Celebrating 20 years of Sapphire and the Creation of a Supportive Community

Left: Isisara Middle: Monique Right: Donna
Photo Credit: L & R Nichole Washington M Hollis King

Twenty-years ago, I worked on a project with Isisara Bey and Monique Martin, both expert marketers, producers and dynamic corporate executives. Isisara asked us to provide marketing support for Sarah Jones, a then-emerging spoken word artist. Isisara was an executive at Sony BMG Music and, based on our experience and expertise, she extended an invitation to Monique and me to join her at a meeting with Sarah. Over a six-month period, the three of us consulted with Sarah, providing her with a marketing plan, recommended marketing strategies and advice on management. Today, Sarah is a formidable talent—winner of both a Tony and Obie Award—a playwright, performer, producer, TED Talk mainstage speaker, and currently starring in her one-woman show about the sex industry, Sell/Buy/Date.

After witnessing the impact of our efforts in support of Sarah’s career, we decided to provide marketing support to each other, with the goal of supporting and enhancing our own career objectives. We decided to call ourselves Sapphire. Initially, there were four of us when we formed the group. But today, only Isisara, Monique and I remain.

Since our project with Sarah, we have held quarterly meetings. What I love most about Sapphire is that we are not a group who just gets together to talk. We get down to business. We present projects. We brainstorm. We plan. We challenge each other. We encourage each other. We motivate each other to do more. And, we celebrate each other’s accomplishments. I can say, without any hesitation, that Sapphire members unequivocally have supported each other’s accomplishments in our respective fields and we continue to inspire and push each other to establish new projects and set even bigger goals.

Most important, over the course of our 20 years together, we have accomplished our dreams, produced innovative work, and continued opening doors for new audiences. Today, Isisara, whom I featured in a blog in January of this year, is the Artistic Director for the March on Washington Film Festival. Monique is Director of Programming at Harlem Stage, after a decade of producing amazing shows at New York SummerStage.

There is tremendous value in having a platform comprised of peers, colleagues and/or friends who unconditionally believe in you; your work, and your chosen mission. They offer the fertile landscape for redefining narratives, cultivating stories, fostering artists, as well as opening the doors to new audiences to see or find themselves in the work. I am grateful for and thank the creative warriors of Sapphire for their ongoing support, honesty and integrity.

The reason I am sharing my experience with Sapphire is because I want all of you Diversity, Equity and Inclusion warriors to know how essential it is to create a community of support; to surround yourself with people who think like you do; who support your efforts and believe in your work. It’s important to have the resources to recharge your batteries when the culture wars attempt to beat you down. I encourage you to make sure you take the time to cultivate relationships that can stand the test of time, the political climate, and the battles for funding, while remaining a source of growth, development and inspiration. Personally, I am truly looking forward to the next 20 years with Sapphire. We still have many dreams to pursue and much work to accomplish.