The Black Creators making their mark in 2022
It’s no secret that content creators are a hot commodity right now. The need for fresh, entertaining, relatable content is growing as brands invest marketing and advertising dollars into brand collaborations with creators to increase awareness of their products and services and amplify their brand message. It makes sense. This is one of the many ways brands can reach new audiences and tap into communities outside of their own. With pressure from consumers and creators alike, brands realize that they need to be more inclusive in their campaigns which means the demand for diverse creative talent is at an all-time high.
In 2020, as a result of dialogue around the murder of George Floyd, racial injustice, and the Black Lives Matter movement, which many media outlets have referred to as “the racial reckoning of 2020”, we saw brands come out in droves to release social responsibility statements supporting newfound initiatives to advocate for racial equality and speak out against racism. In a study by global public relations consultancy firm Edelman, 60% of American consumers said that brands should take a stand and speak out on racial injustice. 60% also said they would buy from or boycott a brand based on how it responds to protests around social issues. This shift in consumer behavior pushed brands to take actionable steps to invest their dollars into Black organizations, businesses, community partners, and talent.
While brands have been pouring more resources into sourcing and partnering with Black creatives, there is still a large gap in access to opportunities and pay equity for Black creators. According to Zippia, a career and job discovery website, the most common ethnicity amongst content creators is white, which makes up almost 68% of content creators compared to the 6.6% that identify as Black and/or African-American. This is hella problematic, especially because we also know that Black creators are being paid less than our white counterparts. Forbes recently published an article naming the top-earning TikTok creators of 2022, with Charli and Dixie D’Amelio and Addison Rae securing the top three spots. The problem? These creators have also received public criticism for co-opting Black creativity on the platform. Additionally, no Black creators were featured on the list. Noticeably missing was Senegalese-born creator Khaby Lame, famous for his viral TikToks. He points out the obvious solutions to ridiculous problems, who has nearly the same followers as Charli D'Amelio.
Despite Black creators not always being credited for their creativity and being paid fairly, we continue to make the largest impact on pop culture. This is why it will always be important to spotlight the creatives who are creating their own lanes in this space and being innovative and authentic while doing it. To amplify Black voices and encourage brands and marketers to work with Black creatives, I interviewed 14 creators that inspire their communities and me to create like no one is watching. These individuals are creatives operating in industries and communities from wellness and sustainability to marketing and lifestyle. They're the Black content creators making their mark in 2022.
Meet the Creators
#1 | Nzinga Young (@veganzinga)
Nzinga is a vegan content creator based in Brooklyn, New York, whose brand revolves around creating a positive space for current and aspiring vegans. “I make lighthearted educational and lifestyle content with a vegan slant. When people would ask, ‘what work would you do for no pay?’, the answer was always content creation. I did it for years with no pay. I enjoy it, so to be able to do it consistently now is a dream.” Since 2021, Nzinga has been working as a full-time content creator. Her favorite partnership so far? A collaboration with Wells Fargo where she got to highlight local vegan businesses. “It felt good to celebrate them and encourage other people to visit.”
#2 | Nicholas Bailey (@nicksaysgo)
Nick is a blogger and owner of NICKSAYSGO.COM. He began creating around 15 years ago and keeps other Black people top of mind in his process. “I’m a Black man before anything, and I take pride in who I am and where I come from. I just want to inspire other Black folks by having them see someone who looks like them enjoying the things they enjoy.” One of the many things that Nick enjoys is sneaker culture. His love for sneakers manifested itself into a partnership with Jumpman in the summer of 2021. “We did a full sneaker campaign, marketing rollout, interview for the Air Jordan blog, and more. The marketing manager and young lady who interviewed me were both Black, so that was pretty cool to see! The campaign was robust; they trusted my creative vision, guided me without overstepping, and let me create as the creative I am.”
