MORGAN / CEO & CO-FOUNDER OF BLAVITY / SAINT LOUIS MO
Meet Morgan. When we met in college, I knew that she was wonderful and to see her Bloom into an eloquent, strong, authentic, community-minded, and passionate visionary has been an absolute gift. She’s the CEO and co-founder of Blavity, the tech company for progressive-minded black millennials, that aims to build a creative community while concurrently challenging normative dialogues. Her discussions on her own black feminism, finding the drive to start a business, and what white people can do to confront systemic racism are what we have all been waiting for. So make a big pot of tea, put on your coziest PJs and meet Morgan, she’s something special and my goodness, she’s Blooming.
How will you Bloom in the next year?
In the next year, I'll Bloom by, I think, making a commitment to enjoying that moment that I'm in at all times. I often think about where I want to go, and am constantly impatient with how long it takes me to get there. I've worked really hard and spent a lot of time to get to where I am today and where I will be tomorrow — and, therefore, I should enjoy that success and that milestone at its own moment in time.
Do you have any professional Bloom goals?
I want make money doing the right thing. In creating Blavity I've spent a lot of time working with my team to create this universe of black content, black creativity and to really design something intentionally for young, black people in this country. Now we're entering into a phase where we have to make it into a real business, to be profitable and to be responsible corporate citizens and that is a challenge. So I am definitely Blooming into that every day.
Where did Blavity come from? What made you want to start it, and what was your first step towards making what is now an incredibly widespread and popular site?
The first version of Blavity (Black Gravity) ultimately started at the roundtable at Washington University's cafeteria in the DUC student center. I spent a lot of time in undergraduate floating between different worlds. Being in student government and different organizations, and then going back to my all-black roommates and all-black lunch table... It made me think more about this ability to float in between these different worlds.
I was not judged by my peers, and, further, was always welcomed by people who looked like me but whom were also different from me, because we all came from different parts of the country, and had different majors and interests. This experience was fundamental to my personal growth into my own black identity. The folks I ultimately ended up starting this company with— Jonathan, Jeff, and Aaron — all of them went to Wash U.
The first person that really impacted me was Jeff Nelson. Jeff was my RA (Resident Advisor), and he was also the first person to move to Silicon Valley. We used to joke and be like, “Which one of our ideas is gonna be, like, the billion-dollar idea?” We really believed it. Once we both moved to Silicon Valley, we'd sit after work together and brainstorm.
I think Blavity is all about creativity. Blavity is about having conversations with people and feeling like you aren't alone just because you're a smart black person who also likes to get a little ratchet sometimes and listen to different types of music. Like, that's normal. That's actually a normal experience. And that's what we try to do at Blavity — to add visibility to the conversations and the subcultures that are already happening.
great answer. Tell me a little bit about a PROFESSIONAL OR PERSONAL obstacle that you've overcome in the last few years.
I have Imposter Syndrome. There are definitely moments in time where I attribute my success to other things, things that are happenstance. “Well, I just won this award because I was the only black woman and they needed diversity.” Or, like, “I built this really cool strategic relationship because maybe the partner was attracted to me, and then was pleasantly surprised that I was intelligent.”
I think I make a lot of excuses. That's something that I struggle with a lot. I think a lot of women do it. A lot of women who are successful don't really own it because we've been taught that it's not normal to actually be successful and to be a woman. You are special. You do deserve to be rewarded because you're a woman — because it's good to celebrate people's successes when they've been able to overcome a lot of obstacles. And in spite of these obstacles, they're still thriving. That being said, you're just great. You're just really good at what you do and that should be enough.
An obstacle that I'm actively dealing with right now is that I have to accept that I work hard and that is why I am successful. I have been given good opportunities — but I also put in the time and the work, and these are the reasons why we get results. Even saying that feels weird.
TELL ME, What does feminism mean to you?
What does feminism mean to me? Feminism means a lot to me. Feminism means really believing with all of your heart, body, and soul that women are equal. Period. And that there are no excuses. Ever.
There is no valid excuse, ever, for a woman to be viewed as less than anyone else in this world. It just doesn't make any sense. Personally, being in a position to hire creators and a team and to make decisions about what content goes up and doesn't means constantly checking my own bias. Even as a feminist, there are still messages that I've been taught that I've had to unlearn. And I think it starts with developing your own feminism first.
My feminism comes from my mom, absolutely. And from books. I read a lot of super black women books and autobiographies when I was growing up; my mom would just, like, hand me stuff and I was like, “Sure, great, thanks, Mom.” I didn't even know what she was doing at the time, but those were the best stories for me. Learning about Sojourner Truth. Learning about Harriet Tubman. Learning about Rosa Parks. Learning the real stories taught me a lot because those became the only messages that I knew. When other messages in mainstream education were introduced, it didn't throw me off because I held onto this core foundation of black women, of these historical powerhouses of our past. So, yeah, shout out to my mom for doing that.
