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Unapologetically: Black LGBTQ+ business owners changing their communities

Pride isn’t just celebrated in June, it’s a year-round commitment. For LGBTQ+ allies, every day brings a new opportunity to increase the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community and use our resources to support and elevate their work. This pursuit of progress is a continual one, and as more people advocate for equal opportunities and unbiased policies, the call for change has only grown stronger.

To accelerate this movement, we teamed up with NEONxGLAAD in 2021 to launch Changemakers, the critically acclaimed series that elevates the stories of Black LGBTQ+ business owners who are doing it right in their communities. Through their innovative work in education, fashion and beyond, they’re creating opportunities for often overlooked individuals and furthering the causes of the Black LGBTQ+ community.

After a successful first season of showcasing these brilliant business owners (and winning a Webby Award for People’s Choice Award for Best Diversity & Inclusion Video Series , a bronze Shorty Award for Best Branded Series and multiple Best in Show FCS Portfolio Awards) , we’re excited to announce that we’ll be introducing you to a new class of inspirational changemakers this fall during season two! We can’t wait to show you the ways in which these multi-talented, innovative individuals continue to inspire us and work to support their communities.

In the meantime, keep reading to meet season one’s changemakers, their organizations and the work they’re doing to build a more inclusive society.

Episode 1: K.ngsley

Kingsley Gbadesein, founder of K.ngsley. Photo credit: LaQuann Dawson

Kingsley Gbadesein, founder of K.ngsley. Photo credit: LaQuann Dawson

K.NGSLEY is an advanced contemporary clothing line birthed from the vibrancy and community of activism and the club scene. Launched by Nigerian-American designer Kingsley Gbadegesin, the brand exists to serve the Black, Queer, Femme and Trans community, using fashion as a lightning rod to not just reclaim the meaning of their bodies, but also to raise resources to lift up and empower people and groups through community organizing and direct support.

The mission to allow yourself to show up as your most authentic person came from Gbadegesin’s own “aha” moment when he realized there is no such thing as what a Black gay person should be. Gbadegesin recalls, “The moment that I just started living for myself and putting that message out there, it’s just so beautiful to see how it resonated with so many people.”

“Giving back to the community is a part of my business model because I wouldn’t have a business if it wasn’t for the community,” Gbadesein explains. “So, if they’re investing in me, the only thing I can do is to invest back.”

Episode 2: BLK MKT Vintage

BLK MKT Vintage was born out of a love for antiques but has grown into a celebration of Black heritage. Co-owners Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy grew up blocks apart, visiting the same corner store and benefiting from being raised in the same culturally rich neighborhood. But it wasn’t until years later (during an awkward Icebreaker at a group event) that they met and developed the vision for their business.

Stewart’s mother introduced her to antique and thrift stores at an early age, showing her how so many things around could be recycled and upcycled into pieces of expression and new intention. Stewart shared her love of vintage with Handy and they both felt the desire to create a space for what was loudly missing – a vintage store for the Black legacy. As Stewart put it, “Why don’t we create the collection we wish we could shop from?”

Handy describes the mission of BLK MKT as “centering the narratives, material culture and the lived experiences of Black folks throughout history.” Stewart adds, “We are in the business of preserving legacy and making it accessible to people.”

Episode 3: Black, Gifted & Whole

Guy Anthony found himself having to drop out of his dream college because he could no longer afford it, but much like many things in his life, Anthony used the struggles he faced to come out stronger and lift others up.

Moving from Detroit to Washington, Anthony found personal success and decided to put his resources back into the community through Black, Gifted & Whole – an organization building resiliency and nurturing the brilliance of men in the Black, Queer community through mentoring and support.

Since its inception in 2015, Black, Gifted & Whole has helped over 19 students realize their college dreams and continues to be a beacon long after their freshman year. “We have literally built a pipeline from high school to college to the workforce,” Anthony explains and adds, “This is my love letter to Black, Queer students.”

Episode 4: Chef Joya

When Chef Joya was younger, she thought she would become a make-up artist. However, in the midst of pursuing that career, she discovered her passion for preparing healthy plant-based food.

Introduced to veganism at the age of seven, the practice of green eating – and cooking – has been as much of a treasure to Chef Joya as her memories preparing meals with her grandmother as a child. With 14 siblings and parents that were highly involved in the community, Chef Joya found that time in the kitchen with her grandmother was one of the only things that was hers. But she could never have imagined how much a part of her life it would become 30 years later.

COVID-19 and related business closures brought a lot of challenges, but it also brought time for people to stop and ask questions about veganism and vegan cuisine – and Chef Joya was there to answer.

“I found it very fulfilling to educate people. Both of my parents were educators and that is not something I thought I would be interested in doing, but it turns out that I am doing that same thing – but just with food,” she said.

Chef Joya brings the comfort of food into green eating and loves to teach other’s how to find joy in doing the same.  In her words: “The only way to do it right is to do it out of love.”

Work that matters

LGBTQ+ changemakers are using their voices year-round to advocate for overlooked communities and usher in a new age of acceptance. As you can see, their work is opening doors for members of the community and giving them space to feel safe, heard and accepted. During season one, Ally supported the continuation of their important work by rewarding each business with $10,000 to carry on with making positive changes in the world. By addressing themes like visibility for minority audiences, creating equal access to business opportunities for small business owners and how major corporations can reinvest in local communities, the Changemakers series works to bring awareness to these important subjects.

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