fbpx
Connect with us

Spotlight

Meet Shani Syphrett, The Innovative Strategist Empowering Women of Color

Published

on

Source: Shani Syphrett

Even if you’ve never heard of Shani Syphrett, you’ve probably been impacted by her work. She’s the mastermind behind the branding and marketing strategies that keep some of the biggest brands and corporations around the world connected to the public via field-tested brand building, experiential marketing, customer acquisition, and customer retention strategies. In layman’s terms, she’s one of the people responsible for keeping them up to date with their rapidly-growing and ever-changing consumer base.

She’s also the founder of Jamila Studio, a launchpad serving women of color that encourages and empowers them to share their stories and drive themselves forward through accessible one-on-one mentoring, brand coaching, and peer mentoring networks.

A group of women of color pose for a picture in a giant office lounge area with couches and tables with bright yellow text on the wall behind them saying,
Source: Shani Syphrett

We caught up with Syphrett to learn more about her role as a strategist, the influences and impact associated with her work, and what it means for her to empower women of color and drive their success.

You’re a Brand and Marketing Strategist for companies such as Samsung, Nike,  McDonald’s, Refinery29, and Gap. How do you help these well-established companies step into the future of marketing to and serving their customers?

My philosophy around brand and marketing strategy is serving the right customers with the right product at the right time. Much of what I bring to the table for the companies that I work with is getting them to step away from any assumptions they have about the customers they are trying to chase and examine who the qualities of their product or service are uniquely positioned to serve at the moment.

Many times that means abandoning putting their customers in demographic boxes and looking at how they actually behave in an internet-connected, barrier-breaking world.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a Brand Strategist?

To me, it’s all human ecology – the relationship between people and their natural, social, and built environments. I would say I fell into strategy because of my innate curiosity and empathy and a few people in my life who entered in at just the right times to advocate for me and push outside of my comfort zone. I’ve always wanted to solve problems and I am lucky to be able to do that every day.

Why do you think it is important to offer support and additional resources to Women of color and intersectional identities, at large. How have you seen intersectional identity groups benefit from tailored support?

I see the work that I do for Women of color as something I am uniquely positioned to do. My experience often puts me in positions where I am the only one who looks, thinks, or acts like me. At first, it depressed me because I felt isolated and misunderstood. Now I see it for what it is: my obligation to open the door and bring others with me. And we all need that. No one succeeds all on their own. We move so much further when there is someone ahead of us, or someone who has access, who is specifically looking to help us. I made a decision to be a resource for Women of color and I see the fruits of that decision both big and small.

In 2015, you founded Jamila Studio as a consulting firm and project studio that helps high-performing women of color to thrive. How have you seen Jamila studio serving and empowering women through these endeavors? How important do you think Jamila studio is in their journey towards success?

I like to think that Jamila Studio provides creative capital and people capital for Women of Color and, hopefully, soon, financial capital. What originally was a container for me to house all of my freelance creative work turned into a way for me to provide scalable support for a largely ignored market: innovative women of color.

The one-on-one advising, coaching, bootcamp-style teaching, monthly meetup, and digital publication are an ecosystem that helps me reach women at different stages of their journeys.

Maybe they’re just starting out and need confidence boosters and general direction. Maybe they are launching something new and need the right strategy behind them. Maybe they’ve already reached a certain milestone and need the co-sign, or connection of their peers to get them to the next step. Maybe they just want to be in the know about the myriad of options and resources out there that they can leverage to be successful. It’s the way that I can help the most people without burning myself out.

Shani is at a Chat & Chew meetup speaking to a group of people sitting in chairs in a circle.
Source: Shani Syphrett

You also started monthly Chat & Chew meetups. Where did the idea to host Chat & Chew meetups come from? How have you seen these monthly meetups impact the attendees both on a personal and professional level?

Selfishly, the Chat & Chew meetups began because I was drowning in “coffee date” requests. Though I wish I could help everyone, I am an introvert who needs a fair amount of downtime. There came a point, I believe it was after about a year of leading workshops for various entrepreneurship programs and conferences and writing for Forbes, where there was a request for a coffee date and pick your brain session every day. I just couldn’t keep up.

I was meeting so many new great women, needing to catch up with others, and often wanting to connect women who I thought could benefit from each other. So Chat & Chew was born. It’s invite-only conversation between peers who help each other celebrate wins, get through tricky work-related tasks, and air out the things we don’t feel comfortable doing with just anyone.

I could not have imagined the sisterhood and enterprising I’ve seen since it started. It’s warm, validating, and actionable support. It feels like the most significant thing I’ve ever done.

