The Human Side of History
Uzoma Obasi is a creative entrepreneur, producer, and photographer from Minneapolis. After George Floyd’s murder, he traveled with George’s family and their attorney Ben Crump — capturing powerful moments along the way. He sat down with Chanda to talk about using his skills to document history, his advice to creatives, and the evolution of his storytelling.
Souphak Kienitz 00:01
You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda — a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest most vexing problems, hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:13
All right, welcome to Conversations with Chanda, I’m super thrilled to have you in this conversation with me for a couple of reasons. And one of which is that you are with me with the very first podcast that I ever did in that first season. So, it feels like a bit of a full circle moment. But before we jump into that conversation, would you mind providing us an introduction? How do you introduce yourself? How do you want the listeners to know you? And just say a little bit about you?
Uzoma Obasi 00:41
Sounds good. Yes, my name is Uzoma Obasi. Some people call me Uzi, they might hear people call me that every now and then. I am a creative entrepreneur, I have some different creative businesses, one is an event photography business where we document meetings and all sorts of fun, boring corporate things. And then I have a video production company where we help small businesses, nonprofits tell their story in a way that actually helps them reach their goals, because sometimes when it comes to smaller businesses or nonprofits, what’s missing is making sure that the goal is met. So, we help more on the pre-production and to make sure that that gets all the way through. I also have a clothing line called Creative house, which is also my production company with my business partner, Amir Abdullah. And I am now actually getting more into the art space in creating prints from the photography the I do. So that’s a little bit about me, I do a lot of different things. But it’s, it’s all in the creative realm.
Chanda Smith Baker
Were you always creative?
I think, a little bit, I was always creative and entrepreneurial. When I was in first or second grade, I started a business called gloopy glue, which I would take glue will be glue, I would take people’s glue and dye it, whatever color they wanted using markers. And then Elmers put me out of business because they started really seeing colored glue. So that was probably the first lesson there.
Chanda Smith Baker 02:08
Yeah, you should have got that patent.
Uzoma Obasi 02:12
Should have got that patent. A brand deal with him or something.
Chanda Smith Baker 02:13
Man, they should be teaching that in kindergarten, he would have been ready. When I mentioned in my introduction, that you were with me in the beginning when we launched the podcast. And it was quite comforting, actually, to have you there. And as you know, it was a bit of a bit of a push to get me to do this, that if you have anything about your observation of that period of my, my career here, I guess.
Uzoma Obasi 02:40
I thought it was good for you in that time period and seeing how comfortable you are now with the interviews you’ve done since then, it’s, I think it was good, because it like helps you kind of, I think when people are so you know, into doing the work, they don’t necessarily want me to face the work all the time. And he felt like he really thrown me in the face of it. But I thought I think that’s needed, because we don’t see enough people doing that in the Twin Cities, because it’s culturally frowned upon kind of but and then the people who do put themselves out there are doing it for the wrong reasons. So, it’s always good to see someone do it for the right reasons, and then use their voice that they have, and making sure more people can hear what they have to hear say.
Chanda Smith Baker 03:22
Yeah, if people could have only been sort of the fly on the wall, and you’re like, do more do this, like just the coaching from behind the scenes. So, I appreciate that. And then, you know, in parallel to that, because you were so, sort of, instrumental in that time, right? And it wasn’t just the podcast, but the live conversations too, which were, you know, not easy topics. And when I like even now when I look back, right, like my first podcast was with Van Jones, like I didn’t even go with someone I knew, right? I’m like with the professional commentator, right? And then my first two live conversations were with Robin D’Angelo on white fragility. And then the second one was with Edgar on decolonizing wealth. Right. So, they’re not they’re big topics. I just jumped right in on right. And I thought I thought they were weighty and, you know, thinking about how to manage both my personal experiences, the experience of people that I hold, and an audience sometimes that are not always clear on those experiences, or clear that sometimes they are perpetrating these experiences on folks of color. And so, it was it was really quite complicated. And I remember then, thinking about some of the things that I’ve watched you cover and the even more complexity of it, particularly following George Floyd’s murder. And so, I would love to just talk to you about the evolution of your storytelling. Let’s start with George, how did you end up covering, like, what did you do? How did you end up within Chrome?
