Hellaa Melanin

Frustrated by a homogenous, and typically negative, view of black culture in the media, Hellaa Melanin formed to bring the black community together to celebrate their experiences, build connections and find joy. Originating as an online platform for positive imagery and stories, Hellaa Melanin expanded into regular community events, their most successful and impactful being monthly Speedmating. Speedmates has gone from small network events to sell-out 100-150 people sessions with formats ranging from conversation drivers to games and dancing, all rejoicing in shared black experiences.

“[Hellaa Melanin was] born out of resistance. We saw an absence of self-love so it's about the idea of Blackness being multifaceted. And it is about creating a safe space for our communities, for people to feel connected, invested in and [most importantly] celebrated. And for those things to thrive in abundance.” - Niamh and Charon - Hellaa Melanin


A conversation between Niamh and Charon, Founders of Hellaa Melanin and Louise Millar, Seed Strategy Director*

What does community mean to you?

Charon: It means safety in connection, I think, and that's the whole ethos of Hellaa Melanin. It really is about creating a safe space for our communities—for people to feel connected, invested in and celebrated under that umbrella of a safe space.

It's feeling like a space reflects you or you get so enriched by being in a space with people who are like-minded or similar. I think what we would say is that community is creating that space for those things to thrive in abundance.

There's been an explosion in the number of youth collectives in the last few years. Why do you think that is, and how do you think that reflects your generation?

Niamh: Maybe it's the desire for community, and I think post-covid, a lot of people were forced to be on their own and understand themselves a little bit better. I think it's about people having a greater understanding of who they are and then attaching themselves or finding and building community from that. There are communities out there for everyone and you can really be represented and celebrated in a community that is tailored to you.

Charon: I think people are realising that we're kind of multi-faceted, there are so many parts of us and different things that we can tap into.

In your own words, what are Hellaa Melanin’s reasons to be, how you became established, and why?

Niamh: It’s born out of resistance and resisting everything that goes against our happiness. I guess, and when I say “our”—I mean maybe the black community. We saw an absence of self-love, we saw our community and people that look like us in the news for negative reasons, the persecution of black people, and we felt that that didn't represent our reality.

Charon: We've really just been able to spotlight our community, to create this night that is specifically focused on references, experiences, black-owned businesses, jokes—things that reflect our community. We're trying to build our event off the back of that and create a space that means black people are celebrated and it's completely tailored to them.

Were there any specific pivotal moments that you think started changing things, or that spurred you on to try different things?

Charon: I had come back from America where I was studying at a historically black college and had this African-American experience, and I remember coming back to Uni and being like, “wait, this is super white” or “what are we doing here?” and just being a little bit critical about that. So, that was the first kind of part of it—this need to do something, to create something.

I feel like we were both very fuelled by what our community was experiencing and asking what do we want to say about it, what do we want to do about it? How can we make a space that people can just connect in a way that feels organic?

Hellaa Melanin is a safe space for celebrating blackness. So, in what ways do you cultivate this environment both online and during events? How do you ensure inclusivity within your community?

Charon: We have started briefing the team on the kind of environment and experience that we want the people who come to our events to feel, and it's great because our team is reflective of our community. And then we want to make sure that everyone is just super celebratory and complimentary, kind, smiley and floating. I feel like we constantly talk about how incredible our community is and how we want to grow through connecting with others.

We want to respect each other. We want to collaborate with people and we're trying to be super open about that, instilling it in our team, and making sure that that feels very present online as well.

How would you describe the feeling at Hellaa Melanin?

Niamh: I think it's to do with empowerment—people feeling empowered in the space. I guess collective empowerment, but empowerment in being happy and existing as well. Everywhere I go in London, I feel like the minority unless I seek a space out that is designed for us. And so then that feeling that when you are around people that look like you and you know that there's no judgement based on what you look like, you just automatically feel empowered and safe I guess.

What aspirations or dreams do you have for Hellaa Melanin? Are there specific projects, collaborations, or initiatives that you're excited to explore in the future?

Niamh: We want to have created communities in different spaces. And for the community to exist outside of our events as well— for them to keep growing and keep existing outside of the event.

We really want to connect with the black community abroad, specifically New York. To connect with people in New York and be able to tap into the black community there. That's one of our big goals—abroad. Maybe Paris.

It would be really cool to collaborate with Bumble somehow, because Bumble has Bumble For Friends. We're all about making friends, and the power of an app could elevate stuff in such a different way.

When it comes to brand partnerships have you done any to date? What was your experience like?

Niamh: We did an event with a drinks brand. We got there and it wasn't set up in the way we’d asked for; it wasn't accommodated in the way we would want. I guess maybe we were excited about working with such a big brand who have the power to actually elevate brands and businesses like us, but it didn't feel like they invested in us really. Although, the event was super successful. It was really good, but when we got there, for example, we had said how many people were arriving and then the space wasn't set up for it.

I think brands have the responsibility to invest time but also invest money, because it will always come back. At least then you're showing that you think that our work and our existence cost something.

When partnering with brands, what would be the ideal values you’d want to see from them?

Niamh: I think it would be to have a passion for diversity and inclusion. And a commitment to it—not just for Black History Month. We want that commitment to be every month of the year. Because we want to connect with our communities within those companies, it would need to be companies who have black employees and diverse teams, investing in the people who are part of this organisation as well.

How do you see the attitudes of values of your generation reflected in the mission activities of Hellaa Melanin?

Niamh: I feel like our generation is quite vibrant and it has a massive buzz, we have a voice and we have loads of agency and passion, and I guess we channel that through the connections that we make with one another. We're trying to think about the black experience and bring that into our event, and how the black experience isn’t homogeneous.

*This conversation has been condensed and edited but has strived to remain as close to the original word for word version as possible.

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