From midnight to dawn, on October 12th men and women gather in Bahia, Brazil with tambourines, traditional songs, and fervent prayers to celebrate Brazil’s patron saint, Our Lady Aparecida. Robust with passed-down tales from the 19th century, the short documentary “Escravos E Santos (Of Slaves and Saints)” illustrates the connection between Brazilian spirituality and slavery through rare interviews: “Why do we pray to Our Lady?” Well just look at her skin color. She’s black, like us! She was a slave too.”
Kweli.TV CEO, Deshuna Spencer. (Courtesy Photo)
This rare film is one of over 250+ titles available on a new video streaming platform, Kweli.TV. Since it’s beta launch in Summer 2015, the platform offers films, documentaries, web shows, and more dedicated to the untold stories of the African Diaspora.
“It’s 4 billion of us worldwide and we should be looking globally to make change,” said CEO of Kweli.TV, Deshuna Spencer. “I see Kweli.TV as a place to converse among each other and create change.”
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Spencer grew up as the middle child in a working class family. Her father was a truck driver and a preacher. Her mother worked as a teacher in the public school system. “I’m the rebellious middle child,” Spencer told the AFRO. “I’m the dreamer.”
After graduating with a journalism degree from Jackson State University, Spencer was shaping her dream. She worked for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi and later moved to California to work as a crime reporter at the Oakland Tribune. It should have been the perfect career advancement opportunity for a journalist, but for Spencer the newsroom felt mechanical and emotionally blank. Everyday, churning out matter-of-fact crime stories left her colleagues cynical and less emphatic. “It was more about the story, it wasn’t about the human being,” Spencer said.
Spencer attending a business accelerator, Diaspora Demos, in DC. (Courtesy Photo)
Spencer spent some time moving around after leaving Oakland. She worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Buffalo, NY and then moved to her current residence in D.C. Three years after she moved to D.C, Spencer started her first business venture, Empower Magazine, a quarterly business and entertainment publication in 2010. It was difficult to monetize Empower, Spencer said, because she wanted to focus on social justice issues and not create content for clicks and advertisement. While Empower Magazine was falling financially, other ideas came to fruition, “That’s where the idea of Kweli.TV came about. I really wanted to take the concept of Empower but use it for video, movies, and news.”
Currently, Kweli.TV has 1,300+ subscribers and 90+ filmmakers worldwide. In 2015, Spencer won 20k from UNITY Journalists for Diversity’s New U seed grant program and was able to build out her beta prototype. Since then, funding has been sporadic.
The journey as a Black woman entrepreneur in technology hasn’t been easy. In her three-part series entitled “Diary of a Mad Black Woman Without VC Funding”, Spencer talks about her struggles with funding. After applying to various business pitch competitions and meeting with angel investors, some people didn’t understand the importance of focusing on a black need. It wasn’t just the business model that was questioned, “for me as a Black woman is first trying to prove that I belong there.” Spencer said.
Kweli in Swahili means truth and that’s what the multi-tiered video streaming platform aims for. With stories hailing from Brazil, Nigeria, England, and more, the platform shows the common and foreign experiences of the African Diaspora. While the entrepreneurial journey has been emotionally taxing for Spencer, the purpose of the platform has been worth it. “I want to change how we see ourselves in media,” Spencer told the AFRO.
To sign-up visit www.kweli.tv