From her beginnings at Tumblr, Bridget Kyeremateng spearheaded #BlackExcellence365 and Tumblr #Pride—powerful campaigns that reflected and reverberated the marginalized communities through her outreach and platform elevation. As a Black woman in the Social Impact sector, Bridget bridges the divide between the corporate understanding of Social Impact, and the lived experience—in order to create work that truly resonates. Her career trajectory has been shaped by an academic background in Black Studies and Feminist Studies, a love of community, and a commitment to life-long learning and understanding.
Now at Spotify, Bridget is the Associate Manager of Social Impact supporting marginalized communities through the audio industry. Learn more about how starting at Spotify during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how reaches out to and supports her community.
This interview took place over the phone between Lyzbeth Lara in Mexico City, Mexico, and Bridget Kyeremateng in Brooklyn, New York.
LL: How did you get to where you are today?
BK: I was born in Italy, and I lived there for about seven years. Then my parents moved me and my sister to California, where we lived in Fontana, which is a predominantly low-income population. The demographic of Fontana is mostly Latinx folks, Black folks, and a lot of Asian folks which was very humbling while growing up.
One of the most challenging things about Fontana was that it was 55 west of Los Angeles where most internships were. Living in Fontana and coming from a low-income family, my main priority was to get good grades and get involved in hopes to go to college after. As an undocumented student at the time, it was already challenging for me to get a job or an internship so I had to work extremely hard at a time when undocumented immigrants were barely getting the opportunity to go to college under in-state-tuition.
After graduating high school, I got admitted into the University of California, Santa Barbara where I went on to get a double degree in Black Studies and Feminist Studies. Similar to my experience in Fontana, SB wasn’t a place where you could easily get an internship since I was now 100 miles away from Los Angeles. I used my time in SB to get fully immersed in opportunities from being a tour guide, directing the Vagina Monologues, being a resident assistant, and more. Upon leaving—after spending some time after graduation—I embarked on a journey to New York where I would go to work at various companies such as Tumblr and currently Spotify to continue sharing my love for storytelling for marginalized communities through platforms.
In college, did you know what you wanted to study? And did you find it helpful?
I went in as a Film and Media Studies major, and I was super stoked about learning how to be a journalist. But what I didn't realize was that UCSB was a research-based school, which is really focused on theory. This meant that I wasn't really going to learn how to be a journalist unless I had internships. For that particular degree, you have to really look at local stations and I wasn't caught up for that kind of work. laughs
One of my first classes was a Black Studies course with Dr. George Lipsitz. I originally was going to take the Black Studies class to meet my ethnicity requirement, which if you think about it, back in the early 2000s and early 2010s, that was never a thing! That class and that professor amongst so many other professors literally changed my life. In the end, I came out with two degrees—so no, I didn't know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I wanted to impact the world in some way, and Dr. George Lipsitz gave me that candle to light my spark.
When you graduated, were you able to go straight into a job?
Nope, so after I graduated, I stayed at UCSB and worked in an orientation program up until the end of summer. During that whole time, I kept thinking, “What am I going to do with my life?"
All I knew was that I wanted to do something impactful for the world, that integrates art, theater, and music, and that leverages marginalized communities and their voices. But I literally had no idea how to do that. Remember, I didn’t get a lot of internship experience in the “industry”.
For so many years, I wanted to move to New York, but I had no money since I was mainly supporting myself through college. So I saved as much as I could, which at the time, was only $5,000. And I booked a one-way ticket to New York City.
I moved into a six-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Bed Stuy. I signed a full-year lease, and then I had to get a job. Who signs a full-year lease without a job and only enough money to survive for 3 months?
It ended up taking me around three months and over 300 job applications in order for me to get my first role, which was as a production contractor at a marketing company called Hogarth Worldwide.
Even though that was really far away from what I wanted to do and I didn't necessarily see myself in advertising, it was such an incredible opportunity for me to really learn what it means to work in NYC—the fast-paced aspect of the city, especially when it comes to something as simple as emailing and taking calls—it's so different from when I was in California. Working in this very fast-paced environment, where I was creating these incredible commercial spots for our client was really interesting because I picked up this pace of learning how to breathe and talk like a New Yorker. And that, to me, was very crucial for my success.
