Cover Muse: Carmen Jones, Building A Global Social Club for Black Women

Photographer: Kaila Garder MUA: Terri Watson Hair: Krystia Stokes

There are some people you meet and you instantly know they have a special mission in life. Their energy is warm and inviting. Every time you cross paths you recognize that spark. You might not be able to pinpoint what it is, but you leave with this feeling. Carmen has always been consistent and genuine in character and her work whether she was writing a blog post or hosting a big event. When deciding to launch Melanin Muse, we created a list of Black women in our circle who were making an impact in their community. It didn’t take long for us to select Carmen as our Cover Muse.

“I always feel most at peace surrounded by Black women.”

What was it like to work with an all-Black and an all-women production team for the cover muse shoot? Paint a picture for us.

It was PHENOMENAL. I always feel most at peace surrounded by Black women. The energy is just different when you’re working with sisters and especially those with good energy. On set, I felt cared for, I felt seen, I felt like everyone wanted the best for me, and in turn, I wanted to do my best. It’s empowering to see women behind the camera, producing, directing, and being creative directors. What a force we are when we come together. I’m eternally thankful for the experience. 

Photographer: Kaila Garder MUA: Terri Watson Hair: Krystia Stokes

My father was very pro-Black. My mother is very pro-woman, and I feel like they instilled those values in me. So I kind of merged the two. I’m very pro-Black-woman!

Who is Carmen Jones? Give us a little history—paint a picture of your life in Richmond, VA, as a young girl leading up to your college days. 

Oh, boy, Carmen Jones has always been someone who was curious, just wanting to meet people, try new things, and experience new things. Essentially my childhood consisted of trying new things. I always wanted to be an actress, which never came to fruition. I feel God has used me in a different way. So I’m thankful for that. I grew up in a household where my parents made me believe that I could do anything. My father was very pro-Black. My mother is very pro-woman, and I feel like they instilled those values in me. I kind of merged the two. I’m very pro-Black-woman! Essentially, many of the things that I wanted to do in life were geared toward Black women and Black girls and just really working in the community. I definitely grew up in a household where self-love was a thing. My parents gave back to the community and were always building the community around me. I’m thankful for those lessons that helped shape the adult I am now.

Why did you choose HU (Howard University) for college?

Oh, my goodness! Why did I choose HU? Because it’s the number one HBCU ever! I think growing up, I was really very much into pop culture. I would see a lot of representation in the shows that I watched, like Martin and the Cosby Show, and the actors would have on a Howard University sweatshirts. When I was doing my research, I said, you know what, I want to go where all of the Black greats are going because I’m going to be great, too. So I’m going to go to Howard University. I had the time of my life. I met so many amazing people and lifelong friends, and I don’t think I would be the person I am today without Howard University.

Photographer: Kaila Garder MUA: Terri Watson Hair: Krystia Stokes

You are Black Girl Magic! Since we’ve known you over the past few years, you’ve worked in TV & film, owned a blog, Almost 30 Something, published a book titled, Adulting: This Sh*t is Hard!, freelanced for various brands, produced and co-hosted your own talk show, and now you’ve built a community of thousands of Black women. On top of all of this, you’ve held down your 9-to-5!  Tell us about your journey in media and entertainment. 

It’s a long story so I will try to keep it short. I got to Atlanta about seven years ago after losing my job in D.C. I was a teacher at the time. And I said, well, I want to go to Atlanta because that’s where all (like you said) the Black magic is happening. Everyone is doing their thing in Atlanta, so that’s where I want to be. I packed everything in my car that would fit in my little Nissan Altima and left everything else back in D.C. I didn’t have a place to live. When I got here, I didn’t really know anybody. I was sleeping on couches, kind of couch surfing. I remember staying in one place and I didn’t even have hot water. I was boiling water on the stove and stuff like that, so I began to nanny for about $8 an hour. That didn’t work out. I finally got what I consider my big break. I did PR for Dr. Heavenly of Bravo’s Married to Medicine. That opened many doors for me and I met so many amazing people.

I want to acknowledge Saptosa Foster, who does PR on a major scale. She works with Oprah and the like. She invited me to different events here in Atlanta. Black women have really just helped me along the way and given me opportunity after opportunity when I needed it. During this time, I started to blog and build my brand. I was on red carpets and meeting new people. I found that a lot of people, mostly Black women,  started following my story. They wanted to know where I was going, what I was doing, and how I was doing it. That’s essentially how The Black Girl Social Club came along because I realized that I needed a community as well. I was here alone and I wanted to meet other like-minded women. 

I want us to get to a point where we’re depending on each other in a way that we did generations ago. I feel like Black people are communal people, and I want us to get back to that space where we trust one another and be more transparent with one another. And, we can build generation after generation, together, as one.

