Melanin Movement LA Cultivates Community, Not Competition

As positive images of black women continue to find their place in media, Melanin Movement LA is creating real-world change and sense of community for black women in real life. 

It’s not breaking news that black women are constantly subjected to preconceived stigmas about who we are. We’re represented as combative, less qualified, less attractive, and unsupportive of one another. And with such limited professional opportunities allotted to women of color across multiple industries, it’s easy for our confidence and ambition to be misconceived as the age old “crab in a barrel” mentality. That perception has dominated the way we’ve been conveyed through mainstream media for far too long.  But as black women continue to realize the shift that can happen when we take claim of our own narratives, these outdated stigmas are bound to take a back seat.

One of the most exciting examples of black women not just supporting but UPLIFTING each other through positive representation is Melanin Movement LA: a collective of black women with varying professional paths but a shared passion for activism — and style. They encourage community over competition through their advocacy for female empowerment, service, mentorship, and cleverly utilizing social media to consistently depict powerful images of black women united for a bigger purpose.  A sisterhood in its own right, Melanin Movement LA is held by no bounds except a shared value for giving back and uplifting their own. This sentiment reigns so true to their core principles that they do not claim a formal hierarchy or assigned roles; they simply trust and lean on each other to play their respective parts to get the job done.

“ [Our mission is to] break the stigma that black women can’t work together because we do and we will continue to.” – Chanel

Editor-in-Chief Gabriella Layne had the honor of meeting up with the leading ladies of Melanin Movement LA for a photoshoot and full interview, where we received countless words of wisdoms, priceless gems, and interesting POV’s about the complex dynamic of black female representation in media.

Read on to hear more, and be sure to keep up with MMLA on Instagram @MelaninMovementLA!  

“When [Julie] told me about the idea she had for black women to work together to give back and to build a community of women who work together in the community I said yes, I’m in.” –Trish

What are the names and day jobs of each member?

Julie Harbour

By Day: Right Hand to Provost of a University in LA

By Night:  Founder of MMLA, Fashion/Lifestyle Blogger & Stylist (@_stylishparadox)

Pentené  Milner

By Day: Legal Assistant at an Entertainment company

By Night: Fashion/Lifestyle Blogger & Stylist (@pentene_styles)

Marshel Ng

By Day: Training & procedures at a college in Orange County

By Night: The “unofficial” secretary of MMLA and Lifestyle Blogger (@betweenyounmeblog)

Trish

By Day: Digital Producer for a Multimedia Brand

By Night:  Lifestyle blogger (@trishlindostyle)

Karissa Allen

By Day:  Recruiter for an Industrial Company

By Night: Fashion & Lifestyle blogger (@thisiskrisjoy)

Chanel Cunningham

By Day: Finance at a University –

By Night: Instagram Influencer (@chanelamber_fashionblogger)

MMLA’s mission is to encourage community over competition among entrepreneurial women of color. Can you elaborate on this mission and how MMLA actively works to accomplish it?

Marshel – We’ve that the pleasure and opportunity to work with black owned businesses and organizations to give back to the community. There’s this stigma that black people and black women don’t care about [giving back] but in reality, we are here holding down our entire communities. We just finished up a mentor program with EmpowerHer which was an amazing experience where we got to mentor young girls in high school who are on track to college. [We enjoyed] giving them confidence and self esteem and helping them understand that you can be successful  even though you don’t have images to show that, as well as showing them the steps to get there…

We [also] partnered with Noir Unicorn a couple of times now. We’ve made care packages for the homeless living on skid row as well as those who were affected by the hurricanes in Houston.”

“We all have nine to fives but we make the time because it’s important to give back, acknowledge where we come from and encourage the people around us to lean on our strength and togetherness to overcome anything.”

Pentené – We have all have nine to fives, at least half of the group has children and two of us have very young children.

It’s important to show [our kids] that they can impact their community in a positive way and be a good influence. We’re all lifestyle and fashion bloggers — but we’re not just focused on what our individual passions are and we’re not caught up in the materialism that being a blogger can bring.

It’s great that we all stand out because it’s like “Yeah we can all dress our butts off” but at the same time, our goal is not to just dress. Our goal is to inspire through our dressing and our action in the community.

Black women have graced the cover of practically every September issue this year, and while many black A-list celebrities have celebrated this accomplishment, some have faced major backlash for doing so. How do you feel about this negative response to acknowledging the strides of women of color, and how you think MMLA champions the importance of this type of representation?