I always tell folks, “Your job is not your life”. I did some fun side projects (writing, modeling, activist work) that allowed me to keep up that spark of the work I wanted to do and let me continue exercising that muscle. When the time did come for me to jump into a new role, I already had some experience that I could speak to, not just my day-to-day job.
Yeah, of course, that makes sense. It's a huge boost of confidence. How long were you working at Hogarth?
I was at Hogarth for less than a year. I had learned as much as I could, but it was also challenging living paycheck to paycheck for so long in this city. While I knew that I had to financially support myself and a new role would help, I didn’t want just any other role. My goal was to still find a way to support the various communities that I’m a part of and an ally to.
That ended up being at Tumblr. For anyone that knows me, I've had a Tumblr since 2009 blogging about the boys that didn’t love me back. I loved and still do love Tumblr. It’s an incredible place for self-expression. For younger Bridget, Tumblr was a space that taught me about my Blackness and what it meant to be a Black woman in the United States as a third-culture kid. It was truly my first—of many—platforms that allowed me to express myself.
What did the job description read like?
The role at the time was Social Impact Coordinator and I ended up becoming Social Impact Lead, leading all of their Social Impact efforts shortly after joining the team, and frankly, I had no idea what Social Impact meant, but the description of the job mentioned that you need to be passionate about social justice, LGBTQ, art, music...and I thought, “This is literally me, sign me up!”
I was lucky enough to have gotten the position at the last minute, working with the former Head of Social Impact and Public Policy, Victoria McCullough, who is one of the coolest and smartest people I've ever worked with. She taught me so much about the Social Impact industry, she also empowered me to bring and leverage my knowledge of culture, music, art, and my personal experience in our work. That really changed the game for the Tumblr Social Impact team. It allowed us to integrate the work that Victoria was doing with the non-profit sector, with the work that I wanted to do with music, art, and culture.
In the time that I was at Tumblr, we were able to change a lot of conversations and do a lot of great campaigns and programs that the community itself would respond to, letting us know how grateful they were.
Obviously, you're very passionate, and you were the right person for the job. What do you think made you stand out when you were applying?
I think having connections is really helpful. For me, I had a friend whom I went to UCSB with, and who had done great projects at Tumblr. I asked her to share my resumé, but I didn't really think anything of it. You tend to share your resumés with a lot of people in the hope that it will get to the right table.
But by the grace of Beyoncé, and my friend’s connection with the Tumblr employee, it got to Victoria. She saw my work and thought, “We have to at least talk to this person.”
One thing to mention is that most Social Impact spaces tend to be predominantly white because of a lot of factors. If you're looking at recruitment, HR, the hiring manager, the network, and more, it’s challenging to have Black, POC, and/or queer candidates in the pool. It could be that the applications aren't being shared widely enough, or that the network is still pretty homogeneous. I think for Victoria and I, there was a shared alignment that my work and experience spoke for itself, but my passion for these communities, the way I was embedded in the ever-changing culture, and the experience I bring as a Black woman were imperative in our work.
In any work that is focused on diversity, philanthropy, equity, it’s crucial to have folks that reflect the communities you’re serving and/or leveraging. I think what was really exciting was that I wanted to be that person on the team and show the visibility of a Black woman on this team.
I think some people might wonder if it’s burden work. It can be. As someone who is a part of many marginalized communities, showing up for work can be mentally exhausting as you’re watching the world burn. At the same time, I understand that I have been called to this work in this time of my life. The beauty of that is my passion gets to show up in my work, and once my calling has passed, we’ll see where I’ll go next.
During my time at Tumblr, I created one of my most exciting campaigns called “#BlackExcellence365” because it was important to showcase the abundance of work, joy, and cultural impact that the Black Tumblr community was bringing.
