On August 15, we had the absolute pleasure of announcing that we are the recipients of the 2018 Girlboss Grant. This award is the culmination of years of hard work and commitment to uplifting ourselves, our sisters, and our futures. Keep reading to learn more about Black Girl Magik’s origin story, what the collective means to each of the members, and the exciting plans we are manifesting for 2019.
See our full-length interview below.
Who are the members of BGM and what do they each do?
Shydeia Caldwell - Founder & Executive Director
Sierra King - Social Media Manager
Zai Aliyu - Creative Director
Isabelle Ofume - Events Director
Maureen Nicol - Project Manager
Amora Miller - Editor
Amina Cush - Public Relations Director
What inspired you to form a collective?
Shydeia Caldwell, Founder & Executive Director: I was inspired to form a collective when I had the opportunity to be guest panelist at Brooklyn Museum for BUFU’s Community Conversation with Art Collectives. I feel BGM was always perceived as a collective but our inception as a collective did not begin until this year. Previously, we followed standard hierarchical structure. During that panel, I gained so much knowledge on how oppressive and harmful hierarchical structures can be for marginalized people. This information challenged my perspective, my ideals, and the collective members also felt this would benefit us long-term. For me there's so much beauty in this act because the ability to shift and change is powerful. Growing up I was called a chameleon, which is true to my being. I believe it shows strongly in the work BGM implements.
Where do you want Black Girl Magik to be in five years from now?
Zai Aliyu, Creative Director: I hope for BGM to continue to act as a vessel through which we interrogate the world around us and a means through which we can actively invest in our collective healing, no matter what form that takes.
Shydeia Caldwell, Founder & Executive Director: In Beyonce’s recent interview with Vogue she said, “There are so many cultural and societal barriers to entry that I like to do what I can to level the playing field, to present a different point of view for people who may feel like their voices don’t matter.” I felt that shit in my heart chakra. BGM’s underlying mission is to create space for black women in every industry we are not fully and respectfully represented. In consequence, that is essentially why we exist as an arts space; a hub for dialogue and critical consciousness; a multimedia realm; a center for solidarity and self care. We are multidisciplinary, multifaceted and multi-dimensional. We are the black woman.
When did you launch and with what offerings originally? Compared to now?
Shydeia Caldwell, Founder & Executive Director: I launched Black Girl Magik in New York with no financial backing during the summer of 2015. At the time of BGM’s first meetup, my bank account was -20 bucks. With my focus zeroed in on the mission, I completed my undergraduate degree in South Carolina while managing the steadfast expansion of Black Girl Magik in New York City. Currently, I am navigating the complexities and hardships of being a black business owner. This past December I graduated from University of South Carolina and relocated back to New York in August to continue BGM’s work. Even then, I had to launch a fundraiser to support that transition. The accessibility to sustainable financial growth is a real topic of conversation for black women entrepreneurs. In essence, I am learning that doing the work naturally brings abundance. When I am lacking resources whether that be financially, mentally, emotionally -- I receive.
How did you originally get started with Black Girl Magik, and did you imagine it would become what it is today?
Shydeia Caldwell, Founder & Executive Director: I had a love for sister circles in my teenage years and would join one any opportunity I recieved. Throughout childhood, I moved frequently attending 3 middle schools and 3 high schools. I constantly had to start over in one of the most crucial times of my life. This was so hard for me to cope with. As a result, I began to find happiness in the sister circles created at my schools. I was able to make new friends and not feel alone in a completely new environment. During my preteen years I relocated to Newnan, Georgia (a predominantly white area) and was constantly bullied & discriminated against. In that time of my life, I decided when I left I would create a safe space for girls like me. The idea always held close to my heart but it was when I spent my summer in New York City, BGM birthed. It wasn’t an extensive plan or execution. It was a gift brought into the world by my ancestors. I received message from my ancestors that it was time to create space in a vision. Two weeks later with the help of previous and current collective member Sierra King we did just that. I facilitated the first Black Girl Magik meet-up off pure energy and emotion. I could feel what my sisters needed to release. During that meet-up, I realized that was just the beginning. I knew I was walking into my life purpose of fulfilling what I have been called to do, create, love, grow, and change. Black Girl Magik comes from the purity of my heart and the backing of my ancestors . So, yes I did imagine BGM would be this. But I also know BGM will be more than what I can imagine. It is beyond us, is beyond me, and I am just a vessel walking in it’s truth.
Why the name Black Girl Magik? How does that name (including the “k”) align with your values as a brand?
Shydeia Caldwell, Founder & Executive Director: The name Black Girl Magik because there is no better name to encompass the feeling and action of black women gathering in a space of love, honesty, humility, realness, creativity, and encouragement.
I think Sampa The Great did an excellent job of depicting what it means in her “Black Girl Magik” song and video.
What does a Black Girl Magik event look like, sound like, and feel like?
Sierra King, Social Media Manager: It feels like home. You are greeted from community members with hugs, smiles and an energy that envelops you as soon as you walk into the room. It gives you permission to place your bags down, take your coat off, remove your shoes, all of the things that you are holding on to and just breathe. There’s always music and sounds playing, not jarring but still makes you want to get up and dance just because.
What’s been the biggest difficulties of getting Black Girl Magik off the ground, since you started? And how did you overcome those hurdles?
