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Co-Founder & Head of Talent at The Elephant Room, Shanice Mears, talks about the impact of community and the future of Girls Lets Talk


words by Olivia Kellerman

Relaxing at home on yet another lockdown Friday, there was no need for make-up or to dress up for what I knew it was going to be a long talk reminiscing about Birmingham and chatting about all the projects she’s been working on. The Google Hangout started with a little laugh with Shanice apologising for still being in her PJs, sitting in bed at her mom’s house. But I reassured her that I was not one to judge when that’s been my daily look for the past 3 months. With the plan to eventually get dressed for some Zoom drinks later in the day, I didn’t get to see the glammed-up version of Shanice, but I did get to see the confident, inspiring young woman who has some serious plans for the future.

Co-Founding The Elephant Room, a creative agency, Shanice has embarked on an ambitious journey working alongside mentor Dan Saxby. Creator of ‘Girls Let’s Talk’, a community for all women, previously a brand and talent manager at Guap magazine, Shanice has kept herself busy heading business ideas and supporting the creative community. Growing up in 0121, and raised by a single parent, her drive and inspiration came from her mum and older siblings. “My mom quickly became mom and dad working 2 to 3 jobs, at the same time, I also had older siblings from whom I took influence from. My sister is great, and was the first to graduate in my family, my other sister who dropped out of uni, because she suffered from mental health issues, still has that ambition.”

Shanice confessed that growing up in Birmingham has its struggles, but this has helped her develop into the person she is today. “I saw what gun and knife crime does, and what I went through losing friends, but it was equally great to understand what being street-wise meant to me and what being black meant from such an early age. I love my city, Birmingham and what it taught me.” While discussing important memories from the hometown, Shanice came to the conclusion that growing up black in Birmingham, “was always cool”.  “Obviously when you’re black you know we’re not all the same. We’re not all one meshed group, in my experience, we were always the cool kids and proud,” she explained candidly. “Some kids said, ‘I don’t want to be this skin tone’ but I’ve never felt like that, the schools I went to were multicultural, and wherever I went in terms of institutions I was always accepted at that time.” Being around a community that embraced the black experience positively Shanice said, “It was a really great experience to be able to be a black female and be proud of that from young, that’s what made it cool.”

Her inspiration comes from “Knowing that things are happening, and I can keep contributing to that is what motivates me to keep going.” She added, “I’m definitely influenced by music, fashion, sports and poetry. I’m super into quotes and affirmations and I love kids, so I’m super inspired by the kids that I teach. All of that keeps me happy.” Working with mostly Year 3 & 4 students Shanice shared what drives her to keep working with young people. “My ultimate hero is the late Mia Angelou, she said ‘everything you learn, you learn to teach’ and I think that I’ve made that into my own mantra, “If I’ve got no intention to teach, then what is the point in learning’.” The children that she works with have really impacted her ambition to keep learning and passing on that knowledge really is something she lives by. “I tell them all the time that I’m learning as much from you as you are from me, and they have to understand that from an early age so the understanding of passing on information comes naturally to them.”

Shanice’s passion project was set up to help women through transitional periods in their life, like her own move from Birmingham to London. Inspired by ‘Girls Talk London’, a community that connects women with businesses to empower them to succeed in work and life, ‘Girls Let’s Talk’ came about after talks with mentor Vanessa Sanyauke, creator of Girls Talk London. “It was just about creating a safe space where anyone can come, share and be. I don’t care who you are, black, white, mixed-race, blue, as long as you have an experience to share and you identify as female, it’s cool.” She expanded by saying, “We’re great as women empowering each other but were also great and telling ourselves that it’s us and them. It’s amazing to see black queer women routing for each other. And straight women, white women and South Asian women all doing the same and I love it but we’re not going to get much done in all these segregated groups.”

What started as just an event for the people became a real community for women, “It was a safe space, no cameras, no social media, just us. It was last year when I thought let’s give them a real community that exists in a space where people can learn, educate, explore and connect and not feel like they have to be part of some tribe to get in.”

