Pull up, talk. Your Blackness is safe here.
By: Kymberly Amara
The only way forward is through, but to make it through, we must be aware and focused on the task at hand. With all the chaos that surrounds the black community every day staying aware can be overwhelming and remaining focused can be difficult with so many distractions. To stay up to date on the latest and greatest, black hubs and news outlets have become critical for the retrieval of culture-specific, unbiased, competent news. Beyond this, outlets must be welcoming and safe towards their target audience to feel comfortable enough to express themselves freely without judgment.
With a core goal to “educate, organize, and mobilize,” Black With No Chaser (BWNC) has solidified itself as the go-to outlet for the all-encompassing Black experience. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Sika Noxolo and Chief Innovation Officer, Cirilo Manego, two of the powerhouses behind the transformative multi-media outlet. From inclusivity to bridging the information gap between generations the two shared their thoughts and insight.
On the beginnings of BWNC and their respective roles
Cirilo: “Black With No Chaser has been around for almost four years now coming November and I’ve been there since November 2017. Where it started just to give a little background on Black With No Chaser, I like to say it started in every Black person’s heart. We’ve always wanted to be [BWNC] but by why of code-switching and having to be a chameleon in society…It was the wanting-ness to exist in spaces where we get the grace and we have the space to be human and be incorrect and live our lives in the fullest manner possible while we send our joy as a form of resistance.”
As the self-proclaimed “relationship guy” who specializes in human capital, Cirilo whose primary role is to focus on building strategic partnerships goes on to discuss the other internal partners behind the BWNC brand, CJ, T.Y. Tyson, and Chuck who also attended Tougaloo College located outside of Jackson, Mississippi, and how BWNC began as a hashtag.
Cirilo: It began as a hashtag (#iftheygunnedmedown) and that hashtag you know quickly became like they may have something and so in November 2017 where it was really formalized in a real way and since then we’ve grown, like astronomically. I think that never in a million years would I be sitting here telling you that we’ll be touching 20-plus million people a month across all of our social media platforms. It’s been dope and quite humbling to know that people see us as thought leaders and trust us on issues. They trust us with the culture, and for me, it has probably been one of the most gratifying things I’ve done in my lifetime as a human, as a Black man in America, somebody that’s from the south, New Orleans to be specific. I think that what [BWNC] is like the mecca of Black culture…I don’t want to say for example that we are the only people or the only brand or the only organization doing it. I think there are many organizations doing it very very well and doing it right. I just think that with a name like Black With No Chaser it’s kind of hard to escape exactly what you are and really giving it to you unfiltered.”
Sika: “I’m the CCO of Black With No Chaser which is the Chief Content Officer and I handle a lot of different departments here well, I kind of create a lot of different departments because we want to make sure that we are inclusive with everything Black [because] in some areas we may be missing the mark on. I do create things like Black With No Chaser Music & Entertainment, Happy Health Black, which is dedicated to holistic living and just having more of a balance in life, spirituality, and things of that nature. I also am the creator of Black With No Chaser Radio so along with the entertainment things and making sure that we are amplifying indie artists and just Black people in general that’s what I’m basically here for.”
On adjusting and navigating during the pandemic
Many multi-media outlets undoubtedly had to shift operations and find new ways to communicate to their audience during the pandemic. Sika candidly shares how the podcast, The Black Lunch Break got started.
Sika: “Last year at the beginning of the pandemic, Cirilo created The Black Lunch Break. Honestly, we were just doing it to give ourselves something to do during the pandemic since, hey we’re stuck in the house, what are we gonna do. And, it took off so fast to the point that we really weren’t even prepared to be honest. We were just needing some time to pass by and it seemed to be a very instrumental thing that we added to the culture without even knowing.”
100 plus guests later, The Black Lunch Break podcast has leveraged an already established platform to pivot through the uncertainty of the pandemic. Cirilo discusses how having this pre-established platform has made BWNC, “just as good in the streets as we are in the tweets.” BWNC has also had the opportunity to connect with the Biden campaign as a result of connecting and having conversations with different people. Now in its 3rd season, Sika and Cirilo shared how this season has seen exponential growth.
Cirilo: “We actually exploded during the pandemic. Because we were already a digital platform creating communities, we like to say virtual communities and real communities…with the things that we would bring to the streets, we just bring it now to the virtual stage. We’ve been able to ramp up more of that engagement, create more affinity groups and sub-groups along the way that has really helped us allow us to have more niche conversations with our tribe and with our community members. To us, it was like an opportunity. There was a gateway that kind of opened up for us and we kind of stepped into that gateway.”
Recognizing the opportunity to connect with those who were looking for “something different; something they felt like could be tangible,” BWNC has seized the opportunity to pivot and connect with a wider community of our respective “cousins” by creating spaces to make people feel at home. A consistent brand combined with the current political climate, and a few viral moments was just the right mix of ingredients needed to propel BWNC to the next level. They have also been able to gain access to the virtual Oscar room and are now credentialed as press for them.
On creating content and remaining consistent
Cirilo: “It’s like when an artist comes out and they putting out four and five mix-tapes and nobody knows about them and then they make that one hit song and then you realize they’ve been dope for a long time. I know me and Sika and CJ and everybody that started The Black Lunch Break has always been dope. We’ve always been able to hold a conversation and hold court and speak truth and power and hit on issues that we know are hot button issues for our community. But the thing is, consistency is key…what I see from any creator, from anybody that’s actually creating content out there is that if you’re not consistent and the one thing that gets you up in the morning is viewership, then you ain’t goin last. But when you do it for the right reason and you want to host conversations and you actually want to build a platform then you can turn two into four, four into eight, and eight into sixteen, to me, you have a viable product.”