What is The Black Girl Social Club?

The Black Girl Social Club is an organization that I founded one year ago in Atlanta, in my living room, with about 12 women. The purpose of BGSC was to create a space for Black women that would be was a safe space where we could enjoy one another, where we could let our hair down. I know there has been a narrative that Black women are going to save the world and that we’re going to do the work, which we typically do. But I wanted Black women to rest, ok? We needed a space where we could just have fun, not an organization geared towards a particular industry or geared towards politics.  And though we do those things, I wanted us to have a space where we could just laugh, drink champagne, maybe do yoga, talk about our favorite shows, and things like that. Essentially, that’s what The Black Girl Social Club is.

We still do a lot of work in a community. Over the holidays, we gave back to different families, all around the world. We started here in Atlanta but now we’re literally all over the world. We have chapters in almost every major city in the United States. We’re in Hong Kong, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, and the Bahamas. We’re touching all of those points where Black women are. We have over 2000 members now. I’m really excited about that because the energy that has been around this club has just blown my mind. I never in a million years thought that we would be in this place, but I’m really excited about it.

It is important to mention that The Black Girl Social Club is all about community, and I want us to get to a point where we’re depending on each other in a way that we did generations ago. I feel like Black people are communal people, and I want us to get back to that space where we trust one another and be more transparent with one another. And, we can build generation after generation, together, as one.

What do you think contributed to your growth on social media and membership in The Black Girl Social Club?

The Black Girl Social Club just fills a void. Black women are looking for a space where we can be ourselves. We are a very inclusive organization, meaning that you don’t have to have graduated from college. You don’t have to be in a particular industry to join. You don’t have to be voted in, which is typically required by organizations like this, but you don’t have to go through those prerequisites with us. It’s open to Black women of all ages, all backgrounds, all lifestyles. You’re welcome with us. So I think that’s essentially what makes us stand out. Right now we’re in a very unique space in terms of our culture and the things that are going on in the world. 

I think there are many factors that contributed to our rapid growth, but one of the main factors is most definitely the current political climate. Over the years, there has been a real shift in the zeitgeist. With all of the blatant injustices happening on film, right in front of our faces, with people becoming more aware and connected to their communities, Black people are looking for places to connect with one another. This is especially true for Black women who have for so long been on the front lines of social justice movements and organizing in their communities.

I really wanted to focus on bringing back the art of face-to-face communication, bringing back that one-on-one time in an era of social media. We are so far removed from each other. We have this individualistic spirit that I wanted to kind of get rid of with our organization. The ladies who are part of our organization understand that we value community, we value integrity, we value dignity, and just overall pride within the Black community. That’s what we’re about and it is catching on like wildfire.

How is BGSC involved in the community and what type of events are the women engaging in?

We do it all, everything from brunch to yoga sessions to guided meditation. We definitely love giving back to the community. We’ve donated to several food banks and donated our time to kind of help sort food out. All across the country, several of our chapters have adopted families. So that has been an amazing experience. We partnered with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, which is a non-partisan organization that helps people get out the vote, which we were really proud of. We helped get lots and lots of people registered to vote and we’re looking forward to doing more in the future.

Photographer: Kaila Garder MUA: Terri Watson Hair: Krystia Stokes

I tell people all the time that 2020 has been the best year of my life and the worst year of my life at the same time.

How has the pandemic affected your family, friends, and your business?

Well, for me, I think one of the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur is just having persistence, passion, and drive. And so when 2020 came along, I decided it wasn’t going to take me out! I did what I had to do to kind of keep the ship sailing and keep it moving. And just essentially trying to figure things out. Like almost everyone else,  2020 has been a very different year, a very challenging year. But it has taught me a lot. I tell people all the time that 2020 has been the best year of my life and the worst year of my life at the same time. So I’m thankful for everything. How it affected my family, you know, my family is doing pretty well. For the most part, this year was a tough year for me. I lost my father. This year, just a few months ago, actually. And so having this wonderful organization come to fruition. And then having a life-changing moment like that happens. Someone who has been my protector, the person I call to ask for business advice, the person that called to ask for guidance is no longer here with me. And so that was very challenging. 

In terms of the business, I’m so thankful that the people that are still with us are still here. We’ve been doing virtual events. The ladies really, really love the club and they enjoy the sisterhood that it brings. I think for a lot of our members, it provided a level of comfort during this time. Just having that space, having those sisters that they can talk to about what it is that they were going through it, back.

What advice do you have for other Black women that are on this journey of navigating entrepreneurship?

