Big house + big job = great life? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe it’s time to take a different look at what success really means for us, personally and professionally.

In our joint Young, Fabulous and Female and manCODE
events Tuesday, May 16, in Chicago’s Zhou B Art Center, we did just that.

Advertisement

The Root and Toyota gathered more than 200 men and women to sip wine, admire the beautiful art, network and discuss what redefining success means for them beyond the superficial.

There were two panels—one for Young, Fabulous and Female and the other for manCODE. We filled the panels with men and women who could speak to the changing definition of success in their own lives; whether that involved changing careers, starting families or doing other things in their lives that brought them the kind of success they had always desired, but maybe not in the exact way they had originally imagined. Sounds a bit like life, right? That’s why this panel was necessary!

Advertisement

The women showed up and showed out, packing the exhibition space with fly outfits, poise and attention, filling every available seat, to hear the wisdom of our panelists: Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, model and The Root contributor Maiysha Kai; young abolitionist freedom fighter and digital strategist for the Black Youth Project Fresco Steeze; and Black Youth Project Managing Editor Jenn M. Jackson. Lifestyle lawyer and reality-show star Kendell Kelly moderated the conversation.

Advertisement

“Success” is a robust word that lends itself to interpretations of all kinds. There’s something so empowering about being able to redefine success to fit our individual lives and ambitions. Steeze focused success on making strides in understanding the complexities of sexuality because as an LGBTQ activist, her focus is on the sexually marginalized. “I want us to be stewards of liberation,” she said passionately.

Kai’s definition of success centered on respect. As a singer and model, Kai said she is constantly judged, poked and prodded and prides herself on gaining respect, not only for her body but for those of other young black models, too.

As the women stripped off layer after layer, offering vulnerable and candid dialogue with one another, the men were upstairs at the Zhou B Art Center doing the same.

During the manCode panel, which was moderated by former Nightly Shown correspondent and comedian Felonious Munk, the men discussed everything from their definition of success to toxic masculinity. The panel consisted of Dustin Siebert of Very Smart Brothas, The Root contributor Derrick Clifton, photographer Andrew T. Clifton and artist Alvin Black III.

Advertisement

When it came to toxic masculinity, Siebert said it “is something else that needs to be addressed in the black community,” and Clifton touched upon exactly that as a black gay man who has experienced toxic masculinity and homophobia from others. “I don’t let homophobia and sexism push me away from my people,” he said.

When it comes to defining success, all of the men had very specific definitions that varied from being able to give back to others to financial stability and living life with no regrets. But there was one thing that was synonymous with success.

Advertisement

“You can’t define success for another man,” Clifton said.

That sentiment was echoed in the women’s room as each woman nodded in agreement with the panelists’ specific and individual definitions.

Wine and business cards in hard, the panels concluded with a reception that allowed the men and women to mix and share their experiences. The room buzzed with #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy. Check out the video above and the photos below!

Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard
Tori Howard