Blaqspot is an up and coming all-in-one social media platform designed with “us” in mind. Re-launched this past December as Blaqspot 3.0, this black owned network celebrates the uniqueness and authenticity of African Americans. Blaqspot connects black social media influencers, activists, job seekers and networkers with larger audiences and resources within their local communities. Darial Clewis, CEO of Blaqspot talks to us about the start of this revolutionary movement and the launch of his network, including the latest development, Blaqspot TV.
Parlé Mag: Let’s get right to it. Tell us about the man behind Blaqspot Media, the person starting the movement.
Darial Clewis: Let’s see. I’m from deep East Texas. A little town called Social Springs. I grew up in the 80’s…the 70’s and 80’s so I’ve seen the de-evolution (if you wanna call it that) of race relations for the past 40 years. I was into some nerdy type stuff—baseball, band, stuff like that.
Parlé Mag: Wow! That’s impressive.
Darial Clewis: I spent 4 and a half years in the navy. And after that, I just went into different fields. Everything from mostly sales and business development to actually running and developing call centers.
So then in 2016 after all the murder-porn, this was around the time Philando Castile was killed, I started seeing a lot of people on social media getting their accounts blocked and banned and censored and the amount of trolling that goes on with black people when they try to express themselves and how they’re feeling or what they’re actually thinking about the situation online. And so, the idea came together, that, we need our own social media site. I was in a position to build a cable network so I said maybe we can have our own social media site and make it exclusively black and for black people. And so that was kind of the brainchild of Blaqspot. I spoke to my wife about it and she was on board, so I just kind of charged forward and we launched the site back in October of 2016. It kind of fizzled, a little bit until about January. Then so many people heard about it and started talking about it and all of a sudden in January 2017 we went from having a couple hundred members to twenty five hundred people showing up every couple of days to post something.
Parlé Mag: Oh wow! That’s awesome.
Darial Clewis: Yeah, it was awesome. We also learned our first lesson.
Parlé Mag: Which was?
Darial Clewis: When the people come, the trolls come also.
Parlé Mag: Oh, yeah. [Laughter] They are always lurking.
Darial Clewis: Right! We went through a serious hacking thing and whatnot. They shut the site down for a couple of hours. Slowed it down for a couple of days, whatever. Just going at it. We brought in a couple of experts and that hasn’t been an issue since. That all brought about Blaqspot 2.0.
Parlé Mag: I read that you used to help your wife (she’s a baker); with website set up and building websites. When you were doing that, did you ever think that this is what you would be doing? Creating a social media site for black people?
Darial Clewis: I literally had ZERO idea. When I was building (And what I built) for her was an online video training community where she teaches women how to make various kinds of cakes and treats and things. She’s had several of her students go on to quit their regular jobs and go into business for themselves. So we’re kind of proud of that.
Parlé Mag: You should be!
Darial Clewis: We do everything together. We do EVERYthing together. All of our business ventures since the day we got married, 13 years ago, have been together. We’ve always done everything together.
Parlé Mag: It’s astonishing me that you all are able to do that. I’m sure there’s a sense of relief that you have such amazing support. And it exemplifies the meaning of teamwork, that you guys are able to do every business venture together with the full support of your spouse. That has to make a world of difference when you’re doing different things.
Darial Clewis: Most definitely. One thing we talk about on Blaqspot and with people in general is that despite what people try to fell you, the black man and black woman need each other.
Parlé Mag: I agree.
Darial Clewis: Not just in a business sense, but also in a support sense because my wife understands my daily struggle more than anyone. And I understand hers, as a black woman. So you know with just communication, love, trust and the desire not to quit and not to give up on each other, you can accomplish anything.
Parlé Mag: I agree, wholeheartedly. Was your response as welcoming from other family members and friends when you began to share with them what you were creating?
Darial Clewis: Um, well ya know. Family that care—
Parlé Mag: [Laughter] We know how that goes!
Darial Clewis: Exactly, and, I mean it happens. Because they say “oh you’re doing this, oh you’re doing that, whatever…” but at the end of the day I think that most people (And I hate to use this term) in the “pro-black” community if that’s what you want to call it, typically are few and far in between. So you don’t expect a lot from them until you make your first million. [Laughter]
Parlé Mag: Oh yes, of course! That’s when everyone shows up to say how much they have always believed in you. Or they sell stories to TMZ about how they knew you and supported you. That’s unfortunately [laughs] how it goes.
Darial Clewis: Right, right. Exactly.