My advice would be to take every day as a learning experience. Every day is a building block so you should always be looking to learn new things. Most importantly, get rid of the imposter syndrome. That is something that I really had to battle with, especially as a Black woman. Sometimes we can walk into different spaces and feel like we don’t belong there or we shouldn’t have a seat at the table. I want to say to Black women especially, you do belong there. And a lot of the time you’re smarter than most of the people in the room anyway. So use the talents that you have to look for guidance from people who you admire, maybe get a mentor, things like that. You can’t do it alone. And so always be looking to build your team and to build every day.

The Black Girl Social Club, I feel,  is just a divine experience and is something that was supposed to happen.

We like to keep it real for our readers. Share a behind-the-scenes story. 

When The Black Girl Social Club started, I had no idea people were actually going to take me seriously. That’s the first thing. I had no idea that people were actually going to sign up to be a part of a club that I created. I am still working a 9 to 5 and I was working a 9 to 5 at that time too, working on my master’s degree, studying to get my real estate license, and things like that. So I was very, very busy. The membership started rolling in very, very quickly. And it was just me. I had no idea about operations. I had no administrative support, none of that. I didn’t have my business stuff in a row. I just had the creative aspect because that’s all I really cared about. It was me on my Dell computer that was very, very old. Every time somebody signed up for a membership, I would enter their name on an Excel spreadsheet, enter their information into Mailchimp, send them a welcome email, and sign them up for their particular chapter. I was doing all of this for months on my own, so I was literally sitting at my computer all day. I couldn’t tell anybody what I was doing because I didn’t think anybody would understand or be able to help me figure out what I needed to get figured out. People had the impression that our organization had been around for a long time. They didn’t know that this was our first year, so they expected us to be so point, but we weren’t. 

This continued for months until my best friend said to me, you’re working a lot. What exactly are you doing and what do you need help with? Luckily, she’s an engineer and so she came on board. She’s actually now the COO of The Black Girl Social Club. She helps us with all things operations. She’s made it a seamless process for me. So that when members sign up, something happens automatically. I don’t have to do that manual work. And that’s why I said that The Black Girl Social Club, I feel,  is just a divine experience and is something that was supposed to happen. The way that it’s happening, just the fact that my best friend is someone who is now the COO of an organization that is built on Black sisterhood is just the icing on the cake. Things are running a lot smoother now. We still have a ways to go, but with entrepreneurship and running an organization, there’s going to be something new every day. There will be things that you can’t even prepare for. The message that I just want to leave is: it’s not easy, but it can be done. There will be challenges, but that is not a justification to give up. Instead, you pivot and figure things out.

Photographer: Kaila Garder MUA: Terri Watson Hair: Krystia Stokes

We are not in competition, we believe in sisterhood, and we believe that working together makes things better.

You’ve mentioned feeling proud about your best friend taking on the role of COO for The Black Girl Social Club. Has the work changed how you two interact day to day?

I am very proud of this because I think it really just speaks to who we are and makes it even more apparent that our mission with BGSC is a genuine one. We are not in competition, we believe in sisterhood, and we believe that working together makes things better. When I founded BGSC, she didn’t really know what I was doing. Then finally one day, she said, “Girl, you are working non-stop. How can I help?” The rest is history. It’s just divine intervention that she has the EXACT skill set needed to fulfill this role. To be honest, it has changed how we interact. We talk a lot more about work. But it is forcing both of us to grow professionally, emotionally, and within our friendship. I’d say it’s strengthened our bond more than anything. Our friendship is important to us, and we make a very conscious effort to not let work compromise what we had before BGSC existed. 

Tell us more about the behind-the-scenes work involved in keeping BGSC growing. 

Where do I even begin? My team and I often talk about the fact that people have no idea how much hard work it takes to keep an organization of this size running. Not even our members, to be honest. My team works around the clock. There is ALWAYS something to be done. From programming to tech issues to writing and implementing new policies, handling partnerships, team meetings, conflict resolution, responding to general inquiries-our inbox, which is ALWAYS full, meeting with lawyers, developing and maintaining our website and member portal—it never ends. I often encourage my team to step away and take time for themselves. It is very easy to get sucked into the work because there is always something new to do or consider. We love the organization so much that we just keep pushing forward. I do think it is important for people to understand that there is a LOT of work that goes on behind the scenes. I think it creates a certain level of appreciation for what BGSC is and where we are just one year after being founded. 

How are you currently balancing your work, entrepreneurship, and life in general right now? 

I can say that given the circumstances, I am doing a great job with this. I’m learning to give myself grace. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been extremely difficult. Every minute of my day is accounted for. If I’m scrolling on Instagram, I planned it. So the way I manage is by literally planning every single thing I do. My calendar has everything from meetings to an alert for picking up my dry cleaning. I can’t say it’s the best way to live, but that’s just where I am right now. I’m OK with it because I understand that this is just one season in my life. I’m prepared to do what it takes for however long I need to. 

It sounds like you’ve gained a lot of business experience over the last year. What is something you wish you knew before you started BGSC that you know now?