Karissa – People who are not marginalized sometimes get upset when marginalized communities express that they are different, and I think that’s because they’re used to being “normal” so they don’t understand why we all can’t be “normal [too].” But the truth is that WE ARE marginalized. There have been many times in America and civilization where black people have not been able to shine and have been looked at as second class, third class, fourth class.

To me, I don’t really care if they feel that way. Im very proud to be a black woman, we all are. I think it’s very special to be a part of this era where people are [openly] celebrating that.

It’s almost like a new renaissance of blackness, even within TV and media. And that’s what we’re all about.

We’re gonna talk about [the experience of] being black women and we think it’s important to let people know that we’re proud of that and let little girls know they should be proud of it too.

Julie – Personally, I don’t care. And that’s one of the very reasons why we started this group. I was a part of a large community of bloggers over 50, and most of the women were Caucasian. I didnt feel like I fit in, and some of the other handful of black women felt like we were tokens. So when the Melanin Movement came about and I posted the first picture of us standing on train tracks, one of the main members of this group spoke out about it and said “ I just see good hearts.” But there’s much more to it.

I love what we’re doing and I think that we need to continue in the same vain because it’s okay for us to celebrate ourselves.

Marshel – Like Ms. Tina Knowles said on Solange’s album, being pro black is not being pro white. So my black is beautiful. I feel like historically as black folks — men, women, children — we’ve always been told to be suppressed; we’ve always been knocked down pegs and told that parts of us are a problem and  that we have to conform to be accepted.

I think it’s refreshing in 2018 to see these beautiful, strong women of varying shades of black being bold and empowered, and snatching these awards and these wigs.

And I’m so blessed to be alive to see that and I think that’s exactly what Melanin Movement is here for; it’s what we’re about.

Pentené – Like Malcolm X said, the black woman is the most disrespected woman in America. And that’s all that needs to be said.

Chanel – We are all we need. We don’t have to be on the cover of Elle or Vogue. We have our own platforms to be on. It’s called Black Girl Magic for a reason.

What do you envision MMLA evolving into as it continues to build momentum? Will it open up for membership opportunities, one-on-one mentorship, etc.?

Trish The sky’s the limit for where we can go.

Next, we’d definitely like to create our own annual event where black women can attend from around the country or maybe even the world and we can have panels, discussions about our identity and how amazing we are as black women.

And basically showing people how to give back. A lot of the time, people think that they don’t know how to do it. They want to help, but they don’t know where to start. Sometimes it’s the simplest thing to just go out and do it. People need help everywhere so if you see somebody who needs help, help them out. But a lot of people don’t know how and for us, we’re in a great position where we’ve connected with a lot of great organizations around the city who want our help in giving back and I think that we can make those same connections with other women.

In terms of membership, they’ll always be this core group but what we are re open to is other woman having Melanin Movement in different parts of the country. We’re totally open to that and we’ve actually had some people reach out to us regarding that.

What is something you know now that you wish you knew earlier is your career/life journey?

Marshel – I would say that “No one else’s  opinion of you matters.”

When I started out as a I professional, I felt like I had to act a certain way, dress a certain way, wear my hair a certain way to fit into the professional environment. And for some reason, my perception was that wearing my hair naturally curly or dressing colorfully was not professional or would be deemed too loud or inappropriate. I figured out that nobody cares, but what I wouldve told myself before is, “be yourself because obviously you’re here, you deserve to be here, you belong here and they need to accept you for all of who you are.” So if I want to wear my hair curly one day and then three inches down my back the next day, I can do that. And no we don’t need to talk about it, and no you can’t touch my hair.” And just to be confident and stand in who you are.

People can have opinions of you but that’s their opinion and their issue and as long as you’re good with you, nothing else matters.

PentenéI would say, “Protect Your Energy.”

I’m definitely experiencing how important it is to protect your energy. Everybody that seems like their rooting for you isn’t always rooting for you. Know who’s around you and pay attention to the signs and as soon as you realize or notice that a person has their own agenda, you need to immediately remove yourself. Because if you don’t, then you’ll pay for the consequences later on.

Everybody’s energy ain’t right.

And a lot of people are looking to steal your joy, steal the love that people have for you. People are really jealous of that and will do anything to take that away from you and that’s the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my 38 years of life.

JulieI would say, “Stay on your path.”