Uzoma Obasi 05:03
Everything goes back to Alex Tittle, most times, like back any bigger event or major event in history that I’ve done, it always goes back to him. I had gotten a text from a guy who Alex had recommended to me to do photography for him. I got a text from him in the middle of the night, the day before Ben got to town saying Ben Crump needs you tomorrow. I was like Okay. And that was literally the conversation then I got connected with Ben’s people. And from there start shooting with him. It was always supposed to be to cover a press conference. And Ben really liked the way I worked and how quickly I work how efficiently it was. And he’s like, can you stay there today? Can you come back tomorrow? Can you come back the next day? Hey, we have three more funerals for George, can you go to North Carolina, then he’s still with us? And then from Houston, we had to leave, we left the barrel right after the last prayer before putting George into the tomb. And we had to go straight from there to get on a plane to go to DC for full on us, George’s brother Philonise and Ben to testify in Congress. So, I went with for that. And then back to Houston. And then I’ll so it’s kind of like a whirlwind 10 days and started with a hey, can you be available tomorrow? I think with some of the past, you know, work I’ve done where it has to be quick. And it has to be accurate as we go. It’d be more you know, document data versus you know, trying to force a moment that helped me be able to take something like this on and not have to worry not worry about am I getting this? Am I getting that like, what about that, so but that but it will be more efficient with it. So, it just fit just with the style. I’ve been running my business as to be able to hop into something like this and bedrooms world.
Chanda Smith Baker 06:53
The emotions in the city were so high. And the emotions of many of us were high, right? Like we were completely disrupted. Like, I don’t know where you personally were, I can only anticipate where I think you were so. So how were you able to sort of balance? Was it helpful to be there? Was it? Like, what what was happening with you over this course of the 10 days, like bring us into the story help, like brings into the story of this 10 days?
Uzoma Obasi 07:21
Yeah, so mostly, let’s go into before the 10 days after George’s murder happened and police, I remember seeing just the police report that and put out there and then okay, moved on with my day. And then more stuff started coming out, more stuff started coming out. I actually never saw the video until the first day of court because I just wanted, I didn’t want to see the video. But it was hard to avoid that first day. It’s been described to me, Ben told me and, and same thing happened to me when fall off on Philando Castile was murdered, I kind of just needed to just not do anything. So, for those next couple of days, I just wasn’t really doing anything. So, getting that texts was helpful for me because I just had a son. So going to out to protests or people getting tear gas and arrested and shot by pawn shop owners and all sorts of things I was not looking to get into that mix because it wasn’t where I can help the best and where me as a photographer to be, there are a lot of photographers out there documenting what was happening out there, which is good. And then now for me to be able to document with Ben and the family was, was where I felt like I needed to be. Because being able to take those pictures for us to be able to share, whether it’s on social media wherever it is. But being able to help control the narrative, from our end and be on offense is something that doesn’t necessarily happen too often, where we’re able to be able to be able to say like this is this is who this person was, this is who loved him. These are the people who cared about him. This is a real person, this is not just some random person that no one cared about. So being able to show those pieces is really what came through with my work is showing that this was a human being versus a hashtag a case. Whatever an event, as people like to refer to George as just those things, whether but he was a human so being able to show that human side and that family side was really what was important for my work, I think.
Chanda Smith Baker 09:33
Did you have an opinion about Ben Crump before you met him?
Uzoma Obasi 09:39
I did not actually. I had an opinion about Al before I met him.
Chanda Smith Baker 09:43
Oh, Sharpton, let’s talk about now.
Uzoma Obasi 09:46
You know it’s funny too, because like I owe you always like thank you know, like, you sometimes wonder like, where are these opinions come from? So, like as I was, as I saw him walk in the room the first time whenever I started thinking about okay, I’m based in this I have no actual personal experience. So, I’m like, let me start from this zero, and not let my mind be, you know, it’s like poison the poison from outside sources that are not, you know, checked by me at all. So.
Chanda Smith Baker 10:15
So, opinions like what he always shows up like, right, the ambulance chasing sort of thing like here comes a circus, like all this stuff that we hear about him.
