Chances are you have a good sense of your colleagues’ on-the-job talents—who can deliver a killer presentation, who has a knack for details, and who’s a clutch problem-solver. But could you point out the co-worker who can belt out Beyoncé like a Grammy winner? Or the one who can deliver a punchline like a standup veteran?
We of Color Tri-State—the local chapter of WeWork’s internal organization for employees of color—put its in-house talent front and center when the group hosted its inaugural talent show in New York City one recent Thursday night.
“Maybe you’re the IT lead, but you’re also an amazing piano player,” says Khafilat Akinwande, a community operations lead at WeWork 25 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. “We would never see those talents if you weren’t given a space to highlight them.” So Akinwande, along with fellow We of Color Tri-State members Daina Williams and John Mark, set out to create that space.
“We want to make sure our diverse community is heard and seen, and that they have a space where they’re always comfortable,” says Williams, who’s on the executive support team for WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey. After brainstorming ways to build camaraderie and show support for employees of color, they had a stroke of inspiration. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be dope if we did a talent show?’” says Akinwande.
It turns out the WeWork community thought so, too. When We of Color Tri-state announced that they a stage to fill, they had no trouble finding contenders. They sourced performers whose talents they’d heard about through the company’s tight-knit internal network, and also considered employees who got word of the show and volunteered.
Their first effort turned up a musician-heavy lineup—three singers and two rappers, as well as a spoken-word artist. “In the future we might have a wider showcase of the arts,” says Mark, a network services engineer. “Somebody could say, ‘Hey, I’m a comedian, I do standup,’ or, ‘I’m a painter,’ and we post some of their artwork up in the space. I think from here on out it will be a lot easier to cast the net to include anything people can bring to the table.”
To give performers and their talents maximum exposure, the We of Color Tri-state team decided to open the event to the public. “We want people to know that they’re supported,” says Akinwande. “They can be their authentic selves all the time.”
The Mailroom, the sleek, low-lit in-house bar on the lower level of WeWork 110 Wall St, was the ideal spot for the show, with its speakeasy-esque stage surrounded by plush seating. Leslie Serrano, a singer and WeWork community manager, opened the night with two heartfelt numbers from her upcoming album. Tornel Degazon, a music producer who has served as an audio engineer at WeWork events, introduced an act from his talent roster, rapper Svvy Sua, who fired up the crowd with two thumping tracks.
Next, Jessica Clark—who is on the member support team at WeWork 12 E 49th St in Midtown Manhattan and performs as Meghan Irving—shifted the room to a mellow mood as she sang with acoustic-guitar accompaniment. Julissa Contreras, a community manager at WeWork 8 W 126th St in Harlem, pulled double duty as emcee and performer, earning snaps for two passionate spoken-word pieces before Dario Young, aka General D., got the crowd out of their seats with rhymes and rhythms out of Barbados. Finally, Jenn Mundia, a community lead at WeWork 1460 Broadway, closed out the night on a high note with her deep, bluesy vocals.
For the performers, the night was a chance not only to showcase their skills, but also to show up for their fellow employees. “The energy was incredible,” says Contreras. “It was wonderful to see everybody glow in a light that we don’t get to see them in day to day. My piece was very political, so I was a little scared to test it out, but folks really felt it.”
For many of the performers, the visibility the event gave them was gratifying. “Representation is incredibly important,” says Mundia. “It’s something WeWork is working really hard on, and this is a part of it.”
Fresh off the show, which had a big turnout—even co-founder McKelvey made an appearance—We of Color is already busy sketching out logistics for the next run. They conceived it as an annual event, but are now considering doing a quarterly show instead. Says Williams: “As I was headed to the show today five people in the building stopped me and were like, ‘You’re doing it again next month, right?’”