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Posted under: Interviews Fashion

Power of being BLKR: 3 women making an impact on the black experience

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Photo: Products available via BLKR

What does it mean to be a change agent? Such a title holds a lot of weight and responsibility, but the presence of these figures in our community is essential, and it’s the change agents who are driving our culture forward and boldly leading us to greater heights. Whether you aspire to teach the youth, innovate the way we do things through technology or start your own business, there are so many ways to represent new perspectives and voices in an often stagnant landscape. BLKR is a black-owned clothing brand that brings the freshest styles to the next level by incorporating history, heritage and culture in each and every piece. It’s also a proponent for pushing culture forward, supporting the community and uplifting change agents. Three of these amazing community members talked to us about how they’re impacting our world, what steps we need to take next and why they love the BLKR brand and what it stands for. Check out what they’re bringing to the world, share how you’re being a change agent in the comments below, and #BuyBlack this holiday season with some of BLKR’s oh-so-wearable styles.

Photo: Four Way Stop

Efi da Silva is a filmmaker and graphic designer based in New York. She’s received awards for her feature film Four Way Stop, which touches on life as a kid in urban St. Louis. She is hard at work providing visibility and representation for young women of color in entertainment taking the lead and controlling the narrative.

What inspired you to not only be a filmmaker but to be someone who shares impactful and personal stories like Four Way Stop? What role does compelling storytelling play in shaping the black experience?

Four Way Stop - Trailer from Hannah Radcliff on Vimeo.

Efi da Silva: I fell into filmmaking because I wasn’t accepted into the college of my choice. My backup school did not offer my intended major, so instead I chose to study something else I thought I might enjoy. Because of this, I was able to discover that storytelling was my calling and that filmmaking was the vehicle to do so. With that awareness, I knew that the stories I wanted to tell needed to reflect perspectives that don't get as much of a voice. I desired to bring truth to these stories so that when they were shared, there was a sense of genuine humanity versus a generalized sense of a person's life and experiences.

This longing to share these stories came mostly from growing up in St. Louis, MO. There, I witnessed how seemingly different communities tended to amplify differences rather than building common ground and understanding through our shared similarities. Filmmaking was a perfect tool to build the framework.  

As much as viewing a film can be a group experience, the way the information or a story is ingested is often singular. It's also a passive and non-confrontational way for a viewer to receive information. Compelling storytelling shapes the black experience because it makes us think about what we've witnessed and has the power to either push an honest or stereotypical narrative about who we are as a community.


Often when we view black characters in films it’s as if we are there to fill a quota and/or play some sort of a stock role as i.e. the comic relief, the sidekick or the person who dies first (just kidding...sort of). These characters may not have even been written for black people or by black people. What often ends up happening because of this is a lack of honesty, depth and dynamics in character. Yet this particular character is the person who society will hold up as a prime example of who black people are and how we act.

Films like Four Way Stop approach the black narrative from a place of truth. We particularly worked with actors from our own city who even though they might not have lived the lives of their characters, they were witnesses to the community around us and were able to dynamically bring life to them.

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Photo: Products available via BLKR

Do you think the film/entertainment industry is becoming more inclusive to diverse storytellers? How can we continue to encourage this?

Efi da Silva: I'm not sure. I think there are more stories from and about different perspectives and people because there are more avenues with which to distribute, but this doesn't necessarily mean the industry is becoming more inclusive. You can encourage these films by attending screenings, donating to funding campaigns, sharing them on social media, etc.

Can you tell me about an instance when you've seen the impact your design or filmmaking has had on someone and what that meant to you?

Efi da Silva: The impact, I believe, began with how different audiences received the film. When screening Four Way Stop, we often found that responses to certain scenes were received differently between Caucasian and African-American audiences. This showed a disconnect in how our respective communities view each other and how we navigate through the world. Being able to discuss those viewpoints was an opening to better understanding ourselves and the biases we carry. Igniting that kind of dialogue that spurred introspection through Four Way Stop was invaluable.

What is next for you?

Efi da Silva: I want to continue telling more stories for and about those who don’t often see themselves portrayed in mainstream media. It remains my desire to make sure these stories are filled with integrity and cause us to contemplate and discuss our viewpoints and build a common ground. All is easier said than done. I'm currently in the process of figuring out how to do so.

Photo: Efi Da Silva

Why is it so important for people to be change agents in their own lives?