On top of being an active brand strategist and running Jamila Studio, you are also a regular contributor for Forbes. Have you always been interested in writing? How does being a Forbes contributor tie in with your other projects?

Contributing to Forbes came from my passion to be an advocate for women of color. It’s all connected for me. I get to expose the world to dope, innovative women of color who may have been overlooked because they don’t know anyone “in the know”. I get to open that door for them and that makes a difference for them professionally and personally. I get to vouch for these women under the Forbes banner. The writing is just the vehicle.

What is one piece of advice you would give to women of color in any career field?

Clarity comes from engagement and not just thought. You won’t figure out who you are meant to be until you get out there and try to be it.

By: Alla Issa

Continue Reading

Spotlight

Meet Thais Drassinower: A Latinx Woman Film Creator in Hollywood Pushing for Diversity

Published

on

A black and white photo of Thais Drassinower wearing black hat and tank top.

This past year, the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) selected Thais Drassinower into the Newcomers program. Thais is based in L.A. as a female filmmaker. The year 2020 had the biggest turnout of women in the program and Thais was one of those representing female filmmakers!

This program offers career support and helps to new filmmakers in the industry. Apart from being welcomed into the program, Thais has a lot of history with filmmaking and in the film industry. We interviewed her to learn more about her history with film and any new projects she might be working on. 

1. Your hometown is Lima, Peru, what was it like coming to America and starting up in the film industry? What inspired you to pursue filmmaking as a career, and please tell me a bit about that journey. 

I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. I started writing stories as soon as I learned how to put two words together.

My grandma still keeps those early ones in her bedroom chest. I’ve also always loved film and would spend my free time as a teenager watching foreign film cycles at the local cultural center.

But as a young woman from a traditional family growing up in Lima – Peru, I never thought being a filmmaker was an option for me.

My diverse interests in story, psychology, and anthropology led me to advertising as a first step and it was then, working as a copywriter in Chicago, that I realized the power that audiovisual communication has on society and understood that there are archetypes in the collective consciousness that stories can portray in infinite ways.

That’s when I decided to become a filmmaker and assume the responsibility of sharing narratives that can shift our world into a more comprehensive, empathetic, and healthy place.

I started taking night classes at a local school after work and then decided to make the jump and apply for an MFA in Film which got me to NYC where I got my degree at Columbia University. That’s how it all started. 

2. Before transitioning to the film industry, you were a copywriter. Can you tell me what it was like making that transition to filmmaking? Did you encounter any major differences or have any difficulty with the transition to films? 

I was a copywriter for an advertising agency in Chicago which meant that, together with my partner, I came up with an idea for a commercial, wrote the script for it and then supervised the whole production and post-production process to make sure the idea was coming to life in the way we envisioned it.

The whole supervision part of the process was similar to being a film producer on a project. Being on set and watching the director work with the actors made me fall in love with the directing process. I think it has been a very organic transition and my years as a copywriter helped me build very important skills that I now use as a writer/director.

Film director and crew
Source

3. The entertainment industry can be cutthroat at times. Have you endured any hardships along the way? What did you do to overcome them? 

I’m still at the beginning of my career and it is definitely a challenging field. As a Latinx woman trying to break in, you have to work extremely hard and convince people that you deserve a seat at the table.

It’s an exciting time for minorities in Hollywood, the conversation is open and more studios are looking to champion diverse and underrepresented voices, but there is still a long way to go to achieve proper representation and I’m proud to be a part of this new generation pushing for change. 

4. You’ve directed three projects, “The Catch,” “Baby,” and “Memories of the Sea.” All of which are special in their own ways. Please tell me a bit about how you drew inspiration for these projects and how they are connected to you? 

Memories of The Sea was my first film which explores the sense of loss for a child. My dear friend and fellow filmmaker Sudarshan Suresh had written a beautiful script which we then worked on together to adapt for me to direct it.

I decided to set it in Brazil because that’s where I spent my first years of childhood and where I experienced a sense of loss myself.

I wanted to revisit the space and dive deep into the experience of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. This is a film about finding your own answers when adults don’t explain things to you. I think we often forget how intuitive and perceptive children are and this film attempts to remind us. 

Baby, my second film, explores what it means to grow up by messing up. It’s a film about a young woman who goes home for a weekend and has ​an unnerving encounter with her estranged father at a nightclub which reminds her that there are unhealed wounds.

Through a series of disturbing events that night, she will be forced to understand that the only person who can take care of her now is herself. I drew inspiration for this film from the memories of being that age and feeling lost at many points. Feeling like a grown up, but also like a child.

