CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY

History is filled with everyday people, living legendary lives. This Black History Month, we’re celebrating Black changemakers who are using their passions, their talents and their profession to write tomorrow’s history, today.

JASMYN WILKINS | AMERICAN MODEL | FORMER MISS GEORGIA USA | ATLANTA, GA

How are you honoring Black History Month?
Black history is so rich and vital to our country. This year I am honoring Black History Month by reading Black literature and further educating myself about Black trailblazers in my community that I admire such as Stacey Abrams and John Lewis. I also actively support Black owned small businesses and I'm currently in the early development stages of becoming a small business owner myself.

 

How are you planning to spread awareness of Black History Month?
There are a number of ways, though one issue very close to my heart is mental health within the Black community. People of color have historically faced a number of difficulties when it comes to accessing behavioral and mental health care and the numerous stigmas attached to it make it even harder. I plan to use my various social platforms to share resources and have open and honest discussions about the deep impact of these mental health challenges. Some of my go to sources are NAMI, Each Mind Matters and Mental Health America.

 

Tell us about your experience as a Black creator.
As a Black creator in the digital space, I've been able to candidly share my story and the stories of those who have inspired me to a wide and diverse audience. I love that social media has helped a whole generation of Black creatives redefine blackness for themselves and has shown us that we are not alone in this world and we don't have to be pigeonholed into certain spaces. I’ve been able to collaborate with people and brands I could have only dreamed of and I’ve been featured in numerous publications where I’ve given the opportunity to discuss politics, my career as a model and former beauty queen, interracial marriage and general life challenges. I'm thankful to have a platform where I can express my true self and make a career out of it.

 

Have you personally advocated for equality in your community?
I've had numerous opportunities throughout my life to be an advocate for equality. During my time as the reigning Miss Georgia USA, I was able to visit schools and hold fundraisers specifically for the purpose of advocating for equality in the workplace, schools, as well as in the entertainment and fashion industries. At one point I was lucky enough to work alongside John Lewis and his team to discuss the importance of voter registration and making one's voice heard to Atlanta youth. More recently I've donated to numerous initiatives such as Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign and the Atlanta Bail Fund for those who are arrested while peacefully protesting.

 

Tell us something you’d like people to learn or know from this conversation.
I'd like Lee followers to know that even the smallest action makes the biggest difference in the fight towards equality. Step out of your comfort zone and commune with people of different races and walks of life. You never know what kind of relationship you may build and the knowledge you will gain. You can be an active participant in changing our nation through building strong relationships and keeping an open mind about that diverse cultures that make us the diverse nation that we are.

 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for creating change?
I think one of the biggest opportunities for creating change is to amplify Black voices and allow space for people of color in higher corporate and executive positions whether that's in tech, finance, entertainment, fashion, engineering etc. Elevating Black voices can bring new perspectives and ideas to companies and is a step in the right directions towards bridging the equality gap.

JEROME LAMAAR | POLYMATH | CREATIVE DIRECTOR | DESIGNER | STYLIST AND FUTURIST | BRONX, NY

How are you honoring Black History Month?
I am honoring Black history Month every day on this Earth; however, I try to give as much insight to people who may not acknowledge the amount of influence Black culture gives to the world freely.

 

How are you planning to spread awareness of Black History Month?
I use my social media to educate my followers who range from all ages and races globally to get my message out. I usually post a fact every morning on my stories which can get 15k - 30k eyes on it daily.

 

Tell us about your experience as a Black creator.
I have had a wonderful 20-year career as a Black creative. Although it was not easy to build my own path, it was necessary to change the conversation about being young, Black, and talented in the various industries I float within.

 

Are you currently involved in any organizations to promote equality within your local community?
I am actually sitting on the board on the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Bronx Children's Museum who for many decades have focused on giving creative opportunities to children of color in underserved communities. As a Bronxite, it's part of my personal mission to empower the next generation of creative thinkers to manifest their dreams into something real.

 

Have you personally advocated for equality within your local community?
For many years, I had a retail store in the heart of the South Bronx, where I provided opportunities for young designers, artists, musicians and creative thinkers from the area to come and learn about culture while providing a global platform to sell their goods and get press as well. My store, named 9J, was a creative hub which shifted the image of the Bronx.

 

Tell us something you’d like people visiting Lee’s social channels and Lee.com to learn or know from this conversation.
I would like visitors to know magic only occurs when you allow newness and people who don't look like you into the conversation. Only then will the perspective become more dynamic and reach new heights with ease.

 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for creating change?
The biggest opportunity for creating change is realizing we are all humans who want the same things. Giving people of color the chance to really build something wonderful without dismissive energy, greed, hate or misunderstanding is the key. Support Black Owned Business.

