In a time of social distancing, maintaining virtual connections to our communities is more vital than ever. For Netta Dobbins and Mica Le John, these community ties have been enshrined long before the time of a government-mandated no touching policy. Dobbins — an entrepreneur, marketer, and strategist — created Secret Black Girl Meeting, a digital bimonthly fireside chat that curates discussions that affect the Afro-X community, featuring sessions called “3 Cs to Level Up Your Career (Clarity, Confidence & Control),” “Healing From Trauma,” and “Building Your Personal Glam Squad" (Mentorship, Sponsorship and Friendship)”. Dobbin’s platform to empower young black women nestles perfectly into Le John’s 2SWIM, a social messaging app that steers away from the tech market, catering instead to artists, community leaders, educators and multi-hyphenates to build a more meaningful social connection.
Check out FLAUNT’s interview with Dobbins and Le John to learn more about the inspiration for Secret Black Girl Meetings, dream guest, and advice for young black women.
How did the idea of Secret Black Girl Meetings come to fruition?
Every Black woman has had a "secret black girl meeting." They happen in corporate America when one of your colleagues has displayed a micro-agression and you need to check in with someone to make sure you're not tripping. They happen when you have a good business idea and you want to run it past a couple girl friends who you trust to give you their true opinion. They happen when you're going through a rough patch in life and just need that emotional support. Secret Black Girl Meetings are general gatherings where Black women come to support and lift each other up. I don't remember the exact moment a light bulb went off in my head about creating the series, but I know I've always had these "secret black girl meetings" and wanted to created a space where women across the country...world... could connect with each other.
How did you come to collaborate with 2SWIM?
Mica and I met at a Founder Friday event in NYC. These are essentially weekly in-person AMA's where those in the startup space come together to listen to successful entrepreneurs stories and network with each other. We connected there, but a few months later realized we'd both been accepted in the Bright Ventures Leadership Accelerator. Our relationship cemented itself throughout this period and when I heard that Mica had pivoted her initial product to launch 2SWIM, I thought it would be great for SBGM. I was specifically interested in the ephemeral messaging. SBGM is a safe space for Black women to connect and share their thoughts, so I knew that this aspect of the app would ensure our audience felt safe enough to connect with one another.
What makes 2SWIM the ideal platform for hosting Secret Black Girl Meetings? *see above*
Who are some black women who have served as inspiration for you?
It's honestly hard to pin point. I feel like black women as a whole inspire me everyday. We are the most resilient humans. We are the new leaders in the business space. We are leaders of our households and hold so much spending power within the economy. I have a strong network of black women advisors and a circle of friends who all support me (we support each other) in whatever ways I need. I think that personal bond has been the most impactful thing for me, my brands, and my life.
What is your go-to advice for young black women?
It's hard to give advice now, when things are so uncertain around COVID and where the economy is going. But, despite that, the thing that has always propelled me forward is my ability to "just go for it", "fail fast," and if you're still passionate about it "iterate." I've had many ideas and potential brands I almost started/or did start with minimal success prior to SBGM. Some of my friends joke that in their free time they watch Netflix and in my free time I'm concepting a new business idea. This is partially true, haha. I think that for any creative person you have a million ideas in your head at once. And, sometimes before we launch those ideas we think we need a fully defined strategy, brand identity, website, build a team, the list goes on. Then after you make that lengthy list, you've psyched yourself out and you feel like your idea is now too big and nothing you can actually execute. With any idea I've had, I start small and "just go for it." For SBGM, I just posted a tweet about the idea and got so many positive responses and shares from black women, that I knew I had something valuable. Outside of SBGM, I'm the CEO of another tech enabled professional community called Mimconnect that connects professionals of color to job opportunities, career resources, and each other. That started as a group chat of a couple people who worked in my industry, grew to 300 in a couple weeks, and today it's reaching nearly 8K nationwide. While the journey for both of these organizations took a bunch of turns I wasn't expecting, and we "failed fast" in different areas it allowed us to "iterate" into a product that provided value for our target audience and get more focused on our offerings. In short, advice is: "go for it. fail fast. iterate."
Who is your dream guest on Secret Black Girl Meeting’s fireside chats?
Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Tomi Adeyemi, Michaela Angela Davis, Elaine Welteroth
How has your career in media prepared you to found Secret Black Girl Meetings?
I don't think my career in media is what really propelled SBGM. As a black woman, no matter what industry we work in, we're always having "secret black girl meetings," so the idea itself may have come up regardless. I do think my media experience has helped me when it comes to organizing the events and marketing the series as a whole.
