Blackout Tuesday's Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang -- Future 25 - Rolling Stone
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Blackout Tuesday’s Founders Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang — Future 25

The music executives spoke out about racism and racial bias in the music industry, and sparked a national movement in the process

Flo Ngala*

Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, music executives Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas were exhausted. They wanted time to rest and process — so the friends planned a day away from their normal jobs and created a hashtag, #TheShowMustBePaused, to explain the significance of doing so. 

The duo — who first met in Atlantic Records’ marketing department — wrote in an open letter that they would not “conduct business as usual without regard for black lives,” and chose a Tuesday as an intentional disruption to the work week, to raise awareness around the “the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard.”

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Through a game of social-media telephone, bystanders started calling the day “Blackout Tuesday” — even though Agyemang and Thomas hadn’t — and what started as a moment of rest turned into a movement. Universal, Sony, and Warner agreed to let employees abstain from their normal work. The two friends worked with colleagues to put together action plans and hosted a summit on Zoom drawing nearly 1,500 people across artist communities, talent agencies, streaming services, radio stations, record labels, and law firms — in which attendees took turns on the proverbial floor to call out their companies and suggest paths forward for a more equitable, transparent industry.

Since that Tuesday in June, Agyemang and Thomas have been working to show the industry that it needs to respect black employees and black leadership if it wants to continue benefiting from black art. They submitted actionable demands to the music industry at the beginning of September, asking for, among other things, a third-party audit of industry diversity statistics and an annual report on pay disparities as they relate to race and gender. The #TheShowMustBePaused hashtag has also been used more than 721,000 times on social media — so music fans are not likely to forget about the movement anytime soon.

Agyemang and Thomas want companies to create “pipelines for black talent to enter the music business as interns or entry-level professionals” — but they also want to eliminate long-term temporary positions, asking for transparency surrounding what it takes for professionals to transition to full-time roles, they say. They add that full benefits should be offered to all employees after 90 days. Moreover, the pair want to “create career development opportunities allocating budget to support black executive and professional representation in music departments other than just ‘urban’ or ‘black music.’”

There are also sections within the list of demands that highlight the importance of donating to organizations for social change, encouraging non-partisan civic engagement, making mental-health resources more accessible, and providing protection — in the form of anti-racism and anti-sexism clauses, for example — for touring professionals who are at risk of experiencing hate-fueled trauma while on the road.

Agyemang and Thomas have requested that music companies respond within 30 days, but they don’t plan to stop there: “We are and we will be in this fight for the long haul.”

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