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Dionne Joyner-Weems: ‘You control your story’

Dionne Joyner-Weems is a marketing professional who helped lead Baltimore’s marketing efforts for years, first as an account executive for a local advertising agency and then at Visit Baltimore in various roles, including vice president of marketing and community affairs.

Joyner-Weems, who grew up in Sandtown-Winchester and graduated from Morgan State University, created the #MyBmore social media campaign to help tell a different story about the city after the riots in 2015 following Freddie Gray’s death. Now the CEO of her own firm, the Audacity Group, Joyner-Weems continues to help tell stories about her hometown.

She spoke with The Daily Record as part of a series of interviews aimed at continuing the conversations started during the newspaper’s “Young, Black, Homegrown and Leading in Baltimore” webinar. The interview below has been edited for clarity and space.

The Daily Record:  So you were raised here in Baltimore and combine being a city native with being a black woman How does that influence the way you view the city’s struggles and  successes?

Dionne Joyner-Weems: It’s interesting because as the vice president of marketing at Visit Baltimore, I was responsible for telling Baltimore’s story, right. Telling the story to get people to want to come and visit, and the whole time I knew the story I was telling did not include my own.

I grew up in Sandtown-Winchester in west Baltimore, and I think around 2015, Baltimore came face to face with the fact that there are two Baltimores … I have to say, growing up black, my parents, and you’ll hear the story a lot, because I’m not the only person, we’re told we had to work 10 times as hard in order to get 10 times less than our white counterparts.

So when God put me in this unique position of being responsible for telling the city’s story, it also gave me the power, and the platform, to be able to tell my own, which was the story of those in the more underserved, under-resourced communities in Baltimore that could produce just as many diamonds if they were given access and opportunity.

TDR: In 2017, when you were with Visit Baltimore, you spearheaded the #MyBmore social media movement, and that was aimed at as elevating the perception of Baltimore. How do you think Baltimore’s perceived in the region, and nationally today? And what role does the fact the city is majority African-American play in those perceptions?

Joyner-Weems: I tell people (Baltimore’s) like a science experiment, and Baltimore is the control. Because Baltimore literally represents all of the world’s triumphs, and the world’s ills. So that means if we’re able to solve Baltimore’s challenges, we can actually solve the world’s challenges.

What’s funny is that 2017 was actually just a pickup of 2015. So Everyone knows the story of Freddie Gray, and the state of just not major urban cities like Baltimore, we’re talking about (communities) across the United States that were all fighting the same fight.

The thing about Baltimore is — I don’t know where it came from — but we’re always on the tip of everyone’s tongue when it comes to saying something negative … I think we have taken that as our underdog coat.

… So I’m like (expletive) this whole, you know, underdog (reputation). We need to step in the middle of the ring and crown ourselves champion. Don’t wait for the world to tell us who we are. Because that’s literally what was happening.

When social media hit its boom, and I think it was like over 700 million people at that time we’re using Instagram daily, and I’m (thinking)… (why are we) trying to control the media? That’s not our job or responsibility.

You control your story, and social media actually allows us to do that, so we can actually produce our own headlines.

So #MyBmore was literally just the people in Baltimore showing the world who we are through our eyes, and I feel like that’s a more powerful story than any other thing.

TDR: You mentioned stories, and you are a storyteller. What you think is the most  interesting part of Baltimore’s narrative?

Joyner-Weems: You hear it all the time that Baltimore is a reflection of grit and grace. I think one of the reasons for people that visit Baltimore, I’m not saying you’re going off of the perception, you visited Baltimore on your own.

For those that come to experience (the city) you’ll see that Baltimore is full of the realest people. I look at Baltimore as the last real city standing because we’re honest about our faults.

I’ve always found that I feel more comfortable around people that can admit to the fact that (expletive) hasn’t always been gravy. Human beings, we all experience our ups and downs. Baltimore? We own it and we keep pushing forward.

That’s the grace about us. It’s a fact that we have learned so much from the experiences that we have gone through as a city and a people. It makes us stronger. It makes us more aware.

TDR: How do we keep this conversation (about racial justice) going so that after the election is over, and we settle back into whatever the results are, that this doesn’t go to the back burner like it seems to have done in the past?

Joyner-Weems: I cannot speak for everyone else, right, but I think for the black and brown people that have been most impacted by these challenges, it’s our responsibility to keep this at the forefront.

If anything the timing may be great, right? If you’re voting people into office it’s not just for them to have this seat at a table and go off without you. No, we put you there to represent us.

I think pre-COVID, as Americans, we just got lost in having to work. “I’ve got this meeting. I’ve got this conference. I’ ve got the PTA meeting.” COVID showed me, again, because I can’t speak for anyone else, the power lies in the people.

When people saw the life leave George Floyd’s eyes … You can’t unsee that. You can’t unhear a man calling out for his mother.

So I don’t care about anybody else. I know I can’t unsee it and I’m going to keep talking, and I know it’s a lot of other people that saw that and they realize it’s on us.