Feeling like I had all the answers, but then suddenly like I knew nothing. It’s a fascinating period in a person’s life and with this story and through this character I explore subjects such as sexuality and consent. 

Finally, The Catch, my latest film, tells the story of two trapeze artists whose trust is threatened right before the biggest performance of their careers. The script was written by another Peruvian making waves in the US, my dear friend Camila Zavala who also produced the film.

What attracted me to direct this movie was the opportunity to explore the concept of trust between a couple with such high stakes and the idea of dancing between public and private spaces in the magical world of a circus.

The film invites us to reflect on the power of a bond and what it takes to break it. 

5. Many young people are looking into the arts as careers, but of course, they may face obstacles along the way. What would you say to someone who would want to pursue a career such as filmmaking? What advice would you offer? 

I say GO FOR IT. This is a challenging career, but all good things in life require you to work hard for them. The enjoyment comes from the hours you put in day to day. I find that the most important things are consistency and your community.

Do the work, go out and shoot, sit down and write, even if you don’t end up showing that “thing” to anyone, practice makes a master. And surround yourself with a group of peers who will champion you and who you will champion. Help each other out.

Film is a collective art and you can’t do it alone, having a group of colleagues that you trust is crucial for your career. Find them. Either at school, at writing groups, at online forums. Find them and nurture those relationships. They are the most wonderful gift that a film career can give you. 

I started writing a blog for young female filmmakers who are working or hope to work on their first feature film. There you can find advice on how to embark in the journey both from my personal experience, and also from interviews that I make to first time female directors.

Check it out and hope you find it helpful, I’m always available through there for any questions you might have.  

Best of luck to you all! 

6. What are your plans for the future in filmmaking? Do you have genres or films you are particularly interested in? 

I’m currently working on my first feature film which I hope we can start pre-production for once we achieve a new normal after COVID-19. I am interested in telling stories through a female perspective in the genres of psychological thriller, psychological horror, and drama.

As I mentioned before, it is also very important for me to portray diversity on the screen through my narratives and I look forward to keep sharing stories that build empathy and hopefully invite the audience to reflect and discuss.

From growing up in Peru and moving to L.A, to transitioning from copywriting to filmmaking. Thais has achieved many great things that other young filmmakers aspire to achieve.

We hope that by reading this article, many young filmmakers or others wanting to join the industry can get some inspiration from Thais and perhaps one day join the Newcomers program like her.

Thank you Thais for your time and we wish you luck with your first feature film and your BAFTA Newcomers program!

Continue Reading

Spotlight

Alicia White Leading Project Petals to Repair Communities

Published

on

Alicia White, CEO of Project Petals

Nonprofit organizations are driven by a social cause. They help families in need, repair communities, teach children new things, and give hope to those who need it most.

Alicia White, the founder and president of Project Petals, had all of this in mind when starting her nonprofit. She is an advocate for all those living in low-income and under-resourced communities. Not only is she an entrepreneur, but she has also worked with the United Nations and done grant work with domestic justice civil rights issues within her community.

BLENDtw had the opportunity to interview White regarding her history with Project Petals and moving forward with her program. 

1.) You started Project Petals with the vision to help low-income and under-resourced communities. Can you tell us a bit about what the process of starting up a new business was like? What were your struggles along the way? 

The process of starting my organization has been rewarding, and I learned so much through the process. My organization started out as a volunteer-led project in Queens, New York. It was important for me to form an organization to improve the environment, support communities and future leaders.

It was challenging starting my first environmental project, and I wanted to make it less difficult for anyone coming after me. Also, to help youth learn the leadership skills needed to make an impact in their communities.

Starting a new organization for me had its challenge, but I learned so much along the way. I had to essentially learn what it was to set up an organization in what felt like overnight. Through extensive research, I had to file paperwork,  create a website, the logo, the structure of the organization, and just typical start-up activities fell on my shoulders.

Like most black women founders, my biggest struggle was finding and securing funding. For example, in 2019, Black-led organizations received less than 4% of grants and funding. That percentage dwindles when you are a woman.

2.) COVID-19 has been challenging for many small businesses and has caused people within many communities to struggle to make ends meet. How have you seen this affect them and what has Project Petals been doing in response to this? 

COVID-19 has hit the communications that my organization works, extremely hard. My organization had to change from working on the ground with large amounts of volunteers to working remotely, with fewer volunteers on the ground.

Through all of this, we were still able to support our community leaders and neighborhoods with the tools and resources that they need to improve their environments. Like every other organization, we have to abide by COVID-19 safety restrictions and guidelines to keep everyone safe while still actively providing the services that are needed to make an impact.  

