Summer 2020 was, to put it plainly, devastating. To chart the history of pain Black people have endured in this country would take us a lifetime, so I’ll start here: 164—that’s how many Black people were killed at the hands of policemen in the first eight months of 2020, according to a report CBS compiled using data from Mapping Police Violence and The Washington Post. We mourned multiple deaths simultaneously: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, not to mention racially-motivated incidents like Amy Cooper calling the cops on an innocent Black birdwatcher in Central Park or Patricia Ripley, who drowned her autistic 9-year-old son at a canal in Florida and falsely accused two Black men of kidnapping him.
Black people were filled with rage, frustration, anger, prompting many to express their emotions through various mediums, from memes to donation matching. Sharon Chuter of Uoma Beauty turned her camera on and hit record.
To be too loud, too opinionated, and too brazen in this world as a Black woman is to run the risk of being labeled the age-old “Angry Black Woman,” or worse, blackballed from an industry that has historically never served people who look like you. On June 3, 2020, Sharon Chuter assumed the latter would be her fate. She uploaded a video to her personal Instagram account without thought or a plan of action, just one mission: “Please join me in holding corporations accountable,” she wrote on the post. Following Floyd’s death, companies flooded social feeds with posts of solidarity and support for Black people. Brands with barely any photos of Black people on their page showed support just as much as brands with products that don’t serve darker complexions. But Chuter cut through the smoke and mirrors and saw these posts for what they were—performative.
“I fully expected to be completely blackballed by the industry. It is a very petty, extremely vindictive industry that does not like outsiders, let alone an outsider coming in to call them out?” she tells ELLE.com over the phone.
Chuter wasn't worried about the backlash but was more concerned with what brands would be willing to put actions behind their words, err black squares.
“I didn't give a shit about [repercussions]. The fact that I threw away a great career to gamble on something that I had more chances of failure than any chance of success shows you how far I'm prepared to go. And the question is, how much are you willing to trade to fight against me to do this?” she added.
Naturally, an opinionated Black woman with a platform didn’t go over easy for some folks who blamed Chuter for costing them their jobs. “At the start, I had a lot of people call me and go, ‘Look, this woman has to step down from her job because of what you've done.’ They tried to pile on the guilt. I let it get to me, but after two days, I was like, A white woman lost her job? She will find another job. Simple.”
Chuter launched an official IG account for Pull Up For Change, asking brands who have publicly shared support for Black people to reveal how many Black employees they currently have, especially in leadership roles, in the next 48 hours. The following days found brands singing the same tune. ”We take full accountability for not having enough Black team members,” said one beauty brand. Another didn’t divulge any data but did say that “The simple answer to your question, ‘how many Black employees do you have in your organization’ is: NOT ENOUGH.”
For Chuter, true liberation and equality look like economic liberation and equality. “Money started this problem in the first place,” she adds. Pull Up For Change’s initial mission of demanding transparency from companies remains a priority, but so is building a pipeline so young Black college students and Black founders have the resources and opportunities to earn top roles at companies and build wealth. “We can't talk about jobs and employment and not think about Black businesses. "We've been working with all of the top universities in this country to start building a pipeline. To make sure that we're connected to the best interns, the best graduates, and we've been placing them in organizations. We're working to find to help organizations convert their existing talent into top talent."
To that front, Chuter launched Make It Black, another subsidiary of Pull Up For Change, in February 2020. The campaign asked a slew of brands to redesign the packaging of their most popular products to the color black to remove the damaging connotations associated with the word. Maybelline, Briogeo, Colourpop, NYX Professional Makeup, Uoma Beauty, and more “pulled up” to the initiative and generated about $400,000 for the Pull Up For Change Impact Fund. The fund is designed to be dispersed through live pitching sessions where Black founders submit their pitches and the public decides who should be awarded. At this year’s Essence Festival—a multi-day celebration of Blackness—Pull Up For Change will be hosting a two-day pitch contest for founders and deploying up to $100,000 from the fund.
