“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” – Malcolm X
In other words, being a black woman in America is not easy. The odds are stacked up against you, from being over sexualized to being seen as aggressive and incompetent. Yet, black women are taking control of their own narrative through business, social media and more. Meet Nadirah Simmons, journalist, social media superstar and founder of The Gumbo. Learn how Nadirah is paving the way for black women in hip hop journalism and media.
Q: What’s the story behind the name The Gumbo? Out of all the names, why The Gumbo?
A: I initially had no idea about the name and it kind of just came to me one night in a dream. I wanted to think of something that would accurately describe all of the different things we were going to do. So, what’s something that represents having a lot of flavor, having a lot of different tastes, having a lot of different textures, having a lot of different ingredients? I was like, “Oh let’s call it The Gumbo.” We’re not just going to be this site where all we do is have these articles, throw events, or run an Instagram account. There’s so many different components and pieces to it and that name just fits.
Q: How do you balance a full-time social media job at The Late Show, while also running The Gumbo? Do you ever feel burnt out? If so, how do you deal with it?
A: I definitely feel burnt out. The good thing about working in television is we have hiatuses that give us extended breaks not just to rest, but to really work on outside things. As far as The Late show, I’m there every day for about 10-11 hours sometimes, depending on what projects we’re working on. Then I’ll come home at night and I’ll have stuff to do for The Gumbo. It’s really about balance, prioritizing, getting ahead and utilizing your time. I make sure I schedule as much as I can ahead of time, I’ll allot time and tell myself, “Go sit down. Go sit in the living room. Put your phone away and knock this out so you can go to sleep at a decent time.” I also prioritize my rest! Get some sleep! It’s all a balancing act.
Q: I am sure being a woman and running your own business comes with its challenges, what do you think is the most challenging part about being a woman and running your own publication? Are you sometimes surrounded by people who underestimate you?
A: 100%! I don’t intentionally surround myself with people who don’t support black women. That’s just the way that I’ve been raised. If I get even the slightest inkling from anybody, even if they’re just an acquaintance, that does not support a black woman in any of her endeavors I try to stay very, very far away. The most challenging part is getting money. I’ve been applying, trying to get grants and money to fund this and it’s definitely been a lot harder to get people to put money behind something like this. It could be because I am Black and a woman. I don’t like to separate my identity in everything I do because I am both. It could be, people see me and they’re like, “oh most of her writers are Black or Latina women and we don’t want people to feel excluded. There’s a lot of things, but getting funding has definitely been the hardest.I am Black and a woman. I don’t separate my identity. Click To Tweet
Q: Since founding The Gumbo have you ever had a “wow” moment?
A: Dropping merchandise. I was very apprehensive about doing merchandise, initially. I thought : “I don’t know if I want to do this,” “this is very scary,” “am I going to do well?” You also got to make sure you create something that people like. I remember the first drop I did of an actual clothing item had sold out! For me that was a big “wow” moment because it showed me that people aren’t just invested in following and acknowledgement from a celebrity. When people monetarily show their support for something so much for it to be sold out, it’s definitely a “wow” moment.
Q: What motivates you and inspires you every day?
A: My family. I am very fortunate to have such a cool family. They’re very supportive. I’ll call my mom and dad whenever I have a problem it could be the smallest thing or the biggest thing. To have people like that around me, that let me know and affirm if I’m feeling sad about something or if I’m not sure if this will work in this way, or even calling my dad and telling him, “I want to do this shirt but I don’t think people will like it” and hearing him say, “Maybe try this, go this way, invest in this, maybe look at this.” is so encouraging. Those are really the people that inspire me, because I know the people that made me are in my corner rooting for me to win and I’m fortunate enough to know that I have that.
Q: What is the best or the most rewarding thing about what you do?
A: The most rewarding thing is easily being able to pay a writer. I do work at The Late Show now, but I’ve done freelance writing in the past and I never got paid for it, even from big publications. I feel like there are so many amazing women who can write extremely well and who have amazing perspectives and amazing takes on Hip Hop and Black women in music and they’re not getting paid for it.
One of the girls that wrote for me just a few weeks ago emailed me after her piece went up and told me it was the first time she’s ever been paid to write something. I instantly started tearing up. That means a lot to me because it’s more than saying, “I’m going to showcase your work and this will help you get out there.” People have to eat.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to give to black women who are interested in starting their own business or pursuing a career in the creative field?
1. Save up the money! I had this idea in my head for years before I actually launched at the end of September in 2018. It’s so unfortunate but it’s also the reality of the world we live in. You really can’t do much without money.
2. Passion. The world we live in now, especially with social media, it seems like everyone’s an influencer, everyone’s doing something and everyone has something. Make sure to really create something that you love and don’t create just for the sake of creating. Don’t rush! Be patient. Focus on yourself and your plan.
3. Network! Network! Network! I cannot stress this enough. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of internships in television and entertainment before I ended up at The Late Show but one of the main reasons why I ended up there was because, someone at The Daily Show put in a good word for me. Make sure you’re memorable, speak up and stand out.
4. Don’t ever be afraid of the word ‘no.’ I think as creatives, especially when you’re freelancing, the word ‘no’ will knock on your door so many times. If I l would have gotten upset at a ‘no,’ I probably wouldn’t be where I am. I’m going to tell you this, I applied for the PA position at The Late Show and didn’t get it, then I got an apprentice position three weeks later and ended up being an Associate Producer of Social Media. Don’t be afraid of the word ‘no,’ it’s only setting you up for a ‘yes.' Click To Tweet
Q: At The Urban Play, we are focused on redefining what it means to be urban. What does “urban” mean to you?
A: Community. I think that’s really what it is. When people talk about urban clothing, urban music or urban TV shows, I think it boils down to creating a community of people who are just bonded by the same thing. Obviously urban is Black, but I think at the core it’s about fellowship, community and a special connection amongst a group of people.