After much thinking, planning, and plotting, I pulled off my first solo event - Mirror Images: Conversations on Diversity & Representation In Media.
The premise was clear. After reading Big Brother Canada host Arisa Cox's piece on quitting a television job after being told she'd have to straighten her natural hair, I wished aloud for an event where I could hear about the lived experiences and perspectives of Black Canadian women in media. More about the whys of the event are detailed in my previous post here, but let's get down to how it all played out.
I've just started to get comfortable with public speaking. So comfortable, in fact, that I sometimes confuse my enjoyment of speaking with the enjoyment of event planning. Event coordination is NO JOKE, and Mirror Images gave me a new respect for those who find joy in doing that work. I definitely learned a LOT - dealing with different people, overcoming obstacles and negativity, dotting i' and crossing t's, and looking at the event from the perspective of the attendee in order to hopefully create a positive space. It wasn't easy and it wasn't perfect - but if I waited until it was, Mirror Images would never have happened.
We sold out of advance tickets. We sold out of door tickets. People who showed up were turned away due to lack of space. All this proved to me that the conversation I thought was important was also important to so many. This was so vital because I oftentimes have ideas that I don't act on because I don't know if others will get it - but Mirror Images showed that taking the risk can be worth it.
The discussion from my panelists - Arisa Cox, Namugenyi Kiwanuka, Ingrie Williams, Tatiana King, and Kim Johnson - was incredible. Nneka Elliott was unable to attend in person, but added to the texture of the conversation with answers she provided to me in advance. Discussions about Black beauty in mainstream media, the fallacies of Canadian multiculturalism in the industry, dealing with racism and sexism on the job, and much more were covered in an intelligent and entertaining way, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Stand out moments:
When Namugenyi discussed the decision to use her given name in media despite being urged to change her media moniker to something "easier."
When Arisa detailed the ways she unapologetically navigates the narrow box of acceptable aesthetics in an industry only beginning to understand Black beauty.
When Ingrie talked about providing a voice and space for Canadian diversity within the pages of HOLR Magazine.
When Tatiana discussed building her personal brand through blogging and content creation.
When Kim explained the nuances of working in a variety of Canadian markets, and how her position as a Black woman in media was regarded in each one.
When Nneka shared that she realized her role as a Black woman in media mattered when a young girl saw her on assignment and incredulously told her that her mom said there were no Black people on TV in Canada.
The way the panelists provided their insights and interacted naturally with each other kept the audience engaged - and before I knew it, we had reached the end of the discussion. In all honesty, we could have kept that bad boy going for I don't know HOW long - but venue constraints and flights to catch (Arisa lives in Edmonton) meant we had time limits to attend to. I made a gametime decision to utilize the remaining venue time to network and meet & greet instead of doing a truncated Q&A session with the audience, but next time - and yes, there will be a next time - I'm going to ensure we make it a real conversation between panelists and attendees alike.
Next time? A bigger venue. A Q&A. And other additions that will make Mirror Images an even bigger and better event.
This time? I'm basking in the glow of feedback from attendees like the following:
"I can honestly say that the experience has re-ignited my drive and determination to represent the Black community, more specifically black women, in the media."
"For quite sometime in Toronto I noticed that in our community (read: young, well-educated, upwardly mobile black women) that more prominent social circles were developed around superficial qualities (who are you wearing, what parties you went to, who you knew etc) and while that can be fun what was clearly missing were the events/social circles that were created around being thought-leaders…less about who you know and more about what you know. Less about who you're wearing and more about who you are. I believe that Mirror Images attended to that gap."
"I had to let you know that your event was truly monumental. What it represented and created was by far amazing but it also moved me. It shifted my mind and spirit but to a place where it was starting to drift from. A room full of beautiful black women, that wasn’t a party, wasn’t for any foolishness but self betterment, empowerment and eye opening educational purposes. I haven’t been in such a setting in a very long time."
I want to keep the conversation going. I'm looking at hosting a Mirror Images twitter chat sometime very soon (date and time TBD) and I hope you'll join in! Also, check out this fabulous recap from Real Delina, and a great video recap from The Diana Tracy Collection, who graciously gifted the panelists and I with her jewelry!
Thank you to everyone who attended, and to R Flavour Inc., Soulafrodisiac, Caribbean Vibrations TV, Harlem Restaurant, Glam & Eros Makeup Artistry, The Diana Tracy Collection, Black Lotus Media, Jeremy John, and my dream team who helped out before, during, and after!
Another Mirror Images will be coming soon - stay tuned!