VANESSA VILLARREAL | STUDENT SUCCESS COACH | ADVOCATE | VISUAL ARTIST | WASHINGTON, DC

How are you honoring Black History Month?
I recognize that honoring Black history cannot be limited to just one month. American history is not American History without Black history. With that said, I strive to be intentional about how I honor both the history made and the Black history in the making. Through my current and future work, I will purposefully continue the work toward a better society for my community and this nation as a whole. Through my art, I will continue to make use of my creative freedom to express myself as a Black creator. I recognize that this work could not have been done without the past and living figures (like my mom) who have taken ownership of their own legacies and efforts to bring about change and make an impact.

 

How are you planning to spread awareness of Black History Month?
Being Black in this country is a constant reminder of Black history. It is through the Black people of our past who have actively challenged an American system rooted in racism and segregation that I have the freedom to exist. My mere existence is an act of spreading awareness. I do plan to use my platform and art to continue to commemorate and celebrate aspects of the Black experience. I want to continue to use my platform, on and off screen, to support and elevate Black voices, art, talent, etc. We must recognize that much of the progress we have made over the past decades as a country is thanks to Black people and I want to remind people of this truth this month and the months to follow.

 

Tell us about your experience as a Black creator.
I can’t express how thankful to God I am to be a Black creator. To have the freedom to create my own lane and express myself through art in a society that has and still attempts to silence Black voices, has been incredible. And to see that my art has inspired and transcended any expectations I could have had has been indescribably sweet. However, I’ve been made hyper-aware of how many hidden gems exist in the realm of Black creators which has encouraged me to use my small platform and my money to support other Black creators as much as I can. I’m very thankful for Lee’s initiative to do just that and hope that larger corporations and/or brands will continue to do so. There are so many incredible Black creators deserving of recognition!

 

Are you currently involved in any organizations to promote equality within your local community?
I’m very grateful to say that I am. I’ve been gifted the opportunity to work very closely with some incredible middle schoolers here in D.C. through a non-profit organization. My role is to help mitigate the effects of the educational gap in our country and directly challenge the inequity and inequality of our educational system through SEL support, academic support, and simply being there for my students, who are Black and Brown and who I consider family. It’s disheartening to witness how zip codes, which have been heavily defined by race, can dictate the extent in which quality education is made accessible to my students. But knowing this and building meaningful relationships with them continues to drive me forward in being deliberate about supporting and advocating for my students and every single interaction I have with them. I will continue to do so for Black people and other marginalized communities through my future work as I pursue a master’s in public health later on this year and through whatever work I set out to do after this current year of service.

 

Tell us something you’d like people visiting Lee’s social channels and Lee.com to learn or know from this conversation.
One thing I’d like people visiting Lee’s social channels and site to learn from this conversation is that Black History does not solely entail the monumental people we know of the past. Black history also consists of Black people today who are simply being and continue to supersede barriers by being Black in America. Black history and history in general require a present day, so let’s not forget to celebrate Black people who continue to pave the way for progress in our society in their own avenues!

 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for creating change?
I think one of the biggest and easiest opportunities for creating change exists right at our fingertips. With life shifting to the virtual realm, we’ve never witnessed the power we have through our devices as much as we did this past year. From using social media to encouraging others to vote, to signing petitions and educating ourselves on issues that matter the most in our society (ex. systemic racism), our devices can continue to serve as tools to catalyze, cultivate, and encourage positive change within our society. I also believe that change starts from our circles, as small or large as they are. Have those tough conversations with your family, continue to correct and educate your friends who spoke out of ignorance. Do what you can within your community to move forward as a collective. If more and more people make an effort to do so, then the path to real, positive change will become significantly more tangible.

JOE O’CONNOR | CONTENT CREATOR | RICHMOND, VA

How are you honoring Black History Month?
I am honoring Black History Month by educating myself, whether that be attending virtual talks sponsored by my university or simply reading shared posts on social media. There is always more to learn and new people to discover and that’s is one of the reasons Black History Month is so important. There are so many Black individuals that have provided substantial contributions to our society, past or present, that deserve credit and recognition for their hard work.

 

How are you planning to spread awareness of Black History Month?
Personally, as my platform continues to grow, I really like and plan on sharing posts that I see highlighting different figures, historical events, or facts on my Instagram story. I think it is a great way to relay information and/or spread awareness whether it’s about movements, general information, or sharing work that I find inspiring. Throughout my experience as a creator, I have noticed my stories get significantly more views than my posts. Even if the story only contains a snippet of information highlighting a Black inventor, scientist, artist, leader, president, activist, author, or creator, that 10 seconds the story appears on that screen sheds light on that individual for their talent, bravery, commitment, leadership, and/or impact on our society and I think that is the absolute least I can do to show my support for them.

