“We are the future leaders and we do care about the environment, we care about fair trade we care about how people are treated. It's an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, especially a social enterprise entrepreneur”
Alan: Can you share a little about your background?
Nzinga: I was born in Maryland, my family is from West Africa from Sierra Leone and my mom has some roots as well in Nigeria and so I was born here in the States but I lived in Tokyo Japan growing up for six years, I lived in Maryland again and then I moved to Nairobi Kenya for three years which was wonderful so beautiful I loved my experience living in Kenya. Then I came back to the States when I was 13, lived in Munster Indiana and then I came out here to go to UCLA, I got accepted into the film school and that's where I did my studies. So I'm a Bruin, go Bruins!
Alan: Since graduation what have you been working on?
Nzinga: So interestingly enough, I studied film making specifically scripted and unscripted television production because I saw that reality TV was going to be big, but I also saw that television was going to be big and with the emergence of technology in the digital space- I had to be entrenched and knowledgeable about how to produce content but as I was doing my senior thesis project and auditioning people, I met a manager. I thought I was going to have a manager as a director and a writer, but she wanted me to be in front of the camera because she's like, 'I love your personality, let's get you in front of the camera' and I was like okay. So I started hosting, I was one of the first humans to co-host a show on Cartoon Network. It was called Fridays and it was kind of like an interstitial show every Friday night kind of like a TRL for cartoons and it was incredible. I had such a fun time doing it. and that took me to Atlanta once a month, so throughout that my downtime I would also be doing commercials, acting on other television shows and also writing. Then I got the incredible experience to be a host writer producer on Al Gore's Network, Current TV and that's where I really honed it on my skill sets as a content creator and also honing in on the idea that we could actually use content to affect social change to inspire social change and social impact and so I started thinking about my brand. What is Nzinga about? And I was like, I'm all about inspiring social change through arts and entertainment and because I traveled so much in the world, I'd always been really interested in finding ways to get makers- I love makers, I love the creatives goods industry- and I did a lot of research on the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development and I was looking at untapped markets, like in Africa and Asia and Brazil and I was thinking, gosh I really want to work in the space. How can I how can I elevate artisans around the world right through the use of content and also giving them a platform to showcase their talents? So that's something that I've been working on that is my passion, but I've also been working in the space of doing social impact campaigns right, creating content around documentary films that deal with animal rights- also I directed a campaign for the United Nations International Labor Organization which raised awareness about human trafficking and ending slavery because it still exists today and I also founded a campaign when during the Ebola crisis and I just knew that this was my space. And so I have also been working on developing a lot of projects, scripted projects that are entertainment based- that's like it's all entertaining it's fun I love comedy and love addressing social issues through comedy- but I see the importance of also supplementing that content- whatever it is if it's a TV show if it's a film it comes with a social impact campaign because I like to raise awareness about certain issues like mental health, affordable childcare, because I am a mother I'm a single mom I'm a divorced single mom and I see the needs of a lot of single parents. So I do see myself in the impact space which is why I'm down here and meeting people and looking at how we could create more venture capitals for content creation because storytelling is extremely important for any business.
Alan: You're an amazing individual with so many diverse experiences, absolutely an entrepreneur. By the way I love your dress, do you have any involvement in fashion design too?
Nzinga: Yes. It's interesting because when you go to places like Africa and India and even the Philippines a lot of people have their own tailors. So we get to design our own unique one-of-a-kind pieces, and that's what I love to do. I absolutely like to design my own pieces but I also love to go to other fashion designers. They call themselves tailors but, I tell them, no, you're a designer. You need to start seeing yourself as a designer and empower yourself as a designer. And I love prints and so I do dabble in that space and actually today we premiered a project that I did with a Fox special ops team for the Empire series, because when you watch Empire on Fox every Wednesday at 8 pm, you see the incredible styles and fashions by Paolo Nieddu, he is the stylist. And so we worked together to do a fun piece called Empire Fashionista and we look at a featured look of that particular episode and we show people how to recreate that look in three ways, so that's something that I'm working on as well which is a lot of fun.
Alan: Nzinga, if person wants to contact you for an outreach to do some film production, documentaries or fashion design, how would they go about that?
