Black millennials are not letting their stories get lost. Through every medium, they're connecting and sharing with each other and the world. One podcast called You Had Me At Black allows these young people space to find their voices. Created by sisters Martina and Britney Abrahams, each episode draws you in with an intimate account from someone's life. Season 2 begins today. Listen here.
For Harriet: Let's start from the beginning. Where did the idea for You Had Me At Black come from?
Martina Abrahams: For sure. I came up with the idea for You Had Me At Black maybe two or three years ago. The name came from a conversation with a friend over lunch where we were talking about what we were doing at work and how it wasn't fulfilling us and inspiring us. She goes, "Girl, what do you want to do with your life?" I'm like, "I just want to help Black people." She was like, "You had me at Black." It was just a moment, "Oh my gosh, that's an amazing name. We have to do something with it." We had gone back and forth for a few months trying to figure out what could we do with this name? Would we write a book? Would we write a film? We didn't know.
Ultimately, she ended up falling off the project and gave me the blessing to keep using the name. I just sat on it for a long time, and I knew that I wanted to create a platform that told people's stories and different perspectives regarding the Black experience. I didn't know what format I wanted to do. I played around with video. I played around with a blog. None of them really stuck with me. I moved from New York to the Bay area and I told myself when I moved here that I wouldn't leave until I had built something. After I had been here about a year, I was like, I need to work on something, a project that I own, that's me. Given everything that was happening with the news with regards to police brutality and just generally being frustrated with a lot of the images that I saw of Black men in the media, I ultimately decided to create a podcast. That happened in February.
MA: Podcasts are now mainstream. I think Serial made podcasts something that a lot of people listen to. It has a super low barrier to entry. You can get started with a podcast for under $150, and I knew that all I needed was a good mic, my computer, and a quiet space. I knew I could get something up and running.
FH: How do you find the people to feature?
MA: Our first season, it was people that I knew and then friends of friends. Now I'm expanding for a second season and really finding people out here who are doing creative things. We do it by reading blogs and articles, finding people on Instagram, people who seem like they have really cool stories to tell and asking around, "do you know people who have great stories to tell, to share, that you find really interesting?" Then we talk to them and get them on the show.
FH: Is it difficult to convince people to share their stories?
It hasn't been. No. The first few people were like, "I don't have a story to tell. I don't know a story to tell." We all have a story. There's a moment in your life that you're really proud of, or there's a challenge in your life that you've overcome. There's a conflict that you've overcome. People don't realize that makes a really compelling episode for us. The challenging thing is just convincing people of that and sometimes sitting down with them and talking to them about their lives and their experiences, both good and bad, and seeing what they're most comfortable sharing and what they'd be proud of sharing.
FH: Why choose to focus on millennials?
MA: Mostly because we are millennials. I think millennials are a very unique generation in that we kind of bridge the old and the new. We're people that didn't grow up with cell phones. We got them when we were teenagers. We know what it is like to use a regular phone. We know what it's like to have dial-up internet and no internet at all.
Me and other friends of mine that I've talked to found we have a really unique perspective on race issues in our country and our racial identity that is unique from other generations either before or after us. Being a millennial is just something that, because we are one, it is easy for us to speak for that audience.
FH: What, in particular, do you think is different about the way that the people that have been featured in your podcast deal with race. What do you think is different from older generations?
MA: I think we are more expressive about who we are and we're more adamant about building spaces for ourselves. Thinking back to my parents and how they handled race and coming out of the situations that they grew up and trying to build a happy, comfortable home for their children, it is like, take your kids and bring them to the suburbs. You put them in the best schools, and the best schools are often all white. There was a lot more assimilating to white culture and that respectability politics that we hear from elders in the community. I think in the millennial generation, a lot of that is bullshit. A lot of that doesn't work. It doesn't matter if you pull up your pants. It doesn't matter if you straighten your hair. It doesn't matter if you speak a certain way. You can still see the same thing. We're a lot more adamant about race and taking spaces and making them for ourselves and being very bold in expressing who we are and our right to occupy these spaces.
Britney Abrahams: I think millennials are more "woke" than the other generations. I feel like our parents and grandparents have spent a lot of time believing they've made huge gains and not really wanting to talk about what happened in the past so they just go with, "That's how life is. That's how it was in the past." This generation, like Martina said, is more aware of what is happening and we're like, "This is not okay." We see that this is something that needs to be done.