That wasn't a burden for me at all. If anything, I loved being able to talk to all these artists. I would interview them, give them a platform, and we’d put them on social media—and that was really exciting work. We did that through Women's History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Pride, Latinx—you name it. We really wanted to give each community their voice, and let them speak for themselves.
You were the lead on many campaigns including #BlackExcellence365. When you were assembling your teams, what were you looking for in each individual?
The work that I did at Tumblr was not done just by myself. Even though I carried the main campaign executions, we had an amazing social media team, an outstanding art director, and designer, a marketing-integrated person, an analytics lead—every person that touched this campaign was just as passionate about it as I was. Folks were really intrigued and really excited to get involved because they also want to have an opportunity to support the communities that we're working with.
If I had to hire someone in a particular team for Social Impact, it’d be nice to see someone who is also embodying the work outside of their job. This doesn't mean that you have to be an activist, who is out there organizing or writing papers. It just means that you practice what you preach. If you’re an ally to the LGBTQ community, how are you naturally bringing them up? How are you naturally bringing up the Asian American community? How are you naturally bringing up Black folks? How are you naturally bringing up folks who have a disability?
In the Social Impact space and as an activist, I'm not necessarily an expert. I like to say that while I have a lot of knowledge, I've gained a lot of knowledge—I'm also continuing to learn. The space of social justice is constantly changing and constantly evolving. In order to be a great activist or a great Social Impact person, I have to be really humble in the work that I'm doing by making sure that I allow people to teach me while I’m teaching them. At the end of the day, I come from a place of understanding.
In college, when I was deep into my theory, I would actually get very upset at people if they didn't know what the terms patriarchy or supremacy meant. And I thought, “How could you not understand that?”
But that's because I was living in my own bubble. If we're speaking U.S.–centric, the majority of Americans don't have a college education. On top of that, their classes are not necessarily talking to them about the real U.S. history. They're not talking about racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism. So in all of my work, whether it's professional or personal, I try to always lead with an open heart. Even if the conversations are tough, I try to have those conversations and let people know that I'm also learning.
When I’m looking for someone to be on a team, it's really about that humility, that knowledge, and being empathetic, and wanting to continue learning. The only way that you're going to be a better human is to allow yourself to keep learning.
When you're starting a new campaign, are you choosing your social issue? Or is the issue coming to you?
Professionally, I think for Tumblr, we had an idea of what we wanted to do. If there was something that I was really passionate about, I was able to think about an idea and then find a way that I could incorporate it into our mission.
Personally, prior to the pandemic, two other women and I started a collective called Applauding Power. That was one of the projects I did on the side in order to keep up that spirit of talking the talk, but also creating a space. In this instance, women of all backgrounds came into a space that made them feel welcomed, and they didn't have to come into a space to network or to drop a business plan. It was really about having fun, and being in the same community as these incredible women.
We need more spaces that are not just about networking—that's a lot of pressure. We're all doing something, we all have a busy life. Why can’t we just come and drink mimosa and dance for six hours? Maybe then, I'll connect with a really dope photographer, and then we're going to create content, maybe three, six months down. That’s a genuine connection, and we wanted to foster that.
Do you have any specific steps to developing a meaningful and effective social justice campaign?
Let’s say you’re doing marketing for a company, and you really want to start a campaign that focuses on this community. The kind of questions that I would run through are: What does this community need? What does your platform already do for the community? How does the community use this particular platform? And is there a way that you can communicate with that community through your platform?
If you’re able to answer those questions, then you will have a goal and a mission.
Let’s say you’re targeting the Black audience. If your Black audience is in the art space, and the art space is predominantly white, is your particular platform predominantly showcasing white artists? How can you change that? Is it an algorithm problem? Is it someone curating this? Do you not know enough Black artists?
There are all these questions you have to ask about the platform. You have to identify the problems, and then you can start the process of fixing them or working around them to leverage that community as you’re solving the platform’s issue.
Once you’ve answered those really basic problems. How are you going to create content? Is there a way that you can creatively bring in this community? Can you bring in Black creators to create their own videos? If you don't have the budget for a video, can you do interviews? If you can't do interviews, can you do audio clips and add them to the website?