“People get to see the transparency and accountability, and we’ll continue to advocate for it. But we're also working to be part of the solution instead of just sitting back and saying, Hey, companies, fix it. We're jumping in because we want to hold you accountable, but we also want to help you and also help in any other way that we can to start addressing and creating solutions,” she explains. I end the convo with a straightforward question: What are your plans to keep your foot on these companies’ necks? Chuter’s response and more, below.
As you celebrate the first anniversary of Pull Up For Change, how has the initial mission evolved?
The mission was retrospective because, at first, all I wanted to do was make these companies come to the table. There was no plan to continue an organization. There was no plan to do anything else other than that. Let's set a new standard of accountability and transparency. At that very start, there was no strategy, no plan, no future. And then it took taking a step back to go, "Okay. Hey, how do we keep this going? I continue to advocate for the economic wellbeing of Black communities all over the world because, for me, liberation for us looks like economic liberation. I've always advocated for the economic world of Black communities. That becomes at the forefront of everything Pull Up For Change does. We are here to continue to advocate, enhance the economic wellbeing of black communities, and close the gap that huge margin exists between other communities and us. And we have to do that from a financial perspective, which is where corporate comes in.
From a retail consumer perspective, I've seen many companies spotlight Black businesses through online exclusives over store shelf space? How do you feel about this retail method?
It's just for tick-boxing. Where's the support? I saw one brand that I won't call by name, but they launched at a major retailer, and they were so excited, but I'm like that retailer didn't even announce it. They didn't even do one post on their social media page. There is no money, no investment. All these retailers, a lot of them are just tick-boxing. When we are contacted for retail partnerships, we say, "No," to many of them.
I'm not here to be your negro. I'm not here to be your token deal so that you can check a corporate tick-box. I'm not here to be your ethnic aisle. I'm not here to be your Black founder section. Save it for somebody else. The second you want to see my brand for what it is, and beyond my skin color, we're ready to talk.
How do you know when the right deal comes along?
I'm always looking at the retailers and whether our vision matches each other. The second part is to ensure that we have the tenacity and the endurance because not everything goes how we think they're going to go. It's essential to have retail partners that are there for the long haul. That's when long-term planning is crucial because if you have super fleeting retailers, the second your numbers even dip, you're gone. So it's waiting on the retailers who believe in the system, believe in the process, they genuinely believe in the long-term viability of it all. They understand that it's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and the price at the end is great for all. I partner with the people who are willing to support me, not in a superficial way but in a more profound, meaningful way.
In the last year, what was the biggest revelation?
In the last year, the biggest revelation was not necessarily the number of people released but how lost people are when finding solutions. It seems evident to us, but at a point, I was like, "You must be making this stuff up." This can't be that hard. These companies have this fear, this absolute morbid fear, that they're going to get it wrong, and they're going to get dragged and, in the process, keep thinking one bad idea to the other. That's why I knew very quickly that we have to go beyond just holding people accountable and genuinely helping these people because, for some reason, it seems like we're a species that just appeared on the face of the planet last year. Everybody's trying to figure it out. You see things like Old Navy with the Juneteenth campaign. How many teachable moments do we need to have? Do we have to have a quota per month in terms of teachable moments per month?
But how do you walk the line between teaching them and not doing the work for them?
It's in the style of teaching. I think you have to put yourself in a facilitator position where you're facilitating dialogue. You're facilitating action. And the second you start saying over and over again, "These people are not prepared for action," you better pack your bag and walk away, so you're not wasting good energy on bad people. There have been many projects I started with people, and I packed up and left. Bye. I'm not going to do this because you're not prepared. I don't do performative. Period.
What plans do you have to keep your foot on these companies' necks?
We've sent out templates of our Diversity Reporting to every company to complete. We continue to be vocal about where it matters and where it's going to make a difference. We're coming back to announce many of our marquee programs for our first anniversary, like the pitch contest. We get to pull up everybody again and show the public the numbers. Hopefully, we start sharing some data with people and launching our brand new website. There's a lot of excitement, but we're staying on it. I always said It's not a moment, it's a movement. Consistency is key.
You Might Also Like