Origin Story

This article was originally posted on Linkedin.

The Ignite Event that never existed before.. #BlackIgnite2020

I spoke on the Minneapolis Ignite stage twice. I had something important to say and I loved the challenge. I still hear about how my design talk inspired people to this day.

I wasn’t paid..

Which was okay, I didn’t expected it. Ignite speakers don’t get paid, it’s just not part of the gig. 20 or so speakers are invited to ignite something in the audience, but the ticket sales go to the people producing the event.

I wanted to remix that.

Why don’t we pay ignite speakers?

We need an all-paid, all-black lineup of designers in America..

The idea came to me suddenly and clearly, the day after attending Where are the Black Designers conference, an incredible platform and community curated by Mitzi Okou. I tossed this idea of “Black Designers Ignite” into the Slack room, threw up an Eventbrite, and within 24 hours we sold a ticket, got 60 Black designers interested in the concept, and the rest is history..

We started collaborating.

It wasn’t about me, it was about community. From the beginning, the invitation was open to all to design this with me. Black Ignite was meant to be an event for the people by the people. The purpose was to elevate Black designers and showcase black excellence in design. (Heatherlee Nguyen, #BlackIgnite2020)

Here’s a quick history..

June 27, 2020: I was posting all over Insta and Linkedin how incredible the WATBD conference was. It sparked something in me..

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June 28, 2020: I was fired up.. I tossed this idea out there, created a new Slack channel and got 7 replies immediately..

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June 28, 2020: Same day, I made it public. I post to my personal Instagram and tag the newly created Black.Ignite account. (At this point, the idea is still on my personal website :/ live to this day, for the archives).

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June 29, 2020: I’m a dreamer. I thought to myself.. what if we sold 1,000 tickets, and paid each speaker $1,000! It became my personal mission. And since transparency has been one of my guiding principles throughout all of this, I “quietly” posted this goal on the Black.Ignite Instagram.

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June 30, 2020: 2 days after posting about this Krizia (of Femmecubator) became our first sponsor, standing up BlackIgnite.com for us. Even before this, we had sold our first tickets..

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This Linkedin post was trending. I shared about how within 30 hours we sold 7 tickets! The spark was lit.. (Early adopters are everything!)

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Folks started reaching out about being involved, sponsoring, and being a speaker (it was less than two months till the event at this point). So I committed to navigating sponsor relationships mindfully, getting together a theme, and publishing a submissions page. 2 days in, 15 tickets were sold!

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I was plugging this all over social media trying to keep up with Insta, Twitter (and a little bit of Linkedin 😉 Everyday, hustling to make forward progress.

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July 3, 2020: Not even 5 days after planting this seed.. KriziaAnthonyNanaJess and Lauren started bringing the Black Ignite brand identity to life. The font Martin, from Vocal Type was selected, and the brand marks began iterating..

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We asked our growing community what they thought. (80 people were in our Slack and more followers pulled up on Insta). In the spirit of inclusivity, all design files were being shared and we invited everyone to design our brand with us!

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July 6, 2020: Reflecting on the conversations heard in the WATBD conference and in talking with Lauren and Franklyn who showed up to my first Zoom call, we decided on Slack that the 2020 theme would be.. TRANSITIONS…

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I hustled to get the talk submission page live by July 6th, with the theme and requirements, giving black designers a little over 3 weeks to submit..

At this point, we were still inviting folks into Slack and asking about our logos.

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July 8, 2020: 2 days later, as the Slack collaboration continued Jess comes through with this amazing graphic! We start getting vocal about our big goals to sell 1,000 tickets..

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From July 6 – August 1st we got talk submissions from all over the US as the word about Black Designers Ignite spread!…

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I made one executive decision on my own up to this point, and that was to announce 3 speakers, “founding members” right away. I believe that when people show up with their hands raised, we should say yes. I’m not into qualifying people and their experiences or skills.

They showed up for me on day 1. And they had amazing backgrounds and stories to share. This was about creating a community of inclusivity, so day one supporters got day one benefits..

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Lauren and Franklyn were announced as speakers, and Steffi quickly followed. Anthony and Raja committed super early to supporting this effort as jurors. And Annis said she’d MC, on week 2! With these 6 people showing up early on, we were able to keep the fire going and really get the word out..

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Steffi, Nana & Jess came through as faces of the brand and we started recording Instagram Live videos to engage with the growing community of black designers ready to ignite..

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Check out all the Black.Igite IG Lives so far!

On August 6, 2020: The speakers chosen for #BlackIgnite2020 were emailed and we announced their first names as I collected headshots and we got ready for the next phase!…

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Huge thank you to everyone who submitted and all our supporters. Getting to this point was huge. By the time the 30 speakers came together in Slack we had sold almost 200 tickets!

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August 10: Just 7 days ago, we officially posted the headshots of our Black Designers Ignite 2020 speakers and published the lineup on our site.

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I am so proud this has traveled as far as it has in under 2 months.. Wow! We are going coast to coast with representation from 15 different states.

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This #BlackIgnite2020 linkedin post continues to trend, and ticket sales are close to 350. With 10 days left we need to sell more! I hope this brief origin story inspires you to keep sharing, perhaps to buy more tickets as a donation, or to send us money directly (because I’m hellbent on paying everyone behind the scenes).

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Thank you to everyone involved! This has been a 100% community, grassroots effort from the start, and we have done so much in 7 weeks!

Today, it become Linkedin official.

I’m on a personal mission..

I believe we can do better and go harder for the changes we want to see. I know NOW IS THE TIME. And I’m uniquely positioned to be a true advocate and to live out what I’m about. I’m putting everything into this and I hope it inspires others to take action too.

I refuse to label myself a designer if I am not active and persistent in this fight for diversity and inclusion. As a mom with a platform, I can create change. For 2+ weeks I couldn’t breathe or see through the clouds of smoke and anger in my city. Then I went to Where are the Black Designers? And the call was clear.(Heatherlee Nguyen, #BlackIgnite2020)

As a designer, it’s my job to ignite change I want to see, and be the change I want to feel. I want your teams to be talking about this! This is Black Ignite, the first-ever.

The fact that 30 Black designers get to split 100% of the ticket sales, during this time of COVID, unemployment, and uprising is a direct challenge to the system.

And it’s necessary..

I want you to see all the great things black designers are doing around the US. Because despite the narrative.. Black creators are powerful beyond measure. Drawing from unique experiences rooted in black heritage, they do many things. They excel in areas I don’t see integrated in the corporate spaces I come to. It’s time to transition. (Heatherlee Nguyen, #BlackIgnite2020)

Thank you SO much for supporting this. Be sure to follow along on Instagram @Black.Ignite as we keep sharing. All speaker bios are posted there and we’re continuing our IG lives all week.


Huge thanks to this collaborating team:

Annis R. SandsLauren SloanAnthony GrantKrizia FernandoNana AchampongJess McKenzieSteffi Reyes-Thomas and Zariah Cameron.

Sending love from Saint Paul, MN! ❤️🔥💯 Heatherlee

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