A new local collaboration is bringing together philanthropy and media production.
Oh, and beer.
The Virginia Beer Company has partnered with a nationwide movement to sell the new “Black is Beautiful” brew which will benefit the new local nonprofit, Media Mentors.
Black is Beautiful started out as a project from Weathered Souls Brewing Co., a Texas-based black-owned brewery. The business posted their recipe for an imperial stout and encouraged other breweries to make the recipe their own and sell it under the condition that 100 percent of the proceeds would go to a cause that supports equality and inclusion, according to the company’s website.
Robby Willey, co-owner of the Virginia Beer Company, said when he and his staff heard about the movement, they knew it was important to take part.
“If a community is hurting, then we need to do our part to heal the community,” Willey said. “We want to speak up for those that don’t have a voice and we felt like the most powerful way to support that message is by donating to an organization.”
The hard part was deciding which local organization to donate to, but the brewery was quickly connected with Brian Smalls who just started a nonprofit, alongside Ebony Flake and Randall Hazard, that raises the voices of local youth through media production and education.
The idea for Media Mentors started in 2017 after Smalls realized he could do his own marketing and video production for his company, Cornerstone Estate Planners.
As a father of two, Smalls realized there was a potential to take those skills and teach them to local youth so they could build on them for future careers.
“It can be a starting place for these kids,” he said. “We look at our program almost like the traditional trade program…we think that because where technology is going in the future, teaching these skill sets will be just putting them in a position to be able to do some tremendous things.”
The organization was able to establish a nonprofit status in October 2019 and started creating programs to help youth cultivate skills regarding video production, media creation and social media marketing.
Smalls said the idea is to do that through a series of camps and classes that allows students to become familiar with the technology and learn how to potentially build a business from those skills in the future.
The courses will have local professionals with experience in film production and social media teaching the students about their own careers and experiences as well as encouraging them to be creative in their own content.
The coronavirus pandemic has slowed down many of the organization’s plans in its first year. Instead of offering in-person training, the organization has been hosting virtual meetings and plans to continue to do so in the fall.
But it caught the attention of the Virginia Beer Company because of the recent videos it has produced in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd.
In the first video, “We Are Not Responsible,” the organization interviews white Americans on how Floyd’s death impacted them and ways to advance conversations surrounding systemic oppression.
The organization’s second video, I Can’t Breathe: A Response to the Death of George Floyd, three men, including Smalls, share their views on Floyd’s death and their own experiences with law enforcement.
Smalls said the productions were important to the organization because its mission is to teach students how to tell their own narrative.
“I think that when you look at what’s going on, not just in the country but in our own backyard, kids at a very early age are getting the opportunity to see history in the making,” he said. “I think far too often, especially with young people, their stories are dictated to them by people who might not understand them…So I want them to be in a position to have their voices heard.”
Smalls admitted the expenses can be a struggle being a new nonprofit with a base in technology. The organization will provide video cameras, microphones, computers and software for students to work on projects— all of which can run up a bill.
That’s why Smalls said he was more than grateful for the donations from the Virginia Beer Company.
Willey said the business has produced 70 cases of the Black is Beautiful brew and had already sold more than half in its first week. The business took Weathered Souls’ recipe and mixed in its own flavor with its Waypost Imperial Stout. The ingredients mixed together make the beer heavy, which means it is also a little more expensive. But in the week the product has been available, Willey said customers have been happy to pay extra knowing the proceeds go to Media Mentors.
“It’s been great being associated with this initiative,” Smalls said. “I think it’s something we are already passionate about, so it allowed us to connect with other organizations and businesses locally that are on a similar mindset in terms of social justice.”
Visit Media Mentors online to learn more.
A full list of local breweries participating in the Black is Beautiful initiative can be found online.
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