Morgan DeBaun noticed something as a student at Washington University in St. Louis. Whenever a couple Black students sat down for lunch, a couple more would pull up a chair. And then a couple more, and a couple more, until suddenly there were 20 young Black minds gathered discussing life and issues and all manner of things.
DeBaun called this Black Gravity — or Blavity.
It’s the same kind of gravity that draws people to events like the Black Women’s Leadership Conference, where DeBaun will join Love Cork Screw founder Chrishon Lampley as a featured speaker next month. Madison365 is the media partner of the conference.
After graduating and moving out to Silicon Valley, DeBaun noticed something else — there was no media, no real source of information or discussion, for and about any of those people who had gathered around those lunch tables. No media for and about Black millennials.
So, like a true entrepreneur, she saw a need and filled it, founding Blavity.com in 2014.
“I started Blavity with my co-founders because we felt like we needed our generation of young, creative, activists, visionaries, thinkers, innovators, needed a platform to share ideas and to connect with each other,” she tells Madison365. “And, one of the things coming out of Silicon Valley, we know there’s a lot of ways that we can leverage building platforms and spaces for each other. Building those networks where we can enable other people to share their stories, and have more visibility on their projects and their ideas. And, everything we do at Blavity centers around, ‘How do we grow our community, how do we empower our communities? You know, we’ve expanded over the last three years from just one brand, and now five, and each one of our brands has a different mission, but it all aligns around, ‘How do we build a cohesive, empowered, black community.’”
Those brands include the travel site TravelNoire.com, fashion site 21Ninety.com, tech conference AfroTech, and more, all aligned to empower Black millennials.
“Madison needs to see a Morgan, a woman who has raised a considerable amount of money to create a media site aimed at Black millennials,” says conference organizer Sabrina Madison. “I’ve been so impressed and have been a fan and student of her work. I’ve been watching them build that platform. Her work has been so impressive to me and I know that other Black women, young people need to see a Morgan. Young people in Madison don’t often have access to a Morgan. We could have a Morgan here, or someone who could grow up and do similar work here. Will that young person be inspired to go into media or tech as a career if they don’t see a Morgan?”
“I don’t know if I necessarily feel like I’ve faced specific challenges as a Black woman in the media space,” says DeBaun, 28. “I think there are challenges being in media in general. It’s a changing and evolving industry. As a young company, we face the lack of skill and resources that others have, which protects us less. So, we can’t afford to make as many mistakes as others. So, we have to be really intentional about what we do. And that, I think, has also made us much stronger as a company, and much more resilient, because we don’t necessarily run around with the fads. So, we didn’t have a Snapchat Discover Channel, we don’t do YouTube. We’re very specific about what we do, and we try and do that well.”
DeBaun says even though she didn’t necessarily face specific challenges as a Black woman, she still had to overcome the instinct to ask for permission to succeed.
“I think I spent some time, just, running around and asking people what they thought,” she says. “’What do you think about this thing that I’m doing?’ Like, ‘I’m thinking about doing this. What do you think?’ Right? And, it really didn’t matter what they thought, because they didn’t have to get up and do the work every day. I needed to focus on making something first, before I went out and asked other people for feedback.”
That’s one of the key things she hopes to impart at the Black Women’s Leadership Conference in Madison May 17 and 18.
“I think a lot of times women, we don’t necessarily allow ourselves to have to be able to make mistakes, or take a leap and fail,” DeBaun says. “And that’s part of the creative process, giving people that space that they’re like, ‘Hey, it’s not actually a fail. You just learned something, and you move on.’”
Tickets for the Third Annual Black Women’s Leadership Conference, hosted by the Progress Center for Black Women, are available now.