After practicing law for nearly a decade, Melinda shifted her work towards supporting the leadership development and collaborative capacity of social change agents across the U.S.— cultural organizers, environmentalists, parent advocates and many more. She taught The Iceberg model— an analogy that conveys the concept that just as nine-tenths of an iceberg’s mass is beneath the water time, much of what is going on in our world is hidden from view. The social movements that emerged during the early part of the 21st century — #ArabSpring, #OccupyWallStreet, and #BlackLivesMatter to name a few —were exemplar of that idea: these were systemic interventions that broke through the noise of everyday life to interrogate deeply embedded and oppressive social inequities - using decentralized social networks and new technologies to do so.
As Melinda was urging change agents to take their strategizing to deeper levels, she was soon provoked to follow her own advice. Still riveted by the utter disregard for Black lives exposed during Hurricane Katrina, and inspired by the unapologetic boldness of #BlackLivesMatter and the Movement for Black Lives generally, Melinda felt compelled to focus more on issues directly affecting Black communities, and on the under-examined problem of anti-blackness in particular.
She reasoned that if, as systems thinking with a racial equity lens suggests, mental models, myths and narratives are the unseen factors driving actions, institutions, practices, and policies currently resulting in racial harm, they could also be deployed to fuel liberation. Moreover, the central role that art and artists have played in the freedom struggles of Africana peoples across histories and geographies was proof positive.
In particular, the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s/30’s became Melinda’s muse . It was a time in history where Black artists collectively shifted communal and mainstream understandings of Black humanity and identity. Even as Melinda looked to both theory and history to inform her thinking, the admonition of futurist Buckminster Fuller loomed large: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
On a sparkling Spring day in March 2016, Melinda’s consulting firm, Weekes In Enterprises along with top social impact fund Echoing Green, invited a group of 40 thought leaders to Harlem, New York for a one-of-a-kind gathering: A Social Venture Charette. There, Melinda shared her idea for Beautiful Ventures with 40 influencers spanning the fields of social enterprise, law, impact investing, media, racial justice, tech, philanthropy, and entertainment. They divided into small groups to generate feedback, rigorous thinking, and recommendations for how to develop the idea for Beautiful Ventures even more fully. The brainstorming was electric. A ripple effect was put in motion that day for a big, bold idea for change, and— equally as important —for the weaving together of a network of change-makers to make it manifest. Two persons present that day— Rodney Trapp was and Marvin Scott—later teamed up with Melinda contributing their expertise and talent to the evolution of the business model. Both now serve on the Beautiful Ventures’ Advisory Circle.