Parlé Mag: When I was looking at your site-the overlay and what you guys were aiming to do, what came to mind for me was Blackplanet.
Darial Clewis: Um hmm.
Parlé Mag: Because at the time when Blackplanet was created, that’s kind of all we had as an African American community in terms of a social media site that was created specifically for us. So this is super exciting that you are not necessary re-inventing Blackplanet but taking what they’ve done to make it something greater. With that in mind, what was your greatest challenge in creating Blaqspot?
Darial Clewis: Well, I think the biggest challenge we had was with black apathy. Typically, unfortunately, our people want everything to already be built. I like that you brought it up because Blackplanet was one of my inspirations when we built Blaqspot 3.0. I remember when I was on Blackplanet, I used to love the chat rooms on there. The ability to talk to people all over the world. Let me give you just a little bit of information here. Facebook, actually took Blackplanet’s U.I., their layout and that’s how they got started. And really built it up. But the challenge for black media is always black apathy. The idea that our people are so used to people who classify themselves as white building everything and then allowing “us” in. When it comes down to the point where it’s time to build for ourselves, people are like “Oh, I don’t know”. Or “It doesn’t have this, it doesn’t have that.” It is what it is, but at the end of the day, whether it’s Facebook, ABC, Fox News, Wal-Mart, whateve, none of those are black owned companies. They weren’t built for you. You’re just allowed to buy there, shop there, or do whatever. But when you go too far and your usefulness runs out, the door will be slammed one at a time. That’s why it’s important that we as black people go for power and build our own.
Parlé Mag: You’re absolutely right. Why do you think that mentality is still there? In any profession, you have black people that are successful. They are natural powerhouses in so many ways, yet that mentality is still present. Like you previously stated there’s the lack of black apathy—”if it hasn’t already been established, I don’t want to be apart of it yet.”
Darial Clewis: Right. You have to be forgiving of our people. There’s a separation within our culture from black men to black women, the skin color battles. Even if you take it back to high school there’s always an argument between guys who’s more athletically gifted and the smart guys about who got the hot girls. Everything in society is built to keep us separated. With that separation, comes a lack of networks. When you don’t have a network then you can’t say “ok we’re building so and so. Who’s the realtor guy? Who’s the finance guy? Who’s the operations guy? All those things get broken up, but I find that as we as Blaqspot reach out to different organizations to tell them that we’re here it’s not as hard to get people on the network.
Parlé Mag: So, Blaqspot is for Black people. Celebrating our blackness, unifying our blackness. Is there any other entity to Blaqspot other than being essentially, a pro black networking site?
Darial Clewis: Well, I mean it’s a lot to it. Our goal is to connect people online so that they can connect offline as well to build in their communities and abroad. We offer a lot of different levels to the platform. We have a business directory, marketplaces, live streams will be available. Pretty soon after that we will have Blaqspot TV which is essentially going to be an upgrade of YouTube for black people. We want to put out news, entertainment and commentary from a black perspective. Beside the social networking and funny memes there’s a strong focus on group economics and building localized social clubs to link like-minded people.
Parlé Mag: It really is an all inclusive site. I saw there was a spot for career building and job postings. You’re bringing in an educational component to allow tutorials and like you said, that focus on group economics to assist in building stronger communities. Was that always a part of the plan to be all inclusive or did it broaden as your site began to grow?
Darial Clewis: Well, that was always the plan. Always the goal. My thinking was, Zuckerberg, or Facebook I should say, these guys make 50, 70, 100 billion dollars annually in revenue from advertisements and different things like that. If we can come to a situation where we are even worth half of that, then we can stem the tide of all the redlining and other unfair economic practices. We can invest in land here and in Africa. We can set up trade alliances between here and Africa and the Caribbean. We could really go after the basic necessities of black nationhood; land and infrastructure. We’ve never been in a situation where there have been hundreds of billions of dollars to pour into the initiatives in an effort to grow our power. Besides that, we’ve never had an organized structure where people from all different walks, faiths and professional disciplines have been a part of a network with boots on the ground to make those things happen. That for me, is the end game. When we were setting up Blaqspot, the one thing that was most important to me was to have an organizational structure and an organizational plan that if something happened to me, it can go forward.
Parlé Mag: Social media is a powerful presence. I’m sure you’ve seen on Instagram where a lot of young [black] comedians have gained their success and popularity from uploading videos or skits and things of that nature. They already have large followings and fan bases. What would be the motivation or incentive rather for them to somewhat leave a platform where they are established and come to Blaqspot?