I wish I knew more about what would be needed to run an organization of this magnitude. There are certain things that creatives never really think about. But honestly, I’m one of those people who play my role and know my limitations. For example, streamlining operations is our COO’s lane, so bringing her on just helped to fill that void. I’d say if anything, I learned just how important it is to surround yourself with the right people and develop the right team. If you’ve made the right choices, those people will help reveal and fill in for the things you don’t know. You don’t have to know everything to start, you just have to know what you don’t know. 

When did you know it was time to expand your team? And, how many employees do you currently have?

I knew it was time to expand my team when I could no longer do all the work required. It was getting to be too much, and as SOON as I could afford to pay more people, I did. If I hadn’t expanded when I did, there would be no BGSC today- it most certainly would have crumbled. The demand was too high for me to manage on my own. People were getting upset because they weren’t getting responses fast enough, and it was really frustrating for me and our members. I was still working a 9-5, and going to school while trying to manage hundreds of people. It just wasn’t feasible, and I knew I had to get help ASAP. I wasn’t willing to put everything on the line, so I knew I had to act quickly and carefully. We currently have a total of 4 employees, not including myself and the COO. 

Photographer: Kaila Garder MUA: Terri Watson Hair: Krystia Stokes

What mentors, coaches, or programs have helped you in this journey?

To be honest, I can’t say I’ve had any real mentors or coaches. In general, my father was my coach and mentor for literally everything. Everything I’ve done up until this point, I’ve leaned on him for advice and guidance. He was a beacon of light and a wealth of knowledge for me. There have been a number of other people who have helped push me in this direction, in one way or another unknowingly. From Martine Blake, my boss when I was in college, to Saptosa Foster, a well-known Public Relations professional here in Atlanta. Everyone plays a role in your life for better or for worse—it’s up to you to put the pieces together.

What is your vision for BGSC 5 years from now?

I get this question a lot, and I think people expect an elaborate response. But the truth is, my vision for BGSC in the next 5 years is quite simple. I want to see growth, more engagement, mutually beneficial partnerships, conferences, and continued relationship-building among the women we serve. I want to do everything we’re doing now, just on a larger and more efficient scale. BGSC is only one year old, which is incredibly young when it comes to organizations. In 5 years, I think we’ll be in our sweet spot, for sure, but I’m excited to see us evolve organically. 

If we learned anything from 2020, we’ve learned to be intentional about our mental and physical health. In a time when many people were left alone during the pandemic, your members had a community to lean on. How has this community also helped you with your own personal health and well-being?

It has been such a blessing for me, especially during this time. With the isolation, the stress of navigating a pandemic, and the sudden death of my father, BGSC truly gives me something to look forward to on a daily basis. It provides that “thing” that I believe so many people around the world were and are still looking for. I am proud to say that BGSC has helped so many women get through such a difficult time, including myself. We’ve provided an outlet, a safe space, and helped to establish relationships that will last a lifetime, even after COVID is no more. 

What’s your personal self-care routine?

I am a HUGE believer in self-care. I work hard and play hard. The way I see it, I deserve rest, relaxation, and luxury. And for me, luxury doesn’t necessarily mean high-end items or fancy clothes. I’m talking about seaweed baths, massages, facials, and a new hairstyle. A staycation. A nice meal and a glass of wine alone at my favorite restaurant. I do all of these things once a month. It’s so important to take time out to love yourself, because if not, what’s it all for anyway?

“Everyone is not always going to agree with you or think what you’re doing is the best way to do it. You have to use your intuition. You have to believe in your vision, and you have to keep pushing forward.”

Anything else you would like to share?

When I started The Black Girl Social Club, there were a lot of people that couldn’t understand the vision, you know, couldn’t understand what I was doing, didn’t like or agree with certain things. Everyone is not always going to agree with you or think what you’re doing is the best way to do it. You have to use your intuition. You have to believe in your vision, and you have to keep pushing forward. One thing that I really want to make clear is that when you are in a leadership role,  not everyone is going to agree with you. You’re not always going to be liked, so if your goal is to go into a leadership position, to be liked by everyone, you’re in the wrong profession. So just make sure that you’re staying true to yourself at all times, being a genuine person, and you will definitely continue to thrive.

How does it feel to be selected as our cover muse? And, what impact do you want your story to have on a young girl today?

Being selected as a Melanin Muse has been very humbling for me. Seven years ago, I would have never predicted that I would be here telling my story to someone or being an inspiration to someone. So I’m just thankful that what I’m doing resonates with other people and that I’m able to make an impact. 

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melanin muse

We’ve created safe spaces for Black women to gather, inspire, work, celebrate, and educate one another. We believe in the genius and magic in every Black woman! Our vision is a world where all Black women are safe, free, and own their narratives.