Zai Aliyu, Creative Director: Since our inception as a collective, we have operated remotely across several locations and time zones. This has posed a challenge for how we organize, interface, and collaborate productively with one another. We have overcome such hurdles by leveraging tools that help us communicate more efficiently, generating workflows across our different roles that has led to fruitful and fluid cross-functional exchange.
Our grassroots work, as fulfilling as it is, remains an uphill battle within the larger context of that which proceeds us and that which has yet to come. We seek to continue connecting with and supporting other collectives, organizations and individuals, as it serves no one for our respective bodies of work to operate within silos. Remarkable revolutionaries have advised us to beware of forces that serve to distract us from organizing collectively; we can't allow physical distance apart to keep us from our collective praxis.
How do you personally define what Black Girl Magik does and the direction it’s going in as a company?
Sierra King, Social Media Manager: Black Girl Magik provides the space where women are given full permission to explore, remember, and discover all of the things about themselves and the women before them. The direction that Black Girl Magik is going is one that has already been determined. It is the collective seeking knowledge for our community and exploring that research through projects and conversations.
How do you define the mission statement of Black Girl Magik?
Maureen Nicol, Project Manager: Black Girl Magik is a transnational online and offline platform/collective that caters to women across the African diaspora. Referring to the social and political formation of black women who gather in a physical space to engage in a practice of love, self-care, recognition, healing, and professional exchange, BGM seeks to unite and empower women of color. Our work lives in our digital outreach and physical workshops and events. Whether online or face to face, we are working to build communities, coalitions and connections. If I were to define in three words it would be fluid, colorful and socially political.
What’s the public reaction from your networks and fans? How engaged is your wider community and what do they mean to you?
Sierra King, Social Media Manager: The BGM Community is one that is uplifting, supportive and resourceful. It has become one that whenever you go to the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New Orleans, someone is there with open arms to help you. The BGM Community means connection to me, it means that no matter where there is a woman that is able to point me in the right direction. Our community has selflessly poured into one another in the last years and we want to continue that.
Shydeia Caldwell, Founder and Executive Director: I think hearing from the source in certain situations can be best.
From community member Déjà, “BGM and specifically its founder Shydeia Caldwell were instrumental to helping save my life a few years ago when I transitioned and thought I had nowhere to go and that life would be better off without me. Connection. Community. Sisterhood. I’ve never been asked to fill a mold with BGM, BGM asks how can they hold ME. How can we hold EACH OTHER. This is THE Work. Vital, crucial, life saving and affirming work.”
From community member Destiny also known as Princess Nokia, “You have always loved me, supported me, defended me, shared your kindness with me, and I believe that you have done so many wonderful things not only as a young woman but as a contributor and the founder of this wonderful organization.”
From community member Brittany Josephina, “Shydeia Caldwell, the radical visionary and backbone of BGM, is single handedly the most affirming and deeply rooted person I know. Her capacity to hold space and compassionately support others in recognizing their power is undeniably her divine gift. BGM has given me a platform to facilitate other Women of Color in tapping right back into their minds, back into their bodies, back into their spirits, back into their divinity. BGM is soul food to the soul. BGM is where you go to live freely, honestly, confidently and in deep celebration of your existence and ancestry.”
Why did you apply for a Girlboss Foundation grant?
Amina Cush, PR Director: We applied for the Girlboss Foundation grant because it was imperative that we continue to provide safe spaces for Women of Color to share their stories and begin their healing journeys. Our platform provides an outlet for WOC to express themselves authentically without judgment. As such, it was important that we seek outside funding sources to expand our program offerings and ensure the sustainability of the BGM platform.
How are you going to be using the funds to grow Black Girl Magik?
Isabelle Ofume, Events Director: Up until being notified as recipients of the Girlboss grant, Black Girl Magik has been out-of-pocket and grassroots. Whether it is pooling in money every month to pay our Google Business Email subscription or paying for equipment/materials for events in NY or LA. The funds from the Girlboss Grant will be used to establish self-sustaining components to the BGM brand while expanding our community and brand goals for the next year. Lots of exciting work will be coming out of us in 2018/19 including but not limited to our North American Tour and the community marketplace. Our community programming will touch areas in the US and Canada which do not receive greater spotlight for the work done. We will be able to interview the women-of-color in these locations which add to the greater BGM narrative centered on love, self-care, recognition, healing, and professional exchange. BGM is aimed at facilitating and making available the resources to Women of Color that support and uplift.
What does #blackgirlmagik mean to you, generally speaking?
Amora Miller, Editor: To me, #blackgirlmagik is existing and flourishing as a self-identified Black woman. It is thriving in a world that never intended to see us succeed. It is righteousness and ratchetry. It is establishing and nurturing an inclusive and accepting community to support all of our sisters throughout the diaspora. It is setting in motion the processes to collectively and individually heal from generational trauma and to create a legacy for ourselves. It is fulfilling the dreams of our ancestors. It is love... the love of our skin, our hair, our culture, our history, our future.
Amina Cush, PR Director: #BlackGirlMagik is an awakening of a consciousness that has been lost to many of us for far too long. It’s an understanding that we are enough, and we are worthy by virtue of the fact that we are present in this space and time. It’s realizing that our power as a collective is stronger when we are united, and that we are the architects of our own happiness - the dreamers, the doers and the thinkers. #BlackGirlMagik is recognizing the beauty in oneself, and thus recognizing the beauty and humanity in others.