Uzoma Obasi 10:25
That’s all stuff we hear. And what we don’t see is the fact that he is actually there for the families, he is the one that they’re going to call, like, he doesn’t do it for the general public, he does it for those families. So, seeing that in person and then hearing other people tell stories about how there was a key witness in their case that needed to actually show up to court, but the guy had been arrested for selling drugs, and Al flew into town and was, like, how much are you getting paid? How much are you making selling drugs, and the guy’s like, told him this nobody’s making because this is how much he needs, and then we’ll pay the bills and stay alive. And Al was like, I’m gonna pay you that. Just stop selling drugs. And so, stories like that, where he’s taking money out of his own pocket to then make sure this person can be out of jail and be a credible witness for this case that’s happening here. And then for, you know, him going in and paying funerals, because he knows that he can help in those ways. And and people are saying he does it for attention. But that’s that’s kind of the point. Because when there is no attention then no one cares, like even now people don’t want they want to talk about George anymore. They want to move on. They don’t they don’t care anymore.
Chanda Smith Baker 11:43
What would have you believe that people don’t care anymore?
Uzoma Obasi 11:47
People want to move on. From the experiences I’ve had. And when the looks I’ve seen when it’s the topic is brought up. And with some of the some of the conversations I’ve had about different projects that people first approached me about then now that now they’re just like, No, we’re kind of, we’re not really thinking about this anymore. We’re thinking about it this way. Speaking pretty vague, but because I don’t want to be too specific. With the same scenario, speaking of.
Chanda Smith Baker 12:19
So if I if I were to help put what I think you’re saying into words, because I may be witnessing some of this as well, where, you know, in the moment, people want to understand both what happened on that day, to being really moved in the movement and what was happening, the city scared for the city, wanting to understand what is happening around policing, and race and systemic racism, and really going all in during that year following his murder, to now people sort of saying not saying, but not being as intentional about the work that still needs to be done around racial justice, understanding how it was the little racist acts of Derek Chauvin and people that lead to the big thing, right, you have to pay attention to the small thing. Is that sort of what you’re saying?
Uzoma Obasi 13:20
Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m saying like, I mean, to sum it up there, they didn’t keep that same energy. That’s the end. I just didn’t keep it.
Chanda Smith Baker 13:28
Al is interesting, too, because I’ve ran into him a couple times. And I actually saw him not that long ago. It’s an interesting thing where you hear people a lot of times in the community do describe him as he just shows up for attention. And then yet in the same breath, people are grateful for grateful may not be the right word. But that’s the word I guess I just used, but for, you know, cell phone cameras and an ability to document the injustice is going on so that we can elevate an issue. So, they’re actually in fact doing both things. He’s been elevating issues before we had camera phones, but he sort of had some reputational damage, and maybe he’s not always had the best approaches, or maybe we haven’t agreed with them. But they’ve been affected for the families, for the most part that he’s helped. And so, Ben Crump is sort of in that same range where people are like, you know, I like he doesn’t win any cases anyway, or he just shows up, he just pops up where there’s issue. And that’s not necessarily been my point of view. It feels like to me, there’s a network of unfortunate families that have had to suffer publicly, through these police involved homicides, and they have a network and they they sort of share the resources that they have found the most helpful and he is one of them. And so, as you got to know, Ben Crump, what did you learn?
Uzoma Obasi 14:53
I learned that he’s real. Like that’s, that’s exactly he is doing what he’s supposed to be doing. And he really doesn’t, sounds terrible, doesn’t have to be like he has this is a very small amount of his cases are these police brutality cases or when someone’s murdered by the police. That’s a very small amount, but they’re the loudest ones. They’re the ones that people are going to be the media seem to be covering that covering when he is suing XYZ company for XYZ reason and you know, these other these huge companies for these other reasons where, those are what’s really that’s what’s really been funding these cases because they’ll go and go and go, and if there’s no settlement, then Ben doesn’t get paid.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:41
He’s done a lot around predatory banking.
Uzoma Obasi 15:44
There’s done some good, I haven’t been with him too many on those. But there’s, I know, he’s had some cases around predatory banking. And they’ve probably sued probably every major bank in this country, because they’re all doing it. And they’ll keep doing it until they figure out how to make sure from the bottom to top all the those policies that they put in place are taken out.
Chanda Smith Baker 16:07
The documentary, what is it? What is it called been? It’s called Crump on Netflix that just came out?
It’s called Civil.
Chanda Smith Baker
Oh, it’s Civil. So I watched it, I think it did he sort of expand my perspective of him. And sort of, I guess my appreciation of the network of folks around him that have worked very hard to elevate the issue, not just get the family resources following the death of their loved one, because nobody wants that. Right, like, but to elevate the issue. So just to go back, sort of where I started with is that you spent these 10 days with Ben and that team and George Floyd’s family, how has that impacted you?