Efi da Silva: It's important to be a change agent in your own life so that you know you have the ability to impact the world around you. We're a powerful people with so many gifts and talents, but we tend to forget them for a variety of reasons. Often times we wait on others to ensure we are able to get to where we'd like to go. Realizing that there's more than one way to get there and that we ourselves can help those on the same road will propel our community forward. 

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Photo: Products available via BLKR

What do you love about BLKR? What does it mean to you?

Efi da Silva: Representation. Love for self. Sometimes it's difficult to love yourself when you don't see yourself represented in the world around you. Not seeing oneself sends the message that you are not what the world is looking for. It conveys the feeling of not being good enough to be seen. BLKR is combating this message through its apparel. BLKR instead is saying, "Look at me. Look at us. We're great." It means that the history of those before us and the history we leave behind has merit that is and will continue to be celebrated. It reinforces the intrinsic value within each of us.

Photo: keishamabry.com

Keisha Mabry is an author, entrepreneur, speaker and humanitarian. She works to help students adjust to college and helps people from all over sharpen their connecting (not networking) skills.

Can you tell me a bit about the work you do with College Bound STL and your upcoming book?

Keisha Mabry: At College Bound, I spend my days helping students successfully matriculate to college via text, and at The Connection Curator, I spend my nights traveling the world teaching people how to connect. I am a connector, and connecting is not just what I do, it’s who I am. Whether I'm connecting high school seniors to resources to help them successfully matriculate to college, or whether I am connecting transitioning professionals to the right people and knowledge to achieve new goals, reach new roles, start new start-ups and move to new states — I am a connector, connecting is me and I’ve been connecting since my teens.

In a world plagued by no new friends, counting friends on one hand, transactional networking and where talking via tech is preferred over in-person chats — connecting is more important now than ever. BUT the art and science of connecting is dying. AND I want to revive it. My book Hey Friend: 100 Ways to Connect with 100 People in 100 Days is a mission-driven book. Or better yet a movement, a movement to change the world one connection at a time by teaching people.

Folks can learn more about the book, me and my favorite connecting techniques at www.keishamabry.com/book.

You’re all about connecting people -- what do you think is the biggest misconception about being “connected” and the importance of the bonds we make on a daily basis?

Keisha Mabry: There are great people without great fame. But if I told everyone reading this to make a list of the top 10 people they would like to meet, dead or alive, most people's lists would be a list of the rich and famous. And this is the biggest misconception about being “connected.” To be connected, many feel as though they need to be connected to the folks with the greatest fame, but approaching connecting in this way makes us miss out on the great people we pass every day, the great people sitting or standing next to us on planes, on trains, in lines and even while we dine.

The other misconception with “connecting” is the difference between a “do” and a “who.” Most of us connect with “dos.”  We meet people for the first time and the very first words that come out of our mouths are, “What do you do?” Not who are you, but what do you do. We network. We don’t connect. Networking is a business card exchange, it’s transactional, it’s take-take-take, quantity, not quality, cold and surface. Connecting is story sharing and people caring, it’s relational and reciprocal, it’s give-give-give, quality, not quantity, warm and deep. But many of us don’t know how to connect. We only know how to network. We only know how to use “dos,” not “whos.”  We only know how to focus on the profession, not the person. We only know how to share glories, not stories. And this my friend is not connecting – it’s networking – and it’s a big misconception.    

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Photo: Products available via BLKR

What’s one particular connection you’ve helped someone make that has meant the most to you? And how can black people in particular benefit from “Friendworking”?

Keisha Mabry: There’s no one connection that stands out above the rest because all of them are helping people do what they do best.  

Research shows that we are six degrees of separation from any and everyone, but I believe we can be even less. I believe through friendworking, we can be three, two or even one. Friendworking is a way of interacting that focuses on the “who” of the person not the “do” of the person – who they are vs. what they do from 9-to-5 just to stay alive. It’s a way of getting to know their story, their true selves and the hopes, dreams, passions and hobbies that make their eyes well. It’s a way of showing us that we are more connected than we think and more similar than we believe.

As it relates to the black community, friendworking revives the dying art and science of making friends, it shifts the mindset from "no new friends" to "yes new friends," and reintroduces the concept of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It holds us accountable for one another which is more important now than ever. Recent policing tragedies and the recent election have shown us that although we have come a long way, there’s still racism that needs to be erased, racism that we can't erase by simply breaking off the limb of the tree, but that requires us to uproot the entire tree.  

