Interwoven within the tapestry of history are stories about Black women that illustrate resilience in the face of systemic oppression. Many Black women have dedicated their life’s work to reclaiming their narratives and opening doors for generations behind them.
Pioneers like journalist Ida B. Wells tapped into the power of storytelling to magnify ugly truths about racism in America. Trailblazers Carole Simpson made history as the first Black woman to anchor a major network newscast in the United States.
Standing on the shoulders of these phenomenal women is entrepreneur Judith Jacques-Laguerre is using her platform Black Women in Media as a vessel to amplify the accomplishments and celebrate the brilliance of Black women.
For Jacques-Laguerre—a first-generation Haitian American who hails from Long Island, New York—the importance of representation was made evident to her at a young age. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, she rarely saw herself represented in her surroundings. Within the pages of magazines like Ebony, Jet and Hype Hair and through 90s sitcoms like “Sister Sister,” “Family Matters” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” she saw herself reflected. She also credits Oprah Winfrey as one of her biggest inspirations.
Jacques-Laguerre’s venture into the media industry was one of luck. Within her community, the perceived viable options for career paths included becoming a doctor, lawyer or engineer. As she navigated motherhood as a teenager, her loved ones wanted to ensure she pursued a career that provided financial stability.
“I didn’t come from a community that explored options outside of the norm,” she told NewsOne. “When I got to college, I realized that I wasn’t really happy in the medical field, so what I ended up doing was exploring other career options.”
For Jacques-Laguerre, conforming to the standards of what her community deemed to be successful wasn’t an option. After learning about alternative careers, she decided to bet on herself and chart her path in media and communications.
“Within communications, I saw the strength and power in storytelling. That is really what I gravitated towards,” Jacques-Laguerre shared.
While building her experience through internships and jobs at top firms, she noticed the lack of representation she witnessed while coming of age was mirrored within board rooms. She was often the only Black woman in meetings, and her significant contributions were overlooked and disregarded.
A study conducted by the Gallup Center on Black Voices revealed that Black women are less likely to feel treated with respect at work and less likely to feel like a valued member of their team. Through these experiences, Jacques-Laguerre realized that evoking change is about giving Black women a seat at the table and giving them the space to let their voices be heard. After vocalizing inequities within these spaces, she often received pushback and experienced the perpetuation of the “angry Black woman” trope.
Her encounters within the corporate world led her to entrepreneurship. She cultivated entities like the Creative Communications & Media Group and BLACK STREET, INC., supporting small Black-owned businesses by providing them with affordable resources to grow their ventures. She also hosted an array of events like the Black Culinary Expo and the Black Celebration Awards to recognize the strides made by Black innovators across different industries.
In 2014, Jacques-Laguerre founded Black Women in Media to build a space where Black women at the forefront of innovation in industries that include communications, media, entertainment, literature and publishing, TV & film, tech, radio, and broadcast can receive their flowers. The community was also created to foster intergenerational connections between pioneers and future leaders.
“Black Women in Media was derived from my own experiences,” said Jacques-Laguerre. “I always wanted to do something for Black women because I knew the disparities that we faced in these industries. We were not getting the recognition that we deserved, even though we literally were making magic happen. I wanted to create a space where we were celebrating and recognizing our own and creating a community of sisterhood.”
Black Women in Media hosts an annual conference and awards ceremony that pays homage to barrier-breaking luminaries and provides resources for Black women looking to make their mark within the industry. Past honorees include media pioneer Cathy Hughes, television host Tamron Hall, journalist and anchorwoman Lori Stokes, Grammy-nominated musician MC Lyte, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and others.
What started as a conference in the heart of NYC eight years ago has evolved into a movement. The pivot to digital amid the pandemic has allowed BWIM to expand its reach with a membership community that is 1,200 women strong. There are also plans to host pop-ups in different cities throughout the country and develop informative and inspiring digital content.
Jacques-Laguerre says there is true power in believing in the beauty of your vision. Staying true to the career path she envisioned back in college has put her in a position where she can empower and inspire women to overcome the odds and write their own stories. At Black Women in Media, she’s had encounters with women—honorees and attendees—who shared that they’ve pasted Black Women in Media on their vision boards and having the opportunity to connect with women who they’ve always admired was a true mark of destiny.
As progress for Black women across different industries is stagnant, Jacques-Laguerre says her vision for change involves inspiring Black women to own their power unapologetically.
“Black women aren’t waiting for anyone to come save us, and that’s what I love,” she shared. “We’re not waiting for anyone to give us permission. We’re going to kick down doors and break through glass ceilings. We’re going to continue to do this until we get our due notice. People are afraid of us recognizing our power, but we’re going to push forward anyway.”