Uzoma Obasi 16:52
It does help me expand just my thinking as far as like, what needs to be done to get some change. And before, I think a lot of people think whatever they’re doing is a thing that needs to be done. So whether it’s someone that’s an activist that’s protesting, organizing, and getting and disrupting, they think that’s what needs to be done. That’s it. And then there’s people who are, you know, organizing corporations to, you know, bring funding back in the communities, there’s people who are leading nonprofits that are helping in their way. And I think it’s so easy for everyone to think that like, that’s all they should be doing is always should be able to just that their way, but it’s really as a whole collective weight, everything. So that kind of helped me see that more clearly that we need everyone doing their part. We don’t just have an army, we don’t just have the Marines, we will just have an air force with everything that needs to work together to then win.
Chanda Smith Baker 17:52
Were you in the courtroom, I know for sure you are in a role, maybe a hotel room or something. When the guilty verdict came down for Derek Chauvin.
Uzoma Obasi 18:02
I was with the rest of the family. We had an overflow room in a hotel down the street. I was not in the courtroom.
Chanda Smith Baker 18:07
What was that moment like?
Uzoma Obasi 18:09
It was it was such a sense of relief. After the first one came in everyone, you know, got excited, but I’m like, wait, wait, wait, there’s still two more counts. There’s always a sense of helpless optimism. The whole the whole time from you know, when we need the verdict call came in to when the actual verdict was read. So, we, you know, felt that release, it felt that happiness, then once all three accounts came in, but shortly after, I was like, well, we got to do this all over again. Because the next day we had to bury Dante Wright.
Chanda Smith Baker 18:43
So when the middle of all of this, then Dante is killed. And now you’re you’re with his family, were the families also together?
Uzoma Obasi 18:53
Well, there were some times when we were together. And they had, we did a joint press conference, I believe, the two days after he was murdered, the night he was murdered, I was picking Ben up from the airport at midnight, and the sign of what was happening, and then by the next day, he was brought onto the case and the morning that was doing Good Morning America, and making sure that the families had a chance to speak because as a thing, people I think, don’t understand how important it is to get in front of the press, using the press to be able to make sure that we can have a narrative out there that speaks to who this human really was versus letting it run wild. And what’s just tends to happen is this person was this was possible that this person, whatever it was, but like it doesn’t necessarily matter, all those things now the things that people are talking about, that will demean the character of that person is supposed to be a death sentence.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:50
Yeah, you know, this, this capturing these moments have taken on a greater importance. And so can you talk about the importance of capturing historical moments? And why is that important, especially when people can distort the truth or put things out that are not truthful, because I think that’s what you’re going to, right?. They’re distorting it. They’re, they’re assassinating character in a way to excuse the fact that they were killed in some cases. So, can you talk about the importance of capturing these historic moments?
Uzoma Obasi 20:20
I’m never 100% sure who would be necessary distorting the truth, but just deciding what truths to magnify as what both sides really do, we’re making sure that you’re actually caring about the person as a human. And so the documenting I do that really does show that because we don’t, we don’t get to see the what the civil process looks like, we see sometimes we’ll see what the state the public, you know, the state prosecution will not see what the federal prosecution looks like. But we don’t see what that civil parts looks like. And behind those closed doors, we need as much evidence as possible, like, Hey, this is the person that you took, they took from their family, this is a real human, they had people that really cared about them. And here’s those people caring about them, but then also mean that so that helps there, but also helps, as far as when we’re putting it out in the media that like, Okay, this is this, just this really goes back to bringing more of the human aspect of that person, because it’s so easy for people to look at their phones, look at their TVs and think this was just a character on on TV, versus an actual human.
Chanda Smith Baker 21:25
It’s interesting in in your responses, because you’re very sort of like almost like matter of fact, right? Like I’m imagining like if I was there, you know, I I would be capturing and I think my conversation, the emotion of the moment, have you do you think you’ve been able to process the emotion of what you have witnessed over the last couple of years and documented?
