'Claima Stories' Co-Founder Bimma Williams on the Art of Storytelling
A conduit can be defined as a person or organization that acts as a channel for the transmission of something. Bimma Williams' Claima Stories podcast, which he co-founded in 2019 alongside BJ Frogozo, is a vessel for telling stories about the careers of BIPOC creatives, such as Melody Ehsani, Aleali May, CJ McCollum, and countless others.
As the platform has grown, Claima has received acclaim from publications such as Adweek, AfroTech, and Forbes. From helping job seekers of color during this global pandemic to delivering nearly $250,000 to BIPOC small businesses in collaboration with 99designs by VistaPrint, Bimma and Claima champion equity and equality to underrepresented communities. We spoke to Bimma Williams about his calling to be an advocate for change, hosting the No. 1 career podcast in the U.S., and his career thus far.
You're a very purpose-driven individual. What was the motivation behind starting Claima Stories?
The purpose for Claima is things we didn't see; I've worked in corporate environments, and I didn't see people who look like me, women, and specifically of color. It became frustrating when I noticed a pattern in every space I occupied, so instead of insanity, why not do my own thing for us?
Was there any hesitation on your part?
Surely! I, personally, haven't seen a creative entrepreneur be successful outside of a built-in and familiar structure. For example, my mother started her own fashion boutique when I was a small child, and she would try to protect me by steering me away from chasing what seemed impossible. Today, I completely understand why she wanted me to have a solid foundation before all else, but back then? [laughs] I just wanted to do my thing my way.
Mother knows best!
Always! But to your question, while there was hesitation, my partner BJ and I had both experienced racial discrimination in our careers, so by the time we met in 2019, starting our own thing was a theme every time we'd ideate. Through our conversations, we realized we have trouble finding stories about successful entrepreneurs of color. For example, Pinky Cole of Slutty Vegan raised over $20 million, and those are the types of stories we need to see amplified, which is exactly what we're doing with folks in our network, from entertainment to sneakers to streetwear to music, etc.
There's a quote by music producer No I.D., he said, "I'm trying to go where there is nothing because then I'm creating." Would you say filling the void for people of color is a passion of yours?
Certainly! BJ and I saw what was absent and wanted to create more equity for people in our community. There was such a wide open gap, and there might be different iterations, but nothing at a consistently high level. We don't want the next ten years to be like the previous ten in which we still don't have vehicles of our own to be represented by.
Buying Black has always been present, but more so in the past few years.
I think about the first episode of Killer Mike's show (Trigger Warning with Killer Mike), in which he attempts to only buy from Black-owned businesses, and parts of it were funny, but it was also sad because he could only go maybe an hour before he could not spend outside of the community.
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Do you think that's due to commodification?
Yes! White-owned organizations will be performative during Black History Month or Women's History Month, and then it's back to business as usual.
The Black squares of unity on Instagram during July 2020.
What are these performances doing and accomplishing for the Black community? We need tangible changes, and since they won't, we must.
Was there anybody that inspired or pointed you in this direction?
Not directly, but I was inspired by various people that I've met, and I would create what I felt was absent by plucking pieces from each of them. However, my parents were very instrumental in the development of the skills that I use in the present day. My mom is one of the most incredible leaders I ever met; her confidence, organization, and the way she provides the framework for others to be their most successful selves. My dad, who unfortunately passed away, was a magnet for people because I always noticed how everybody would gravitate towards him, and he would give them his undivided attention and time. That's why I have such a great time interviewing people because communication means someone has to be listening, and that's me.
That's beautiful! You've worked in the sneaker industry. How does that experience help with your storytelling?
Like many others, I loved sneakers when I was younger, and still do, but the storytelling of sneakers was the appeal. I'm not a transactional person, especially where sneakers are concerned, even though I could be considered a hoarder instead of a collector [laughs]. Working with Nike and Adidas, I was exposed to a proper infrastructure; how to set up an office, management team, systems, and processes. I was also able to work with high-level talents, from Drake to Donald Glover to brands like Supreme, and I learned their approach to creativity and collaborating with other people.
Working with geniuses has a tendency to rub off on you.
Right! There's also something to be said about not forcing time so much or having to hit deadlines. Working at Adidas, there was a sentiment around creatives there that if it's not right, we're not doing it. Generally, that's not a luxury afforded to us in today's world because there's always pressure to deliver, always be on, and have a constant flow of content. That's why I admire someone like Kendrick Lamar because he can go five years without dropping an album, and then he can come back, so to speak, and time stops for his art.
As a creative, how important is having a team you can trust?
I tell people all the time; you see me conducting interviews, doing voiceover work, and doing events, but what you don't see is the massive amount of people that allow me to do my job because they did their job.
Empowering your team is a must. Although, I'm sure you have uncomfortable conversations with your team, how do you manage those?
It's not top of mind when you start a new endeavor because you're usually consumed by the excitement of creating whatever you're creating. What then comes to mind is people because they are the life of every part of the process from conceptualizing building to completion. People are not algorithms or programs; they are human just like everybody else, and should be treated as such. And it goes back to the lessons I learned from my parents about instilling confidence in your team and always taking time out to communicate with them on a human level.
How did you go about picking a team?
When we first started out, we were working with friends and family, and still do, but what was challenging about that was, as a startup, we go through phases and change so that we can grow, and the difficulty there is that not everybody is able to evolve with how the company is evolving. People are great at what they're great at, and the most difficult thing for me is when I had to part ways with people in that regard, even if they weren't family because I still feel a way about having to part ways with folks that have contributed so much to who we are and what we do.
That's the part of leadership that doesn't get glamorized.
Without question! I'm an empathetic leader, and I do care about my team, so much so that I have a bi-weekly meeting with them about them, not work. I care about their well-being, how I can be of better service to them as a leader, and what can I do to make them better to unlock whatever it is that they need. If they're going through something and need to take some time to themselves, then grace will be extended.
Leadership is an act of service. Let's shift back to the podcast itself; do you ever get nervous before conducting an interview?
Yes! [laughs] If you asked me to do any type of public speaking ten years ago, and I'm a wreck! I've gotten more comfortable with it by putting the reps in and knowing that this is my purpose. When you know your purpose, all the surface-level emotions get put to the side because you're doing something bigger than you.
Who is your dream guest?
JAY-Z! He represents what I've always felt was missing for me as I was growing up because he would pour into me in his music without knowing me. He went from the bottom to the top while remaining authentic, and I will argue with anyone for hours if they question Hov's authenticity. I'm so inspired by his journey, and while he's grown, he's done so as his genuine self. The ecosystem that Jay and his team have built is awe-inspiring, and his influence on culture is second to none. The greatest rapper ever; a first-ballot hall of famer, but the social justice impact and the way he empowers the Black community with opportunities in every space he's in doesn't get talked about enough. On the "Go Crazy (Remix)" with Jeezy, he said, "Don't follow me...follow my moves!" And that's exactly what I'm doing and why he's my dream guest.