Our Founder/CEO, Melinda Weekes-Laidlow, frames the origins of Beautiful Ventures as tied to her upbringing in the 1970s/80s, growing up in the Wakefield-Williamsbridge section of The Bronx, New York:
“My parents and community instilled a deep regard for the culture, the genius and the liberation struggles of Black folk in the U.S. and across the African Diaspora. These sensibilities anchor me, and they are the animating pulse behind Beautiful Ventures.”
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.
Three years later— with thanks to the individuals, networks, and partnering institutions who continue to contribute to its evolution —Beautiful Ventures launched in 2019 on Juneteenth, a holiday long celebrated by Black Americans commemorating the power of deep hope and urgent organizing in times of uncertainty. Beautiful Ventures is now poised to cultivate the ecosystem for the next Harlem Renaissance. We are set to center writers and other story-makers in their re-casting of a new narrative of Black humanity. Our model centers them and supports them in creating, developing and disseminating stories — content production companies, immersive tech companies, feature films, publishing houses, creative social enterprises and other story-driven concerns that will create a tipping point for perceptions of Black people that are humanizing, humane and just.
As African-Americans plays a singular role in driving U.S. popular culture, and the U.S. plays a singular role in driving popular culture internationally, we intentionally build and leverage our privilege to lift all people of African Diaspora, and the human consciousness globally.
Launching this work in 2019 also commemorates the 400 years since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the United States. Through Beautiful Ventures, our intentional, global community stands upon the resilience, courage and ineffable humanity of everyday Black people wherever and whoever they may be. We pay homage to our Ancestors and especially those victimized by the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and scattered across North America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Remixing their strategies and sensibilities into current times and for generations to come, this effort is rooted in the sacred significance of the Griots — the storytellers —who have always used their powers to speak forth the humanity and the divinity of Africana peoples across all times, geographies, and spaces.
In their voices, and echoing the great Langston Hughes, our message is simply: “Beautiful, also, are the souls of [our] people.”