Uzoma Obasi 21:50
I’d say I’ve done a good amount of processing of it, that Amir Lock’s funeral that was the first funeral where I didn’t cry. So that’s why I decided to take a break. So, during George’s funeral, we had three of them. And so, by that time, it was like, I’m really close to the family. So seeing his older brother or his younger brother Philonise breakdown. That’s what made me break down. And then and, there was another funeral in LA for the girl who was shot while she was trying on dresses because the police were just going after somebody and then we’re not this I think about everyone else around the paparazzi and their media, but it’s LA’s I call them paparazzi, because they acted like paparazzi, they swarmed the casket and the parents as they’re crying to get their shot so that they can be super emotional. So, there’s been like always something that kind of like, pushed me over a little bit. But when nothing really happened with during Amir Lock’s funeral, well, that was when I was like, Okay, let me take a timeout real quick, and just really think about everything. So, I’m good. I’ve had time to process I’ve had time to think because when I think about it more about like neutrally, like what’s next, not necessarily emotionally positive or negative, that’s helped me and make sure that I can keep on doing this kind of work.
Chanda Smith Baker 23:15
You started out in like, on your website, I think like, no matter the question, and creativity is the answer. I think that’s what it says on your website. When you started out, as you know, here’s the list of things I do. But at the end of the day, sort of the summary is I’m a creative, right? Often when we think about how we make a difference, or what’s happening, you know, I sit in a lot of spaces where people have a lot of opinion about what someone else should do. And often the conversation is what can you do in the realm of your talent of your leadership of your realm of influence? Because if we all leaned into that more boldly, in addressing these issues, we would probably get a lot further, more quickly. For those of us and those that are listening that are in the creative space. What advice might you give, if they’re interested in getting more engaged in issues and community, it doesn’t even have to be on this particular issue around policing and community and in documenting things like you have, but what advice might you give?
Uzoma Obasi 24:17
I would say, just start doing something that you can have control over yourself, where you’re not going to let any kind of outside sources or forces really stop you from getting any kind of start. Because if you have, like if you have an idea of like, at the end, like the grand master plan is to do a portrait series of 10 civil rights leaders across the country, but you have $0, zero connections, zero anything, you’re gonna let that stop you from actually making any kind of progress. So, I would say start with something that you can control like you’re in the software world is called MVP your minimum viable product. I think that’s what’s called Yeah, so We’ll start with that, like, just make something that might even be self-portrait series or a street photography series, where you’re getting more into your writing where you’re the captions matter, and you put it on social media, or you’re writing articles on medium, but you can start somewhere to then that where you have 100% control, to be able to then, you know, build the momentum up to where you can now either start asking or have more credibility to, to get the connections or have money to fly places to go and take these portraits and actually achieve the final vision. But I think right now, we live in a world where the final product of whatever we’re trying to do is so, so attainable, that we forget some of the foundation building parts, and that can be in anything, I mean, like selling these hats, like, if people don’t care about me, they’re not buying these hats, or if they don’t care of our goal, a brand around people caring about, you know, the hat, buy the hat like people, if they don’t care, they’re not going to buy. So, you know, if you don’t have that foundation, you’re not going to be able to really create that grand master plan at some point.
Chanda Smith Baker 26:06
And then maybe the next question is around the small businesses are not for profits. And you were saying that you’ve helped nonprofits, you do help nonprofits and small businesses tell their story better. And there’s just an element and through line of what are you noticing around those needs? Or what do you think is missing from the storytelling, you know, in the social sector?
Uzoma Obasi 26:29
The biggest problem that I see is, there’s no clear goal for the video. So, let’s say you have, a nonprofit has an annual fundraising event coming up. And the goal there is to raise funds during that funding needs section. So, it should then be to you then you would make a video that you know actually goes right towards that goal and right towards those people who are sitting in that audience right then and there. But that could be the start. And then what happens during all the, the planning phase is to like, well, we normally don’t have a video. So, let’s try to do this. Let’s try to do that. Let’s try this, like, hey, people, we want people to work here too. So let’s make sure we include some recruitment stuff. And then now at the end, when you have no real clear goal, and no real audience for that, you just make something that looks good and sounds good. And doesn’t actually perform, which happens all the time. Because you want your hire videographer, they just want to look and sound good. That’s what that’s where they are, you know, rating themselves that but the organization has different goals. So, the goal is to make sure to be clear and reverse engineer throughout the whole production process to make sure it actually works towards that. So that’s been the biggest thing is just not having a clear, definite goal, and trying to mix too much in there.
Chanda Smith Baker 27:56
I’ve been to a lot of fundraisers, I’ve seen a lot of videos and speakers, they always bring up the need, right? Like they bring up someone from community or they tell these very, very sad stories, right, like, those stories do exist. But do you think we’re amplifying enough? The aspirations of community and the brilliance that exist in it? And is that just not investable?
