How Traci S Campbell of BeSpire TV Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative
Faith and your “spiritual base” plays more of a role in your success than you realize. It is so easy to say that you have faith or that you’re a spiritual person or even a religious person if that’s how you describe yourself. It is only when it is put to the test or the result you want is not obvious, that you truly learn how to utilize your faith and your spiritual base. When it comes to entrepreneurship, most of the time you are operating on faith and whatever your spiritual base is. So if you belittle that in your entrepreneurial journey, you are missing out on an extremely important “tool” that’s going to help you get through the challenging times and will also help you to go further when you think that you can’t go any further. As an entrepreneur, you absolutely need to have very strong faith and spiritual muscles.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing
Traci S. Campbell is the founder of two non-profit organizations and a media company, BeSpire TV, which produces video and audio content to inform, entertain, and inspire. With a background in information technology, Traci is equally passionate about the world of media and sharing and telling the stories of influential and inspiring people.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up with a struggling single mother on the west side of Baltimore. My mother was not able to complete her education; she only made it to the 9th grade. But she was determined that her children would get their education. She firmly believed that it was truly the key to escaping our existence and having a better future. I was naturally curious and very determined as a young girl. With my mother’s discipline and devotion, I was able to excel in school and at that time, just like now, there were very few women of color in Science and Technology. So in college, I had to choose between journalism and computer science. With the urging of my school counselors and of course my mother, I chose computer science because of the income it could afford me upon graduation and, again, the fact that there weren’t many women of color in technology.
So for the next 20 plus years, I built a really good and solid successful career in information technology. As it turned out, education did indeed change our lives drastically. But after I lost my mother in 2007, I had to do some soul searching. While I love technology and I’m still in it to this day, I also wanted to revisit my love of media and journalism. So I started with a small video blog on YouTube talking about heroic single parents and their accomplishments. It was my way of honoring my mother in a sense because she was not able to realize her dreams. Little did I know that that video blog on YouTube would set the stage for the next chapter of my life and career path in media and nonprofit work.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I can share quite a few stories as relates to starting my career and information technology back in the mid-90s. But I will share a story that covers our nonprofit work early on as well as our introduction into producing media. We had started the BIBO Awards, which stands for Beauty In / Beauty out in 2013. We had a successful launch of that award show which honored amazing female role models in various cities and we kicked it off in Chicago.
The next year, we got ambitious and we decided that hey if we can do it in Chicago, we can do it in another city as well. So, we decided to go to Atlanta and kick it off there. We had plans of conducting the award show and capturing the event on video to air later on our websites and possibly even on some local stations in Chicago. However, we were relying on some funding that fell through at the very last minute. I was an absolute wreck because we had young college age women, who we called Starlets, who had taken their last monies to make sure that they could get home to be in attendance to get their Starlet awards for their amazing academic accomplishments. These young ladies were buying gowns and again spending their last monies to make this a memorable night. We had so many families that were going to be there and I felt horrible that we did not have enough money to get to Atlanta and I didn’t know how we were going to pull off this event.
My husband watched me go from extreme anger to almost uncontrollable tears over this situation. He firmly said that there was absolutely no way that we weren’t going to not only pull off this award show in Atlanta as promised, but we were going to get that video footage and we were going to move forward with our plans. So, we began to list stuff on Craigslist and eBay that we felt we no longer needed. We utilized some of our personal savings. And we rented a large van, packed it up with all the supplies and things we needed for the show, and made the 11-hour road trip from Chicago to Atlanta. And we also contacted some local folks who volunteered their videography services because they believed in the mission of the award show. Miraculously, we pulled off the award show on a less than shoestring budget!
I learned a few valuable lessons in that situation. I learned that it is so important to not put all of your eggs in one basket as they say when it comes to the resources needed for a very important event or endeavor in business. I also learned that if you truly want to do something and especially when the goal or the mission is to help or celebrate others, with faith, the resources will show up! You just have to be willing to do your part. and sometimes, it will take personal sacrifice.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Back in 2013, we started our BIBO Awards. Again, BIBO stands for Beauty In/ Beauty Out and I had this vision of an award show that celebrated the greatness of women and all walks of life. It was an extension of our first 501c3 non-profit, the Champ Community Project. I was overwhelmed and excited and actually in disbelief that in less than a year from the time I conceived this concept, we were actually having our first award show. Around 100 people were in attendance in the room and everything was just absolutely beautiful. We were able to acquire a few sponsors to offset almost all of the expenses for this event and the event ran almost flawlessly.
