It's hard to open a social platform these days without another blatant example of sexism, racism, cultural appropriation or faux pas towards women or women of color. That's why the work that Audrey Bellis, founder of Worthy Women and the podcast #BrownGirlsRising is doing is taking back control of that negative narrative and empowering her community to do the same. I sat down with Audrey to learn the story behind her movement.
LM: Audrey, what is Worthy Women and what do you do?
AB: Worthy Women is a women's empowerment movement. My team and I produce free public events for female creatives & entrepreneurs, support in house Diversity & Inclusion/ Multicultural programs for enterprise companies; and host a podcast called #BrownGirlsRising in partnership with NYLON Espanol Magazine. Our events support a 70% + WOC (women of color) audience that is comprised primarily of self identified Latina's and African American women.
This started as a small one off LA based event series at the time in support of my other company: StartUp DTLA. One of our community members told me something I'll never forget: "I go to tech events and find that there are more ginger beards in plaid shirts than there are women, much less women of color. If gingers are 2% of the population and we're half, how does that statistically even make sense, especially in a city like Los Angeles, to be so under represented?" I was so struck by that notion that I held a women's founder event (the first Worthy Women panel) and it went locally viral. The rest, as they say, is history. In our 2nd year now, we have produced 20 events including a 3-day conference without any marketing or advertising, solely by word of mouth from our audience and are currently on a national tour.
LM: Tell me more about your podcast: #BrownGirlsRising, what a powerful name. What is it about?
AB: Following the Women's Marches back in January, I was incredibly struck by the stories of "white girl feminism" or "black girl magic". Those stories need to be told, but we have a lot of women that don't identify with either of those groups. I wanted to hear more about women that looked like me: mixed. I wanted a broader encompassing spectrum of stories of Native American women, Southeast Asian, Latina's, Afro Latina's, etc. basically anyone that self identified as a "woman of color." The podcast was born to tell the stories of women who are driving action and lifting up their communities through positive messaging via music, art, culture, community organizing, and intersectional feminism.
LM: That's a great jump-start, but this movement has to have had its challenges?
AB: I'll be honest, we faced challenges in support early on with a corporate brand following the election outcome and my public statement we entitled: "We are the Daughters of Immigrants." They called us a "feel good measure" and dropped our D&I contract. They didn't want the perception that they were taking "too much of a stand." While it hurt to lose that contract, the reality is that there are plenty of other companies that are proudly taking a stand and doubling down on their efforts just like us. Those are the groups we want to know and work with.
Groups & celebrities like the Amber Rose Foundation (whom we met through Beats by Dre) have been incredibly supportive and helped us get to where we are today. Amber Rose was a major keynote for our 1st annual conference and has truly supported our growth. The Freehand Hotels are making our national tour possible and our partner Backstage Capital is helping to get money into the hands of female founders of color.
Finally, our latest National partners (and ones we are very excited about) have been the organizers of the Women's March. They have connected us with the chairs of each city we are going to during this tour in support of our events, expanding our shared reach, and partnering with continued free/low cost programming for women who want and need it.
LM: What are some interesting take aways you have learned after producing the last 20 events?
AB: The first thing we learned is that no one can use the word "worthy" without wondering how it applies to them. Are they a worthy person? What are they worthy of? Etc.
The other thing we have seen (universally across genders and demographics), is that no one can ever tell you why they are worthy until they have told you about a time when they weren't, and then proceed to justify why they are now (or how they got there). This means I hear a lot of shame stories and hero's journeys. That is an honor I do not take lightly, realizing that many people's shame stories stem from early childhood/ young adult trauma of being told or being made to feel 'not enough' or 'unworthy' of love and belonging for who they are.
As a result, our audience has very strong, almost visceral, emotions tied to our events because many are forced to face shame narratives that they have avoided or numbed with external solutions to get others to believe they are worthy when they inherently don't feel they are.
LM: You're right; "worthy" is a very loaded word and sounds like one people can be very uncomfortable with. Knowing that, why would you choose that as the name?
AB: [laughs] That's a long story. I actually went through a broken engagement in my mid 20's that left me 6 figures in debt and in bed for 6 months experiencing what I know now was a major depressive episode. As I picked myself up by the bootstraps so to speak and became an entrepreneur, I kept telling myself: "You cannot raise your net worth until you raise your self worth." For a smart girl, I felt like I had compromised my integrity in that relationship and made choices that ultimately landed me in that situation because I wanted to feel worthy of love and belonging from outside sources/validation instead of owning that feeling for myself.
I believe that everything we do stems from a place of how worthy we feel we are. When we feel that we are worthy, we act from a place of integrity. When we don't', we control, blame, manipulate, etc. to make others believe we are or avoid our own shortcomings. When I was selecting the content for Worthy Women, I decided that all of our content should center around the pillars of where I personally struggled to play big (and turns out others have shame in these areas too): Finances, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Career Advancement.
All of our content from our guests speakers is centered around practical "how to's" to aid our community with hands on advice they can implement immediately. This isn't "manic manifesting" or "wish it into reality" advice.
LM: That's a powerful hero's journey you have there yourself! What's next for Worthy Women?
AB: We are currently on a national tour for 2017 putting on free, single day, mini conferences in 7 cities, with a new city every month. Our commitment to free programming for women of color stems from our mission statement. I don't believe that access to peer mentorship and community are things that should be hidden behind a paywall. We make our money on the Diversity & Inclusion side working with companies contracted with us to elevate their 'Women Of...' and Multicultural programming. Thanks to our national partners and local partners like CrossFire Sound who step up in kind sponsorship for our upcoming 4/19 Brooklyn event, we are able to support this mission on the road for a broader audiences. The tour will culminate back in LA in November for our 2nd annual national conference (also free to the public).
LM: As you know, our team at Elevate My Brand is primarily women and half women of color, so I personally believe in this mission deeply. I hope that our readers will support your mission and take a stand whether they are brands or individuals who can help spread the word. Standing by a movement like this and making a bold statement for the empowerment of women and women of color is not a choice, it's our moral duty.