No matter what that path is, no matter what noise is in your path. Block it out and realize that whatever’s yours is yours.

Don’t look at the wind blowing that way. Don’t look at how successful someone else is or what they’re doing. Be authentic and just move forward.

And whatever God has for you, you’re gonna get it.

KarissaI would say, “Swallow your fear.”

I was recently reading “A Purpose Driven Life” and there’s a quote in it that says “Fear is a self constructed prison that keeps you from who God wants youtube.” And I feel like a lot of my life, I’ve been afraid to try things because I’ve been afraid of failure. And I think if I could go back, I would’ve tried different things and not let my fear of not being good enough stop me from trying. Even with blogging, I’ve been wanting to do it for years — at least five years. But I told myself that I didn’t think anyone would read it or care. I let that stop from me doing something [I wanted]. And even in the workplace, with women, if you look at gender studies at the difference between how men and women talk, you’ll see that women will always say “‘Im Sorry” and be very polite while men have the confident that says “I belong here.” So I wish I had that earlier in my career and the mentality that I can do anything.

Trish: I would say, “Yes, failure is possible, but who gives a shit.”

And to really trust in the path that you are heading in. I think when I was younger I was scared to continue to pursue being on camera or being a model or anything like that because I believed what people said about dark skin women and not being able to succeed as much. I let those thoughts help me decide what I was going to do, so I made a lot of safe choices. Looking back now, I would say, trust, keep going and don’t give up.

A lot of us give up right when we’re about to blow up. And we don’t even know it.

You’re right there. Sometimes you are much closer than you think. And the other thing is to obviously trust the path youre on and recognize the signs. Sometimes we don’t recognize the things and people who are put in your path for a reason. Everything is happening for a reason. Nothing is by happenstance so you have to trust it.

Chanel: I would say, “Step out on faith and listen to God because its amazing how God sends people out to speak to you.”

I wish I didn’t have so much self doubt. And you don’t even know where it comes from. You don’t recognize how beautiful you are to someone else because you see yourself every single day — but to someone else, you’re just gorgeous. So just stepping out in faith and trusting god and knowing that he has your path aligned. Everything is definitely God’s plan.Now I’m allowing myself to become confident. Im 35, two kids and I still got it.

 

You ladies exhibit great social media savvy — What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who are struggling to find their ‘voice’ on social media?

Marshel — That is a great question but I struggle with that still. I still don’t have it figured out, and I get discouraged because we all saw the #RevolveSoWhite thing [and similar situations] with other brands.

We see all of these bloggers and they’re all the same tone, meanwhile we are out here crushing it, serving looks, styling, high profile and giving you everything you could ask for. But we are just not getting the same visibility. And it gets very discouraging.

I definitely follow several bloggers that are very vocal about black women and representation. Everyone always says “just have great content,” but I have great content — what do you mean? I’m out here; I’m living it. Having people that you can talk to and connect with always help.

It can start as simple as a DM on Instagram. It really does go down in the DMs.

You can really find a connection and that’s what’s been able to help me. I started out in a different community that was largely of white influencers and I made some good connections, but I also made connections with these ladies [MMLA]. So it’s important to find people who can empathize with what you’re experiencing. Because every now and then, you need a hype man and that’s what we all do for eachother. Everyone has different strengths and it’s important to surround yourself with people who can give you that positive energy that you need.

At the end of the day as much as we are influencers and we love Instagram and all of that stuff, none of that matters. That’s why we are emphasizing giving back to the community and building legacy because that’s what it’s all about; finding your purpose.

Pentené — It’s about finding the confidence and doing whatever needs to get done for you to discover your true being.

And fuck the numbers. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about you and coming across to others in a way [that shows that] you are being authentically yourself.

Karissa — I want to emphasize the point of reaching out to people because everyone that I’ve reached out to or randomly met at an event wants to figure it out together. So people are super friendly willing to connect. It’s easy to create a community if you open yourself up to that.

It’s also important to know what you want and why you’re doing this.

What is your niche? Are you luxury? Or you look for less? It’s easy to get caught up in what people are doing around you and then next thing you know, you don’t have a continuous feed because you’re trying to be like everyone else.

Know your purpose, know what makes you different, know what you’re good at and stick to it.

Julie – People are gonna pick up on it if you’re not being authentic.

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Gabriella Layne

Editor-in-Chief of The Strut Magazine

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