3.) Going forward with Project Petals, what do you envision with your company? Where do you see it going in terms of growth? 

I see Project Petals eventually moving to a national scale. The need for environmental support and community development is needed now more than ever. With the climate crises on the brink of causing further catastrophe, it is vital that Project Petals is able to serve as many communities and leaders as we can. 

4.) You have a program called, “Youth Builders Program.” Can you elaborate more on what it is and what sort of programs it offers? And how this program can be of help to those participating in it?

Our Project Petals Youth Builders Program helps young people gain the leadership skills they need to improve their communities and futures. Our program connects youth in grades 4-12 to engineering, architecture, urban planning, environmental science, tech, and design professionals who can offer mentorship, experience, internships, and inspiration through monthly workshops.

We work to catalyze the next generation of environmentalists, community leaders, and professionals in these fields. Our program inspires them to develop a passion for these fields, thus working to create a more sustainable, diverse, and equitable world. One hundred percent of all of the youth show great leadership potential. We believe by fostering this leadership and giving them access to a network of professionals; we will start to build more resilient communities. 

5.) Before Project Petals, what sort of jobs were you doing? What led you to want to become an entrepreneur and what advice do you have for anyone also planning to pursue entrepreneurship? 

Growing up, I always had ideas that I wanted to bring to reality, but as a young person, I didn’t know how to, and I didn’t think it was possible for me to do so. As an adult, social entrepreneurship gave me the opportunity to take my ideas and actually use them to make a positive impact in other people’s lives and the environment.

If I had to give any advice, it would be to have confidence in your ideas and in your skillset as you may face many obstacles, nay-sayers, and challenges along the way. Failure is par for the course and is a good lesson plan to succeed. 

We hope that by understanding Project Petals, White, and how entrepreneurs can shape the future of the community around them, we can then better understand how to make our community and the world around us a better place. Thank you to Project Petals and White for this opportunity and we hope this program thrives in the coming years! 

Continue Reading

Spotlight

Using Instagram Art to Promote Anti-Racism: Meet French Graphic Artist Aurélia Durand

Published

on

Portrait of author Aurélia Durand wearing a yellow shirt and laying next to some of her pieces of art.
Source: Aurélia Durand

Instagram artist, Aurélia Durand, has been using the platform to promote her anti-racism art. She has a website on which she sells posters, stickers, and cards that she has designed herself. Her art is focused on celebrating diversity and equal representation. Durand’s dream is to help form a united community and an inclusive future for everyone. BLENDtw had the opportunity to ask Durand a series of questions about her current work on Instagram, the book she illustrated, and her goals for the future. 

1. Who or what inspired you to start creating art? What keeps you motivated?

When I begin working on a new artistic creation, I listen to music to put myself in a zone where I feel good and am inspired to create a meaningful message. I find that music settles the mood and atmosphere around me. I create to stay positive, and staying positive is essential for my well being. I need to be creative; I am addicted to creativity; imagination, drawing, and seeing the idea evolve is exciting. The most fulfilling feeling is to see people interacting with my work.

2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? What advice would you give to young black women with dreams similar to your own?

Create for yourself; don’t try to make the same as everyone else. Find your voice; follow your instinct.

3. What impact do you hope your art will have on our world today?

I hope my art empowers people and makes them smile. 

A piece of Aurélia Durand's art work featuring four people behind a pink background with the title
Source: Aurélia Durand

4. In what way does art communicate with and reach people better than other means do? 

It’s upon us; it happens because of many factors. I think that visuals are more impactful than words. It is universal, we see it, and we quickly react to it. 

6. You just recently illustrated a New York Times bestseller, “This Book is Anti-Racist.” What inspired this project? What do you hope readers take away from it?

I hope readers want to take action for antiracism in there every day life after they read the book.

My publisher, Quarto, contacted me at the end of 2018 to participate in the book’s conception as the leading illustrator. I have never met the author; unfortunately, due to the current global pandemic and social distancing regulations. 

The book, “This Book is Anti-Racist” was released in January 2020 and became a best seller in June after the Black Lives Matter movement spread globally. We sold more than 150,000 copies! The book has been popular in schools, but people of all ages are reading the book. It includes about 20 exercises for readers to do while thinking about how they can take action to build a more inclusive society. 

7. Do you have any plans or projects you are working on? How can people help support your cause?

I am working on many new projects, but I can’t talk about them as they are meant to be a surprise. In October, I will be participating in several talks with Adobe, Ladies and Wine, and the AOI association. The projects are very exciting and I have confidence that they will have great success when they are completed. 

Continue Reading

Trending

0 Shares
Share
Tweet
Pin
Share