FH: What's you're favorite episode so far?
BA: My favorite was Raisin in the City. It's about this girl. When she was in grad school, she wanted to be a writer. Her advisor told her that writers don't make money, so she changed everything, her whole career path and moved to New York job after job and nothing worked out for her. It was a story of perseverance and realizing that if she had just stayed going where she wanted to go and doing what she loved to do, then everything would fall into place. When she actually listened to that mindset and went back to writing, then things started working out for her. I think that's my favorite story because I feel like it is very, very true. Especially, as a recent college grad. When you graduate college, you're just like, "I need a job. I need money. I'm an adult now. I'm officially thrown into the world." You're sitting here trying to choose between what makes good money versus what you love to do. That's just a struggle, so I feel like I can relate to it.
That is the only story we recorded where during the recording session, I got teary eyed listening to it and talking to her about it. It was a really beautiful story. My other favorite story is Lit as a Seven. It is about young girl who, when she was ten years old, she and her cousins had been playing with matches in a field by her aunt's apartment complex and they start a fire. It is one of those stories where you get in trouble as a little kid and you just feel this sinking, like it's the end of the world, and you'll do anything in your power to avoid that. It is something that I can relate to, just getting into trouble with my little cousins and trying to hide the truth for as long as you can. Ultimately, they find out what you do and you get in trouble, but it is never as bad as you thought it will be. It was just cute and funny and reminded me of my childhood.
FH: Let's talk about building up a podcast a bit. When you launched, how did you spread the word?
MA: Social media and word of mouth. The minute I decided, "Okay, I'm doing this," I bought a domain, got on SquareSpace, put up a website and started telling people about it. I started to build up an email list, and to get people to sign up for the email list we created these movie trailers on Spotify every week and sent them out. People would be like, "Oh, you built a playlist. Join this email list that you can get this music every week." That was our way of engaging people who expressed the most interest. At the same time, Britney built up our Twitter profile and our Instagram profile and our Facebook, and we started gaining traction that way.
FH: It seems now that everybody is starting a podcast. There is a kind of boom. Is that intimidating at all?
MA: Not for me, no. What I've learned is the podcast community is very supportive of one another. Podcasters are always willing to talk to each other about best practices and come on each others' shows to help promote. I know a lot of different Facebook groups for pod-casters that share resources.
No, it hasn't been intimidating and I think our format is so different than what else is out there. There is a lot of talk radio type podcasts or interview podcasts, and we are pure storytelling. Our format is one voice that you hear the whole time--that storytellers voice. It is a first-person narrative. It is almost like you're listening to someone tell a story on the phone or you're listening to someone read a story to you. That's really unique. I feel like as long we continue to produce quality stories and quality content, we'll be good for what's out there because I have yet to come across a podcast that does exactly what we do for our audience.
FH: What need do you think you guys are filling in this space?
BA: I think the need that we fill is that need for representation of the diversity of Blackness.
MA: That's a good question. I think there's always this double consciousness that W.E.B Dubois talked about. Knowing that, we feel our Blackness more. You walk into a room and may be the only one and you're immediately aware it. Going to work, going to a restaurant and the different circles that you may move within, you feel who you are all the time. You're always aware that you are Black, whereas, I think white millennials don't necessarily have that burden. I think, also, being in places where your culture is seen as unprofessional or your natural look may seem unprofessional. Or the way that you speak, the words that you use, are maybe seen unprofessional. It is an additional burden.
You have to create these two personalities, one outside of work, one at work, one outside of school, one at school, whereas other races don't always have to do that.
BA: I think it is because it is thrown in our face so much, we can't escape it. Other, non-black millennials can choose to ignore it and can choose to go about their day because it doesn't affect them. We can't escape it no matter where we go. It is always with us.
FH: What do you guys have planned for the second season?
BA: More stories.
MA: Yeah. More stories. Our stories are really short. They're about seven to ten minutes long, so they're very trackable and very easy to listen to, and a lot of feedback we got from our listeners after the first season was, "It was great, but we want more content. I want a full thirty minutes of stories instead of just ten minutes." Our goal is to bring more stories so that each week we can publish a longer segment for our listeners. Also, it is going different ways to figure our how to record outside of our physical location. Right now, we record in the Bay area and we record in the New York City area, but would love ways to record in Atlanta and Houston and D.C. and Detroit, Chicago and hear voices from all across the country. That's more longer term, but for season two, more stories for sure.