 

Tell us about your experience as a Black creator.
Being a Black creator has been nothing short of a journey of self-discovery. Whether I am creating videos or taking photos, I am allowed the opportunity to be me, express me, show me. There exists, in this world, so many social norms and influences from the environment you grew up in; creating content has allowed me to outgrow those. A lot of the time, the photos I share of myself are self-portraits. No one behind the camera, just me, a tripod, and an idea. I have the liberty to pose, reshoot, try different angles, or experiment with setting all by myself. No one saying, “that’s kind of weird” or “I’m cold, are we almost done?” or “Are you really going to post that?” What people see is the final product, the product how I want it to look, how I want myself portrayed, and I think that holds a lot of power in my identity as a Black creator.

 

Are you currently involved in any organizations to promote equality within your local community?
Yes, I am currently a part of the General’s Leadership Academy at my university. As a captain on the Track and Field team, I find this program extremely useful as the focus of the entire program is on what makes an individual a good leader and, individually, how we can improve upon that. A some of what we do within the program directly deals with how to create an environment on your respective team that is not only comfortable but inviting to all people, no matter their sexual orientation, race, religion, socio-economic status, etc. because we, as leaders on our sports team, recognize that creating this environment within our teams is the most important aspect of athletics. Without this, there is no success.

 

Tell us something you’d like people visiting Lee’s social channels and Lee.com to learn or know from this conversation.
I would like people to know it is ok to ask questions. The thought of asking questions tends to scare people. I, myself, am oftentimes scared to ask questions, but I have been slowly getting myself comfortable with doing so. Asking questions is so important. If you want to know how to better support your friend, ask them how. If you’re not sure what pronouns to use when talking to someone, ask them what they prefer. That friend would most likely be more than happy to explain how you can help them. I will never forget, this summer, while different protests and BLM marches were being held, I had two friends reach out to me separately. They both wanted to know how they can 1) become more educated about the movement and 2) how they can help me specifically. Receiving those texts almost brought me to tears. It told me that those friends truly see the situation and want to know more in order to provide support. They care. I’ve said it once already, but I will say it again: asking questions is so important.

 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for creating change?
As dumb as it sounds, to me, the biggest opportunity for creating change is identifying that change needs to be made. Start conversations. Listen. Learn. There is so much positive change that can come about in this world all because of one simple conversation. You will find others who share similar experiences as you and realize you are not alone.

ALISCIA GILMORE | GRAPHIC DESIGNER | CONTENT CREATOR | BIRMINGHAM, AL

How are you honoring Black History Month?
I am celebrating Black History Month by being the very best version of myself. I'm celebrating by standing boldly in my blackness, my womanhood, and my creativity.

 

How are you planning to spread awareness of Black History Month?
I spread awareness through social media and by creating important conversations around why this month exists.

 

Tell us about your experience as a Black creator.
Being a Black content creator has been a powerful experience. It's important to me to utilize my platform to speak on the Black culture, Black social experiences, and injustices. I have enjoyed seeing my peers stand up and unapologetically speak on matters that directly affect the Black community.

 

Have you personally advocated for equality in your community?
For the past two years, I have worked with a cause called Education With A Purpose. It offers scholarships to minority high school seniors who have excelled academically and have been accepted into a 4-year college.

 

Tell us something you’d like people visiting Lee’s social channels and Lee.com to learn or know from this conversation.
I would like for people to learn that diversity and inclusivity is the key to the future.

 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for creating change?
The biggest opportunity we have is our voice.

GEORGE MYRIE | BUSINESSMAN | CONTENT CREATOR | JAMAICA, NY

How are you honoring Black History Month?
Every year I create visuals that will spark the conversation with regards to the struggle of being Black in America.

 

How are you planning to spread awareness of Black History Month?
I think everyone is aware that February is Black History Month but the issue is folks being aware that we have a long way to go until equality is achieved, which may not happen in my lifetime.

 

Tell us about your experience as a Black creator.
Being a Black creator during this particular time is amazing because we have the eyes of the world on us and it's up to US to let everyone know what we have to say.

 

Are you currently involved in any organizations to promote equality?
A few gentlemen, including myself, started a mentoring program where we spent time with young black men and cultivated relationships with them in attempts to steer them towards success. At the end of the program, we typically purchased the attire for each of their proms. We started this because there are so many programs for young ladies to get prom dresses leaving young men behind. Due to COVID, we didn't have an opportunity to do so last year.

 

Tell us something you’d like people to learn or know from this conversation.
Never be scared of someone you don't know because most people don't bite and are willing to have open dialogue.

 

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for creating change?
When someone is listening with an open ear and heart to be receptive and not defensive because there are very little differences between us all.