Since I started whipping butters as a side (and increasingly main) hustle in late 2014, the progress has been pretty incredible and, in many ways, this year has felt like my ‘breakthrough’. My butters were recognized by YouTube and included in the swag bag for YouTube Black, and I opened my first storefront in Brooklyn. So when I got a message from a BET executive saying they wanted to meet me, it felt like destiny — something meant to be. That the meeting fell on my son’s 5th birthday was just another stroke of fate.
“Happy Birthday buddy!” I said cheerily when I woke him up. “Mommy has a big meeting with a TV network today!”
And yes, I suck for making his big day about my big news but I was pretty excited. I would go into Manhattan, to the Viacom building in Times Square, meet with two marketing executives, and by the time I got back home to Brooklyn that evening I would be celebrating both my son’s milestone birthday and a BET exclusive on my business.
But first there was the matter of my clothes. Tricky since, still 18 pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight, I can’t fit into about 70% of my wardrobe. I fished through my closet for ankle boots, a pair of nice jeans that fit without too much muffintopping and the sleeveless turtleneck that always does a pretty good job of hiding my muffintop. Not comfortable, but I’d only have to endure this for a few hours.
After dropping the kids at school I stopped by my shop and picked out travel sizes of our most popular scented butters and called a Lyft.
The Lyft was late, and I panicked as it slowly weaved through Midtown. I texted updates to my BET contact as often as I could, “So so sorry! Really looking forward to meeting you!”
As I sat in my seat, I tested ways I could weave my lateness into the life narrative I was crafting to present to BET — a hard-working mother of three young kids who managed to grow a successful business, braving horrible Manhattan traffic in the late afternoon to chase her dream. Realizing that my Lyft was going nowhere fast and that walking to my appointment would add extra flair to my story, I resolutely told my cabbie. “Drop me off here. I’ll *walk* the rest of the way.”
“Lyft stuck in traffic. Getting out to walk to you.” I texted my contact before stepping onto the street.
After several sweaty blocks I arrived at the Viacom building, more than 30 minutes late. I got my name tag, went up the elevator to the 26th floor and met with my contact.
“Hi! I am soooo sorry!”
“No worries!” she said cheerily.
We did some small talk about traffic in Manhattan versus Brooklyn and then I presented my butters.
“So I want you to try these! These are some of our most popular scents. I did a lot of research when I first started because lack of absorbency is a big problem with a lot of whipped butter lines and I wanted mine to be as absorbent as possible…” My voice trailed off as I realized she was staring at her computer. She picked up a sample and flashed me a quick smile.
“Thank you! Okay, so I’m just going to give you this,” she said handing me a binder. “And here’s a flash drive with all the information.”
“Um, you should try the vanilla whipped shea,” I said, taking the binder. “It’s our most popular scent.”
She dabbed a tiny bit on the back of her hand.
“Wow. It’s soft.” She then launched into a detailed explanation of BET’s programming. I opened the binder. Inside was a catalog of BET’s various advertising packages. I scanned through and looked at the price tags. 6 figures. My heart sank as it dawned on me — she didn’t want to do a story about my business. She wanted me to advertise on BET.
My mind raced. ‘Why do they think I can afford this? What about anything I have ever said or done makes them think I can afford this??’
“So now we’ll do lunch.” my contact said, snapping me back to reality.
A tall, well-suited black man ambled up and extended his hand. “Hi, nice to meet you.” he said. “I’ll be doing lunch with you too.” I shook back as convincingly as I could, feeling hyper conscious of how hard the button on my jeans was pushing against my gut.
We took the elevator down and stepped out onto a busy street. As we passed more impeccably dressed New Yorkers my imposter syndrome went into overdrive. There I was, a mom of three who hadn’t showered in one and three quarter days, in between two high-powered marketing execs who somehow thought I could afford the advertising packages they were explaining to me in embarrassing detail. I figured I needed to diffuse the situation before it went further.
“Um, some of your advertising packages cost as much as my business earns.… in a year.”
