Blair Imani, 24
Civic Action & Campaign Lead at DoSomething.org
Identifying as Black, Muslim and Queer is far from easy in a society still built predominantly on stereotypes and status quo. But for Blair Imani, the Civic Action & Campaign Lead for DoSomething.org, being a triple minority - and the judgement she’s faced because of it - has fueled her crusade to implement social justice. The activist, who works for the largest tech company for youth engagement, has a simple mantra: “honor yourself.” Judging by her fierce, fearless dedication to the cause, change is on the way.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I have always imagined being a full time activist and today I work with the largest tech company for youth engagement and social change. My greatest achievement is likely yet to come as I am just starting out in this role but so far it is overcoming the belief that I could not do what I love and make a living doing so.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I’ve been told that I was too concerned about social justice to ever be successful. I have also been told to "grow up" or "join the real world" many many times. Now, people seek out my expertise about grassroots and social activism!
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I am constantly facing the stereotypes of what it means to be Black, a woman, a Muslim, and a queer person. After I came out very publicly on Fox News as a queer Muslim woman, I realized that people are going to find a reason to hate you no matter what.
"After I came out very publicly on Fox News as a queer Muslim woman, I realized that people are going to find a reason to hate you no matter what."
When Tucker Carlson implied that I could not be Black, Muslim, and a part of the LGBTQ community I made a split second decision to #SWAAYthenarrative and make a declaration of who I am.
4. As you #SWAAYthenarrative, do you feel empowered? What has been your emotional reaction?
I now understand that the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is develop a fierce and unapologetic love for yourself. This does not mean you should be consumed by your own ego but you should be gentle and respectful of yourself. You may as well fall in love with who you are!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
I would say that it is key to realize where these biases come from. To keep from internalizing and believing them, arm yourself with knowledge of the historical context from which these stereotypes emerged. Once we know what we are up against, in my experience, it becomes easier to navigate through the nonsense and realize your full potential. Above all, give yourself credit for what you have survived, what you are creating, and who you have become. Honor yourself.
"Once we know what we are up against, in my experience, it becomes easier to navigate through the nonsense and realize your full potential. Above all, give yourself credit for what you have survived, what you are creating, and who you have become."
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.