To develop this more, is black feminism different from feminism? what are some of the narratives surrounding black feminism and how can we better educate people about this?
I think it matters that, no matter what happens, we're the lowest of the totem pole. Always. When people talk about women, they talk about white women. When we talk about men, we talk about white men. And then people mention the word “diversity.” Then they start talking about black men.
I include myself as a black feminist in that we have to be more vocal and aggressive to get what we deserve in terms of being part of the conversation in feminism, or part of the conversation when it comes to being black and our rights as black people. Yeah, it's a special place in society. The black feminist is powerful, and I would not want to be going up against that.
Because we've all had to fight so hard for all our rights, we've been trained to be powerhouses. I mean, you look at the best athletes in the world right now. Who are we talking about? We're talking about Serena. We're talking about Simones. It's fantastic. It's never been a better time to be a black feminist.
I love that! Question for you. Being black and mixed, I have both black and white family. What advice do you have for white people that don't know how to help with regards to DISCUSSING systemic racism and police brutality? I have very well intentioneD AND SMART family members and SOMETIMES they're like "WHAT I'M READING is very terrible. what's my next step?" They don’t know where to go.
It's so hard. I get a lot of those questions, actually, because Blavity has a lot of inviting, information content. We have a lot of white people that follow Blavity who will email me. They'll be like, “Hey, I'm a 72-year-old white woman in Oklahoma.”
First of all, it's like, why are you emailing me — that's dope. Then they're like, “My grandson is half-black and I just want to be involved,” or “I'm a teacher and I just want to understand the issues that my students care about. And I always forward those emails to the rest of the team because they're so exciting to see.
One behavior I wish more allies would consider is to be more proactive in seeking to understand what we're going through, and trying to educate themselves to change some of those messages that they're getting by only listening to, reading, or interacting with mainstream media. I urge allies to opt into a perspective. Not because you're always going to agree with it — because you're not — but so that you are at least aware of what you're missing out on. Because some of the new material may make you say, “Oh my gosh, that's so right. Now I know, and now I can make a smarter decision or have a smarter opinion about what's going on and how I may be able to impact things.”
Depending on your role in society — whether you're a teacher, a grandparent, a partner — I think what your activism will look like will be different. But I think the first step is being informed by proactive media, and looking for other resources to give you new information.
That’s strong advice. What advice do you have for up-and-coming young youngsters trying to launch a business? What's the first step? How do you press play?
Oh my God, just do it! I think some people — and I was the same way — overthink it. You read every article, sign up for all these podcasts, read all of the Medium posts, look at all the Quora threads, and waste a lot of your time thinking about what you're going to do. You really just need to do it. Simplify your idea to the most basic root of the problem that you're trying to solve and see how it goes.
That can mean different things for different people, but it might mean just an Instagram or Tumblr account. It might mean an email list or landing page where you're, like, fake-signing people up for your product or service. I think that a lot of people have to ask themselves if they actually want to live this life of entrepreneurship and being a creator, or if they just like the idea of it because it looks cool. At the end of the day, people's behaviors and actions will speak louder than their words and their wants. So execute. Test something. And be simple with what your first version of whatever that is.
You mentioned something HERE that hit close to home for me. Once you start something, like Bloom for example, you have this Oh shit moment when you’re like, “oh shit, I actually am doing this now!” So once you start, how do you find that drive to keep going?
Oh my gosh, it's so hard! Sometimes I just want to hide in a corner and be like "Not today, people. Not today." It's overwhelming. I think that reminding yourself why you started is one of the critical ways to stay grounded and focused, and not get overwhelmed with all of the energy that's being thrown your way.
What a lot of people will find is that once you start to get distracted — because opportunities come your way and people start telling you to start a podcast, an e-book — you start to think that maybe you should do those things, even if it wasn't part of the plan.
Stick to the plan. Stay focused on the metrics that matter. Once you master one thing, move onto the next, but don't let other people influence your agenda. You already had a vision. Give yourself the space and the room to execute it and don't be alarmed when other people come your way because they're admiring the fact that you actually took a step forward, and they want to be a part of it. So embrace the moment. Embrace it.
Second-to-lastly, WHAT inspires and moves you?
When I need real inspiration nowadays, I actually go to Instagram. There are so many cool young creators who are making stuff. They might have a few followers, but their content, perspective, and lens is so inspiring to me, especially in international spaces where it may be more difficult to get discovered.
The other group that inspires me is my team. When I'm feeling like I want to hide in a corner for the day — if I'm disappointed in something; if I'm feeling nervous or worried or scared that we're not going to meet one of our goals; if I've just had a bad conversation with an investor — I talk to my team about the issue that I'm having, or I'll talk to them about what they're working on. I look at their energy and their light and steal some of it to make myself feel better.
what do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for taking a chance and for making a whole ecosystem of opportunity for young black people in this country. I want people to think of me and think about giving other people a chance.