Imani Lee sees himself as a problem solver.
So instead of joining the social protests of 2020, he came up with a solution: Black Stock Footage LLC, a stock footage company addressing the need for Black representation in videos.
In a subtle way, it also gets at the root of racism: perceptions, assumptions, and judgments. Some which are made without thinking.
“We all are different. We come in different shapes and sizes physically,” explains Lee, the company’s CEO. “This platform can help people, children, professionals learn more about the Black community.”
Blacks may have problems relating to Blacks from other geographic regions, he suggests, telling the story of when he met a Black man from Germany and didn’t know if he could relate to him. Among the races, it can sometimes be hard to understand nuances.
“I think this business is not just a business,” he says. “It’s the beginning of a movement. That movement is rooted in self awareness.”
His fiance and co-founder, Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy, who is of African-American and Latina background, agrees that sometimes people make assumptions about what Black looks like.
“Building Black Stock Footage is near and dear to my heart because we're creating the change we want to see in the world by showcasing how multifaceted and globally diverse the Black community is,” says Edgerton-Maloy, a former multimedia journalist. “I'm so excited to explore the many impactful stories and everyday experiences of Black people, while demystifying what it means to be Black."
The Tampa-based company, which has 25 customers on its wait list, is slated to open in the first or second quarter of 2022. Lee is hoping it will be in time for Black History Month in February.
“We are in the process now of building the beta platform,” he explains.
In October, Black Stock Footage claimed a $25,000 prize from the NAACP in a Black Entrepreneur’s Day primetime special hosted by Daymond John, co-star of ABC's four-time Emmy Award-winning show Shark Tank.
“It was very exhilarating. I didn’t know I was going to meet Daymond [virtually],” says Lee. “I was literally in a place of awe. ... Just to talk to him was amazing.”
It was the firm’s second major prize. In late June, Black Stock Footage received the top $25,000 award in the statewide Endeavor Pitch Competition held by Endeavor Miami, Microsoft for Startups, and The Miami Herald.
“Our vision is to be the largest supplier of content focused on Black representation in the world,” Lee says.
All the recognition is exciting, but not altogether surprising.
“I knew that it was going to get attention,” Lee acknowledges. “It’s going to be a hot topic. It’s going to be a hot product. ... I knew attention would come in a great way.”
Edgerton-Maloy, Chief Communications Officer, found the contests while tracking the latest news related to Black representation, stock footage industry trends, and funding opportunities.
“Google Alerts and NAACP's tool Hello Alice have been incredibly helpful while searching for funding opportunities for Black Stock Footage, which is how I found both of these opportunities," she says.
Besides meeting clients’ need for clips with Black representation, Black Stock Footage will serve as an education tool through a search function enabling users -- and even casual browsers -- to drill down and see clips of Blacks with different skin tones, or who are from different cultures and communities.
“It’s time for a product like this to come to market,” says Lee, who points out many are victims of their environment and culture while growing up. “It’s a win-win for everyone who wants to inclusive and be more mindful of Black representation when it comes to their video projects.”
The company already has signed up nearly 50 videographers who are excited about the platform’s creation. While they are predominantly Black, not all are.
“I think there’s a space for anyone who is willing to create content,” he says.
Videographers, including Lee, will be filming clips and 10- to 20-clip story lines to upload to the site. They must obtain a signed release before filming from anyone in the video. Contributors are paid for each unique download of their videos.
“The cool thing about this is our videographers can use their friends and family to get started,” he points out.
With its initial beta platform, Black Stock Footage plans to offer subscriptions for $49.99 a month for unlimited, high-quality downloads as well as individual downloads. Later on an annual subscription and Black stock photos are anticipated.
Lee, who was a video producer with Hillsborough County, left the job in February 2020 to begin freelancing. The idea for Black Stock Footage came after he had to tell a client he couldn’t find the clip they needed because there wasn’t enough diversity reflected in stock footage.
So far the couple has raised more than two-thirds of their $75,000 goal through the competitions and a GoFundMe campaign.
“It’s a whole new chapter in our growth and our relationship,” Lee says of his fiance. “I wouldn’t build this company with anyone else.”
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