Then came time for me, as founder, to take the stage and share my thanks and appreciation. I was so overwhelmed with emotion and excitement, I did everything and said everything.. except to thank the sponsors and the people who made it possible! I also screwed up a few names as well in my spiel. I remember leaving the stage and even though there was an applause, I remember seeing some pretty confused faces in the crowd and I will never forget the look of my right-hand person/event manager as I came off the stage. She looked so annoyed and I couldn’t understand why. The next day, she called and said that she had received some phone calls and folks were pretty upset. She said that I did not take the opportunity to thank them publicly, which was part of what you have to do when you have sponsors. No wonder I got some side eyes and some disapproving looks! lol! I had to make personal phone calls and in some cases write a letter of thanks to try to appease them.
Fast forward 2 years later and we were having the same award show, but this time in Los Angeles. We hired a MC for the event that was well known in the LA area. He had worked with big name acts such as Earth, Wind and Fire and others. When he took the stage, it became obvious that he had had a little to drink before coming to our event. and to top it all off, he announced me as Tracy Coleman! I remember folks in the audience looking at each other in confusion. I was backstage and I could not have been more furious! I was livid. As I stood there fuming, that same event manager came up to me and said. “Wow! It doesn’t feel so good to have your name messed up and forget to thank folks, huh?!” I just looked at her and despite my anger, we had to laugh. Needless to say, we never used that MC again and a valuable lesson was learned; it is so very important to thank and edify the people that support you and what you do. Or…at least get their names right! 🙂
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
Over the last couple of years, after the demise of George Floyd, I feel like there is this sense of urgency and a scramble to include people of color more in movies and TV shows and even in commercials. I feel like it’s a way to “appease” communities of color for all the years in which we have been underrepresented.
But the real way in which to create a lasting change, so that people of color are truly a part of popular culture, is to include them in the boardrooms and at the decision-making tables. I feel that we’re still falling a little short there. I like to think that in creating BeSpire TV, as a woman of color, is a move in the right direction when it comes to having more of a voice and being in a position that drives decision and real change. While we can be representatives of our cultures in front of the camera, it is still very limited when compared to the impact we can have behind the camera. When we create platforms in media, we are now more of the driver’s seat and we have much more room for creativity. This is what I feel BeSpire TV is a part of; a platform that has control and a strong say over creative decisions and decisions that will allow more communities of color to have a voice.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
Fortunately, a few people come to mind. All of them have a great message or mission to share with the world. The other common denominator of all of these amazing individuals is that they did not have a platform on which to place their message or mission.
There is a gentleman on our platform who is getting his feet wet in TV and media production. But, his back story of coming from the streets, being incarcerated and coming out to become a successful businessman who is well respected in his community is amazing. He had a vision of bringing on people, similar to himself, on his show to talk about their story and how they made it out of a life of crime or poverty. So after meeting him and talking with him, I said that we, BeSpire TV, is going to air this show and we also have offered him help and guidance in getting the show created and produced. He is still a work in progress, but his show and his message is powerful. He thanked me over and over for taking him by the hand and guiding him through a new experience. And, allowing him to have a place where he can share his message and grow his own platform and ultimately grow his own revenue stream. I feel fantastic about that not just to put a feather in my cap, but to really impact someone else in a significant way.
As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
I love this question. because there are those even in 2023 that still don’t get why this is such an important thing to do. There are many that still feel that people of color and women are in great shape compared to the past. In some ways we are, but in a lot of ways we aren’t. So the first reason that diversity needs to be represented in entertainment is to correct some of the misrepresentation and myths of the past. When we look back at movies such as “Gone With The Wind”, even though Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to win an Oscar, her role was demeaning and stereotypical. That is considered a classic movie. but as a black person, I feel that her immense talent wasn’t realized and instead she was portraying a character that was downright buffoonish. So we have to make sure that we have diversity represented in entertainment, especially in this Modern Age to dispel some of the myths of the past.
Secondly, in the real world, diversity is everywhere. We have more and more people of mixed race living on the planet than ever. It is no longer the same taboo that it was many years ago to see interracial relationships and to see true friendships between people of different ethnicities and cultures. So that same reality needs to translate onto the big screen and the small screen. It’s silly to live in a world that is one way and then when we go to the movies or turn on our televisions, we see something totally different.
Lastly, diversity in entertainment is so important because this is how we educate the next generations. Young people spend an enormous amount of time on social media, on their computer, and on their phones. They are consuming data constantly. It would be an absolute shame if the data and the content they’re taking in is void of true representation of the world and of their peers. So we owe it to the future, to get this “diversity in entertainment” thing issue right!
