Last year, Derek Minor, Mimi McCarley and some likeminded colleagues started Ownership is the New Black right here in Nashville. Their nonprofit takes on the racial wealth gap nationwide and with their experience in the music business — Minor as a veteran rapper with his own, independent label, Reflection Music Group, and McCarley as a songwriter, publisher and co-founder of Nashville Is Not Just Country Music — OITNB puts musicians at the center of its multifaceted mission, which we’ve broken into five key elements.
What’s the Ownership is the New Black origin story?
Derek Minor: I remember during Trayvon Martin’s death. I remember during Mike Brown’s death. I remember during Sandra Bland. It seemed like there was a parade of Black bodies across the media spectrum. And I did everything. I wrote songs. I engaged people on social media. You know how that goes. And I started getting to the point where I started thinking, “Music is good for bringing awareness to the problem. But it’s not always good at solving it. Okay, well, what is the one thing that we can do that everyone agrees on?” And the one thing that everyone agrees on is that when people work, they should own their work. That’s across the board. Most people would say if you produce something, you should be able to benefit from the thing you produced. And that’s where the concept of Ownership is the New Black came from. This is something where I’m like, “If you don’t know where to get in [and help make change], get in here.” And that’s the racial wealth gap. Because when we look at the racial wealth gap, it’s humongous. What can we do to close that? What are the things that are impeding Black people from building wealth? That’s what pushed me to bite off more than I can chew.
What’s the elevator pitch for the nonprofit they’ve created?
DM: We are a mindset organization. I believe that it starts in mindset. So we have a twofold approach: We want to create content, need it be social media content, curriculums, audio curriculums, [a documentary series]. And we’re going to do convenings where people will be able to come and say, “What are the Black businesses in Nashville?” A lot of the reason why people don’t go to Black businesses, they don’t even know they exist.
Mimi McCarley: So we celebrate Black owners. And then we have to educate aspiring owners. And then we have to activate.
It’s a holistic approach. It’s all levels of ownership, whether it is capital gains, whether it’s rental properties, stock ownership, home ownership, whether that’s owning your IP.
Where do they see the need for addressing the racial wealth gap in Nashville?
DM: Nashville has a rich Black culture. And the most unfortunate part is that people have no clue that Nashville has a rich black culture. If you were to talk to people outside of Nashville, somebody called Nashville “White-kanda.” And I started laughing, because we have [multiple] HBCUs. Look at the history that is on Jefferson Street. When you look at Atlanta, there’s a lot of ownership as far as the history there for Black people. But here, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of ownership. A lot of these pockets of Black culture have been eradicated. I’m like, “Well, let’s start there and tell the story of all of these great businesses that have been here and that are starting up here.” They need to be celebrated. And they need to be invested in.
MM: In Nashville, there is a lot of Black, talented individuals across multiple disciplines and industries. When you look at the underfunding of Black [businesses], whether it’s business ownership or whether it’s just getting an idea up off of the ground, the disparity is vast. A lot of my circle is Black business owners that can’t get funding to start up, even if they have all the things that’s necessary to get proper funding. Well, guess what? They can’t grow.
There’s a lot of Black, talented people who create music here. Well, they will never get the notoriety. We don’t have the infrastructural support. Why? Because that takes funding. That takes being able to put systems and processes in place to grow a business, not just to be good at your craft.
How does music factor into the mission of OITNB?
MM: Music-makers are a big part of what we’re doing, because they tell the stories that inspire and bring awareness. So a lot of our impact ambassadors — artists, music creators, community leaders — they are owners. Derek is a leader in that, because he has the journey and the history and the data of that owner’s journey, especially in music. … We’re going to allow artists to talk about ownership in a way that they haven’t, because in the music industry, artists are treated like slaves, but they’re actually CEOs.
DM: Every time an artist signs to me, whether it’s on our distribution side, on our label side, I always tell them, “I’m not your boss.” As things grow, we can create deals that grow. On the front end, I’m taking all the risk. So, yeah, I’m going to protect myself. But as the risk lessens, then we make the deal more favorable for everybody. Because the last thing I want is that people say, “Derek made all this money and I didn’t make any.” I don’t benefit from that. I don’t want to be the king of the hill. I want to be on top of a hill with an army.
What was the aim of the nonprofit’s 2022 trip to Washington D.C.?
DM: Artists are always being put upon to invest. It’s like, “Let me get a feature.” It’s very rare that people turn around and say, “We’re investing in you. Everything is paid for.” We took them to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. So we’re investing in your mind and your heart first.
MM: Black people for the most part are disconnected from our history. That was my first time going to the museum, that experience in and of itself makes you tender, it makes you mad, it makes you empathetic, it makes you proud at the same time, just understanding our story over time. So that is significant for artists. We have to drop them into a context where they can empathize with our whole existence. It set the tone for the rest of the trip.
The next day, we take you to meet with your senators to talk about the racial wealth gap. We raised some questions, and we brought some things to their attention. This gave the artists an opportunity to speak on behalf of their community, to speak to people who can make a change on behalf of their community.
Then we take them to the White House. We don’t just take them for photo ops. Right. They have a meeting. Their voices are being heard in a setting that some of them didn’t even think was possible.
That’s what we learned about all the resources. And that’s when everybody’s jaws are dropping, because it’s like: If this money is available, why is it not getting to the communities that is intended for? Which raises a whole ‘nother issue.
DM: Honestly, the biggest rude awakening for me was [when] they were talking about all of these programs, and I knew about none of them. Every influencer in the room, none of us knew about those programs.
I remember Nobigdyl was like, “I could have used this” for his festival [Holy Smoke Fest] that he was building out. My man Propaganda, he hits me up later, because he has a cold brew that is dope. It’s called Terraform Cold Brew. And he’s like, “Man, can you tell me about the funding?” So we linked him up to help him get funding to build out his cold brew business. The money’s there. It’s just the people that know where it’s at, they don’t really talk to us.