#3 | Kara Roselle Smith (@kararoselles)
Kara is an Afro-Indigenous writer, creator, and model who centers much of her work around her identity. “Through modeling, I am grateful to be the representation that was void during my youth. I try my best to use my platform to normalize unlearning and to seek justice for the Black and Indigenous communities, including my tribe, the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag of Martha's Vineyard.” Kara’s favorite project to date is an Instagram reel that she and members of her tribe created alongside fellow creator Blair Imani for her series Smarter In Seconds, where they dispelled the Thanksgiving myth. “It was one of her most-watched videos of the year, reaching over 2 million people.”
#4 | Dante Nicholas (@allthingsdante)
Dante is a photographer, social media strategist, writer, and content creator. After dealing with burnout, he left the advertising industry in 2020 to freelance full-time and explored his creative passions. “The brand that I've created is pretty much a reflection of who I am as a person. With my work, I consciously center Black talent, brands, and stories because as I rise, I aim to take others along for the journey.” Last year, he got the opportunity to work with Exclave Spirits, a Black-owned spirits brand based in Dante’s hometown of New Orleans. “It was the first time in my eight years of working in social media that I worked with a Black founder who also happened to be around the same age as me. With that came a deeper and more specific understanding of culture and what we wanted the brand's marketing to look like and feel like.”
#5 | Ehi Omigie (@ehi.omigie)
Ehi is a creative known for his funny, relatable skits that fuse conversation around his Nigerian, Puerto Rican, and queer identities and advocacy for his communities. After using TikTok as an outlet to deal with personal struggles in his life, he became a content creator. “When quarantine first hit and schools shut down, I lost opera gigs I had lined up and had to finish my master's degree in Opera Performance at home, all while working in a grocery store that was not prioritizing our safety. On top of all that, I lost my Father to the virus. I was so deeply sad and low and didn’t know how to shake it. I downloaded TikTok and made a video of something I thought was funny. I hoped that someone might get a laugh, learn something, or just be inspired. I just didn’t want anyone feeling the way I was feeling.” That TikTok encouraged Ehi to pursue content creation, and he is now hoping to do it full-time. One of his latest collaborations was with Amazon Prime Video for Hispanic Heritage Month, where he got to make TikToks for some of their shows. “I really loved working with them because I was able to represent my Afro-Latinidad in a comedy sketch on a bigger platform.”
#6 | Polly Irungu (@pollyirungu)
Polly is a Kenya-born, Kansas-raised multimedia journalist and the founder of Black Women Photographers, a global community and directory of Black women who are photographers. “My brand is a reflection of what I care about—Black women, creativity, digital, and tech. Whether I’m trying to help other creatives with their social media strategies, shine a light on Black women photographers, or freelancing as a writer, I create content to help support other creatives like me and just for the pure joy of creating.” Black Women Photographers has been a labor of love for Polly since she founded it in 2020. “I started by creating a GoFundMe for COVID-19 relief and began crowdsourcing on Twitter. From there, the brand grew. The directory started with 100 members, and now we have over 1000 across 45 countries.”
#7 | Solonje Burnett (@solonjeburnett)
Solonje is a first-generation Caribbean-American dedicated to elevating the marginalized global majority in the cannabis industry and beyond. As the co-founder and CEO of Humble Bloom, a cannabis immersive education and advocacy platform, she creates content to help people understand our connections to each other and the planet. “I’m trying to be the weed auntie you need. At the start of the pandemic, when our only window to the world was our devices, I shared content as a way to process the grief of no longer being in the physical community. I saw the opportunity to connect, inform and activate others. My social media usage became more purposeful than promotional, and even product-based posts were based on self or community care. Alone and craving connection, a few of my posts on unity, collective wellbeing, activism, and politics went viral.” Solonje has collaborated with several brands through her work, including the NCIA (National Cannabis Industry Association), Kit Undergarments, and AFROPUNK, where she developed content surrounding self-care and cannabis.
