About three years before I was laid off from my position as an academic director at a local college, I began the daunting process of trying to imagine myself as something other than an educator. This was also around the time that social media began to take off, and I needed help negotiating this new territory. I turned to my colleague (who also happened to be a best-selling author and branding coach) Alease Michelle to help in essentially rebranding my image. Alease explained that branding is a personal logo of who I am and how I wanted to be perceived, and with her help we crafted my persona of Professor Locs, writer and culture critic.
One local woman is working to do the same thing Alease did for me, but on a much larger scale.
Veronica Pearson is the director of Rebrand Black, a progressive movement working specifically to address minority images in the media. According to its mission statement, Rebrand Black focuses on unifying the black community by partnering with agencies both nationally and locally that are like-minded in showing the world that there are more positive African Americans than what's being portrayed in the media. It will also inspire action through a series of public service announcements while simultaneously encouraging the black community to work toward changing the way they are perceived around the world.
Pearson is certainly qualified to address how her own culture is perceived, as she's experienced many different cultures. Born and reared in Charleston, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after high school to pay for college, a move that took her all over the world.
With her marketing background, Pearson emphasizes the importance of branding. "If one does not control their brand," she told me recently, "they become susceptible to someone else's interpretation."
To some degree, we all deal with preconceived notions of who we are based on a myriad of characteristics, including race, class, gender, sexuality, age and education. But the image of African Americans is unique because of how society perceives marginalized communities. Folks from marginalized communities are seen as monolithic in voice and not given the same freedom as individuals. This is why the images portrayed of black women from shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta have a more significant negative impact.
Case in point: The reality TV antics of the Kardashians do not incriminate the sensibilities of all white women the same way black women are profiled because of the ratchet behavior seen on RHOA or Love and Hip-Hop.
If you ask, and if most are honest, many minorities will admit they cringe when they see someone from a similar culture being portrayed in a negative light. On some level, whether it's right or wrong, minorities understand that we are seen as a group and not as individuals. This works for other groups as well. How many of us Southerners shrink a bit when seeing a character like those portrayed on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?
This is why Pearson's initiative to #RebrandBlack is so important. I can recall a similar branding movement during the early 1990s. I remember rocking my "Black By Popular Demand" T-shirt and having folks challenge me as being an agitator. Affirmation does not mean exclusionary. I wanted, like many other black youth, to affirm my culture. It was necessary especially during that time period because there were very few mainstream magazine, television shows or movies that highlighted African Americans and their experiences.
"We have to show the truth of black life and start building economic power and political influence to change decisions that have disproportionately affected us," Peason says. And by truth Pearson means showing more diverse experiences of African-American culture.
Pearson shares her truth by utilizing her filmmaking and marketing skills in delivering the message of #RebrandBlack. In her series of PSAs, the message contradicts the negative depictions of African Americans we see in mainstream media. For example, in one recent PSA, a black man stares away from the viewer while a little girl calls out "Daddy" numerous times. He finally looks at the camera and says, "I'm designed to know that there are more good black dads than they show us" before the camera pan out and we see him sit down with his family to play a board game.
For Pearson, taking on such a huge endeavor is partly inspired by her children. Although she met her husband while in the military, motherhood is what really motivates Pearson. "I fight this battle," she says, "in hopes that my children won't have to."