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Monday, April 18, 2011

FYI Talk ~~ Essence of Ebony CEO and Model Latrelly Flux

As an African-American woman in real life and in Second Life, I'm always interested in learning of people, events, and spaces in the metaverse where African Americans are acknowledged, celebrated, and given support.

Over a month ago, I was at a talk show on the grid where the discussion was on black models in Second Life. Specifically, the hosts were talking to the CEO of the Miss Essence of Ebony Competition, Latrelly Flux, the model VA community manager Kalyabreea Capelo, and Miss EoE 2011 Imani Enzo.

In real-life, as a doctoral student, I'm interested in the ways African American women find, create, and develop themselves in virtual spaces, so the discussion on race, gender, virtual worlds, community, and more fascinated me beyond belief.

It was that fascination that made me contact Flux so that I could sit down with her, talk to her, and learn more about EoE; it is an entity in Second Life that definitely deserves press.

Latrelly Flux

There was so much I wanted to ask Flux because what she was doing traversed several of my research interests, but I stuck mostly on questions geared toward Essence of Ebony, its mission, what it has done, and where Flux sees it going in the future.

When I asked Flux about her time in Second Life and what moved her to create the Miss Essence of Ebony Contest, I learned that her personal experience on the grid helped to foster the development of EoE. "Being an SL model," she said, "I noticed that most print jobs or contests were biased and catered to those who were not African American or did not have ebony skin tones. Once you enter the modeling world, it's a whole different world, so I wanted to create something that showcased and spotlighted ebony skin tones, African-American women and their achievement."

Thus, the Essence of Ebony was born, an event that--not coincidentally--concludes during Black History Month.

It was important for Flux to recognize African-American females, ebony-colored models of darker skin tones. It was equally important that this competition not be solely based on modeling. In fact, women who entered the contest did not have to be models. EoE trained each contestant in things such as their walk and their styling, and let them come into the agency for further training. In addition, it was just as important for contestants to have a mission as it was for them to have a great look. One question asked of the contestants was, how would they give back to real-life issues within the African-American community? For contestants, answers to questions like this one aided in developing what the winner would be doing during her reign as Miss Essence of Ebony.

Another side of Flux

It seems obvious from the above statements that part of the mission of EoE is to promote and acknowledge the beauty of African-American women...and I don't mean "beauty" just in the physical sense, but in the overall person. And this is true. As Flux told me, EoE wants to "identify, develop, and promote awareness of ebony models, bring in contestants and develop them on a continuous basis, and offer scholarships and online training."

Another part of its mission, one that I fully embrace, is to eradicate the myth of the black woman in Second Life--a myth that, not coincidentally, can be seen in real life, too. As Flux stated many people believe that "all black women are on here [SL] to strip or be pole dancers...kill that myth. We are professors, models, doing big important things and are here to represent."

Another side of Flux

And Flux worked hard during the first year of competition to insure that EoE's mission stood firm. I had asked Flux if she faced any challenges, obstacles along the way in creating and developing this endeavor. I know, just as in real life, that it can be hard for marginalized groups to be recognized and assisted in their endeavors. I also know that many within these groups, when confronted with "NO" so many times, decide to take matters into their own hands to achieve their goals.

Flux was one of those--as a result, she didn't find many, if any, obstacles. "My business partner and I did everything ourselves," she said, "so what can you say to someone who is spending their own money?"

Pretty much nothing.

Not only did they spend their own money for the EoE endeavor, but they spent a great deal of time marketing and promoting the event via groups, sending out daily notices and letting everyone know about the event.

An event that would be a huge success. According to information I received from Flux, "The first annual pageant, Essence of Ebony 2011, proved to be a runaway success. The finale of Essence of Ebony 2011 drew maximum sim attendance. The top 10 and its winner Imani Enzo have been featured in BOSL magazine, Girl talk on Pulse TV, Ambrosia Live, Nu Vibez magazine, and various blogs and runway shows."

In my mind, after listening to Flux et al. during the show I attended a few months back, I couldn't help but wonder how they could top themselves in the next cycle of the competition. After talking to Flux for this interview, I realized it was possible. VERY possible.

The prize package for the grand-prize winner of EoE 2012 is over $200,000L and includes a cash prize and cover interview with GLANCE Magazine.

Another side of Flux

For me, learning about EoE from Flux, I had a sense that the competition was just the tip of the iceberg of what Flux wanted to do, so I asked her if EoE was larger than just the contest. Her response showed both what EoE means to her personally and what it can mean for the company:

"EoE is larger, definitely. It means so much to me as being a self-business owner who started my business from the ground up with no help in developing a business plan or anything. We didn't need someone to look down on us or sponsor us because they wanted to control us. There was no buying out. We're not here for fame or glory, but to recognize who we are. EoE is more than a contest; it's a lifestyle. For me, it about saying gorgeous, Nubian queens, represent who you are, what you are."

Although I truly didn't want the interview to end with Flux, I did eventually wrap it up by asking her what she hopefully wanted to achieve through EoE and her other initiatives. It's almost repetitious to tell you of her response because it echoes throughout this piece--her need to celebrate the African-American community in a positive way...and using her talents and know-how to do that.

"The ultimate goal," she said, "is to work on behalf of the African-American community and the contestants. I don't care about fame or glory for self because a lot of people make contests to make money." Laughing, she added, "I spent more than I made, but as long as you're happy and know that I'm a woman of integrity and care about your well being, everyone can be treated with respect."

Respect is an important word that reverberated throughout our discussion. The acknowledgment and promoting of these "beauties" within the African-American community is a show of respect to these women and their lives. In the end, by doing so, it becomes a win-win opportunity for both the contestants and for Flux.

"I don't know what an individual may be going through in real life," Flux said, "and if I can be a blessing, then I let the life that I live speak for me, and give, give, give."

Imani Enzo, Miss Essence of Ebony 2011

The Essence of Ebony 2012 is currently in the process of accepting submissions for possible contestants. You can learn more by checking out EoE's blog, and for further information regarding the pageant and sponsorship, you can read this letter from Flux. Definitely contact Latrelly Flux in-world if you have additional questions about the competition.

[note :: every once in a while, I will be doing FYI Talk interviews with people I come across in the metaverse that I think everyone should be "in the know" about.]


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