#8 | Steven Sharpe Jr. (@stevensharpejr)
Steven is an Afro-Latino, New Jersey-born content creator and mental health advocate living in Brooklyn, NY. He is also the founder of Nobius Creative Studios, a content and social media marketing studio. His path to content creation came to life via his background in visual merchandising. “Everything I built and styled told a story in some way. Now, I'm just translating that through video and photography.” Steven’s storytelling skills were noticed by Amazon, which later turned into a 5-month partnership. “I cried when I posted the first in-feed post. I had been working freelance for 2 years, still keeping my head above water financially, and that partnership was a sign that I was gonna be okay. It has been great ever since. It's also one of my highest-paid partnerships to date.”
#9 | Jaylynn Little (@jaylynn_little)
Jaylynn is a creator that aims to inspire by sharing her love for food, cocktails, and intimate entertaining ideas. “My creative style is inspired by film, music, and compelling visuals that inspire emotion and connection.” A New York native, she started in 2011 when she launched a magazine that provided a platform for artists in her hometown of Rochester. “My team and I wrote articles and profiled local talent, produced photoshoots, filmed campaigns, and hosted exclusive events that promoted the work and stories of artists. That was my intro to content creation, and I fell in love.” This moment prepared Jaylynn for a future of brand collaborations like her partnership with Neutrogena to launch their Rapid Wrinkle Repair® Retinol collection in 2021. “I was asked to create a signature cocktail that emulated their Rapid Wrinkle Repair serum's ingredients and color, then demonstrate how to make the cocktail in front of a live audience with Jennifer Garner as my co-host. It was thrilling, exciting, and affirmed that my authentic style and work is enough and that I belong in this space.”
#10 | Joel Nomdarkham (@corpeccentric)
Joel is a creative marketer known for bridging corporate marketing and personal brand building. He is also recognized for his eccentric approach to marketing. “I'm on both sides as a creator and a corporate guy, so my content spans lifestyle, business, and social impact. Corporate can appear stiff and boring, but when you unmask the bureaucracy, there's a lot to tap into.” As one of Jamaica's youngest Heads of Marketing, he brings over six years of experience to the industry. “My favorite project so far is a social impact campaign under my online movement called 'Black Kings Rising.' We are a collective of Black Jamaican men who use our creative skills to tell stories around men's issues with mental health, education, and more.”
#11 | Reni (@xoreni)
Reni is a Nigerian-Canadian creator creating content around finance, career, and lifestyle to make these oftentimes complex topics simple and accessible to her audience. “I became a content creator because I was always very interested in financial literacy and career development content—it was the content I consumed the most. However, when I searched for this content, all of the creators were American, white men whose lived experiences were nothing like mine. As a young, Canadian, Black woman, I knew there must be others like me who wanted to see themselves represented in this space, so I decided to be the change I wanted.” Reni was able to bring this vision to life through her work with Amplifia Network, a platform dedicated to supporting Black media creators in Canada. “I created videos for them on YouTube and Instagram and also spoke at one of their events. Our partnership was in perfect alignment with my beliefs and values. Working with Black-owned businesses is always a joy.”
#12 | Addie (@oldworldnew)
Addie is the creator behind Old World New, a platform where she shares the nuances of living sustainably in today's society. “I want people to feel comfortable making changes to live more sustainably no matter where they are in life, especially Black women, like me, who come from a lower-income upbringing. We hail from elders and ancestors who had to be sustainable to survive. We need those habits now more than ever amid this climate crisis as well.” Addie is making her presence known in the sustainability space by collaborating with other Black women. “Aaronica Bell Cole (@aaronicabellcole), Tyler Chanel (@thriftsandtangles), and I sometimes have Sustainably Speaking chats on Instagram Live, and I truly enjoy those conversations. We can be our full, happy, Black, creative, Earth-loving selves and share that with whoever else wants to join in with us.”
#13 | Shannae Ingleton Smith (@torontoshay)
Shannae is a content creator and the Head of Influencer Talent at Kensington Grey Agency Inc., an influencer management agency that connects Black creators with best-in-class brands and fosters their growth and success. “I became a content creator because I wanted to take control of my future and inspire other women to be the best that they can be.” One of her favorite collaborations? A partnership with Uber. “They sent me to San Francisco for Afrotech—it was an eye-opening experience about the possibilities for Black Entrepreneurs in Tech. I started my influencer marketing agency focused on Black creators a few months after that visit.”
