Franchesca Ramsey is a quintessential YouTube creator. Like many other OGs, I became a permanent fan the moment she posted her popular Sh*t White Girls Say… To Black Girls video under the name “Chescaleigh.” From there, she amassed a huge following and went on to produce and star in MTV’s Decoded, taking her ability to blend comedy with social/racial awareness into a widely approachable and smart smoothie.
Today, she has created a large platform speaking truth to power, which also makes her the unfortunate target of trolls and online abuse. Still, she presses on because it is clearly her purpose. Ramsey has partnered up with YouTube’s Creators For Change program, which is the social broadcasting platform’s new venture into building a more impactful community.
In her debut video with the program, “Can You Help End Police Violence?,” Ramsey discusses police violence and helps her audience come up with ways to help end this significant and overwhelming issue.
I sat down to chat with Ramsey to chat about her new video, the Creators for Change program, her ongoing relationship with YouTube and how creators can use their talent to foster real change.
Shadow & Act: How is the Creators For Change program impacting the way creators can influence their followers and fans?
Franchesca Ramsey: I think the biggest thing is the support from YouTube and the ability to create projects that we normally wouldn’t do on our own. [“Can You Help End Police Violence?”] is an animated project that took about 6 months to make for a two minute video. It’s a huge endeavor and I’m so fortunate to be able to work with an amazing animator, Andrew Jive. [If it weren’t for YouTube’s flexibility and support], I wouldn’t have had the resources to hire an animator. Also, receiving creative feedback was really nice. As a creator, it’s nice to be able to create, but often you’re by yourself and in a bubble… so it’s nice to have people to bounce ideas off of. And of course, giving us more visibility by connecting us with media outlets and getting creators to create content about issues that are important to them.
S&A: Absolutely! And piggybacking off that, with your own YouTube videos and shows like Decoded, you have mastered incorporating humor into content with substantial information. In what ways do you view comedy and creatives overall as essential to the revolution?
FR: I think comedy is a really powerful tool to educate people! Most comedy comes from truth. If you can create something that opens people’s minds, but also make them laugh, it inspires them to be more engaging with that topic, be more empathetic to an issue, be more understanding to something they may not have understood before, or just think about something in a way that they haven’t in the past. As a creator, I think it can be really daunting if you are interested in working in media — especially, if you don’t live in New York or LA or if you don’t live in the United States — but the media has taken away those barriers for entry. As long as you have internet access or access to a smartphone it is so much easier from people backgrounds and locations to create content and share issues or representations of themselves that they’re not seeing in [mainstream] media… with the world.
S&A: You have an extensive relationship with YouTube, hitting the scene as an independent creator that has evolved in a way that has created many opportunities for you. Did you have foresight in terms of using YouTube in this way… in a way that fosters social change?
FR: Oh, absolutely not! I’ve been on YouTube for about 11 years and when I started making videos, the platform was very different. There was no full-time content creator, there was no YouTube, there was no Twitter… there was no partner program! People were creating content that no one knew where it was going to go. It was just a place to share ideas and for me as an aspiring actor, it was an ability to create content that I wasn’t getting a chance to audition for or with natural hair — I wasn’t finding much content about locs, so I decided to do it myself. So, this has led me to writing for television, developing a successful webseries with MTV and now participating in this program with YouTube… there’s no way I could’ve anticipated any of these things. But, I’m so thankful that YouTube has been so supportive of my career over the years and supportive of all different types of creators. They really care about us and make sure to give us the tools to create the best stuff, but also help further our careers.
S&A: Yes! And I really enjoyed your first video, “Can You Help End Police Violence?” as it is very informational yet also very accessible to the audience. What are some tangible steps that one can take to make an impact on reducing police violence?
FR: You know, I always believe that education is the first step — you can’t work toward solving a problem until you know the problem exists and [further,] really understand the problem. And I’m really glad that you said that you found this video to be really accessible as that was one of the major goals: to make this into something that could reach people. Meeting people where they’re at who may not know about the topic or have preconceived notions about the topic, [we asked ourselves], “How can we reach [the audience] in a way that expands their thinking and present it in a way that doesn’t feel threatening or confrontational?,” and that is why we chose the animation. I think the other way for people to get involved is to participate in their local politics. Ultimately, police reform is the the goal and that seems like a massive thing that one person cannot change, but I do believe that getting involved on a local level — whether that’s knowing who your district attorneys are, knowing who your judges, which, in some places you’re able to vote on those judges, and police chiefs — all of this makes a difference. If we are putting people in these positions who want to do something about police reform, then there’s a trickle-down effect. And also, having conversations with our families and communities about these issues so that they’re better informed and can support the leaders that are going to make a difference in these areas.
S&A: All great things! So, as we’ve seen police officers acquitted even having proof against them via camera phones or body cams or killing innocent children such as Tamir Rice, we start to question, “what has to be done for police to finally be held accountable?” What is your advice for people who have become disillusioned and hopeless in terms of things ever changing in our favor?
FR: You know… it’s difficult because you can only take so much, right? We’re human. And so, it’s hard to remain optimistic especially being in a state of such continued disappointment. But, I am always of the belief that the things that are most important are always the most difficult. That is why I believe that we have to keep pushing forward. I believe that there is nothing wrong with being mindful of your mental health and your time and your energy and picking your battles. Unfortunately, we are faced with a lot of people who aren’t informed of these issues, especially on the internet. So, making sure that you are putting your energy toward things that you believe are going to help make a difference and people who are going to support you is more beneficial than arguing with strangers on the internet or family or coworkers. I believe when we engage with that too much, it can be very easy for that to bog us down and knock us off our path. So, take time to refocus, but also take time for yourself because these things are really upsetting. We have to take time to recharge in order to stay focused and push toward social change.
S&A: Well said! So, lastly, what can we look forward to with the Creators For Change program and series?
FR: I think what is really cool with this series is that YouTube is creating workshops and mentorship programs with up-and-coming creators who are also interested in creating videos around important social issues. So, the people behind Creators For Change are going to actually be involved with the programs and helping them work on their special projects. So, having the opportunity to work with fellow creators who want to raise awareness around these important social issues is really exciting for me.
S&A: That’s so cool! Thanks so much Franchesca for speaking with and also thank you for the important work that you continue to do.
FR: Thank you so much!
For more information about YouTube’s Creators For Change program, head to their website.
This interview has been edited and condensed.