As the only woman on the team, Sika, a multi-hyphenate creative, has contributed tremendously to the growth of the multi-media platform. With an extensive background in music and entertainment managing, producing, brokering deals, and creating platforms for indie artists. But, more importantly, Sika has been able to experience what it’s like to work with colleagues who both welcome and respect her input in a mostly male-dominated industry.
Sika: “ All of our time is invested into Black With No Chaser. If there were 25 hours in a day, you’d best believe that we are taking it and putting it into Black With No Chaser…When I did come in, there were just certain new content things that were added to the table. Everything has really been really like a team effort…I have been able to experience how it is to be able to push a business in a male-dominated field and being respected as a woman in this male-dominated field. Every growth aspect…has been a tribe effort.”
On holding space for the diverse groups within our community
BWNC has grown exponentially and it is nothing but up from here, but to build, establish and solidify a brand, various stakeholders are needed. From investors to writers and designers, many are needed to contribute to and build out the content that people have come to know and love BWNC for. One of the challenges of having a multimedia platform is ensuring that the content and energy are welcoming and inclusive for ALL Black people and not just one sub-set of blackness.
Sika: “We have a tagline that says your blackness is safe here and we really mean because we are talking to the entire black demographic. As far as how many people are tuned into Black With No Chaser, we have every single generation that you just named [Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z]. Every single one of them is tapped in and logged in to our website, our social media, whatever we have they are tapped into it. Now how we have been able to navigate being inclusive is not only opening our stages for them to be able to bring their personal perspectives on the stage without any judgment and we’ve also been able to just have conversations…we really stick by your blackness is safe here. So just because we may have a Generation Z person not agreeing with a millennial we’re going to definitely create the space for the both of them to present their perspectives. Have respect, give respect all across the board but know that they are still at home and that however, they feel and however they see things in this world while being Black is perfectly fine and we accept that.”
Cirilo: “One thing we’re really proud of is that we’ve now been able to bring on interns…Interns bring on fresh ideas, they are feeling things and going through things that even as a 35-year-old where I’m at right now, I don’t know what they’re going through as an 18-year-old right now or coming into college. There are certain things, there are gaps, that because of those gaps we have blinders on so we want to bring on the next generation through our internship program and bridge that gap. In terms of millennials where we are really the core or the crux of our audience…that’s really the core of our audience…We do want more young people showing up on our platform, not just engaging with the platform but the faces of the young generation showing up. We want to let them know that there is a pathway forward and that older folk are not here to shun you and put you down.
Both Sika and Cirilo also expressed that looking to the future generation is encouraging as they dare to take on many life challenges and are not afraid to go against the norm, especially when it comes to the pursuit of entrepreneurship and the important steps necessary to get there. From relationship-building to knowing yourself and how you function within a team, Cirilo shares the importance of self-education and understanding that it doesn’t end with the attainment of a degree and that to create wealth you must understand what it means to grow wealth and that one can create wealth while being employed. “In reality, if you don’t own anything, your wealth is going to be capped…I think that it’s a mindset with this generation [Generation Z] to set forth a new path, a new thought process on how we build generational wealth.” The BWNC platform fosters spaces where numerous conversations on varying subjects such as real estate, investing in stocks, trading, etc…
On the future vision and what to expect from BWNC
Cirilo: “We’ve got to get to a space where we can really understand that there’s enough pieces to this pie with every community and every pocket of blackness can win.”
Having touched almost every continent in the world, BWNC continues to scale with aspirations of globalization; the future looks bright. They are continuing to build and create spaces that motivate, educate, and advocate for ALL Black people. With the outside slowly opening back up, we can expect a lot from BWNC as they are planning events that will allow folks to come out and interact with one another. HBCU campuses can expect BWNC pop-ups on-campus, a new clothing line, the Black With No Chaser radio app that will strive to uncover all of the hidden talents across the country. Brown Liquor and Chicken will be going on tour and The Black With No Chaser version will host a hub called The Black Cookout. The Black Lunch Break will be holding more in-person events where you will be able to access unapologetic content at your fingertips.
BWNC is a solution-oriented multimedia roundtable guided by unapologetic and unfiltered minds that THINK BLACK and LIVE BLACK. Our goal is to document the all-encompassing Black experience, specifically in the United States, but throughout the entire African diaspora by building, sustaining, and protecting a safe platform for Black voices to be heard and understood.
We document the Diaspora’s cultural experiences globally through storytelling, content creation, content curation & social advocacy to shift narratives and paradigms. We aim to inform & inspire through dynamic, creative, & transformative content.
What is The Black Lunch Break?
The daytime flagship show of Black With No Chaser that anchors itself on amplifying Black conversations with public figures of our culture without availing them to the sensibilities of double consciousness. The show features independent and mainstream public figures.
Who is watching?
The audience of TBLB ranges from age 25-65 with an equal percentage of male and female viewership ranging from several hotspots in the U.S., U.K., Africa, Vancouver and South America.
Why tune in?
In order to experience an authentically Black conversation, with all categories of Blackness, TBLB exists as a tangible safe space that caters to being authentically Black while eliminating the policing of it and fully embracing what it is to Think Black, Live Black . . . Unapologetically.