Coffee Talk with Vanessa Michelle | Change is Among Us

by Vanessa Michelle

Change Is Among Us! 

Ignite: [transitive] to cause a powerful emotion or reaction; to give force or energy to something. 

This word came to me early Sunday morning. I had two sips of my dark-roast coffee and smiled as the sunlight hit my white-trimmed windows. Ah, I felt so thankful and at peace. 

Unfortunately, my peace was short lived. Car horns started emerging from a block away, beeping nonstop. I rushed to my windows; protestors were flooding the streets. As I witnessed all the protesters chanting, I started thinking of my friends who were dismayed that I didn’t want to protest with them. I think they figured since I’m a Black woman, of course I’d want to protest. But boy, were they wrong! Protesting just isn’t my thing. 

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Instead, seeing my community protest reminded me of the part I play in being a change agent within my ecosystem. My goal has been, and will always be, to support the community by enriching its entrepreneurs, who fuel the city. After seeing the protest, I started reflecting on how to engage with my community in a meaningful way. 

I asked myself, if I wanted to “Beyonce-ify” this idea of engagement, what would that look like? It led me to this powerful word: IGNITE!

Protests are attractive. But my personal belief is that if we aren’t fighting for diversity and equality in our board meetings, schools, organizations and families, then no sign with a clever slogan will create real change. I think protests are good conversation starters. They have the power to shift perspectives. But the follow-up has to be strong.

We have inherent biases, assumptions and flawed mindsets about one another. The systems that have been set in place are in place for a reason. From the housing market to the economic infrastructure we are all bound to, institutions have rules and regulations to follow. And unless we get to the core of not only our souls, but the systems we consistently invest in, we are not going to see change. 

It’s time for us to ignite our personal and professional ecosystems. Such a fierce word! It’s powerful and has layers upon layers of purpose and intentionality! I’m literally at my desk screaming it! IGNITE!! We must ignite them or, as the definition reads, give force or energy to them! That means using our voice, resources, and connections. 

Let’s assume you don’t know what to change or what to do. Just igniting a conversation about the issues in your community that you want to improve could start the process. We have the opportunity to give force to the issues we care about and want to address. Even though companies are meeting on Zoom, we still have the freedom to speak up. I think it’s important to do so because now, more than ever, people are listening.

Igniting our voices is important, but next, let’s take it a step further. Let’s ignite our resources. We have so many resources around us that can help create great things. Think about the community around you. Someone around you has the tools and resources you need to ignite powerful micro-movements, such as gathering corporate executives who want to address diversity but don’t know how, or maybe even using your personal network to restructure local legislation to help people out of poverty. I wholeheartedly believe that igniting our resourcefulness could create change. 

I think sometimes we minimize the kind of impact we can have. We don’t have to be Martin Luther King Jr. to start speaking up and advocating. That big igniting moment can be right in your living room, at the gym, or in your office. I want to encourage you to ignite your conversations, your mindset, your co-workers, and your companies.

If you really want to see something change, speak up, and use your personal and professional resources. I think that people are afraid of using their power within a position because of judgement and you could risk losing your job. I get that. That’s real. 

In those moments, I would create what I call “behind-the-wall strategy.” Spend some time reflecting on what kind of changes you want to see and creatively start implementing them during casual conversations, or structure certain meetings to “randomly” discuss the thing you care about. There are creative ways to insert your personal agenda and still be respectful while doing it. Personal agendas aren’t mischievous if they are for the greater good of the community. We are all biased and judgmental anyway — might as well put it to good use! (Hahaha, I called you judgmental! You know it though! I am too!)

Real change starts from within. I think there’s power in addressing our concerns at events like protests, or even online. But speaking about something is very different from speaking up about something — being a consistent advocate, no matter the time or place. There’s so much happening around us, and it’s now evident that we have to use our voices, resources, and knowledge to help push our communities into a new understanding.

Vanessa Michelle is a full-time YouTuber who has created a platform for creatives everywhere!  Her journey to journalism started at the University of Akron, where she was an on-air personality and TV host for WZIP-FM and ZTV Akron. Vanessa has been featured in local publications as “The Oprah of YouTube” and one of Akron’s most unique entrepreneurs.

Photo: Used with permission from Vanessa Michelle.