Debra Lee, Vivica A. Fox And More Gather In Detroit For Black Owned Media Weekend

Black Owned Media Weekend 2024


Jun. 12 2024, Published 8:10 a.m. ET

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On June 7, Black-Owned Media Weekend began, attracting celebrities, business, tech, and media leaders to Detroit in its third year of providing resources and an opportunity to network and learn. Launched by The Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute (BOMESI) and sponsored by GM, Nativo, Danone, Discover, Mediavine, My Code, Kargo, Burst, and She Media, the event afforded guests the opportunity to enjoy panels, an exclusive dinner, and speakers in the backdrop of the rich culture and history of Detroit. 

Journalist Nicole Ellis served as MC for the weekend’s festivities, and Michele Ghee, co-founder and CEO of Expectant Media, delivered the opening keynote. During her talk, she offered insights into her career journey and tips for professionals and entrepreneurs alike to thrive and succeed. One key she touched on was the power of salesmanship and the need for Black publishers to tap in.

Tapping Into Storytelling

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“You have to learn how to sell something or build a relationship with somebody who’s so hungry that they’ll just work on commission to sell the product for you,” she said. She also reiterated how the power of storytelling plays into the viability and sustainability of a brand. 

“The last thing is storytelling. What became painfully clear for me with the last cohort is that people had amazing brands but they didn’t know how to tell a story. They didn’t know how to tell a story. They didn’t know how to lay out their platform, their audience, what they were, doing, what they were building. You’ve got to be great storytellers.”

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CEO Success And The Learning Curve

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Another highlight of the event, moderated by veteran journalist and host Raqiyah Mays, featured Debra Lee, former CEO of BET and author of her recently released book, “I Am Debra Lee: A Memoir.” She talked about her journey to the C-suite, leading one of the most prolific companies in entertainment history, and gave behind-the-scenes insights into major moments in her career. 

“When I went to BET as general counsel, I wish I knew I was going to end up on the content and programming side,” she said. “I was an attorney and I was just worried about keeping the company out of legal trouble. It was hard then because I had no staff and the execuutives didn’t really like having me  around because they knew I would tell them slow down, read the contract. That was a whole process.”

She added, “When I did end up on the content side as I became CEO, I found out I loved it. Had I known earlier, I probably would have spent some time in the edit room or at the production stage. I had a big learning curve managing the company but I had a big team and I did a lot of on-the-job training. Then once I got to that part of the business, I had to learn to find my voice—a Black woman, in media, predominantly music channel. It was quite a challenge, even as CEO.”

She further elaborated on how she faced the challenge of shifting perspective and turning a vision into reality while doing amazing things at the network. “Finding that sweet spot of what I wanted BET to be—once I became CEO, it was my vision, there was no one else to look to—it took some time.”

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Owning Your Narrative And Getting The Bag

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Iconic actress, producer, host and entrepreneur Vivica A. Fox joined a panel—along with stars from one of her latest films, “The Lost Holliday”—to talk about how Black creatives can own their narratives, produce, direct and fund their projects. 

“Read your contract, first of all. Let’s start there. You have to know what you signed up for, so you can’t, then later, ask for something that wasn’t involved. My agent, back in the day, used to read my contract with a magnifying glass. I’d just be like, ‘How much am I getting paid?’ I’ma keep it real. That’s how you feel,” she said, sparking agreement and laughs from the audience. “But you have got to know about the business behind show business.” 

“And when you sign a contract and you sign on to do something, do the work,” she added.

Advocating For Authentic, Diverse Storytelling

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Aligned with Pride month, the event also featured a discussion that addressed embracing LGBTQI+ stories in diverse-owned media with B. Scott, a digital media innovator, activist, executive producer and founder of Scott shared details on the path from becoming a creative in the early days of blogging to producing branded content, hosting, and advocating for diverse stories to be told.

“I felt that I wanted to express myself that I deserved to hold space,” Scott said. “And that especially in Black media. At that time, there wasn’t a space for LGBTQIA+ people.”

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“I think for me, it’s all about [how] my existence on this earth is to show people that you can be whoever you are,” Scott added. “You deserve to express yourself wherever you are on the spectrum. Hold this space and be true to who you are.”

Building On A Black-Owned Media Legacy

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BOMESI was founded by Her Agenda founder and CEO Rhonesha Byng and BleuLife Media Group founder and CEO DéVon Christopher Johnson. Since the organization’s founding in 2020, it has graduated 14 emerging publishers from its 3-month accelerator program, and after the graduation of cohort 3 next month, they’ll have awarded $525,000 in non-dilutive funding as they continue to launch cohort accelerators as well as lucrative corporate partnerships.

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“We’re a nonprofit built around three pillars,” Byng shared at the event. “One is education, where we educate publishers. We also educate brands on equitable deal flow. Economic empowerment—one of my favorite pillars—and under that pillar we have our accelerator program and we facilitate deals in BOMESI Collective. The last pillar I’m going to mention is last on purpose because it’s actually how we started, and why we started, and its ecosystem. And that’s rooted in our community that’s here in this room. The ecosystem involved is not just the media owners, but the marketers, the advertisers, the ad tech platforms that help build strength, revenue and sustainability for Black-owned media platforms.”

Throughout the event, panelists and educators covered additional topics, including relationship-building, business sustainability, diversifying revenue streams, effective use of ad tech, among other topics Speakers included media industry leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs including Lisa Torres, Michael Roca, Jason Rosario, Kori Hale, Tarshena Armstrong,  Leonard E. Burnett, Justin Barton, Maria Teresa Hernandez, Brian J. Packer, Lynnwood Bibbens, Ernest White II, Felicia Palmer, Nkrumah Farrar, Munson Steed, Shenan Reed, Michael Riley, Damian Benders, Rashad Robinson, Sherrell Dorsey, Marie Denee, Navarrow Wright, Anastasia Williams, and more.

For more on the BOMESI, its events, and programs, visit their website or follow on Instagram @supportblackownedmedia.

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