Darial Clewis: For me, it’s all about building. We seen these people lose revenue, upwards of 90% because YouTube or Google, I should say didn’t like what they were putting on their channels. All we want to do is provide the opportunity for these video commentators, people who do shows, playwrights and/or musicians, whoever to take control of their networks. Right now, their Instagram accounts can be shut down, but at Blaqspot very few things can get you banned. It’s about creating that face of blackness, which I believe a lot of entertainers should have done well before now.
Let’s talk about athletes for second.
Parlé Mag: Ok.
Darial Clewis: For the hundreds of billions of dollars that has been made by professional athletes since the 1960’s, why don’t black professional athletes have their own ESPN where stories are broken down and written from their point of view? Take Michael Vick with the dog fighting. They already knew that he didn’t have anything to do with it, it just took place on his property. But there were no media outlets speaking to his people for him. Now, black men actually make up about 70% of ESPN’s viewership. So there’s no reason why these guys haven’t put together a million bucks or a hundred million bucks years ago to have their own platform. It goes back to what I was saying about black people not going for power. At the end of the day, unless we just want to be relegated to second class citizenship, then we’re gonna have to build these infrastructures for ourselves, and run them ourselves. And manage them ourselves. And then you’ll see a change in the way music is played and television shows are produced because then it will be for a specific audience and not just to keep up with a buffoonish narrative.
Parlé Mag: I thought about that with Colin Kapernick and the National Anthem boycott. A celebrity put out a tweet that said, “Hey let’s start our own league” it makes you wonder, why does it take an injustice to put that thought into your minds when you had the resources and the network of people and the finances to have already built something like this.
Darial Clewis: Exactly.
Parlé Mag: It baffles me sometimes.
Darial Clewis: A couple of years ago, when Will and Jada were talking about “Oscars so White”, there’s enough black money in Hollywood to have your own Oscars. You guys can put out your own movies if you wanted too.
Parlé Mag: Oh! For sure. But it’s easier to talk about it than to go against the masses.
Darial Clewis: It’s that fear of you can’t go back. In entrepreneurship, you can only eat what you kill. That’s the great thing about it. [Laughs] And that’s the bad thing about it too, sometimes, because it’s nothing to hunt. All of these industries, we have to look at critically. I believe, wholeheartedly, in embracing our people, but I also believe in questioning our people to say, hey if you’re bout it, then show me that you are about it. If people’s mouths move one way, but their feet another, then I have to disregard them.
Parlé Mag: And you have too. Your actions will prove why words [alone] mean nothing. You can say it all day or tweet it all day, but like you said If your mouth and feet are in opposite directions then we have to disregard what you’re saying until you prove otherwise.
Darial Clewis: Um hmm, that’s exactly right.
Parlé Mag: You mentioned Blaqspot TV, so let’s talk about that. When can we expect a launch?
Darial Clewis: Ok, so Blaqspot TV is going to essentially be a hybrid of YouTube. Not only can you create content for a channel, we’re also going to have pay-per-view functionality. So if you are a playwright or do web shows or whatever you can sell access to that content. It’s also going to be live streaming with the ability to comment like you would on YouTube and the ability to make donations to the content creator during the live stream. Also, we’re gonna be monetizing the videos a little later on as we grow. But, the launch date for Blaqspot TV is March 1st.
Parlé Mag: Awesome. I look forward to that as well.
Darial Clewis: We’re launching that on IOS and Android devices. One of the things we have to do in “blackspace” as I call it is we have to continuously prove that these things can be done. People are typically shocked like you built this?
Why shouldn’t I be able to build it? You think only white people can build this stuff up? We have to constantly prove that you are who you say you are.
Which is fine, but we really have to take hold and grasp that we are the original builders. All these things that are downplayed by white society without us. Technology is our birthright. Our brothers over there (Nigeria, Ghana) and sisters over there are really taking the lead with technology to be game developers and animators, so many things. We would be remiss if we weren’t doing our part on this end to empower and work with our people globally.
Parlé Mag: I agree. Anything else you want to share or anything else we can expect from you and Blaqspot?
Darial Clewis: Um, expect us to always go big.
Parlé Mag: GO BIG OR GO HOME, right?
Darial Clewis: Yep! Go big or go home. I tell people all the time there’s absolutely nothing we can’t do if we make the decision to do it. So I’m happy to be working with and working alongside people that have that “can do attitude” and are willing to step out there to build power and influence with our people. I would have never thought to have grown this fast, but I’m truly impressed and humbled.
Parlé Mag: Thank you so much for speaking with me. I’m so excited to see the future of Blaqspot.
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