Uzoma Obasi 28:24
In my opinion, I think the amount of money most of these organizations spend on their annual fundraiser can be better spent creating content throughout the whole year, and building a more sustainable outreach strategy as far as making sure people understand who they are from an organization and making people care more. So now you have said there’s one night to make people care for the who are usually there, because their company bought a table so they don’t really even know who you are, or care. But now they’re being asked to give money. And if your program didn’t do a good job of actually making them care, you’re not going to really get much so then the amount that you raise is really what you already went in there with plus whatever a couple of 1000, couple 100, depending on the organization for you got from the crowd, because again, they don’t actually care. And let’s say you max that whole, you know, event at 300 people and you’re a Target, your a Best Buy and you threw $10,000 sponsorship, whatever, I would rather throw that I would see more value throwing that $10,000 And getting that logo recognition with this good organization in content that’s put out on a more consistent basis, because now you’re gonna be able to reach 1000s of people, and especially if the outreach is done right and as far as targeted delivery is done, right? Inspired, inspiring as far as running ads to make sure it gets seen by those who need to see it and see it. So I think this is even from a whole like, you know, annual, I mean, they I think they’re the ones they’re the ones that Raise those millions, those high six figures as the low six figures about every single year. And I think they’re going to raise that regardless of what they do. But I think some smaller organizations need to rethink where they’re putting those funds, and how they can get more out of it. Going forward.
Chanda Smith Baker 30:17
Very interesting. And so, I appreciate that. But you know, and part of my question, too, was about the depiction of community in those videos. Do you think that that is evolving?
Uzoma Obasi 30:28
I think it can. That’s a tough one, but I’m gonna say it anyway. Yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna evolve, because people are using that as the reason why they need funds. And I think if you’re an organization that’s been doing that for 20 years, and you’re using the same kind of things, why do you really even exist anymore, if you have made every event, you know, you haven’t you haven’t solved, you haven’t made any progress towards your mission, your mission should be something that you try to accomplish, instead of something that you just treat. So, I think that’s something that happens a lot in the nonprofit world is where people will show that they’re treating the problem, but in a way to then raise the funds to continue to treat the problem, because it ties in hits that emotional note, that will get them to take action. So, when we think about people trying to use visuals to get people to take action, there’s access, like going up and down. That’s like arousal. So higher arousal, lower arousal, and then pleasure, displeasure. And the top two axis is where you get the most, most action happening. So, whether it’s high arousal, high displeasure, that’s when people are going to start doing things against you. But there’s also a high pleasure, high arousal. So, some people want to feel good, because they are helping fix that bad thing. So, showing the community at his worst is going to hit that point that’s going to get those people to raise funds. So those are the people who donate from that those kinds of videos, I think it’s probably going to be the trend for years as far as people instead of people showing more of the hope of what can be done. So, I think if you’re doing, again, content on a consistent basis, versus a just one time, and trying to get as many people in that room emotional, I think you’re gonna have more opportunities to show like the real progress has been made, versus just showing all the bad.
Chanda Smith Baker 32:40
And how has your perception of how art influences what’s happening in community changed over the past couple of years?
Uzoma Obasi 32:53
I think so I think just like wine, maybe 5-10 years ago, kind of got more or less, it was become more mainstream, being able to enjoy wine. The same thing, I feel like it’s happening with art, where people are not letting it be something that’s just for those people, I think more people are, are enjoying art in all aspects in a deeper way. And I think it will, it allows people to then have opportunities to open their mind to just different aspects. And so, one thing I’m doing with Lululemon next month is I have a gallery that I’m doing in partnership with them at the Mall of America, where it’s about solitude and finding peace. So, it’s gonna be you know, some of my journey on finding peace. And we kind of touched on that a little bit earlier today. But it’s also going to be, you know, me going and interviewing and doing, you know, street photography and getting more people trying to talk about solitude. But like, even just that aspect of a corporation who people care about because of their all for whatever reasons, it might have been just because they feel like that’s what they’re supposed to be wearing. Because that’s what everyone’s wearing now. Because they already care about them that way. Now there’s an opportunity for me to come in with my art to then help people be more at peace. So, seeing more stuff like that as they would be is good because a gateway to more engagement.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:31
Yeah, I see that Val. Valerie is now an ambassador for them as well. She does a lot of fitness stuff. So it like I mean, the fact that you both are familiar does change my opinion or my connection even to that particular corporation. You’re sort of touching on how you’re continuing to do your work. Do you? Do you plan on continuing to document issues to advance social justice? Like do you will you stay with either Crump or do you plan on continuing to kind of go into those moments and document them when they show up?