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
I think that the remedy to the diversity issues and the entertainment business is not hard to do. More people of color need to be considered and accounted for when scripts are being created for a movie or concepts are being vetted for a TV show. We need to get away from stereotypical roles that people of color are relegated to and instead put them in roles that, again, are more representative of the real world. There are more black and brown doctors than ever. There are more black and brown and yellow TV broadcasters than ever. There are more black and brown lawyers than ever. These are the roles that we should be taking on whether it is on the small screen or the big screen. And lastly, even though women have been more vocal and have had a little more power in the entertainment industry than in years past, there is still a lot of room at the table for women, whether they are black brown or yellow, to be in the driver’s seat.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I personally define leadership as “the opportunity and privilege to share and demonstrate knowledge with another in order to prepare them to grow and/or one day succeed a current leader” To me, the whole point of leadership is to forward thinking and to take something from where it is currently to the next level by preparing and empowering your resources to one day be able to take over the reins. And you do this by not only sharing your knowledge verbally, but also demonstrating your knowledge by how you conduct yourself and the decisions you make as a leader.
When I think of someone like Queen Elizabeth II who recently passed away, she spent 70 years not just leading a country physically, but also by her character and her demeanor and her decisions, influencing the next person to succeed her which of course is now King Charles. You can even look at movies for example. I love the movie “300”. Leonidas was a great leader because he shared knowledge and he demonstrated it through his actions and he was also compassionate when necessary. At the end of the movie, spoiler alert, he dies! But, look at the legacy he left for the next person to take over his leadership role. So to me, the mark of a real successful leader and the whole goal of leadership is to prepare for the future. It is to always think about the future while demonstrating sound decision making and great character to positively influence those that you are in charge of leading.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Wow. I probably have more than five! LOL! But I will share these five things because these things have truly shaped me as a person and shaped how I do business to this day. And I hope that in going through these things and sharing them, I can either help someone else prevent having to go through these lessons or at least seeing the value in these lessons.
- You will have to humble yourself even when you do not feel like it. When I was younger, I was a little arrogant. It was partly because I did well in school, and it was partly because some of the jobs I had as a young person were not your typical jobs for someone that young. For example, being a Hostess in a formal dining room of a luxury restaurant seems pretty glamorous when you’re 16 or 17 years old. But it was a false sense of confidence I was putting forth because the truth is that I was rather insecure in a lot of ways. But fast forward years later, having gone through years in IT consulting and being asked to do things above and beyond because people felt that I could do it, it also brings a sense of arrogance if you’re not careful. Well, in starting this journey as an entrepreneur, I have learned that in order to get certain things done you may have to humble yourself in order to get the help and the resources you need. It’s not like working in Corporate America where a lot of things are at your disposal to use. As an entrepreneur, you have to create some of those things that you will need to use and you may have to rely on other people in order to get it done. So being humble or at least willing to be humble is an asset as an entrepreneur just as much as being confident as an entrepreneur is also an asset.
- You will feel like giving up more times than you can count. If I had a dime or maybe even a nickel for every time that I felt like throwing in the towel and just doing something where I didn’t have to think so much or sacrifice so many weekends or deal with so many people, I would probably have a small fortune by now. LOL. And, feeling this way is very normal. I thought that once you start out on this entrepreneurial journey and especially if it’s something that you’re passionate about, that you will just always want to do it and you will always feel like doing it. That is very far from the truth. You are still human and you’re still flesh and blood. So don’t get scared if you feel like throwing in the towel. It is a temporary feeling and it may just mean that you need to recharge and get some rest. But never ever give up on your dream.
- The more you experience success, the more that will be required of you. I think it’s a falsehood that once you become successful with something, that you can just kind of sit back on your laurels. You can just hire a bunch of people to do things and now you don’t have to do as much. Actually, what happens is that even though you’re able to get more help and maybe you can have other people doing some of the tasks you used to do, now you are required to be the leader we just talked about earlier in order to make sure your successful venture stays successful. You will now be required to attend certain meetings or to be a part of certain other things in order to make sure that your project or venture stays successful. And, if anything goes wrong, you are still the person that people are going to ultimately blame or go to. So the more success you have, you will be required to do more, it just may be more of a different thing.
