Interview with Martina Abrahams, Founder of You Had Me at Black, on building a podcast for black millennials.
Martina launched You Had Me at Black (YHMAB) in February. The goal: to challenge the mainstream portrayal of the Black narrative through shared stories highlighting all the diverse aspects of the Black experience.
Since then, the podcast has reached over 10,000 plays, with listeners across the country tuning in. Currently, Martina and her team are working to push out Season 2 this fall.
I asked her more about the project, and what she has in store:
A: You started YHMAB in February, and released Season 1 in May. How did you manage to move so quickly?
M: The nice thing about being in the Bay is that people are open to working on new projects. The minute I decided I was going to do this, I started talking about it, getting feedback, and spreading the word. We have a small team, but have great people who helped get things moving. That all came from me talking to people and them being interested in and supporting the project.
A: You started this podcast to challenge the dominant portrayal of Black men and women in the media. What are the top issues you see with how the Black experience is presented today?
M: The core issue is that Black culture and Black stories are always portrayed in a negative light. You’re always poor, you’re uneducated, you’re always violent, or you’re a victim. We see how this singular narrative has played out and affects how our country views black people. Take police brutality, for example - if you’re being told black people are more violent and those are the only images you see on TV, you’re going to treat black people differently. We’re not more violent than any other group, but we’re portrayed that way. Even comments I’ve received in the workplace - “I’m more Black than you because I know this new hip hop song” - highlight the narrowness of this narrative. Now, what is your definition of ‘Blackness’? Is it just gold chains and gold teeth? That is one part of the experience and that’s fine, but there’s so much more, and so many more perspectives.
In the same way, these portrayals affect how black people see themselves. If the only black people you see on television are entertainers, you think that’s the only way for you to be successful. That’s going to influence what you think of yourself, your potential, and your future. Even the image of what ‘beautiful’ looks like - if you’re not seeing dark-skinned, chocolate girls being celebrated, you’re not going to think you’re beautiful. It affects self-esteem, what we think we’re capable of doing, and what we go after in our lives.
A: Which side of that coin are you more focused on with your podcast? Are you targeting the black community specifically, or are you targeting a wider audience?
M: That’s a question that I’ve debated a lot with my family and team. Right now, I’m creating this podcast for the black community. I want a platform to reach black millennials who don’t feel they’re being represented elsewhere. That’s not to say I don’t want or encourage other listeners, because I think that’s important. But I’m not trying to re-package the message or re-package our experiences in a way specifically to be palatable or digestible for someone who hasn’t shared those experiences.
I think a wider audience will grow, naturally, as the podcast grows. But right now, I’m creating for the black millennial who turns on the TV and thinks: I don’t see myself, or I’m not proud of these representations, and I think there’s more out there.
A: What have been your favorite stories from Season 1?
M: I love all of them, but my favorite is “A Raisin in the City”. That’s the only one I’ve ever gotten teary-eyed recording. It’s a story from a woman from Ohio, who always wanted to be a writer. In college, her advisor told her she wouldn’t make any money writing. She didn’t come from a background where that was really an option, so she decided to change her career and major. She graduated and worked jobs in Sales and Marketing - but somehow everything kept crumbling. She’d get a job, and then a few months later, she’d have to find another. She was living in New York and hit this low point, before she decided she was just going to write. That’s what she’d always wanted to do.
When she made that decision, doors opened. All these opportunities, people helping her out, and now she has a great career as a writer. It was one of the stories that really inspires faith and not giving up. It was also cool because I had known her through some of that, but never knew everything she had been dealing with. It just goes to show that you never really know where someone is in life, and what they might be struggling with.
A: What is your dream team lineup, if you could have any three people for your next three podcasts?
M: I would love Kahlana Barfield - she’s an editor at InStyle, who recently published this article about being a darker-skinned black woman, and how she would always hear “you’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl”. InStyle is not a publication catered toward black women, so I thought was very cool and very brave for her to share on that medium.
I would love to have Ryan Coogler - director of Fruitvale Station and Creed. He’s from Oakland, and he’s doing really great things with film, getting mainstream traction and attention drawn to black stories. I would love to hear his story around what it’s been like to get that traction and the bullshit he’s no doubt had to deal with along the way!
She’s not a millennial, but I would love to bring on Michelle Obama. There’s no way you’re the first black first lady, and you haven’t been through some crazy experiences! I’m ready for her tell-all: I want to know what it was like behind the scenes, and hear the good and the bad from her years in the White House. She doesn’t fall in my target demographic, but I would love to have her.
A: Speaking of, why did you decide to focus on millennials?
M: Well… I’m a millennial! At the end of the day, I like to be able to check in with myself. I can always ask: what would I want to hear? What stories are missing from my life?
Also, millennials are a really unique generation - we grew up on that bridge of old and new. We had cell phones, but we didn’t always have them. We’re the first generation to grow up being told that racism no longer exists, but we had to learn that it does. I think for a lot of us, we’re continually shocked by how deep-seated racism really is in this country. Our parents, they still had the obvious remnants and physical evidence of segregation to remind them. But for us, our schools would tell use that was back then, that America’s racial problems were something in the past. And I think a lot of us growing up are realizing: wow, I did not expect it to be this crazy. It’s a really unique and interesting group to be a part of, and I wanted to build for this generation because I don’t think others can really understand us in the same way.
A: And finally….. What can you tell us about what’s coming in Season 2?
M: Season 2 is releasing mid-September, so look out for that! We’re on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Podcast Addict, and Google Play. We’re looking to bring even more stories - last season we did 16 episodes, and this season we want to triple that. Our stories are really short - mostly 7-10 minutes. The feedback we got was that people want more content, more segments each week to listen to.
You can sign up for the email list on our website! We don’t spam you, but we send out playlists, updates, upcoming events. It’s a great place to stay in the know on what we’re doing, and make sure you’re aware when new content has come out.
Visit http://www.youhadmeatblack.com/, and listen to your first episode, if you haven’t yet! You can reach Martina on Twitter @MARTINAdotA, or @youhadmeatblack. Join You Had Me at Black THIS THURSDAY in Oakland for “Tales from the Town”, a live storytelling event at AU Lounge.