Black LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs get the stage in “Changemakers," a mini-documentary series from GLAAD, the organization committed to ensuring the fair and inclusive portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community, and financial services brand Ally.
“Changemakers” dives into lives of individuals who not only run successful small businesses but are also helping to sustain and uplift their communities in the process—all while enduring the pandemic. It was created as part of GLAAD’s NEON content platfrom aimed at increasing the visibility of the Black LGBTQ community. The series debuted in September, coinciding with the release of Ally's widest-reaching brand campaign to date, "Everyone is better off with an Ally," and came to a close this year.
It included the story of Nigerian-American entrepreneur Kingsley Gbagedesin (above). In the midst of coronavirus chaos, he decided to fully embrace all aspects of his true self as a Black LGBTQ individual, leading to the founding of his genderless fashion brand K.ngsley, which has had the style cognoscenti buzzing.
Other films profile Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy, founders of BLK MKT Vintage, a Brooklyn, NY-based antique and vintage concept shop designed to capture the richness of Black history; Guy Anthony, founder of the organization Black, Gifted & Whole, which aims to empower young queer Black men and Adjoa Courtney and Chef Joya, a premiere vegan chef from Charlotte, North Carolina.
GLAAD Creative Director Abdool Corlette, a co-founder of NEON and director of the “Changemaker” series, said that the project was inspired by the toll the pandemic had taken on under-represented groups. “One of the main things we were seeing across the country was how COVID was disproportionately impacting women and minority-owned businesses, LGBTQ-owned businesses, Black-owned businesses," he noted.
In coming up with a way for GLAAD and Ally to partner, “we gravitated towards a series about small business owners who, in spite of COVID are doing extraordinary things in their communities,” Corlette said.
Also, read about GLAAD's 14-part love letter to Black LGBTQ pioneers.
For Ally’s Chief Marketing and PR Officer Andrea Brimmer, she participated in the project and partnership with GLAAD for both personal and business reasons.
“From a personal perspective, my son is LGBTQ, and he came out when he was around 14 years old,” she said. “I have been along the ride with him, and it has changed me as a marketer, living in the shoes of my child and watching the evolution that he’s gone through. It reframed my thinking from a marketing perspective around telling the stories. You have to tell stories in a genuine way, where the people that are watching will hopefully be able to gain greater perspective and appreciation.”
From a business point of view, “as a company, it's critically important for us to help bring perspective about people that are different, people that may not look like us," she said. "How do we do that in a way that can hopefully change the world for better? The people featured in this, they're just regular people doing their thing, yet every single day, they’re giving of themselves in such incredible ways.”
In that vein, branding in each of the films takes a back burner to each of the protagonist’s stories. Ally’s presence came in funding the films, as well as the small business owners themselves. The company gave each of the small biz owners featured $10,000 to help support their companies through the pandemic and beyond.
According to Corlette, “the very first meeting we had with Ally, the first thing we said is ‘We're not making commercials; this is not going to be a commercial for Ally or for GLAAD. This is going to be a profile on the person.”
A lot of thought, and searching, went into deciding who to cast for the films. The production team scoured the country to ensure the series would have an array of stories showcasing “the full breadth and diversity of the black community of Black LGBTQ folks in this diaspora to show how non- monolithic it is,” Corlette explained. “We really wanted to show a wide range of people who were doing change-making work.”
Ultimately, one of the main goals was to continue to “amplify and uplift these unspoken, unsung heroes, local community changemakers who giving back to their communities inside their organizational and business culture,” said series producer DaShawn Usher, GLAAD associate director of communities of color and NEON co-founder.
“The idea behind what we do from a marketing perspective has always been in our name,” said Brimmer. The content company does, whether it’s video, social, or outdoors, always aims to “exemplify the notion of being better off with an ally, celebrating people that are allies in their communities and in the world,” she said. “‘Changemakers’ is a perfect example of how ‘better off with an ally’ comes to life through the very actions of the people in the series.”