“Well, you gotta put yourself out there. You have to try new approaches.”
“I don’t have ‘put yourself out there and try new approaches’ money though,” I replied. My contact’s glance wavered a bit, but she didn’t seem convinced.
We arrived at a fancy restaurant. “The crab salad is so good here,” she cooed.
As we took our seats I decided I could at least try to sell my story. I cleared my throat.
“You know I took a big risk opening up my storefront, “I started. “And this is actually my second venture. I started out as a blogger — I still maintain my blog — and was actually recognized by The Root as a top blogger in 2012. I’m a mom of three kids, five and under, and it’s hard to do this. I don’t have a lot of help. A lot of people told me I couldn’t do this, but I’m taking it on.”
My contact and her associate smiled nicely. And then pivoted the conversation to the lack of black representation on House Hunters.
“You know, a lot of black people can afford the more expensive properties, but they don’t SHOW that,” said well-dressed black man. “You should blog about *that*.”
By the time the raw tuna tacos came I realized my best bet was to just enjoy my free meal. I locked eyes with the restaurant cook, a young black man with locs working at an open grill. His sympathetic gaze seemed to say, “Yeh we BOTH don’t belong here.”
About halfway through the meal it seemed to finally dawn on the male exec how pointless the entire affair was.
“You know I take every meeting that comes my way, because you never know where people will end up.”
I smiled. He was throwing me a bone and I appreciated it.
“You have such an incredible story, and I’d love to write about it on BET Her, the new platform we’re launching.”
I breathed in sharply.
“But it’s not up to me.”
I know enough to know that an ‘It’s not up to me’ from a network executive is a nice way of saying, ‘That shit ain’t happening.’
He started to ramble about how I might have been perfect for BET’s reality competition, “Queen Boss’ before it was canceled on orders from Viacom.
We finished our meal and my contact pulled out a black card to pay for everything.
‘Nice touch,’ I thought. ‘If that shit meant anything to me.’
We descended the restaurant’s curved stairs and headed back out to the street.
“Uh, I don’t need to follow you back to the office. I’ll just catch my Lyft from here. And just try my butters, okay?” I offered weakly. “They’re really good.”
“Yeh, I’ll definitely come by your shop.” tall black man promised.
And with that we departed.
I headed down the street only to realize that my phone was dead and I’d forgotten my purse at home. I ducked into the entryway of a columned building to come up with a plan and let my disappointment flood. Was I stupid for thinking BET would be interested enough in my story to cover it? In that moment, I honestly was not sure.
I scanned the street. Going back to the BET offices to charge my phone was out of the question. Insult to injury and all… I headed towards a Duane Reed.
I trudged up to the counter. “Hey. I need to call a Lyft but my phone is dead and I don’t have any money.” The store clerk handed me a charger and pointed me towards an outlet. “Just don’t leave the store with it.”
I plugged my phone in and sat on the cool floor beside it, clutching my knees as I watched people pass, looking for bandaids, nail polish and instant coffee.
‘Well’, I thought to myself, ‘*I’m* proud of me for opening my shop. There’s that.’
When my phone hit 8% I called a Lyft. My cabbie dropped me off at my storefront and I shelved my disappointment to go into work and mommy mode. I finished whipping a couple bowls of shea, and picked the kids up from school. We sang Happy Birthday, ate a cupcake, unwrapped a few presents, and talked about my son’s big party, coming up in a few days.
I got the kids down for the night and looked at my phone. I had a missed call — from my contact at BET!
My stomach fluttered. Maybe this was it! Maybe she had tried the butters after all and realized how incredible they were. Maybe this was a mea culpa, a new proposal.
“Missed your call,” I texted, “Sorry!”
I was about to ask what time I could call back when I got a reply text.
“Sorry didn’t mean to call. My son was playing with my phone.”
***This story is entirely true from start to finish and happened yesterday. I’ve excluded the name of my contacts at BET because they were genuinely nice people. Dialogue isn’t exact (just rehashing from my memory) but yeh, all of this happened…