Women Behind The Brand: Kristen McCallum
A sponsored post in partnership with Uber. All opinions are my own.
For there to be diversity, the must be inclusivity, which Dictionary.com describes as "the fact or policy of not excluding members or participants on the grounds of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc." Far too often, however, Black and queer people as communities are not included in conversations that would encourage diversity and alter narratives. They are either misrepresented or nonexistent. They don't have a safe space to exist, and their voices are muted. It's important for me as an member of both communities to work with enterprises who are fostering these conversations and actively allocating resources to being more inclusive. How? By developing platforms granting underrepresented voices the opportunity to not only safely exist, but to also be visible and loudly heard.
By creating employee resource groups like UberHue(a community for Black employees of all heritages) and UberPride(a group to promote queer inclusion and diversity within and across cities) for the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, Uber furthers their efforts to be a diverse and inclusive company and workspace. It only seems fit that in my ongoing partnership with the company to continue my interview series that I share the story of a cultural trailblazer whose mission correlates with those initiatives.
Kristen is a 31 year old, queer woman of color. She's an Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Producer, and Audio Engineer.
Yearning for vulnerability and a sense of community, things she lacked in her childhood, she sought to find them for herself as an adult and offer it to others. Kristen describes her time in a detention center as a teen as fuel to provide to youths the kind of resources she wished she could've had that could’ve given her access to different experiences.
Kristen is the founder of SafeWordSociety, a conversation striking company whose goal is to highlight the nuances of living, loving & thriving as #QTPOC+ (Queer and Trans People of Color). Their focus is to service and bring visibility to the community by sharing authentic experiences through a podcast, educating through workshops, creating a safe space through events and community, and facilitating thought-provoking conversations with a card game.
Eagerly, Kristen agreed to share her thoughts with me.
What led to the creation of SafeWordSociety?
It initially started just as a podcast. Prior to that, I was a people operations manager for a tech company. The company had all of these creative projects happening and creatives in their office, but they always went outward for people instead of honing in on the skills in the office - it was frustrating. It’s also really frustrating being a creative in corporate space because there’s no room to do your own thing.
I needed to find community with queer folks, so I wanted to try and make a podcast. I gave myself six days to figure out how to record, edit, and publish a podcast, and I learned it all on Youtube. At the end of those six days, I had my friend come over and we recorded the first episode, and we’ve never stopped. Well, I stopped having my friends do it, and it stopped happening in my living room. But, it was literally about me wanting to have conversations about how much I hate Tinder and see what’s going on with my friends, and I published it. People really loved it. I thought it was because there isn’t stuff like that out there where qpoc are just doing regular things, we’re just going grocery shopping, some of us hate kale, just regular things.
That’s how it started. It was first published in February 2017, and it wasn’t until December that I decided to dream bigger and see what this could be, what I can add to it. I said let’s see what else I can do? I wanted to build a card game, so I did that. I wanted to start doing events and I did those. Now SafeWordSociety is the company, and the podcast, the cards, the events and the workshops are projects. It’s kind of evolved into its own thing now. We’ve created a vybe, and we want everyone to be a part of that. Every time you go to a SWS thing, it’s a vybe.
In terms of growth, how would you like to see this project/space evolve for the LGBTQ+ community?
I would love to see SWS evolve in a way that’s really organic and not about popularity. There are already too many people in the community who are trying to be popular - I don’t want that. I want there to be actionable change, inclusivity, and cultural competency around the community.
I think SWS is an amazing venue and source for people who are trying to bridge gaps between experiences in their own organizations to come find queer and trans people of color who are active in the community. We want to be the go-to for companies who perhaps want to facilitate these kind of workshops. Growth for me looks like infiltrating everything. You know SWS is here to make the LGBTQ+ people of color community specifically very visible.
How important is it to you to bring visibility to underrepresented queer, black voices?
It is primary, non-negotiable, the only thing that matters. It's the most important thing. That’s it!
I think the reason I’ve been able to put myself into this so much is because it is about necessity. I’m literally doing the work that I need for myself in order for me to survive and thrive in this society. As a person who identifies with a specific community that I’m very proud to serve, it’s non-negotiable. We exist. We are here. People just don’t know that, or they’re ignorant to it, they don’t care. Well, not on my watch.
The core members of SafeWordSociety are also black queer women, how crucial is it to you to create these leadership roles for queer women of color?
Very, very important! I think that I’ve worked and been in enough spaces where there’s a lot of lip-service to teaching people how to be leaders, but not actually giving them the opportunity to do that. For me, especially coming from an HR space in the corporate world, I recognize how that feels. As a qwoc, a lot of times I was the smartest person in the room, but somehow I had the least leadership position. That’s just because people don’t see the qualifications as necessary or indispensable, and I think that’s trash and untrue.
A lot of what I do and what I believe in is skill-sharing. My core members are my friends, and not just because they’re my friends, but more like I know what you’re interested in, I don’t know if you’re taking advantage of that anywhere else, I don’t know who is uplifting that for you, but that’s what I do, so come do that thing with me. And I will help you work on what you work on.
I attribute what I can to their projects, so they can build their skillset here. My Creative Director is my roommate who’s a graphic designer, something she just started a year ago, she designed the Visibility Pack - her first product. Something she can now use in her portfolio when she wants to book projects for other people. Visibility is important. For people to feel like they’re important is important.
You’ve launched a Visibility Pack card game! Tell us about how it was conceived, its purpose, and your hopes on its effect.
Essentially we have the podcast, and many seasons later I finally decided to look at the listenership. When I looked at it, we have listeners in Uganda, Kenya, Jamaica… People are really listening to the content, and they’re loyal listeners. I had an epiphany and said, okay they’re listening to the podcast, they have this content, but do they know what to do next? Like, how do you have those discussions with the people you love about something that’s important to you? What helps them facilitate conversations outside of just listening to it? I don't want our subscribers to listen to something and have no context on what to do with it, so what if there was a card game?
I’m the friend who brunches and brings written post-it notes in a container to any of the gathering with my friends. After which, we all sit down, pull the questions, and have a conversation. I thought this feels like a thing, I’m already doing that, so how do I make it permanent? That’s how the game came about. I reached out to former podcast guests and people in the community and asked, “if you could have a conversation with anyone what would it be like?” I asked them to submit questions to me and developed those into a card game.
Since I’ve now seen the game in action and have gotten feedback on it, I hope that it continues to foster discussion and discourse, and give access to affirming language, and the ability to think outside of their own experiences. Conversations are the way of changing things, you just have to have them the right way.