You may not know Eunique Jones Gibson’s name yet but you definitely know her work. She’s the lady behind photo awareness campaigns like “I Am Trayvon Martin” and “Because of Them, We Can.” As a photographer, author and mother, she’s found a unique way to capitalize on her viral web content, and she’s so successful that she was able to quit her full-time job.
#TeamBeautiful caught up with the social activist and she shared the stories behind her projects, or as she like to call them “my passions.” She also gave advice on how you can start a successful social media campaign and generate money from that idea, too. Check out our one-on-one with Eunique below.
HelloBeautiful: You launched the “Because of Them, We Can,” campaign right before Black History Month last year, where you used children to capture images of African-American trailblazers. It really picked up a life of it’s own. When did you know it was successful?
Eunique: I realized it was successful in the month of February last year when I had people telling me, ‘Hey you can’t drop the mic now. You started something and we can’t wait for next February so keep it going.’ I had celebrities like Common, Kerry Washington and Russell Simmons acknowledging the work and saying that it was necessary and that it was dope. I had the opportunity to meet Spike Lee, and he’s somebody who I would consider a role model who has inspired me throughout my life. For him to say to me, ‘Hey, can you find my picture?’ was an a-ha moment. I knew it was successful and I gained the respect from someone who I really admire in the industry. He’s a culture architect on his own.
HB: How did you make the transition from the campaign being a one-off Black History Month project, to you quitting your full-time job and it becoming a year-long mission?
Eunique: In the month of February, I was actually in an one-on-one with my manager. While I was in that meeting I got a Tweet from Kerry Washington! So it was a little difficult to focus. When I got that tweet, it confirmed what I already knew, which was this is so much bigger than me and I have to keep it going. I couldn’t focus in the meeting; I couldn’t focus the whole month of February. I knew I couldn’t end the project and refocus back on work. I knew had to make this my work to be happy and to feel fulfilled as if this is what God wanted me to do. I told my job this is something that is much bigger than me and I have to keep it going. They knew it and they were very supportive. It was very easy once I got my husband’s approval and support to focus on it. I didn’t have a plan on how it would turn out but I had his support.
HB: You really took a leap of faith and followed your passion. Since your didn’t have a plan, did you know it had the potential to be profitable?
Eunique: When I first launched I didn’t have a website, I didn’t have anything. I just had my personal photography site. When I launched, I think it was the Divine Nine picture and people started saying ‘Oh my gosh, where can I buy the poster?’ So it was like, ummm where can they buy the poster? So we made posters available for people and then they started asking where they can buy the calendar. As the month went on we learned that this was something that wouldn’t just live online. It could live offline in homes, offices and schools. We learned that this could be something profitable outside of Facebook shares and retweets. As the year went one, people started asking for a book.
HB: You are also the woman behind the “I Am Trayvon Martin” photo awareness campaign. What advice would you give to someone else who wants to capitalize on their web content that goes viral?
Eunique: I would say stick to it if it’s your passion. When I launched the “I Am Trayvon Martin” campaign, I launched it because I was passionate about social justice. As a mother, what happened to him upset me but it upset me in a way where I wanted to help people relate to what his parents were going through, and what our people were feeling. When we say “I Am Trayvon Martin,” it could have have been me, it could have been you. That wasn’t a profitable project but it was something that I was passionate about. It just so happened that a year later, I came across something that I’m passionate about again.
I think that the products just came organically. I would say for anyone who wants to capitalize to stay true and stick with it. I wouldn’t put an end date on my project. Keep pushing and I think the opportunity will come. I don’t think you can force something. There’s no way I would have started selling posters if people didn’t ask for them. I wouldn’t start to print calendars if people didn’t ask for them. I would start to print book if people didn’t ask for them…only because I like things to happen organically.
HB: I saw on Facebook that you also paid tribute to Diddy after receiving his honorary Doctorate from Howard, and Magic Johnson in light of the Donald Sterling drama, which is cool because your campaign honors trailblazers of the past and also the history makers of today.
Eunique: Yeah! We have over 400 images and those photos are timeless. And we’re still doing shoots, you can expect a little Barbara Walters in the near future. We have these images and we want to make sure we use them in the right way and at the right time. Even if we’re republishing. We already shared the Diddy image and we already shared the Magic Johnson image. We even put an image up the other day of little Nina Simone. We want to make sure that if things are happening in pop culture, we want to shed positive light and talk about them in a positive way. We did the same thing with Bring Back Our Girls. We shared a picture of little Malala Yousafzai with the real Malala and a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.
We have a responsibility to uphold these people’s legacies and honor them through our own individual pursuits of greatness. We have to understand what their contribution is, so these kids and these images help to showcase it. It also highlights the little people who are coming behind us to fill their shoes. I think we have to keep reminding people, ‘Hey, there are little people watching us. There are little people we are trying to knock down barriers for and this is what they look like.’ We have to represent them well and make sure we keep pushing forward for them.
HB: What are your hopes for the future of the campaign?
Eunique: I have big dreams. I think there are so many ways this movement will live and I don’t think it will be contained by one medium or format. My hope is that it continues to spread, not just across the states but across the world. The other day we shipped to Hong kong, Austria and Australia. We are shipping all over the world and we have people who are contacting us from Mongolia and Africa, and saying, ‘Hey, can you come here and do the same thing? Or can you create a model that I can follow to do a “Because Of Them, We Can” here? Our kids need it too. So, you will continue to see different Iterations of “Because Of Them We Can.”
HB: What’s the most rewarding part of your work as a social activist?
Eunique: The most rewarding part for me is seeing that other people share the same desire and passion or change as me. I’m able to be a voice for that. There are other Black mothers that fear for their Black boys that are living today. They don’t know the future that they may face, so for me to have that validation and to see that people really do want to come together to change the world and be positive. And I can be the vessel to bring that forward? It doesn’t get any better than that!
The “Because of Them, We Can” coffee book is currently available for purchase, here.