Uprooting the tree requires work. It requires the collective work of friends and the collective work of families. And not just one or two or three, but the collective work of all of us, our entirety, our community, our village, our tribe. It requires us to remain united, not divided and to make gains out of our pain. This is friendworking at its best. Friendworking is story sharing, people caring, relational, reciprocal, give-give-give, quality not quantity, warm and deep.  Everything we need to uproot the tree, to help our community move from point A to point B and achieve everything we want to achieve.

Photo: Keisha Mabry  

Change is hard work. In what ways do you think the average person can be better advocates for the causes they care about?

Keisha Mabry: During an interview on the Charlie Rose show. Will Smith spoke about the power of one. He spoke about building a wall and how when building a wall, one should not set their focus on building the biggest, baddest, greatest wall ever built. Instead, one should set their focus on laying one brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid every single day — and soon they will have a wall.

That’s the power of one. All movements and all causes start with one person, one step, one brick. Just one. So any and every one person can be a better advocate for their cause by simply taking one step at a time and laying one brick at a time -- and soon they will have a wall.  A big, bad, great wall of influence to instruct, impart and impact the change they wish to see in the world (shout out to Gandhi).    

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Photo:  Products available via BLKR

What do you love about BLKR? What does BLKR mean to you?

Keisha Mabry: A friend of mine posted a quote on Facebook. In his post, he said, “We are made out of A.T.O.M.S. — A lot of magical stuff.” And he’s right. Shout out to Corey Wright. We are made out of a lot of magical stuff that we should embrace, not erase.  

But daily we erase our magic from our hairstyles to our textiles and everything else about us that’s worthwhile. We erase it to appeal to the masses, we erase it to play the game and we erase it to make others feel comfortable. All the while making ourselves feel uncomfortable.

BLKR, and others like her, are movements to revive black pride. A reemergence and a disturbance to expose the greatness that we are and the magic that we are, unapologetically. In essence, BLKR is us getting back to our true, genuine, authentic selves because other selves are taken. And I love it!  

Photo: Idalin Bobe

Idalin Bobe is a tech activist who bridges digital divides that keep hard-to-reach populations from the technology that is driving our world. She’s worked with Black Girls CODE, #YesWeCode and Hands Up United to create more tech-focused community leaders. She’s currently the Senior IT consultant at ThoughtWorks, Inc., a global software company filled with a community of passionate, purpose-led individuals who seek to revolutionize the IT industry and create positive social change.

How did you get involved in/started with helping to bridge the digital divide that can form between hard-to-reach populations and the tech world? And what are the organizations/programs you are working with/on now?

Idalin BobeAs someone who grew up in an extremely poor neighborhood and family, I always questioned society. I grew up in Northern Philadelphia, in a neighborhood considered to be the Badlands, and I say that with pride because I am who I am because I grew up in one of the poorest zip codes in the United States. My experiences shaped me to want to change the social conditions that allowed people to go without food, employment, healthcare, without education, school books, and that criminalized us for being born in a poor zip code and being a person of color. At the age of 18 years old, I put my hands on my first laptop. Ever since I have been working hard to use technology to bring social change.

I also volunteer as a community organizer with the revival of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, an initiative to unite the poor across all racial lines, geographic location, gender, religion as a way to push towards a radical redistribution of economic and political power.  

What do you think about the direction the tech world is taking in regards to diversity of all types? What would you like to see next?

Idalin BobeI think there is a lot to improve upon as diversity in the tech industry is a major known issue. I would like to see tech diversity events talk about building political and economic power. Although job fairs are important. We must build sustainable pipelines to economic freedom. In order to accomplish that we need creators, owners and angel investors who all represent us. When people are not allowed to reach their potential we all lose.

Like many emerging markets. Who you know in Tech, is just as much of a factor as what you know.. So it is more important than ever to create economic pipelines in communities of color. Below are three things I think companies can look at to improve their diversity practices:

1) Leadership Priority: We would need support from the executive level to acknowledge that this is a important business objective. Otherwise it will always fall on deaf ears. Promote people based on merit as most women and people of color face the challenge of not having equal opportunities to internal promotions.

2) Expand Recruiting team's network: Hire people in recruiting with connections to minority organizations like the BDPA, HBCUs and other organizations. Although diversity won't happen over night, one of the best ways to move the needle is to hire diversity in the recruiting team. This benefits the company because it expands the net we can cast to find the best talent.