The future of Girls Lets Talk is now a big deal for Shanice, with a larger and more focused team, its building up into something exciting. “Maybe we will do some parties, educational events and I’d love to do a getaway or retreat, with young women trying to find what they want to do and have a safe haven for them.” With a team of women ready to share Shanice’s vision, she believes in a mission statement for her journey “I just want to roll it out to where we have a community of young women that feel like they belong. I know it’s so vague but it’s such an important statement to me because it’s so easy to start a platform but then only do exclusive events and only the top 2% are involved.”

Through our lockdown, ‘The Guestlist’, a platform that Shanice founded for creatives to share ideas, connections and events, has thoroughly thrived during this uncertain time. One event that was promoted on the Guestlist was created by Ignitious Moyo from Birmingham, who formed Creative Con, where Shanice held an online session, educating and helping people understand how they can build themselves into a community online.

Shanice has been trying to find ways to support the community and feels creativity and collaboration have most been affected by Covid-19. “There are two ways to look at it. The reality is that we are currently going through an economic crisis and were going to face a recession”, she said frankly. “Over the last two years freelance has been at an all-time high”, she explained, “One of the biggest industries that will be affected is the creative community. Nobody works like creatives do because we don’t turn off our creativity.”

“Obviously, it’s shit and it’s sad but equally, we have to look at the glass half full.” Keeping with her optimistic mindset Shanice continued saying, “I think that the collaboration will be on fire, we need each other right now.” Before lockdown, the government began saying, the unskilled workers that were thanking right now, we’re not the ones we needed. It’s given us a wakeup call to show those workers the appreciation they deserve and as a society, it’s brought us together. Which Shanice highlighted is paralleled within the creative community. “Now more than ever we really need to act as one community. People are pulling out funds, giving out free subscriptions and moving stuff virtually and I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

“We need to look at what we have as a community, right now and if creatives weren’t online the internet would be dead. If we all logged off, nothing would be popping,” she said humorously. “We are in fortunate positions as creatives because we can be working on the next thing; thinking about how we can start something new. But people are going without right now, no crib, no family.” Stressing the effects that Covid-19 has had on our society, Shanice illuminated how we as a community should be doing more. “We’re in a position where we can be true expressionists from our own accounts and from our bedrooms. We can DJ, live stream and all that cool stuff but some people do not even have access to that.” With platforms like the Guestlist, we have been able to share with each other and use our skills, “We just have to think, look at the power we have and what can we do with it.”

As we round-up our interview, I ask Shanice, about her goals and ambitions and if she has reached them now, “Absolutely not!” (while laughing), “oh my gosh no way.., not even close.” Reflecting on how far she has come already, “I’ve been fortunate to learn quite quickly about things and developed an amazing network with people and I’ve just been continuing to do that but I’m nowhere near where I want to be. Not at all.” With clearly more in the works I asked her to reveal some of the goals she has for her career, “I want to build more, my own studio, do more consulting and help more talent; I want to make Forbes list, and I want to have several streams of income.” And with that long list, you can see why Shanice is destined for more. “For me personally, success is not ‘I’m successful in my career but unhappy in my love life’ and vice versa, success for me is a full circle.” There is still a way to go as she admitted she doesn’t feel like she’s there yet, “For me to class myself as successful I need to be 80% happy at least in all areas of my life and I’m just not in that space, yet.”

“Is it funny if I say everything?”, Shanice laughs and pauses after I asked her a final question on what she feels should be discussed about more within the black community. “I think mental health is a big one”, she stated, “you wouldn’t wait until the glass fell to the floor to pick it up. If you see it tipping you would move it. So, you shouldn’t wait till someone reaches depression to talk about it.”

Underlining a big issue within the black community, Shanice expresses how important it is for a community to open up that line of communication. “We should encourage therapy, it’s a good thing to do. We should talk about our problems to each other without worry of being judged or shunned because of how we’re feeling. I think there needs to be a shift with how we look at that and the language around it.”

Working on the future for Girls Let’s Talk, continuing her work at The Elephant Room, it is clear that positivity and confidence has helped Shanice mentality prepare for her career ahead. Continuing to focus on community, educating and helping others like many other creatives Shanice has set the bar high for herself but there’s no doubting, she will smash it!

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