#14 | Julie D. Harbour (@stylishparadox)
Julie is a content creator proving that you can be fashionable at any age. At 57 years old, she has been building her brand, Stylish Paradox, and doing so with style. “Style and fashion have always been a love for me. Even at a very early age, I loved dressing paper dolls. My parents, a pastor, and an educator, were also very stylish individuals. After my daughter graduated from college, I knew it was time to focus on being a stylist and influencer.” Recently, Julie was asked to be a part of a project led by a very well-known African-American author. “It consisted of other inspiring Black creators and celebrities over 50. Being reached out to and included warmed my heart.”
More Black Creators to watch
While I had the pleasure of interviewing the 14 creators listed above, there are many more that are making an impact in their spaces. Here are eleven additional Black creators to keep an eye on in 2022 and beyond:
#15 | Kudzi Chikumbu (@sircandleman)
#16 | Leoni Joyce (@leonijoyce)
#17 | Jonathan Bynoe (@jonathanrbynoe)
#18 | Imani Barbarin (@crutches_and_spice)
#19 | Justin Bernardez (@justinbernardez)
#20 | Julie Mango (@iamjuliemango
#21 | Chinny Ogunro (@chinnyco)
#22 | Jenelle B Stewart (@jenellbstewart)
#23 | Ada Rojas (@allthingdada)
#24 | Trina Nicole (@itstrinanicole)
#25 | Kahlil Greene (@kahlil.greene)
Brands and marketers, listen up.
Never underestimate the power of word of mouth. For the people hiring creators, this can be a warning or a gentle reminder. Creators talk and as the creator economy grows, we are having discussions about what it’s like to work with brands. The creator-brand relationship works like any other. Creators want to be seen and appreciated and how you engage creators from start to finish can really set the tone for your future partnerships with other creators. In my interviews with the creators, I asked them to share their advice for brands that want to find and foster better relationships with Black creators. Here are some key takeaways:
Note: This is the part where you take screenshots and share them with the decision-makers on your team.
When you want to hire Black creators…
“Start with seeing Black creators as people and not just Black creators. Don’t just call us when Black History Month comes around. See and respect our value all 365 days of the year—every year. Black creators make the world go round, both online and offline.” — Kara
“I think brands need to focus on relationships over one-off partnerships. They build relationships with black creators by intentionally seeking us out on our social accounts, reading our websites, requesting a call to start a conversation, genuinely engaging with us on and off social media, and paying us what we're worth. It bothers me when a brand reaches out in February asking for a Black History Month partnership, and they don't even know the black person they're speaking to. Some partnerships require relationships.” — Jaylynn
How to work with Black creators…
“In regards to better partnerships, I've found that the best partnerships are the ones that communicate effectively, are flexible with rates and deliverables, and have a reasonable timeline to create.” — Steven
“I think a lot of the mishaps that happen on the brand end happen because of a lack of understanding of Black culture. I'm sure the same can be said for other minority creators. What can and should be done on the brand side is ensuring your internal teams are diverse, not only in gender, race, etc. but also in thought.” — Dante
When you’re having trouble finding Black creators…
“Brands can find Black creators by increasing the diversity on their teams. When you have Black staff, they are likely tapped into Black culture and, therefore, know Black creators. It is that easy!” — Reni
“If you’re having trouble finding a Black creator, don’t give up. You can ask the non-Black creators you plan on working with if they recommend anyone. Searching hashtags that start with #black (e.g., #blackfashion, #blackcreatives) could also connect you with new creators.” — Nzinga
Black creativity is out there, and it’s not going anywhere. Whether you’re looking for creators in the U.S. or throughout the African diaspora, there’s always a time to tap in. Beyond Black History Month, beyond Juneteenth, and moments of social injustice, Black voices are unique and powerful enough to be heard all year round. In the words of Melissa Kimble, “this world doesn't move without Black creativity.” Get into it.