What would you like to see in the future of Secret Black Girl Meetings?
I think about this every day and the answer changes. Right now, SBGM is just a passion project for me while I run my other company full time. For SBGM, my team and I are just living in the moment and focusing on creating impactful programming that we love and that scales our community. What I've learned is that the right path typically presents itself at the right time, and when you try to force it, you end up with a headache. This year will be focused on research and seeing where our audience leans.
How has social distancing and the current pandemic affected the content you produce? How has it impacted the community’s bond?
Luckily we launched our digital programming a couple of weeks before the pandemic hit. So, we were definitely ahead of that curve. The pandemic has affected the type of content we produce. For March, we focused a lot on mental wellness and career searching - Knowing that a lot of people were losing their jobs and the mental health affects this could have on our community/their families. I think the community bond has gotten stronger as well as they're actively looking for ways to stay connected with one another. Attendance and engagement at our events increases each week.
How did 2SWIM come to fruition?
It may sound odd, but self-expression and connection is a pretty big thing for my co-founder and I.
We both come from deeply creative backgrounds, and since we met we’ve been discussing our ideas on what it means to communicate abstractly through art, and, more broadly, the innate desire for personal connection we all feel. Over time we began to realize that so much of the pull to social media is actually to help fulfill those desires — to express, be heard, connect. We also realized how badly the major social media platforms were failing at helping us all do that.
Soon after, we became entirely focused on tech and digital communication. Michael taught himself to code, and after about a year of experimentation we launched our first app. We ran beta with a relatively small group of testers for the first half of 2019 and learned a lot: our users loved the emphasis on communication and interaction; they had a lot of fun taking advantage of all the ways they could express themselves; and they loved the private-community feeling that our small user base created. That summer we took those learnings, refined them, and began building 2SWIM.
How did you come to collaborate with Secret Black Girl meeting & what are the other communities that you work with?
Netta and I had actually been orbiting in similar circles for a while, and then met a little over a year ago at a founder-focused event in New York. We had a chance to properly get to know each other through the Bright Ventures Leadership Accelerator in 2019, where I learned more about her dedication to providing better spaces for marginalized people. When I began reaching out to potential partners for 2SWIM, Secret Black Girl Meeting was an amazing match.
Some of the other communities we support include #blkcreatives (founded by writer Melissa Kimble), New World Blue (founded by photographer Eric Javier Mejia) and Black Lesbian Archives (founded by artist-curator Kru Maekdo).
What makes 2SWIM the ideal platform for hosting Secret Black Girl Meetings' and others conversations?
We built 2SWIM to refocus the digital-social experience from one of consumption to interaction. Our focus is on empowering the best of both on- and off-line conversation; 2SWIM’s ephemeral messaging, semi-public conversations and private spaces allow for real connection and community. I can’t think of a better place for communities to call home.
Who are some black women who have served as inspiration for you?
There are SO many but here are a few: for over half a century, my Gogi has acted as a leader in international anti-violence against women and children and anti-war initiatives, working with prominent NGOs, chairing boards, and more — she has been my guide for my entire life, and I have endless admiration and love for her; Dr. Tracyann Williams, my thesis advisor, is a brilliant thinker and offered invaluable (and much needed!) guidance during my time at The New School; Jazzi McGilbert, founder of Reparations Club, is a dear friend who challenges me while also making me laugh; and Olamide Olowe, founder of Topicals, is a Gen-Z whisperer whose approach to business is always exciting to see. And Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler have changed my life and my writing.
What is your go-to advice for young black women?
We are each other’s greatest resource — always look to expand your community of like-minded collaborators and never be afraid to rely on them for mental and emotional support.
What would you like to see in the future of 2SWIM?
We’re spending a huge amount of time reworking the traditional social media business model into one that is healthy and sustainable. I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome of that effort — a space where brands and corporations are competing for, rather than attention, the value they can offer digital communities, and where community leaders and their members can be directly compensated for the efforts they put in.
How has social distancing and the current pandemic affected the platform? How has it impacted the community’s bond?
I think physical distancing has driven more social engagement for everyone. We’re working hard to accelerate the onboarding process for new partners and their communities on 2SWIM (we’re always accepting new members!), and making sure we can support the leaders and members through what’s been a very difficult time for a lot of us. We’ve noticed lots of users discovering and joining new communities as they explore 2SWIM and we think this will continue as we grow and as people look for alternate ways to meet new friends and connect.
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