Jun 24, 2019

Leading thought leaders gathered to explore how media’s digital revolution can create opportunity for the Black community.

At META Convened by BET, leading Black entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and cultural icons gathered in Los Angeles to discuss how they can work together to use technology to advance the Black community.

META—which stands for Media, Entertainment and Technology Alliance—Convened was the brand’s inaugural social impact conference and served as a lead-in to the BET Awards. It was created to spotlight how technology, which continues to disrupt the entertainment industry, can also be used to enable marginalized and underrepresented communities.

“BET Networks is uniquely positioned to convene thought leaders from across sectors for this timely dialogue about the power of media, entertainment and technology to positively impact the African American community,” said Scott Mills, president of BET Networks.

At the two-day event, panelists—including Queen Latifah, Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels, Rev. Al Sharpton, Jemele Hill, Donna Brazile, and DJ Khaled—discussed how media can change cultural stereotypes; how the rise of online video, experiential marketing, and artificial intelligence has the potential to elevate Black stories and Black representation; and the 2020 election.

Here are three important themes that emerged during the panels:

Leaders Need to Help “Push the System Forward.”

The consensus among attendees was clear: there is a responsibility to help others succeed.

Musician, actress and entrepreneur Queen Latifah said there weren’t many female rappers when she entered the music business, but she used the platform she had to encourage other talented female performers. "For me, as a female rapper, the first thing I wanted to do was encourage my sisters," she said. She continues to elevate diverse talents with her production company Flavor Unit Entertainment.

Film and television producer Debra Martin Chase shared the sentiment, particularly in regard to hiring practices, saying, "It's really important that we support our people, and we help push the system forward.”

To be sure, racial and gender discrimination is illegal but research indicates it’s pervasive. In the entertainment industry, the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements have given greater visibility into the need for diversity and “inclusion rider” is now a familiar phrase. But many at the META conference indicated the onus to hire and promote people of color should be on individuals as well as institutions.

"We as content creators can demand 'I need a lawyer who's black on this team. I need a TV exec who's black on this team,'" explained COO of Parkwood Entertainment Steve Parmon.

We Need to Tell the Stories That Need to Be Told—No Matter What

"All along I've been telling stories that people don't want to see," said writer, director, and producer Lee Daniels during his keynote conversation about the media industry's role in shaping people's perceptions.

In creating Fox's hit show Empire and directing films like The Butler and Precious, Daniels has told critically-acclaimed, diverse stories about Black life and Black culture, introducing people around the world the issues and ideas they may have not been exposed to otherwise. All of this despite the pushback he experienced in trying to get stories told.

Film producer Charles D. King noted in his panel that if he could offer a piece of advice to his younger self it would be to take risks. He added that taking risks and persevering through failure is part of being a person of color in an industry where there is still much work to be done in regard to equality and advancement. "You fail your way to success," said King. "You have to be able to tolerate the failure and power through it."

"We have a responsibility to perpetuate images and themes that inspire and empower people," explained Chase.

Esi Eggleston Bracey, EVP and COO for Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever North America added that sometimes the best way to inspire and empower others is for young Black women and men to be themselves and push to be heard, particularly spaces that aren't designed for them.

"Step into you as a Black leader and a leader of color because that will do wonders for the enterprise," she said.

The Next Generation Needs Teachers.

"The foundation is education," explained King. "Access to education, and access to information."

"I don't think people understand all the different roles they can have in technology," said Charles Phillips, CO of Infor, a cloud software company. He said teachers encouraged his interest in computers and technology at a young age, and eventually helped him carve a career path in the tech space.

Blacks are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related careers, comprising only 6 percent of engineers, for example, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, Black and Latinx students switch majors or drop out of STEM programs at a higher rate than white students.

Having mentors and teachers in the creative fields is equally important. As creator and BET partner Tyler Perry explained during the event, “There's no job in my studio that I haven't done." Perry was honored with the BET Icon Award during the BET Awards, where he affirmed it was a commitment to hard work and experience in the industry that led him to start his production studio.

“The ability to dream is what we owe young people, said Brittany Packett, co-founder of police reform initiative Campaign Zero. " And folks in creative spaces can empower that every day."