two way street so it would be career development and also securing these brands with talent – that’s the next phase of Blkcreatives that we’re going to be entering into this year.
What does the blkcreatives Agency look like in 5 years?
I definitely see an office space in our future. I have a really, really small team – just me and an operations manager so I'd also like a bigger team. I would like to create an in-house creative agency that can go around to different companies and work; and just lead the conversation around Black creativity and professionalism in the creative industry and being that go to source for Black creatives. So if you want to [learn about, hire or work with Black creatives] in some way, I want Blkcreatives to be the leading sources for it across the board from a personal and professional standpoint.
What obstacles do you think people of color in creative fields face, especially when it comes to building their own brand?
There’s a few but having access to opportunities, and not just opportunities to work or be hired but to just build authentic relationships with people at different companies. A lot of times we don’t know how to get our foot in the door at the companies we really want to work for. I don’t think that comes from a lack of skill or talent but they just don’t see us as viable, they see our ideas of course as viable but they don’t see us fully for what we can bring to the table. I definitely think lack of tools and resources are a huge thing, a lot of us are self-taught and it’s usually just us and a laptop and a wifi connection and we just figure it out form there. A lot of our counterparts have parents and rich uncles in high positions they can lean on but we don’t have as many connection to utilize and that kind of sets us back.
Also from an internal standpoint a lot of us are missing strategy. A lot of us aren’t taking the time to really build - the website looks nice, and graphics are straight but we don’t have an understanding of basic accounting. We don’t have systems and processes in place for our businesses run effectively. It’s such a rush and we have to get in this space of being patient and slowing down and humbling ourselves enough to say ‘This is something I don’t really know how to do’ and ask for help and figure it out.
"Strategy is a key thing because we have all the skills in the world, all the talent in the world, that’s obvious. But we have to be more intentional about the moves we make and the way we protect our creativity."
What can we all do better collectively to support each other as blkcreatives?
I think that we can make more room to support people on a consistent basis in ways that matter to them. Support looks different to each persona and I think if you find out what it really means to someone else, and how you can meet them halfway, I think that will make a difference. We just need to give each other more space to grow and be human and realize that we’re all fighting different battles and we have to be more compassionate with each other and make mistakes and not be perfect. I think we sometimes hold each other to really high standards and we have to not just talk about being supportive but in real life support those who uplift us on a daily basis. Also trying not to just chase after what’s or who’s hot in the moment and we can use our platforms to lift someone up. On Instagram you might only have 500 followers and think ‘well what can I do?’ But there’s an audience there and someone looking at your posts and we just have to go beyond the surface level of sending out a few tweets here and there and we can do more.
We can do more in real life, whether that’s showing up to events, shows, introducing people to others who can help them with their mission – always be thinking of how to help the next persona and having that compassion, it can go a really long way. Also, not to look at everyone as competition.
"There’s enough out here for everyone to get their piece and what their worth. If you’re operating in your purpose and in your lane there is no competition."
You mention ‘Pushing the Culture’ forward often, what does the mean to you and why is that so important?
It means taking the things we’ve learned and finding a way to build upon that in a way that benefits everybody. Not just one group of people or type of Black creative, being intentional about every step in a way that benefits us and who we are. I still don’t think we see that enough. There a lot of me, me, me and not enough us. But if you think about the civil rights movement, Black power movement, Women’ suffrage, they all had a common goal of advancing us as a people. That’s what it means to push the culture forward, to honor our past and present while building towards the future.
You recently tweeted that ‘I’m not trying to sell myself, I’m trying to sell a movement. #blkcreatives is much bigger than me.’ Please explain.
Well, I’m a huge Lauryn Hill fan and she has this line ‘I get mad frustrated when I rhyme thinking of all the kids who try to do this for no reason’. I see so many people who come across as genuine and down for the cause and are really about [themselves]. It frustrates me sometimes because these can be the people with the biggest spaces and platforms and they’re not as authentic as you think they would be. I believe God gave me this mission not for myself but to really help people so when I say it’s bigger than me, it really doesn’t have anything to do with me. Me trying to sell myself would be selling the movement short and I don’t want to do that.