Uzoma Obasi 35:07
So yeah, I’ll definitely continue to work with Ben. Whenever he needs me and I can really kind of just call him anytime, like, what do you got going on? And then oh, yeah, come to this or I’ll have you come to this, or this there are there’s nothing going on as far as like where he feels like we we need more than, you know, I’ll be here and I’m doing working on other projects. And I’ve had some ideas for projects and bigger productions that I haven’t quite been able to get off the ground here, just because I need people to be ready to think about just everything in a different way. I’ve had a short that I was trying to produce what short a series I was trying to produce with Brandon Williams, who is the nephew of George Floyd. And as he called, “I hate it here.” And I was just going to give leaders across the region, an opportunity to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and why. And then also, but also look at what the future holds. So, community leaders, people in sports people in corporations, people in nonprofits, so just different episodes. So, you think like the shop meets David Letterman’s My Next Guest Is but like more like the shop before trying to talk him more community conversations. So I was talking with a couple of organizations about getting it going. And nothing happened after everyone was super excited about doing it. So I kind of just put a pause on those things, because I still need to make sure that my other businesses are running well. But it took us it takes a lot to put all the plan and everything into it. And then spread to not going anywhere is kind of rough. But I do want to get working on getting to a point where I can start producing more projects like that, producing more galleries, like what I’m doing for Lululemon, and just find different opportunities to do things in a bigger way. So when it comes to civil, like just more civil rights, civil justice is I want to be able to work on how do I find? How do I take these ideas that I have, and find who’s gonna pay for them, because it’s gonna be different now then someone, a company or organization like, Alright, we’re gonna hire you to do this. Now. It’s like, I have this idea. And I need you to pay for it. So, I’m trying to figure out what that looks like now, because I mean, even as any creative goes, like you first started creating for yourself, and then you’re like, I want to make this a living. So, you had to find a patron, or a corporation. So, I went the corporation route, or the nonprofit route was the corporate route, so to speak, and they have the money that I need. They have ideas, and they have an audience of trying to reach and I have my talent and my equipment and know-how, and we trade those things. So now I partially what I’m doing is working on building more of an audience. So now I have an audience. And I still have my talent, my know-how, and I have my ideas. And now at this point, all I need is money because I wants to be a part of what is and doing so slowly. But surely, you know, that built the Lululemon work gallery is a big step in the hope for that process being something that could work because it’s a giant company based out of Canada. So, if I can get them to do that, I think I can expand my horizons to even do more than just even what’s here locally and go to others. I think my biggest successes of this realm of me going on this next level of my creative creativeness is going to be having out of state.
Chanda Smith Baker 38:44
Talk to me about you know, two, three influential people that you have in your life and how they’ve impacted you.
Uzoma Obasi 38:52
So one is Alex Tittle. He was never, if you’ve never, you know, been someone that has tried to keep any secrets from anyone. He’s always helping people try to get to the next level, whatever that level may be for them, and whether or not they even reciprocated. He’s always, you know, helping is one thing I admire about him is the fact that he’s just the ultimate connector and this like, what’s that word promoter was the leader like it amplifies your work? Yeah. So that’s one person. Ben Crump is another person who, you know, he’s been able to see how he works and how he’s able to make impact on a nationwide level has been, you know, really important to see as far as being able to just envision what like, like, let me just it’s expanded my world view of what’s possible. And this this life we live in.
Chanda Smith Baker 39:59
Alex because Alex said, Oh, because you’ve mentioned Alex a couple of times. And I know I met Alex and I know him, but I know the audience may not know him. So, I, you know, he was very much involved in the city. He’s done work with the Super Bowl. He’s a leader here. He’s he’s been out east. But how would you who was Alex for people that want to know like, Who is this Alex? He keeps bringing up?