Nzinga: You can find me on LinkedIn, Nzinga Blake or nzingablake.com. You can also reach out to me on social media at Nzinga Blake and just reach out and talk, connect, let's talk. I also have given keynote addresses at social impact conferences telling brands about the importance of storytelling because a lot of the times we've been talking to a lot of people in tech out here and they say, "yeah we we love creating the products but when it comes to marketing we have no idea what to do" And it's like yeah you have to really think of creative ways to make your product digestible, to market it in a digestible manner to make it fun to make it relevant, especially through the use of social media and also social impact. Don't forget, your social impact story is so important because you have this incredible generation of socially conscious consumers. And I'm so happy because that we are the future leaders and we do care about the environment, we care about fair trade we care about how people are treated. It's an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, especially a social enterprise entrepreneur.
Edited for concision and clarity
As the daughter of a Sierra Leonean former UN official, cabinet minister, and international scholar, Nzinga spent a majority of her childhood in Japan, Kenya, and the United States. Nzinga graduated cum laude from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Film, Television and Digital Media with a concentration in documentary and scripted television production. She has worked as a host, actress, producer, writer, director and host for the past 15 years in Los Angeles, CA. From 2006 - 2008 she worked as a host, writer, producer and voice-over talent on Al Gore’s former Emmy award-winning network Current TV. After Current, she worked as an entertainment correspondent for BET, TV Guide and the Australian primetime talk show “The 7pm Project,” on the CBS affiliate Network 10 Australia. In 2012 Nzinga hosted a show entitled “Culture Click” on ABC, which won a Telly Award for Outstanding Cultural Television Program.
Because of Nzinga's international background, she has a unique ability to create storylines and content that appeal to a diverse, global audience. She has built her brand around inspiring social change through entertainment and the arts. During the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, she founded, wrote, directed and produced a PSA campaign entitled “End Ebola Now.” The PSA was distributed virally and now airs on a new satellite television channel SES Networks in West Africa. In addition to the PSA, Nzinga created and launched a viral challenge entitled #ShakeEbolaOff with celebrities including Kevin Bacon, Naturi Naughton, Edi Gathegi, Sam Underwood, Gavin Houston and much more; in efforts to raise awareness and funds for the only fully functioning hospital in Sierra Leone at the time. The campaign received a great amount of domestic and international press and was featured in Forbes Magazine, Entertainment Tonight, The Telegraph, RYOT, Voice of America, which generated at least 1.5 billion media impressions worldwide. In 2014 The Abaunza Group brought Nzinga on to their campaign to co-direct and produce the United Nations ILO World AIDS Day and End Slavery Now PSAs featuring four-time Olympic Gold Medalist Greg Louganis and actress Garcelle Beauvais. Recently, Nzinga was the Creative content director and producer on the social impact campaign for the documentary film "Harry & Snowman," which raised awareness about animal rescue. She directed 2 music videos for the campaign - the first video for the song "Take Me Home" with up-and-coming talent Tiffany Brevard, which highlights horse rescue and the importance of supporting the SAFE Act. The second music video she directed and produced, "(We All Are) Looking for Home," is written by Grammy and Emmy Award-winning Diane Warren and performed by singer Leona Lewis. She also serves as a consultant and keynote address speaker for the national +IMPACT Conference where she encourages brands to embrace the power of social impact storytelling in efforts to appeal to the growing millennial/social conscious demographic. In 2018 Nzinga became a writer and producer for Season 2 of the award-winning scripted series, 'GodComplX,' which is a social impact initiative in conjunction with Google's Computer Science in Media and Diversity team in efforts to inspire girls and women of color to pursue careers in STEM / STEAM. She also directed a PSA with Diane Warren and her Oscar-nominated Song 'Stand Up For Something' for the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety as a rallying call for gun violence prevention.
During her free time, Nzinga enjoys mentoring students and college graduates. She has served as an adjunct instructor at UCLA’s School of Film Television and Digital Media’s Masters and Professional Program, and in is development on projects that promote youth empowerment through entertainment, fashion, and the arts.
Bio Source: Nzingablake.com