The Blogalicious conference this weekend in Atlanta was mind-blowingly great. Over 250 bloggers, primarily women of color, " black, white, Latina, Caribbean, Asian-Pacific, and Native-American bloggers, among other nationalities", gathered for the weekend to talk, make connections, support each other in our writing and careers, and celebrate each others' fabulous blogging. The knowledge shared during Blogalicious was phenomenal.
Personally, it was a highlight of the conference to meet some of the more technical women, like Adria Richards who blogs about business and tech, and software like Wordpress, Joomla, and Drupal. Adria and I had some excited conversations about teaching people more about WordPress and other platforms commonly used, basically, about empowering women through giving them more capability to control everything about their blogs. Or, even just knowing enough so that they don't get overcharged for blog setup, design, hosting, and maintenance. My geeky heart also thrilled to Corvida Raven's technical skills. She really came across for me in the panel "Taking Your Blog to the Next Level". But not only that, she shone out as the sort of person whose enthusiasm catches everyone on fire. I think that everyone in the room for that panel walked out infused with extra confidence about taking control of their own technology. It is rare to hear a speaker who can talk about computer software and nifty new tools with clarity and in a way that makes people feel they can tackle the complications, instead of leaving everyone mystified and insecure and convinced they have to ask for help. And also representing in the especially-geeky area, Rosemary from The Sexy Geek Files and Leticia from Tech Savvy Mama! Thank you Adria and Corvida, Rosemary and Leticia, for geeking out! May there be much more of it!
The best thing, though, was listening to all the women there connect with each other and getting into interesting and productive conversations. There was so much spontaneous sharing of knowledge and a lot of positivity. The general atmosphere was like this: Here's what I'm trying to do, and here's where I've gotten, how about you? What do you want to do? Can I help you get there? From what I saw and heard, the women at Blogalicious were taking away validation, inspiration, and an implicit promise of future networking support from their fellow bloggers.
The Broke Socialite says it best and I'd like to highlight and amplify some of her words:
This conference literally took my breath away. I've never been involved in a gathering that was charged with so much intellegensia and emotion. Most everyone was passionate about whatever it was that they brought to the table...be it "I want to start a blog; so I'm here to absorb every piece of information possible" to "I'm a veteran blogger...how can I help someone else build her brand?" What I loved most was the authenticity of the attendees and the organizers (these girls are the best, y'all...I just met them last Thursday and their passion, smarts and sincerity bring tears to my eyes right now)...everyone was so open. It makes my heart sing.
Read her whole post; it sums up the core of the conference! Like The Broke Socialite, I came out of the conference refreshed and inspired. Heartened and with the feeling of having some of my mojo back, ready to fight a thousand battles, knowing that my life has a point to it and all our work is valuable; last but not least, feeling like somebody's got my back. There was so much love and sincerity at this conference as well as hard core expertise, knowledge, and let's not forget the great swag and parties - fun and profit, an important part of life!
The panels I went to were excellent. Audience participation was very high, with tons of questions, commentary, and a very open and welcoming attitude. I especially enjoyed the plenary session on Social Media and the Woman of Color, with Gennipher Weeks, Gwen Peake, and Jessica Carter demonstrating in-depth knowledge of the current web 2.0 landscape.
The keynote speeches I saw had everyone's attention. The first was by Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks (and BlogHer), on the principles all bloggers should keep in mind. Her beautiful photography illustrated each simple point on her slides as she spoke eloquently about blogging your passion and being creative. Denene Millner, author of many books and blogger on MyBrownBaby, read an amazing and beautiful story about her journey of her career through political journalism and writing books, then her relationship with her mother Betty Millner, how it changed when she had her own babies, and her love, respect and grief for both her parents. As she broke right down and cried while describing her formerly strict mom's coddling of her grandbabies I felt very moved at how complicated and deep people's relationships with each other can be. The parties were great too.
These women with their computers,
We had some great parties! I seriously hope no one videoed my attempt at wheelchair dancing because at some point I had some cocktails and did a wheelie or two to Push It and a pretty good cumbia.
The three founders of Blogalicious, from MamaLaw Media Group, are often called "The Justices" from their blog names Justice Fergie, Justice Jonesie, and Justice Ny. They radiated warmth, capability, and deep connectedness with their community in many dimensions. It was awesome how they worked together. I especially loved the moment where City Councilman Ceasar C. Mitchell presented an official proclamation of welcome to Blogalicious at the opening plenary session. During his reading of the proclamation he said in his listing of their impressive credentials as lawyers, writers, and entrepreneurs that the Justices were invited to write on thebump.com. He looked up and said, "What… what is the bump dot com?" There was some explaining and gestures demonstrating a belly bump and the councilman did a double take. "Really!?! The…Really!?" The room burst into appreciative laughter at the sight of the Councilman trying to wrap his mind around this way of framing motherhood with authority and importance. But that was sweet to have the City of Atlanta recognize the conference! It was also beautiful to see the Justices in the moments where their supportive husbands brought in their kids. Their moms, sisters, aunts, and cousins also contributed to the conference by volunteering and doing much of the event organization.
And how about the event organization? Impressive and just about perfect. The wireless worked, the food was great, there was a lot of attention to aesthetic detail. The one imperfection was the lack of power strips in the main room and the panel rooms. Those power strips are very expensive in hotels so I hope that future sponsors will sponsor this particular kind of "empowerment" in the form of electricity for all of our laptops, phones, cameras, and gadgets!
