Words by Carol Wright | Photos Courtesy of Allyson Byrd
Allyson Byrd spoke to us about putting together ‘The Virtual Riot’, her foray into activism, and influencers using their platform for good.
You are a money mindset expert, founder of a tech company, and a corporate sales strategist. Did you ever see yourself adding activist to that list?
Initially, no, I did not see myself as an activist. When I was born in the 1970s so by the time I became conscious of the issues around me, it was well into the 1980s and I thought for sure, by the year 2020, racism would be eradicated and this would be done with this. I believed Martin Luther King, Jr. and that we would be the fulfillment of his dreams. So when we saw George Floyd publicly lynched, it activated something deep inside of me and it made me realize: the work is just beginning. Forums like this are REQUIRED and mandated so that we are speaking up, speaking out and demanding justice for marginalized communities that is long overdue.
Tell us a bit about The Virtual Riot Against Racism. When did you get the idea to put this together?
The Virtual Riot Against Racism (www.TheVirtualRiot.com), a grassroots social media campaign that allows people everywhere to take a stand against racism and oppression in the United States with a goal of raising a collective one million dollars. I was inspired to create this event after witnessing the response to this summer’s campaign of posting a black square in solidarity of Black Lives Matter. You could see the line of the unconscious bias by white influencers not knowing what to post and Black influencers feeling disregarded and dismissed. I’ve always been a person who bridges the gap. In the work that I do, a large percentage of my clients are caucasian. I also recognize that as the voices and challenges of Black and Brown people were amplified, it became “trendy” to post the black square. But what did NOT trend is impacting the bottom line of the mechanisms that keep systemic racism in place. Issues like homelessness, discrimination in the work place, and now, a global pandemic, all disproportionately affect Women of Color. In order for this all to change, I know that it will take women of ALL ethnicities and backgrounds to come together to support Women of Color.
A key message for the event is reinforcing the fact that activism work does not start and end with a black square. Do you hope that the virtual riot can show others how to take a stand?
Every person that we know, whether shirley chisom to kamala harris, nina simone to janelle monet, all of their inspirations and movements for change all started with an idea. And that’s my goal. To let people know: You don’t have to be perfect to start a movement. But you DO need to be responsive and do what you feel in your heart. So when you see injustice, speak out. And that’s what I hope to get out of this is to inspire people to take action.
There are numerous topics that could be covered in an event like this. How did you go about honing in on having the virtual riot focus on Black women and their contributions to society?
The statistics of how the pandemic has negatively affected Black single mothers are staggering. Nearly 1.7 million Black women are jobless because of the COVID19 pandemic. By the end of this year, the single, Black mother will be in a state of crisis including homelessness, joblessness and inability for her children to continue consistent public education. This tragedy hits close to home for me, as my mother was a single Black mother raising two children on her own. She worked three jobs and barely made $30,000 a year. There were days where our lights were turned off and we lived in apartments that were run down. And through all of that, my mother did the best that she could and she loved us dearly. And now, living in a pandemic, I can only imagine how many single Black mothers are out there, in desperate need of assistance, support and reassurance that they will make it. So this campaign was created with them in mind.
You got a star studded line-up for the riot. Was it reassuring to see people with large platforms agree to attend the event and use their platforms for good?
What’s great about this campaign is that social media influencers are using their platform to educate and celebrate People of Color. We need white influencers to stand behind us and use their privilege. The Virtual Riot is just the first step in allyship and change. I hope to spark the conversation and then see that translate into our everyday lives.
The event is also aimed towards influencers and content creators. Have you seen a shift within the influencer community since the BLM protests started back in the summer?
Absolutely. I think white influencers can no longer turn a blind eye to the injustices of marginalized communities. We’re seeing protests and marches on our devices every day. We’re seeing the brutalizations and killings of People of Color in our social media feeds weekly. Black and Brown influencers are no longer afraid to use their platforms to speak out, loudly and proudly, and you’re seeing people everywhere amplifying and celebrating their voices. The Virtual Riot is an opportunity to see that in real time. Women of all backgrounds are saying NO MORE.