Uzoma Obasi 40:21
Yeah, so Alex, he’s, uh, right now, I believe he runs diversity, equity inclusion for Medica. And, like, across the whole everything, so which is great, then that’s been his realm as far as that goes. And there’s a lot of people who’ve gone to diversity, equity inclusion, just for the speaking fees, and for the, the titles and the paychecks. But he is someone that will actually put his job on the line for making sure that whoever is hired, is actually following up on those promises that they have made publicly privately, wherever, making sure they’re actually making diversity, equity inclusion, in like their, their actual way of life.
Chanda Smith Baker 41:14
And he’s worked a lot on supplier diversity. And so then Ben, so you get to see how he shows up for people. So that’s been impactful is there, so you got Alex and Ben and people that have created a lot of influence for you? Would you also have Alex as the person who has been your most important professional mentor? Or do you have someone else in that in that category perhaps?
Uzoma Obasi 41:35
Alex for a while was my formal mentor when it came professionally, especially back when the days when the Super Bowl leading up to the Super Bowl is coming into town and then directly after? We don’t necessarily speak too much anymore as far as on the professional standpoint. And one thing I’ve I haven’t really had a formal mentor in the past three years, but I’ve had, I’ve been able I’ve, what I’ve done is I’ve taken more mini mentorships. And actually, being intentional about spending time with people and asking questions and getting answers, and seeking feedback.
Chanda Smith Baker 42:14
Do you see yourself as a mentor? Do you mentor people?
Uzoma Obasi 42:18
if I mentor anybody has not been formal setting and they might just be watching me and trying to learn from me that way. Have any formal mentors right now, I think, because I’m still working on, and we’re, I’m grateful for everything I have and work and where I’m at, and how what business, I’m able to actually make it on my own. And I have to have a job and side hustle my creativity. I know that I have way further to go. So, I don’t, I suppose I don’t see myself as someone that should be mentoring anyone just because I haven’t made it to where I think I need to make it. But I guess as far as helping people get to where I am now. Because that’s again, would be great for a lot of people just be that that can be the end for them. But for me, I have so much further I need to go that I haven’t really thought about myself as someone that could be a mentor.
Chanda Smith Baker 43:10
I think that’s kind of an interesting perspective. And you know, when I think about even, you know, the the couple of years where I sort of knew you were documenting what was happening around Ben Crump and the Floyd family and all of that, right, like, I could see the pictures, I couldn’t see some of the footage you were putting out, you know, I mean, that’s really, really important work. And I guess I’m gonna go back there, because you just prompted this for me. Where is that material? What are you going to do with it?
Uzoma Obasi 43:39
Right now I’m working on potentially doing a gallery with Philonise, George’s brother. We’re there to plan a celebration right now for George’s birthday on October 15. So, I might be doing a gallery for that. But as far as the aspirations of where everything’s gonna go, I don’t know yet.
Chanda Smith Baker 44:03
But the aspiration is that you would like to put out that material and those photos to be public. Like you don’t want to keep it yourself and the family doesn’t own the material, you own the material, and you would like to be able to do something with it. That is that it?
Uzoma Obasi 44:18
Yeah, that’s, that was about?
Chanda Smith Baker 44:21
And then one last question, what is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your time on this earth?
Uzoma Obasi 44:28
I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s really important how you talk to yourself and what you tell yourself is possible. Because if you get positive with that, yeah, it’s important how you talk to yourself and how you believe in yourself.
Chanda Smith Baker
Good. How’s the kids?
Kids are good. The seven month old is crawling forward now which is always nice versus getting mad when she gets up.
Chanda Smith Baker 45:00
Have crawling backwards before or what?
Uzoma Obasi 45:03
Backward. Yeah, go backward end up wondering or walk around or wonder tables and those get mad when she’s under there and doesn’t know how to get out. But she’s moving forward now, which is great because she gets to terrorize her brother, which she loves and he hates. Yeah, we’re doing great.
Souphak Kienitz 45:23
If you enjoy this show and want to learn more about what we do here at the Minneapolis Foundation, please visit us online at MinneapolisFoundation.org. And of course, if you want to follow Chanda, or the Minneapolis Foundation on Twitter or Instagram, that’s ChandaSBaker or MPLSfoundation. This is Souphak Kienitz Thanks for listening.Close Transcript -
Uzoma Obasi is an entrepreneur who focuses on businesses in the creative industry. He uses his unique skill set for business and creativity to provide innovation to all the customers his companies work with. His latest and greatest endeavor is Creative Copilot. Creative Copilot is a video production company that aims to help nonprofits create videos that help them reach work towards their missions.