The media has and continues to struggle with presenting diverse representations of Black women. For years, African-American women have yearned to be seen as more than domesticated workers, sexual objects or comedians specifically within film and TV. With the election of Barack Obama as POTUS in 2008, Michelle Obama, a Southside Chicago native, Harvard Law School graduate and activist, provided a physical alert to the world that #BlackGirlMagic was real and more complex than what has been represented.
Before the former first lady's reign, in 1968 Diahann Carroll became the first African-American actress to star in her very own television series. In the same year, actress Nichelle Nichols would make history by having the first interracial kiss on television. In 1984, Phylicia Rashad raised five children (not including Olivia and cousin Pam) in one of the first TV sitcoms to positively portray an upper middle class Black family. At the time of the show's premiere, none of us knew we'd later see the real life depiction of The Cosby Show via Michelle Obama.
In the '90s we saw Ella Joyce, Lisa Bonet, Holly Robinson-Peete, Sandra Quarterman and the likes of many other solid Black actresses play on TV alongside men, but owning their space as leading women. During Michelle Obama's reign in the 2000s, it became apparent that Black women not only helmed the screen, but also ran the show backstage in many arenas.
In 2014, Maxine Waters was elected to her thirteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives and she continues to let us know that she's not here to play with us (see her latest tweet HERE). In 2015, Marilyn Mosby fearlessly sought to charge the six police officers who were involved in the death of Freddie Gray. In 2016, Simone Biles won four Olympic Gold medals at only 19 years old. In 2017 Anika Noni Rose and Danielle Mone' Truitt proved that Black women could make their own rules in underrepresented arenas for women (higher education administration and the ranks of peace officers, repsectively) with The Quad and Rebel.
We got a chance to get one Black woman's take on the subject. Rhonesha Byng, founder of HerAgenda.com, a "digital media platform working to bridge the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women."
Rhonesha's worked in media since her teenage years, spending time at almost every media powerhouse imaginable. She's worked for NBC Universal, The Huffington Post, Interactive One and Seventeen Magazine, just to name a few. So...
Michelle Obama is pure grace, class and sophistication. She's inspiring because I know as a Black woman she's dealing with things that we don't see and yet all the while continuing to push forward and persevere. She's the epitome of not looking like what you've been through. She's had hate and ridicule thrown at her and through it all she showed up and showed out. She inspires me to keep going no matter what and that it isn't a weakness to put family first. You can tell that despite her accomplishments she finds her strength through her family and that's how she's able to face the world even when the world she faces is cold.
In what ways can young women create their own spaces to succeed?
The internet is a great place to start, no matter where you live, you have access to this amazing portal that can transport you. That's where I first started learning about industry events put on by various professional organizations that I would attend that led to me meeting many of the professionals who ended up becoming my mentors. Put yourself in places that allow your potential to be put on display so that they can champion you. I believe most people want to help but you need to make it easy and show them/tell them how they can help. You do that by being consistent, constantly practicing your craft and putting yourself in the rooms you need to be in to meet the people who can help.
Define what #BlackGirlMagic means to you.
#BlackGirlMagic is strength, sisterhood and spirit. As Black women when you see us there's a glow and a warmth. The reason we are magical is because of our resilience. It's not easy for us to achieve anything in this world since we face double discrimination because we are women and because we are Black. So when we achieve at a high level or simply express joy and happiness despite the weight on our shoulders, that is magic. It's contagious and the true manifestation of #BlackGirlMagic is using your magic to empower your sisters, to help lighten the load [for your sister] and keep climbing higher until we all soar.
Name the woman you saw on TV that helped you know that you could be a boss.
OPRAAAAAAH! She's such a boss and she started as a journalist. Seeing her do what she loves and use her influence and the power of media to inspire people to live their best life inspired me. [I understood] that the media could be used as a force for good.
Where do you see young women's future opportunities for leadership?
A woman can do anything.