There are so many ways that you can encompass the brevity of any community.
When it comes to campaign executions, you want to have a team that can support you. I am a great believer that one person can’t do everything. I'm really good at thinking about the big picture, but I'm clumsy when it comes to the details. For example, if I was able to create my own team, I would probably have a project manager who can help sift out the details because that’s where I lack strength. There’s nothing bad about that, I recognize my strengths and someone else’s strength and how we can optimize our goal together.
For this campaign, did it reach the audience that we were intended to get? Did it reach the allies we were intended to get? If you want to create a campaign, it's really about creating a team that can help execute that idea. And campaigns don't have to be incredibly big—you can impact someone with a very small campaign. Just doing the work and making sure that it's authentic, in and of itself, can go really, really far.
To transition to your current role, what does the Social Impact industry do at Spotify? How did you first hear about the job?
When I first got my job at Tumblr, I didn't even know what Social Impact meant. A lot of people don't know what it means, but they don't realize that a lot of companies actually have a Social Impact industry. Sometimes, it can be read as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is a very fancy word for the same thing. The Social Impact space is pretty small. The role presented itself to me on LinkedIn, and I was excited for a new shift and a change. Tumblr is a blogging platform, and Spotify is an audio platform. So there's already a challenge in learning about the audio industry.
I was really, really lucky to be able to join this team. A lot of the work at Spotify is about wanting to be bold and letting our users and listeners know that we're hearing them. In the past, the Social Impact team has done some really great work like “I’m With The Banned” and “Sound Up”. The Social Impact helped drive the force behind creating these programs and campaigns for marginalized communities and creating brand messaging to support that. It’s been really cool to learn about those programs and then wondering, “What is the future gonna hold for us?”
What skills do you think were necessary for this role in particular?
If you’re fresh out of college, and you want to work in Social Impact, you should ask yourself what is the work that you've done in college that can actually be translated into the field. Not just skills, but specific things that you've done, and how can you transfer that work into a new job.
Have you done anything with social justice groups in college? Did you work in a student body government? Did you lead a volunteering opportunity for a specific community? What have you done, in the past, that has contributed to marginalized communities? You can take those opportunities and transfer them into entry-level jobs.
Writing and presenting skills are also very important. You have to be able to translate some of these very tough and challenging societal issues—via email, in a brief, a blog post, a PR statement, and more—in the work that we're doing. Presentation skills are important because you have to be able to present information that can be accessible and easily understood by the other party.
For a lot of folks, this may be their first time listening to you talk about systematic oppression for a particular community. They may have heard about it, but now you're explaining it to them and you have to be able to present that in a way that is understandable and accessible.
What has been your favorite project at Spotify and how did you go about building that?
We worked on a ton of really cool projects that came out last year. One of them was the "House Of" playlists, for which we worked with ballroom icons in the LGBTQ+ community to take over their own Spotify playlists during Pride. I’ve learned so much about the ballroom community ever since I watched Paris is Burning. You can only imagine how ecstatic I was that we were able to give these legends the opportunity to curate their own ballroom playlists, and what that meant for them.
The Black and brown queer community truly started and paved the way for the LGBTQ+ movement, particularly Black trans women. So for me, as somebody who is an ally to the community, I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to support them. It was only a small portion of our overall Pride campaign, but for me, it was the most exciting part. For me, it was one of the most impactful things that we did because it transcended beyond the platform and beyond me as a person. It even transcended past those ballroom icons who curated that playlist. It is for the community, by the community. And that makes me feel soulful that they had the power to create their own place and to have the power to share that with their community.
You mentioned it was a challenge to go from visual to auditory fields. What do you think has been the most challenging but the most rewarding? How did your job change?
The pandemic has made it really hard for me to fully grasp everything. As a visual and kinesthetic learner, it is easier for me to see, hear, and touch things as I’m learning. For the entirety of my time at Spotify, I have been working at home. Personally, for me, that has been the challenge because, again, the audio industry is also ever-evolving. I want to make sure that I keep myself in front of the curve, but it can be a bit challenging when you're not surrounded by all these really smart people talking to you all the time. So that has been my biggest challenge.
