If you ask any average Black person who’s been on the Internet this month, they’ll tell you, in probably not-so-nice and extremely colorful words, that this year’s Black History Month has been lackluster at best. This includes narrowly avoiding yet another government shutdown, that disrespectful “Motown” tribute that took place at the Grammys, the first week of Black History Month where everyone and their mama in the Virginia legislature were exposed for wearing Blackface, and The Green Book taking home the Oscar for Best Picture.
In short, it would seem that as soon as February 1st rolled around, the powers that be collectively decided to troll us and the entire month for shiggles.
Lucky for us, however, Instagram decided to attempt to salvage what was left of the month by kicking off an event they titled #ShareBlackStories. According to their initial announcement, the goal was not only to refocus the turbulent month on Black people and the Black community at-large, but the social media giant also wanted to provide a space—via said hashtag—for people to not only be able to share their wonderfully vibrant pictures but also to “express themselves and share their diverse, unique perspectives every day”.
And to signal and cement their commitment to this grand undertaking known as #ShareBlackStories, Instagram hosted an event in downtown Los Angeles on February 19th, which ESSENCE was honored to attend. The event itself was a sight to behold, as many of your favorite Black influencers and Black creatives were in attendance and all smiles. But the highest point of the night, in particular, was the viewing of short films produced by Dougie Cash (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before), Marsha L. Swinton (Beautiful Boy), and Clarence Hammond (Life in a Year). Hammond and Cash, in particular, have had the backing of star and veteran actor Will Smith and his production company Overbrook Entertainment.
The short films featured pretty interesting subject matter as well. One of the films featured Mike Holston, who is better known as The Real Tarzann (@TheRealTarzann). The film, also coming from the Overbrook Entertainment team, spotlighted the 25-year-old animal specialist and educator and how he is currently living out his dream. Holston added that he had to drop out of school to do this, much to the concern of his mother, but was also bolstered by her encouragement, as she had noticed that Holston was into animals from a very, very young age.
Drawing comparisons to the late and great Australian conservationist and zookeeper Steve Irwin, what makes Holston someone to watch is the fact that he is not only aiming to dispel certain myths about “dangerous” animals (think Pitbulls) and how to keep them alive, but he also is cognizant of the fact that he is one of very few—if it all—Black people who are in the animal conservation field and he takes that very seriously.
Another film spotlighted Brehanna Daniels, who just so happens to be the first Black woman to be hired as a part of a pit crew in a NASCAR series race. A graduate of Norfolk State University, Daniels had been a lifelong athlete first before finding her way to NASCAR. Soon after, however, she joined the organizations’ Drive for Diversity program and like many “diversity” programs in this country, she was able to discover that she “did not see a lot of people in the [league] who looked like her”. It is her hope that as she continues to gain prominence and her visibility in the league increases, it will inspire others to join the league as well.
That’s not all Instagram had up their sleeves for the event or the hashtag as well. A panel took place after the panel premiered and featured voices and creatives like Cash and Daniels, as well as Chrystina Woody Train, Lala Milan, and Mike Holston explored the aforementioned film and what it’s like to be a young Black person in 2019—be it on the internet or in real life.
The most fascinating part is that for those of us who weren’t able to attend the event in person, Instagram continued to load its #ShareBlackStories tag with hundreds and thousands of stories from remarkable Black creators like Paola “Pao Pao” Mathé, Uzumaki Cepeda, and Tawny Chatmon.
And as of right now, you can still access the social media platform to find all of these wonderful stories and content, as well as access new creative tools, filters, and camera effects to celebrate the occasion.
For more on the month-long event (and let’s be real, here’s to hoping it continues past February since this month is so short anyway), you can follow #ShareBlackStories on Instagram.