4 tips for emerging Black creators: Insights from Issa Rae’s Kennedy Center Takeover
Transform your inspiration into confident action with these key takeaways from the event.
As a young creative, it's beautiful being in a room full of ambitious Black individuals. I know how difficult it is to maneuver between different platforms to share your work and find the right people to collaborate with. So, it was freeing to have the weight of these challenges lifted for one powerful weekend, thanks to actress, writer, producer, and comedian Issa Rae's four-day HOORAE Takeover at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in March 2022.
Patreon invited members of Wide Angle Youth Media (WAYM), a media arts non-profit supporting Baltimore youth, to attend the dynamic event and absorb knowledge from motivational industry leaders. As Wide Angle’s Social Media intern and psychology student, I attended the event along with Tia Thomas, 20, an actress and Wide Angle’s Design Intern, and Brandon Towns, 24, a photographer, filmmaker, and multimedia producer for Wide Angle Productions. WAYM’s mission is to develop and amplify Baltimore youth voices in order to engage audiences across generational, cultural, and social divides through media arts education. Attending the event was a chance for us emerging Black creatives to cross paths with other up-and-coming creators, as well as a much-needed reminder that we can flourish in any space, despite the media industry's persistent attempts to exclude us.
As huge admirers of Issa Rae’s work, we were ecstatic to attend an event designed to unify like-minded creative individuals, hosted by such a pioneering public figure. Unsure of what to expect, we talked on the way from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. about how we have trained ourselves to interact in “culturally diverse settings,” or put more accurately, white-dominated environments.
But when we entered the cheerful auditorium full of people who look like us, who were also there to have fun and learn from two of the most influential women in the industry, all of our expectations of having to retreat into the versions of ourselves that we've been conditioned to view as socially acceptable were thrown to the curb. It felt more like a family reunion than a room full of strangers because there was a large sense of togetherness. I’ve never felt more comfortable in such an unfamiliar space than when I entered that room. We left the building, after that “dope Black-led experience,” as Brandon put it, feeling more enthused to create than ever before, carrying gems of wisdom that we will cherish forever.
"It felt more like a family reunion than a room full of strangers because there was a large sense of togetherness. I’ve never felt more comfortable in such an unfamiliar space than when I entered that room."
In case you missed this inspiring event, here are four pieces of advice we learned that we’ll carry with us through our journey as emerging creators.
1. Take a break and find the fun
To build your career, “grinding” can feel like a must. As people of the Black community, we tend to hold ourselves to higher standards of success in everything we strive to accomplish, due to pressures rooted in prejudice and racism which have historically been intertwined with each career we attempt to pursue. As a result, we tend to have no choice but to give our all, in order to dispel any doubts about our abilities. This can be exhausting and all-consuming. Even so, fun is important, too. As part of “A Sip,” a series of intimate and unscripted “fireside chats” with influential creatives about their unconventional journeys, Issa Rae spoke to actress Keke Palmer about the importance of taking a break to enjoy life. “That’s the thing about the whole workaholic mindset. There’s no time for you to get more inspiration,” Keke says. “I always have to stop and remind myself to just stop and smell the roses for a while so I have something to draw from.”
Inspiration can be found anywhere, and taking a break to look for it can help you find fresh ideas for new things to create. So, have fun! As an emerging creator you have a bright career ahead of you. Work opportunities may come and go, but chances to let loose and enjoy life are precious. Seize every moment you can to smell the flowers. Your inspired work will thank you later.
2. Persistence can pay off
“One of the biggest lessons I took from this event is that consistency and hard work equals success!” Tia says. “That was something I noticed about all the artists [we heard speak]. They were consistent with their hard work and now they're inspirations to so many others.”
Creators of color are innovating in artistic fields everyday. Yet, as creators sometimes we might feel like there’s no room for our creativity, since there are so many participants already. But, Keke let us know that with a little determination you might be able to excel beyond your wildest dreams.“Just keep trying,” she says, with encouragement. Simple, I know, yet easier said than done.
Your work may not be recognized when you want it to be, or even to the magnitude you expect. But as long as you are consistent and true to your craft, advocate for your creations, and know your worth, the right audience can gravitate towards you and embrace and acknowledge your labor. Until then, create, create, create!
3. Team up with your friends
From Issa Rae’s example, I learned that it takes courage to decide to build your own table when you aren't given a seat at the one you want. To witness Issa Rae’s transition from her YouTube web series “Awkward Black Girl” to renowned HBO Max series “Insecure,” shows is inspirational. If she isn’t the perfect example of joining forces with your friends and uplifting their accomplishments, I’m not sure who is.
So, what does it take to break into the industry? According to Keke, working with your peers is key. She encourages young creatives to start “pulling your crew together and figuring it out!” She adds, “If your friend writes, if your other friend wants to direct, and you want to act? Just do it!”
Potential collaborators might be people you’re already connected to. So, call around and organize a team! You might have friends who are into music production, aspiring fashion designers, or passionate about videography already in your network. After the event, Tia, Brandon, and I had fun together developing our recap post for Wide Angle’s blog. With Brandon’s awesome camerawork from the event and Tia’s popping graphic designs (which we also used for social media promotion), accompanied by my writing skills, I can proudly say our team created a beautiful piece of journalism. We are certainly better together than apart.
No matter what your interests are or what ideas you have, calling on your creative friends’ interests and skill sets can help your art come to life in beautiful ways.
4. For inner peace, nurture positivity
We are our own worst critics, and we can lose sight of the remarkable things we do. Negative thoughts can cloud our judgment and distract us from our purpose. Whenever I start to doubt myself or when that negative voice in my head gets too loud, I put an immediate halt to it with a phrase I learned from Keke: “That’s fake!” Don’t give life to negativity; protect your energy!
Hearing the challenges that Keke Palmer has faced in her career — such as growing up as a child star, being passed over for roles, and working with confused directors, which ultimately led to her current success — was empowering. Brandon noted that the experience of hearing creative industry leaders’ wisdom assured him that he’s on the right path. He says, “It provided me with a bit more confidence that I'm getting better with the things I need to do to be who I want to be.”
Remember: Your work is valuable. There are people out there that could use your help to reach their dreams, too. With persistence, a can-do attitude, a splash of fun, and friends at your side, you have the potential to make amazing things happen.
To accelerate your creative journey, learn from industry leaders, and connect with a community of creators of color, join Patreon’s Pull Up program.