I think one of the coolest things that I've learned is how the industry is evolving, but also in terms of how folks are supporting these creators and how we are supporting them amidst a pandemic creatively, and how we can continue to leverage their voices. A lot of folks have been using Clubhouse or creating audio tweets from Twitter as a way to share their voice, and that is essentially a part of the audio industry. It’s growing...it’s really changed the game because a lot of folks right now are realizing, "Wow, there is a way that I can make my voice heard without having to be on a panel or produce a whole podcast."
And that is the power of audio. The audio industry is evolving and the pandemic actually heightened that because folks were forced to figure out a way to share their ideas and their thoughts, in the privacy or in the isolation of their home.
What would you say to somebody who's trying to figure out a way to express themselves or to reach out to their community outside of work? What could they be doing?
Well, I'll answer it in a pandemic version—just because that's where my head has been for the majority of the time. I can imagine how hard it has been for people to feel inspired to reach out because I’ve felt the same way too. Nonetheless, because everyone is mostly at home, everyone is using their phones or is on LinkedIn, or Instagram, or Twitter, it is slightly easier to get someone's attention. If there is someone that you were really interested in getting to know...finding their email, finding their social handle, and getting to quickly chat with them to learn about what they do can be a bit easier.
Does that mean everyone is doing it? Yeah, probably. So you have to figure out what makes you stand out.
That's another thing that could be a bit draining. So I also want to give the advice that you should be very, very kind to yourself, and also very patient with yourself in terms of doing outreach. When it comes to wanting to either pick someone's brain about the work they've done or wanting to create a community, it can be tough because every single person is currently going through something right now that we don't know of.
Nonetheless, I do believe that if there is a particular job you want or a particular project that you want to do, it's not impossible. You can find a way to make yourself stand out, and you don't have to create a damn deck every time. That shit can be draining.
For somebody who's building their own company, where can they start regarding Social Impact?
I think one thing that I've noticed is that most companies tend to think about Social Impact as an afterthought. But the companies that tend to think about Social Impact in the beginning as part of their skeleton, their goal, and mission—it's a bit easier for them to maneuver through what their community needs. Depending on the company you’re building, Social Impact can be embedded in everything you do. That being said, it takes knowing about Social Impact and learning how to integrate social justice into your work that can help jump start integrating that into the company. In most cases, if there isn’t a Social Impact at your company, and you’re hoping to create that space, it is definitely possible. Create a strategy that shows how the company can do Social Impact work—whether philanthropic, branding, or through sustainability—and go from there. Lastly, reflecting the community you’re serving and having the team reflect that will definitely optimize the work.
Because then it’s built into the DNA.
Yes, exactly. It's built into the DNA. It's not really hard to figure out ways to support the community or how your brand can speak to the community because it's already embedded in the work that you do.
What are you reading that we should be reading? Or are you watching anything we should be watching?
I love biopics. I tend to be the person who’s always watching dramatic biopics, like Malcolm X or 12 Years A Slave. I'm also watching documentaries from the Equal Justice Initiative program (EJI). Crack is a Netflix documentary that talks about the crack epidemic that started in the early 80s and propelled the wide state of private prisons that we have in the United States today, as well as the stereotypes that have been created against Black women and Black men, particularly those who are poor and are suffering from this drug addiction.
The second one is Grass is Greener, another Netflix documentary about the history of cannabis. And again, cannabis has also become this perpetuating stereotype against the Black community when it comes to folks wanting to support their family and they get into dealing. Now in spaces where cannabis is legal, you have a disproportionate amount of white people actually making money off of selling cannabis, and yet there are still Black and brown people in prisons for having a gram of weed.
The last thing that I'll mention is a book that I always reread: The Crunk Feminist Collection. It's this book with stories about Black feminism. It has a really great intersection with Hip Hop, identity, culture, and sex. It’s one of my top books that I have, and I revisit it every couple of months or so.
And you know we had to get Bridget's playlist for you:
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Bridget Kyeremateng
Special thanks to Polaroid