On Twitter, as in life, birds of a feather tend to flock together.
Social media connections, much like friendships, are largely with people of the same race, especially for whites.
Jasmine Brett Stringer is challenging that by bringing new faces into local Twitter and Instagram feeds.
This summer, the Twin Cities business consultant, speaker and coach started a new social media campaign called #sharethemicmn. It invites local Black and brown women to “take over” the social media accounts of an ally of another race — most of whom are white women with prominence in areas such as media, style, politics or health.
The goal, said Stringer, is to help Minnesota women of color share their stories, work and passions with new audiences in a way she hopes will foster cross-racial connections and improve racial equity.
The campaign (a local variation of the national #sharethemicnow campaign, which has featured celebrities such as Katie Couric, Gwyneth Paltrow and MeToo founder Tanara Burke) grew out of what Stringer calls the “interlocking crises” of the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd’s death.
“As a Black person, I struggle, too, with my sense of privilege,” she said. “Have I been doing all that I can do? Or have I become somewhat complacent? I really believe we cannot be complacent. If we are complacent, we are complicit.”
For the past couple of months, Stringer has paired women with similar passions to participate in the Minnesota campaign. During the takeover day, the partners introduce themselves to their ally’s followers by sharing a bit about their life experience and suggest a call to action, such as a book to read or a community organization to support.
Among the dozens of participants, she’s paired a fashion event producer with a salon owner, or a Minnesota House representative and an aspiring state senator, for example.
In July, Coco Laud and YaLonda “Lala” Lolar Johnson, co-stars of the popular Facebook cooking show “Keeping up With Coco & Lala”, were paired with ally Stephanie A. Meyer of the food blog “Fresh Tart.”
While Meyer’s followers are largely paleo enthusiasts and Coco & Lala focus on vegan and vegetarian cooking, a love of healthy cooking gave them plenty of common ground. After the social media takeover, Coco & Lala interviewed Meyer on their KMOJ radio show, and the three are hoping to collaborate by cooking together soon.
Audra Robinson, who recently launched a lifestyle brand for Black girls called Rocky Robinson, was happy to share her story with the social media followers of ally Allison Kaplan, editor of Twin Cities Business magazine.
Robinson said she saw a “halo effect” from participating in the campaign: In addition to positive comments and Instagram “likes,” she saw an increase in sales of Rocky Robinson personal care items as well as product purchase donations, where a set of essentials is donated to girls in displaced families.
Stringer said the #sharethemicmn campaign has benefited participants and their followers. Through it, Black and brown partners were introduced to a new audience, some of whom started following their social media accounts or took an interest in their products, services and causes. And the allies’ followers were exposed to captivating women whom they might not have come across in their social media feeds. For Stringer, #sharethemicmn is an outgrowth of her work and her life.
Known for her regular lifestyle segments on WCCO-TV, Stringer exudes a warm, cheerful charisma and is full of stories (like the time she won a contest that paid her to watch 24 Hallmark Christmas movies in 12 days).
Her ability to make connections with others has been a constant throughout her career, whether at the General Mills sales job that brought her to the Twin Cities more than a decade ago, or as a speaker, writer and on-air personality.
She’s dedicated her blog, “Carpe Diem with Jasmine,” and her self-published book, “Seize Your Life: How to Carpe Diem Every Day,” to helping other people live more authentic, connected and mindful lives.
She’s a big believer in the power of social media (it led to her meeting Oprah, and later modeling for a clothing feature in O magazine) and using it to increase community engagement.
Dialogue across difference
The concept of “mic sharing” is not immune from controversy, starting with the uncomfortable premise that Black and brown women won’t be heard by a broad audience without a white conduit. But dealing with such issues is inherent to the work of dismantling racism, Stringer said.
In Minnesota, the campaign continues to grow, with new cohorts participating each second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Stringer has been able to recruit participants from around the state (see sharethemicmn.com to apply) and has garnered funds from several foundations.
Cecilia Stanton Adams, the chief diversity and inclusion officer of Allianz Life, one of the supporting organizations, said she sees the campaign as a way to counteract people’s tendency to surround themselves with people like themselves.
“Share the mic fosters dialogue across difference and that is a powerful way to make change,” she noted.
Kaplan, too, sees #sharethemic as a way to broaden the tunnel vision that comes from following and engaging with what’s familiar.
“Learning a bit about [the partner’s] story and realizing you share a community and more is a powerful moment, and just the sort of disruption we need,” she said.
Kaplan said she was impressed with Stringer’s drive to make #sharethemicmn an ongoing campaign (“it’s not easy to hold anyone’s attention longer than a swipe these days”), and thinks it will create lasting connections.
“Being a small part of a movement that is fostering that level of connection and awareness in our community is incredibly humbling and gratifying,” she said. “And it’s the sort of tangible action I think we’re all craving right now.”