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Conversations with the Inspiring Joy Donnell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joy Donnell.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Joy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’ve always been a storyteller. In fact, oral tradition is one of the many intergenerational gifts I’ve received from my family. I grew up around aviation, entrepreneurship and community involvement; this combination gave me a rich outlook on culture, perspective, legacy and inner power.

Over time, I started getting more focused on media, its ecosystem and the way that stories get told, sold and woven into our reality. I can no longer imagine a world without some sort of media and now with social media, the barrier of entry has completely disappeared — we’ve all become content creators and distributors on social networks. I wonder how the world would be different if, throughout history, oppressed peoples’ stories had been as thoroughly documented as their oppressors’ tells and the dominant culture. Culture is at the heart of many things we believe to be true of ourselves and possible for our lives.

This curiosity has led me to work at the intersection of media, cultural legacy and wellbeing. My work, from writing to producing to public speaking, often uses media for social justice and cultural expansion. I believe that we all have to find our healers, guides, challenges, collaborators, energizers, teachers and students. Stories and narratives help us find those things so media that offers inclusive voices gives us all the best chance of discovering our unique combination for a full human experience.

Has it been a smooth road?
Few things are a smooth road. Entrepreneurship ain’t easy and when you’re a woman of color, you have particular strategies you have to figure out, not necessarily because they’re unique to you but because the system wasn’t designed with you in mind. So, your angle of attack has to be different. I earned and elbowed my way into every room and I never doubted I belonged there. It wasn’t always pleasant being the only person that looked like me in the room, but that just made my voice more necessary. It also made me deeply understand the value of mentors, sponsors and support bases.

You need mentorship and you should mentor others. You need sponsors, and by that, I mean people who will financially invest in your vision and success so that you can be the voice in the room. You have to build a support base of colleagues, allies, mentors, cheerleaders, sponsors, and experts in other fields who are aligned in vision even if you don’t agree on every single thing. Alliance is the new hustle. Your support base helps you thrive.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into SUPERJOY Media story. Tell us more about it.
About five years ago, I started telling stories that showcased luxury design as a form of social justice. That statement usually makes people wrinkle their foreheads in confusion. Most of our media depicts luxury as power over, have and have not dynamic. The images have rarely been inclusive and the luxury market itself is highly conglomerated.

There is no true luxury we can possess that doesn’t uphold humanity at its center. Without humanity, that luxury is typically oppression. I began seeing an unprecedented amount of innovators around the world use indigenous and ancestral skills to create unique luxury goods that enter the market at the top of the game for design and quality. I became acutely aware of how often these goods get dismissed as cheap until a fashion house releases its version of it — then, suddenly it becomes expensive haute couture. I wanted to study this. So I helped co=found Vanichi.com a platform highlighting these brands alongside the conglomerates, served as Editor, produced branded content and even did a cultural fashion campaign and streaming docu-series with The Africa Channel called “What If Movie Icons Wore African Fashion?”

I’ve now founded SUPERJOY Media to create short-form and feature-length content, offer experiential events and products that help us build a cultural legacy and inner joy. Our team likes to reshape narratives and work with other storytellers that help us use our complexity as our human advantage. We know that it’s our specificity that is the universality, so we’re telling stories that matter and having conversations that help innovators change up tired lazy tropes.

This focus has also inspired me to write Beyond Brand, my forthcoming book about using media to build a cultural legacy. It’s available this summer.

Meanwhile, alongside executive producer Munika Lay and public intellectual Dr. Nicole Haggard, I’ve also co-founded CIME, the Center for Intersectional Media and Entertainment. It’s pronounced “see me.” Our work is preparing and cultivating intersectional leaders within these industries. We support underrepresented communities by uniting academics, artists, activists, industry allies and audiences.

Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be?
I grew up in a balancing act of magic and trauma. On one hand, my parents were making power moves that had me in rooms with people like Zig Ziglar. Self-made folks were telling me that I’m smart and I should be an entrepreneur when I grow up. These talks started when I was about five. A lot of love was spoken over me. I was an extroverted child, so when the grownups sat down to talk business, I’d grab a seat at the table so I could learn. I was so determined to stay that they obliged me.

On the other hand, when I was seven years old, my family moved into a new house and we became the first black family to live in the neighborhood. Some of our neighbors burned a cross on our lawn in a very KKK-style. It was racism and domestic terrorism. I knew nothing of it before that moment. My parents had to explain the history of America and how my country had treated black people. My parents also explained Jim Crow laws and how they grew up during their enforcement. That was a weird time in my life that made me very angry. I believe my anger saved me because it forced me to make some choices about how I would define myself and show up in this strange world. There wasn’t an option to just stay frustrated by my surroundings. I had to create and use healing as a form of creating. This journey helped me realize the truth of legacy and the depths of my badassary. It also gifted me with empathy, compassion, and focus.

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Image Credit:
Vanichi.com, Mount Saint Mary’s University

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