Sponsor presences were useful and not obtrusive. In fact I felt that the way the sponsors were brought in was likely to be very valuable and educative for those sponsors in how to best reach this community, of women of color who are writers and social media experts, with great reach and influence.
And from the other side, I saw many instances of the conference attendees respecting the relationships particular bloggers have with the sponsors -- for example, asking as a matter of course what Twitter handle or hashtag they should refer when they thanked a sponsor for being there, or for particularly good swag! That to me was a very interesting demonstration of respect for sponsorship, transparency, and basically, where the money is coming from. In return, I think that marketers and sponsors are opening their minds and their ears to hear the value of social media and diverse voices: inclusion is more powerful than exclusion. Part of that value may come not simply from some ideal of "diversity" but from the things people know from intersectionality of race and gender, whether you call it that or not -- with one result being that we are all not operating on quick assumptions about each other but that our different experiences of intersectionality make it easier to treat other as three dimensional human beings, to see each other automatically as complicated with complicated histories. That is a benefit and a strength!
The keystone of the whole conference for me was the Town Hall conversation between marketers and bloggers, Marketing to Women of Color: The Real Deal. It was a moderated dialogue between marketers and bloggers and was easily my favorite talk of Blogalicious. Cheryl Mayberry McKissack was a great moderator and got the best out of her 10 panelists. I was struck by the marketers' savvy about social media and blogging, compared to my general impression of the state of marketing online a few years ago. They described a big part of their jobs as educating their clients about what influence and reach mean: that they're much more complex than a single metric or ranking can express. The bloggers, all great speakers, were Veronica Arreola from VivaLaFeminista, Heather Barmore from NoPasaNada, and Shameeka Ayers (The Broke Socialite). They referred to the Women of Color Marketing Panel at BlogHer 2009 and to Stefania Pomponi-Butler and Kelly from MochaMomma's original point in 2007 at BlogHer Business, about marketers not approaching women of color who blog or their readers. I hope someone transcribes or summarizes all that the panelists at the Blogalicious Town Hall said, or that there's video.
If you want to meet some fantastic bloggers you could not do better than to click on the links for all the panelists from Blogalicious and read their blogs and Twitter feeds. You could also do a Twitter search on blogalicious09 and follow whoever says something of interest to you. You also might do a Google Blogsearch over the next few weeks to see who's talking about it. Including but not limited to!
As a member and employee of BlogHer I felt especially proud that so many people at Blogalicious had become aware of each other or had met in real life at BlogHer conferences over the past few years. It makes me happy to be part of an organization that has a strong commitment to inclusion. We especially can see that reflected in our conference speakers, who are 80% new speakers each year which prioritizes fresh voices, and this year with steady improvement, our conference speakers were 30% women of color. It is even better and makes me even happier to see a blogging conference with 99% women of color as expert speakers on the topics of blogging and social media. It seems very clear to me that Blogalicious will extend its own reach and empowerment through conferences, as well as through MamaLaw Media Group's network to connect women of color who blog with marketers and sponsors, The b-Link
I would like to add there is NO EXCUSE for us to ever see another "Web 2.0" or *ahem* "White 2.0" conference without the involvement of some of these women and their hundreds of contacts and colleagues. I hope y'all heard me. That was bold and in caps for good reason! However, one of the great things about Blogalicious is that it shows we do not necessarily need to be vying to get into the door of some other person's conference or get the attention of Mr. A-Lister even if that brings us cash and reputation. We've proved it over and over again, even while there are many amazing, supportive men in our lives. My point is, though, Blogalicious is one more example of the power women have in ourselves and in solidarity with each other.
I felt welcome and appreciated at Blogalicious as well as very appreciative of being there. As a wheelchair user I felt very appreciative at the decent access of the hotel and the baseline of people's politeness at not being questioned 80 times a day about my disability and physical health, which white women even feminist allies and so on, often feel very entitled to have my time in educating them and sharing my personal medical information at their whim and "need to know". Like most people, I don't enjoy talking about the same thing over and over, being othered, put on the spot and questioned about things that aren't anyone's business and that if you care to know you could read about on one of my numerous blogs -- duh.
I was struck by how many aspects of Blogalicious paralleled the ways that BlogHer conferences are structured, a good working structure for a conference with a lot of transparency about its sponsorship, as well as inclusiveness of a broad range of topics and of a large base of people. We share a core of positive, proactive, strong determination to support each other in our goals, make our dreams as writers and entrepreneurs into reality, balance work and family and life, and control our lives and careers. I was proud to work for BlogHer and that we contributed as sponsors to Blogalicious. Now while I'm well aware that it's not about me, I aspire personally to be a good ally to women of color. It is making some of my own dream come true to work for a woman-centeric company that works hard on inclusivity and diversity, to support other women - all other women. I can't wait to go to Blogalicious 2010, which will be in Miami! I forsee a beach party and much more Latina presence at the conference! We can do it! But, until Miami, I have a lot of new blogs and Twitter feeds to read and am happy to have met so many colleagues and new friends. If I sound overly starry eyed, click on the links and read up on other people's posts, because so far they're all saying similar things!
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