3) Evaluate the current hiring process and pipeline: Questions like: Where are we getting potential recruits from? Where are people falling out of the pipeline? And what is our diversity percentage throughout each stage? [These] are all questions that will start us in the right direction. I'm not a fan of quotas but like in football, sometimes you need the Rooney rule for coaches to at least increase the opportunity to even qualify.

Tell me about the power of being creators vs pure consumers; And how can people of color position themselves to benefit from emerging markets with lowering barriers to entry like tech, urban farming and bio-chemistry?

Idalin BobeOne important thing to cover here is why people of color need to invest in emerging markets. The how is pretty straightforward once people begin to understand why tech, urban farming and bio-chemistry can solve some of the greatest challenges faced by the impoverished and people of color around the world.

I think it's important for people to know they are more than just a worker for a company, it’s important to remind people of who we are and what we can create. Be someone who puts in the work necessary to do more than just get/do the job. Be a change agent in your industry. No matter what obstacles or glass ceilings you run into along the way. Once you know your value, your strength and areas of growth you can prosper in; the sky's the limit. Our history as African-Americans is full of inventors, creators and scientists, but our future must be in using the new markets to increase the percentage of our people who are engaged in reaching their potential and changing our communities.

Photo: Idalin Bobe

Can you tell me an example of how the work you've done has impacted a particular community, and why that particular example sticks with you?

Idalin BobeEvery day I have the opportunity to not only learn from amazing technologists but from community organizers and youth who are bringing so much genius to the table. These spaces keep me humble, learning and growing in ways I never could imagine growing up in Northern Philadelphia. If I had to pick one thing I would say my total body of work building programs to empower youth.

I try my best to leverage my platform and have spearheaded several tech literacy and empowerment programs to help hard-to-reach populations master technology tools for self-determination. Most recently I launched “Hutton 2.0,” a free six-week intensive program named after the youngest member of the Black Panther Party, “Lil Bobby Hutton,” that teaches coding, digital storytelling, and political education to youth in Oakland and Berkeley currently in — or at-risk of entering — the juvenile justice system. Other tech initiatives I’ve spearheaded include: supporting Ferguson, Missouri activists with technology tools through Hands Up United's Roy Clay Sr. Institute.The program trains young community leaders to gain 21-century technology skills. I co-created a computer lab for a school in South India serving people of the lowest castes, led fundraising campaigns to teach 2,000 girls of color through Black Girls CODE and organized social justice hackathons with Qeyno Labs Hackathons and #YesWeCode.

Photo: Products available via BLKR

Why is it so important for people to be change agents in their own lives?

Idalin BobeIt is difficult to change something if we do not try and change it ourselves. There is so much good work to be done and progress to be made; we must be the ones who make it happen in our time. Otherwise, our descendants will be fighting the same battles we are. Plus, a meaningful life is way more worth living.

Change is hard work. In what ways do you think the average person can be better advocates for the causes they care about?

Idalin BobeEducate themselves. Understand the context, the history, the relevancy of what you care about. Connect the dots. See the learning lessons from studying, and learn how to debate that shit. Only by challenging thoughts and always asking “qui bono” will you be able to have enough educated passion to fight the battles necessary to effect change.

It’s all about consciousness and building consciousness to help broaden our perspectives.

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Photo:  Products available via BLKR

What do you love about BLKR and what does it mean to you?

Idalin BobeIf someone said they were a hip-hop head but couldn’t tell you where hip-hop was started, the major influencers and the latest discoveries, the dopest lines and greatest MCs (that which is the history of hip-hop and its relevancy) would you still call them a hip-hop head? I feel the same approach should reflect those of us — which should be all of us — who want to be advocates about things we care about. What I love about BLKR is its goal of empowering us in the now with clothing that captures our history. The idea of being able to wear being woke on your sleeve and communicate to others just by what you wear is very powerful for creating unity, which is what we need to continue our fights against the various forms of oppression we face in the world. It means harmony between the past, present and future of our progress to prosperity. Be unapologetically black. Being blacker in public.


So, are you feeling inspired yet? Take time off this holiday season to not only support black businesses like BLKR that continue to move our culture forward while embracing our roots, but to think of how you can be a change agent in your own life. We look forward to supporting you along the way.



This post is brought to you by BLKR.



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