Dabriel Fulton is kind of a big deal. She’s spent time in the studio with Rick Ross and LL Cool J. She’s planned events for Fabolous and Elle Varner. She’s been on Elle Magazine’s “Rap Therapy” with French Montana. She’s taken the stage for speaking engagements at WeWork and career conferences in New York City, inspiring a plethora of young women to make things happen for themselves whatever that “thing” might be.
And, now? Well, now she’s the Founder of a New York City showcase of talent called The Mic is Open. True to its name, The Mic is Open is a chance for her to bring audiences the top underground poets, singers, rappers, and comedians all in one show. The self-described loyal, charismatic, and driven Fulton, whose friends and family would call hilarious, generous, and high-maintenance, she says, grew up in Baltimore Maryland and attended Towson Catholic High School. She actually was working on her Bachelor’s degree at Marymount Manhattan College when she founded The Mic Is Open.
How she got where she is quite a ride, although not surprising considering her passion and grit. Her secret? It’s one she’s more than willing to share, and her path to success reveals it all.
Photo Courtesy of Upcoming HipHop
1. How would you describe yourself as a kid?
As a child, I was fearless! I had a lot of friends, was popular but nice to everyone. I was also a hustler. My mom would go to Sam’s Club and she would purchase whatever candy I wanted because I would sell candy to the kids at school. A hustler from the beginning.
2. Have you always been a writer and performer in one way or another?
I’ve always been an entertainer and a writer. Poetry is a way of performance. I can entertain people with my writing in that way. I would say I’m definitely a writer first.
3. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pediatrician. My doctor was so sweet and understanding. She made me want to help others. I also wanted to become a teacher. We all had that one teacher who made you want to save the world by teaching others.
4. How would you describe your career path?
I’d describe my career path as unpredictable to say the least! It’s been exciting and rewarding...but it has also been challenging. I’m a hard worker and I’ve seen that when I work hard at one thing, another opportunity or interest pops up. Then I do that. Then I do the next thing.
I’m definitely a jack of all trades. From running my own event business, to giving motivational talks, to founding The Mic Is Open, and performing my own work as an artist, it’s all come together just by following my curiosity and being kind to people. That’s key. The people I’ve met along the way have introduced me to new ventures and ideas. Being a people person allows that to happen in those seemingly random ways.
Photo Courtesy of Upcoming HipHop
5. How was “The Mic is Open” born?
I was hosting poetry showcases at my college and it blew up—people outside in line weren’t allowed in because we’d reach capacity. Then a poetry club offered me a weekly gig as the host. They gave me a horrible deal: 80/20. But I was young and just happy to be hosting and bringing people together. I was happy to have people come to my showcases.
But I knew I could create something on my own. The Mic Is Open was born because, truthfully, I just wanted to create a platform for people like me—artists, poets, musicians—to be able to come together in unity and express themselves. I’m more of a writer so when I perform, I’m vulnerable. You have to be comfortable at some point with either yourself or the crowd to continue on. I always make sure that The Mic Is Open is somewhere anyone could feel comfortable with being vulnerable.
6. How would you describe the experience of watching the first “The Mic is Open” happen?
For me, it was like giving birth to something I worked really hard for, for months and months. Seeing it come to fruition, it was exciting, rewarding. For a lot of our talent, it was their first time performing ever. I was just so grateful they trusted me to help showcase their talents.
7. What inspires you to make helping others part of your platform?
A lot of people do not have an outlet. I believe it’s my calling to help as many people as I can. Someone once asked me, “What’s your job?” “I make dreams come true. How about you?” I said with a laugh.
But seriously, I’m someone who has really bad stage fright. For a lot of people like me, performing your work feels like taking off all your clothes and just baring yourself. But when I started performing for the first time, seeing how receptive the audience was, I began to open up. Seeing talented artists with stage fright open up on stage is so awesome to watch.
That inspires me. Seeing people conquer their fears and allowing their work to be seen and heard is amazing. When you let that light out, you just want to go out and share it with everybody. Helping others share their light has this like a super positive chain reaction in the world.
8. What specific challenges do you feel like you’ve faced because you are a woman?
I’ve been truly blessed to work in spaces surrounded by awesome people who support me. As an entrepreneur, I choose who I want to work with and keep it moving. The people I’ve encountered, thankfully, know my capabilities and treat me as a peer. That’s how it’s supposed to be in the industry.
9. What specific challenges do you believe you have faced because you are a black woman?
Honestly, we all know the challenges black people face in this country and in my industry. This is why The Mic Is Open is so important to me. It’s open to everybody. Every single person has a voice and my job is to pass that mic to them literally and figuratively. We’ve created our own spaces when we weren’t seen. The Mic Is Open will continue to be a safe space for people of all races, backgrounds, religions, sexualities, gender identities, etc., because I seek to push beyond the noise. I’ll utilize the platform I have to lift up others around me.
10. Right now, black woman are FINALLY being recognized for the myriad of contributions they have made in every arena. Why do you think that is finally happening?
Black women are finally being recognized by the mainstream. As a people, we have always recognized each other within our communities. So, it’s about time mainstream media is starting to recognize us as well.
I don’t know why people are just now hopping on the bandwagon. I try to see the positive in every situation, so with that being said, I’ll say “Better late than never.” There’s a lot of unlearning to be done when it comes to race in this country.
11. Is this how you imagined your life?
For the most part, yes! I’m happy; I’m healthy; I’m loved; I’m loving others; I’m healing: and I’m helping others heal in the process. I’m changing lives. I’m putting in the work. This is all I ever wanted from life, to shine a light on those who wish to be seen.
12. What are your hopes for the future?
Personally, I’d like to get married to the love of my life and have children. For now, though, I am single and focused on securing an amazing future. My goal is for The Mic Is Open to become international and put on TV’s around the world! My intention through all of this is the same, to motivate artists to be the best they can be by sharing my gifts and knowledge in this industry.
13. What advice would you give to other women – and specially women of color - in terms of turning their dreams into their realities?
I’d say, be true to yourself. Never compromise. There’s a lot of pressure to become someone you’re not. But trust your gut, always. Also, I’d say, always support other women. We need to show up for each other and create that community. There’s room for everybody!
For more information on upcoming events go to The Mic Is Open website.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.