What happens when someone tells you that you can’t do something because of your race? And what if this someone is an influential leader in the nonprofit world whose work is devoted to helping marginalized groups?
Christina Blacken, Strategy Director at Gizmodo and founder of The New Quo, received this message from an old boss, and witnessing the deep inauthenticity in her boss’ work fueled her to act.
Her response? She launched a media platform.
Often times, our mission arises from a personal pain point – something that causes significant internal upset. The pain point and racial bias Christina experienced is what inspired her to launch The New Quo.
The New Quo provides diverse inspiration and resources to help people explore creativity in work and life. The result is more people awakening to the positive impact diversity has on our society.
In this interview, Christina and I talk about:
- The importance of creating a better world and overcoming racial bias,
- Why creativity is so important and what you can do to be more creative, and
- How to build a business while also working full time.
Give us some background. Where are you from, and where did you start out?
My family was part of the Great Migration from the South, and we landed in Utah. I lived there from childhood through my teenage years. (Questions about Mormons, being black in a place where about 3 other black people live, and the merits of Jello, are often expected.)
I grew up in a single parent home, and started working at the age of 16, until I was accepted to Cornell University.
I’ve held many random jobs, from working in an airbag facility to shilling infomercial products to law work to building online movements that inspired 300,000 young people to create social change in the nonprofit field.
I’ve luckily stumbled on a career using new media to tell interesting (and hopefully moving) stories around diversity and creativity.
What is your mission, the work you want to do?
I created a media platform and online community, called TheNewQuo.com to change the conversation on who and what we think is creative.
I was first inspired by my discontent with the lack of positive possibility models or aspirational advice from people who look like me. I’ve also seen the power new media can give to voices typically muted by traditional media and society.
I stumbled upon a statistic that 75% of people don’t think they can reach their creative potential, but nearly every problem we face in work and in life can benefit from creative solutions and new ideas.
I started thinking – what would happen if we changed that statistic? If every single person invested in their creative potential and expression? If the face of creativity was diverse and unconventional? If creativity was seen as a right and daily need versus an elite pursuit? If every creator pushed themselves to learn and diversify their sources of inspiration to produce bigger, better, more inclusive, and helpful creations?
I think the horror train of social ills we’ve seen parading our news feeds in this past year alone would begin to shift for the better. We’d find more mental peace, and become our best selves.
My mission is to change that statistic and provide diverse inspiration and resources to help people explore the creative possibilities in their everyday work and lives.
What led you there? Can you recall any experiences you had that pushed you to your mission?
I had an old CEO I worked for tell me that minorities only create nail salons and hair shops and aren’t making stuff like Mark Zuckerberg. Not only is this a pretty stereotyping, stupid, and reductive statement — it’s problematic on so many levels, especially coming from a very visible and influential woman in the nonprofit world who has built an entire career and platform about helping the marginalized.
It made me realize there’s a lot of imposters – people who do things because of how they look, but not because they truly believe in them or are versed in really alleviating the problems they think they are solving.
Authenticity is one of my core values so I was galvanized to put my perspective and experiences out there to prove her, and so many others who think like her, wrong.
What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?
In so many stories of entrepreneurship — we gloss over the perks/money/handouts/leg ups that many creators have gotten on their way up to the top. Black women like myself are 6x more likely to start a business than any other demographic, yet we struggle for funding (with less than 1% of VC funding going to black female founders), and for the resources for scaling our work.
I decided to take the slow growth path – building my platform as a side hustle and in my spare time, currently bootstrapping while I work full time as a marketing professional.
I took this route to have creative control, and to not have the pressure of having to make such early, precious creative decisions solely with profit in mind. This is challenging because scale is slow and dependent on my outputs. Finding time and being consistent can be challenging — it’s easy for so many other things to take up space and energy when you’re building something on the side.
But I set weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals and structures that help me chip away at the big picture and get a lot more done in less time.
At Work Bigger, one of our goals is to build creativity among readers and community members. We know this is a key skill required to thrive in the future of work. Can you share your definition of creativity?
This is what my platform and mission is all about!
My definition of creativity is two fold – 1) it’s a way of thinking and 2) a way of crafting/expressing those personal thoughts and beliefs in the hopes of providing new insight or solution to a problem.
We all can improve our creative thinking, exposing ourselves to new information and knowledge. We can also become better at making new and unconventional connections between our ideas to generate new and potentially better ideas.
That’s all creativity really is — personal problem solving with a finesse and art. It’s accessible by everyone, and creating is a human right — not just an activity only for the elite or exceptionally talented.
When are you most creative?
When I’m listening to music.
I have a musical background and a very musical mind as a singer, so I’m constantly inspired by songs and am always seeking music.
I’m also really creative at night (which can be a curse) when my brain is lucid and there’s no distractions. Also, like anything, the more you do something the easier it feels and the more you crave doing it.
The more I create, the more creative I become, because I’m forced to push past the fears, inhibitions, and blocks and put something out there that then gives me another insight to chase and develop.
What are your favorite go-to resources or experiences to help you build your creativity?
- Music – songs can immediately spark connections and ideas for me.
- Indie films and documentaries – when I learn something about a culture or person I haven’t before I get inspired with new ideas.
- Really good conversations with friends and interesting people – they can illuminate a universal discussion worth having in a larger way with others.
- Random youtube videos as articles I come across on my feeds – sometimes it’ll spark an idea for a story.
- Traveling — even just to a new part of the borough I live in, new environments inspire me
- Water – I find bodies of water (lakes, oceans etc) really meditative and a great place to contemplate.
- Books – Steal like an Artist and other books about creating.
Also: Children inspire me. Love inspires me. Connection inspires me. Compassion inspires me. Sacrifice inspires me. Empathy inspires me. Injustice inspires me. Anger inspires me.
The full range of human emotions inspires me daily as we live such interesting and short yet powerful lives.
What advice do you have for 20 to 30-somethings who want to make an impact through their work but are currently feeling stuck?
Get to know yourself outside of other people’s expectations. What do you really believe? What lights you up? What are you curious about?
Explore your interests and build up your own knowledge on those topics no matter what they are, because someone has thought about them, explored, and created around those topics before, in some capacity (even if it’s fairly new or niche ideas).
Invest in yourself and your knowledge – whether that’s books, traveling, experiences, or your own creative outputs. Soak in everything there is to know about the topics you care about, and connect with people having conversations or building solutions on those topics.
You’ll begin to build community with like minded people with similar values, gain clarity, and create purpose in your daily life.
Chase your curiosity and not the fear of what you have to do to be seen as someone who is “successful.” You ultimately get to define success — the linear path of what we SHOULD have or what we should do by certain ages is arbitrary and not a guarantee for any sort of happiness.
Intention and purpose is a path to happiness – so dedicate yourself to thinking about that now. Don’t be a walking zombie clocking day in and day out – be mindful and awake to your own desires and don’t be afraid of them.