- Your family and friends will not always be your biggest cheerleaders. I can honestly say, even though I do not come from a close-knit family, that the family and even friends that I do have, were not always supportive from the jump. Over the years, I have learned that sometimes the biggest supporters are those that are not related to you by blood and may not be, initially, your closest friends. Sometimes your family and closest friends take on a “wait and see” mentality. and you have to be okay with that. You have to be okay and not get angry or upset or discouraged if that is the case. Because ultimately, you have to learn to be your biggest cheerleader no matter what. The others will come along eventually, or maybe not and that is okay too.
- Faith and your “spiritual base” plays more of a role in your success than you realize. It is so easy to say that you have faith or that you’re a spiritual person or even a religious person if that’s how you describe yourself. It is only when it is put to the test or the result you want is not obvious, that you truly learn how to utilize your faith and your spiritual base. When it comes to entrepreneurship, most of the time you are operating on faith and whatever your spiritual base is. So if you belittle that in your entrepreneurial journey, you are missing out on an extremely important “tool” that’s going to help you get through the challenging times and will also help you to go further when you think that you can’t go any further. As an entrepreneur, you absolutely need to have very strong faith and spiritual muscles.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I grew up with a struggling single mom, and even though we were far from rich and we were technically below the poverty level, we always had a nice home to live in and food on the table. Sometimes it wasn’t a lot of food, but we survived and managed pretty well given the circumstances. I cannot imagine living in this world with literally no roof over my head and not knowing at all where the next meal is coming from.
I would love a movement that challenged every single corporate entity to commit dollars every single month or at least every quarter to eradicating homelessness and hunger right here in the US. We should never ever see the amount of homeless and starving people living on the streets in the most Industrial and prosperous country on the planet. While I think it is noble and right to help those outside of the US, and I pray we continue to do that, we have so many people suffering right here within our borders and yet it seems as if the number of homeless people and people that are hungry is increasing every year. I would also love to see the media and entertainment industry commit to helping by creating platforms or shows or ventures where the proceeds go towards this initiative,on a very regular basis, as well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the quote, “There is no such thing as coincidence”. I reflect on this quote quite often. I attribute my fondness of this quote to my own faith and spiritual beliefs. But, there is always “cause and effect” happening around us each and every day. Most of the time, we are just not paying attention. I truly believe that most of our personal actions, no matter how big or small, set the stage for the things that happen to us. Of course, there are things that happen that we cannot control, but I believe that those things could very well be due to someone else’s actions and we are a part of the effect of their actions. I think that we are all very connected more than we realize and so therefore coincidence really, to me, is a false way of thinking. We really need to think about what is the cause that yielded the effect whether that effect is good or bad.
I can count numerous times when I sat down and thought about a situation or an occurrence, and I mean really sat down and thought about it, I could almost trace it back to something that may have happened a week ago or 6 months ago or maybe even several years ago. Before my father passed away, I found out that I had an aunt that I had never met, who had a very successful non-profit organization and ran a successful business. Since I never knew about her you could argue that it’s a coincidence that I also happened to have a non-profit and that I’m an entrepreneur as well. Or, it could be that we’re linked and that link is the cause of my going down the path that I have chosen.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Two women come to mind and I would be equally over the moon if I was able to have a private breakfast or lunch with either of them: Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
I will start with Oprah Winfrey. When I was a young girl, in Elementary school in Baltimore, MD, Oprah Winfrey came to our school. I cannot remember why she was there exactly. I have to assume she was doing a story of some sort. But she, at that time, was on a local TV show called “People Are Talking”. My mother loved that show! We watched that show almost every day. I remember her laughing at the banter between Oprah Winfrey and her co-host Richard Sher. I think that childhood memory for me coupled with the fact that I ended up in Chicago many many years later and of course, Oprah really catapulted her career in Chicago, are personal reasons why I would love to sit down and have the opportunity to talk to her. Now that I have created BeSpire TV, it would be great to not only get her perspectives and her advice, but it would allow me the opportunity to say to my mother, who is no longer physically here but I know that she is always with me in spirit, that I finally met Oprah!
As for Michelle Obama, I would love to talk to her about being a black woman who persevered through the unrelenting criticisms, critiques and oftentimes overt meanness that was hurled at her. But through it all, she maintained a level of grace, dignity and intelligence that superseded all of the venom and vitriol. I worked at University of Chicago Booth School of Business for a time and I know that she also spent time at the University of Chicago as well. I would love to talk to her about her experiences there, again, as a person of color on a campus that has a history of racial challenges. And lastly, I would love to talk to her about my vision for BeSpire TV and given their work in media now and the mission of the Obama Foundation, I think that a lot of commonality could come out of the conversation.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook: BeSpire TV
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
How Traci S Campbell of BeSpire TV Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.