Can you really use your business to change the world? Danielle Coke has certainly done it with her brand, Oh Happy Dani, a lifestyle brand and educational platform that uses artwork and resources to encourage hope, inspire justice, and make complex ideas accessible. Driven by her desire to help everyday advocates do good daily in their spheres of influence, Danielle shares how you can use your passions and skills to change the world.
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Danielle’s inspiration? Lack of knowledge on diversity and inclusion in the workplace
In Danielle’s first full-time job, she worked for a small event planning agency and loved the people she worked with. The drawback was that she the only black woman on staff, which wasn’t abnormal for her to experience. This meant her work environment was painfully unaware of her struggles. No one was knowledgeable about race, or the difficult conversations that can arise from that lack of knowledge.
Danielle found herself in far too many uncomfortable positions and conversations because of this lack of understanding. She requested the company bring in a DEI consultant—and was denied. Why? Because her boss didn’t understand why he should spend time or money on something he wasn’t passionate about.
This response told Danielle that he only cared about her output as an employee, but didn’t care about her as an individual. She quit shortly after and focused on growing her small business, So Happy Social, an agency that helped positive mission-based brands use social media for maximum impact.
How art can change the world and create more diversity and inclusion
As Danielle was building this business, she started playing around with digital art on an iPad. Through this art, she built a tool that was valuable for educating those she knew could use it and feel the impact of her social justice message.
In December 2019, she began sharing her art with the 700 followers she had on Instagram. Her art included messages about the dangers of the “not seeing color” mentality, microaggressions, empathy, and more. Her account slowly started to grow as her art was shared by strangers on the internet.
In the summer of 2020, we saw the world begin to talk about racial injustice in a whole new and bigger way following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. As Danielle created art highlighting their lives and fighting against injustices, she saw growth on her Instagram account with nearly 300,000 new followers in one week.
What Danielle learned from her Instagram growth
With the growth that she experienced on Instagram, Danielle found herself navigating a lot of comments and opinions from every direction. Going viral online isn’t something that she would recommend to anyone trying to build a business, because there is a lot of negativity that comes with it. The most important takeaways that Danielle learned through that experience include:
- Establishing that she is not a resource, she is a person. Who she is as a person is important to the artwork she creates, which means that it comes from a young, black, female artist. She is not interested in leaving her individuality and personality on the table in order to appease the masses.
- Building boundaries so that she’s not flooded with abuse. With all of the love that she received from her content, she also received hate. To help alleviate some of that hate and protect her peace of mind, she limited her comments to followers only.
Danielle’s art continues to reflect who she is as a person and what she believes while taking complex ideas and making them more accessible for the everyday person.
The pressure that comes with having a voice and a platform
Now that Danielle has built a large platform of 445k followers, her audience looks to her to create art that speaks to any and all world events. In the beginning, she didn’t feel too much pressure, as she was creating alongside other artists doing similar work at the same time.
Over time, the pressure to always say something new or speak to every trending topic became crippling. Specifically when things happened that she didn’t have context for, Danielle liked to educate herself, get all of the facts, prior to forming an opinion. In doing that, her inbox would become flooded with disheartening messages of hate, claiming she didn’t care or that she was a hypocrite for not speaking up.
Through this experience, Danielle learned that it is okay to know your lane and occupy it. You can never be all things to all people at all times. That responsibility shouldn’t fall on one person—that’s what community is for. By leaning on others and learning from others within a collective community, you’re expanding your knowledge, understanding, and perspective.
Additionally, Danielle took the pressure off herself to say something new, because, in reality, she wasn’t actually saying something brand new every time she created art. Her artwork is that of reimagination—taking things that have already been said and quoting and giving credit to who said it. She also breathes new life into the concept with her own skills, talent, and specific worldview. From there, she brings artwork to life in her own creative way.
How to change the world from where you are
If you’re as passionate and motivated to make a difference in the world as Danielle is, she has a few thoughts on how you can lean into your strengths to change the world from where you are. You can find your purpose at the intersection of your passions, your skills, the community you’re planted in, and a need that you see in the world.
In 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the Youth March for Integrated Schools where he said, “Whatever career you may choose for yourself, doctor, lawyer, teacher, let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.”
Danielle believes this is step one to changing the world; consider what you currently do or your skillset and how you can use it for your humanity. Apply it in the role you’re working in and how you can make an impact. That could be through partnerships, donating a portion of your profits, or with the content you’re creating and who you’re highlighting.
The importance of value-based brands for consumers
Research shows that generation by generation, younger generations care more about the values behind a company that they support. 83% of millennials say that they care about whether a brand’s values align with their own with over 70% wanting the CEO to actively speak out against injustices in the world and issues that they care about.
Regardless of these numbers, many professionals and entrepreneurs are still overcoming what we were all taught, that politics stays out of business—it can also be scary to speak out about what you believe.
The fear of speaking up can come from two distinct places: fear of judgment and fear of getting it wrong. When you stand up for what you believe in, you will attract your people. If you do end up getting something wrong, there is beauty in growing from that.
As you’re establishing your beliefs, make sure you know what it is that you’re speaking on. When the moment comes and someone challenges you on it, you need to know how to defend your position and have references that support your case. Remember, once you decide to name what you stand for, you are entering a new level of business and life with care that will require more intentionality. The reward is the impact that you’re making on other people’s lives—people who need it and who will support your brand.
Your next step to change the world
If you’ve decided that it’s time for you to make an impact, change the world, and do so within your own platform, it’s important to understand the framework of how to narrow down your actions. The goal of this funnel is to help people go from information overwhelm to aligned action and identify your next step.
At the top of the funnel, you have general information on things you learned about and care about. Then get more specific on an issue that is caused by this within your industry. Next, you’ll pair your passion with that cause, then align action, where you’ll use your skills, gifts, and talents to make a difference in that area.
The biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail
Early on, Danielle learned that there was a level of tenacity and grit that she had to have as she moved through each day. She considered how important it was to not try to do things the way other people were doing them, but rather doing things in a way that works for you in your industry, and that supports the impact you’re trying to make. At the end of the day, you want to highlight your integrity and the values that you embody.
Important sections of the conversation:
- [2:10] Get to know Danielle
- [3:11] The journey to impactful art
- [8:30] The good and bad of sharing impactful messages
- [11:50] Removing the pressure and responsibility
- [17:51] Getting started with making an impact
- [23:46] Consumers are supporting value-based brands
- [27:08] The fears in speaking up
- [33:23] Finding your next step
- [38:46] The biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail
Sources mentioned in this episode
- Report: 83% of millennials want brands to align with them on values, PR Daily
- 24 Gen Z Statistics That Matter to Marketers in 2023, Hootsuite
- The Funnel: Narrowing Down Your Action
- Ty Pentacost’s Mastering Dark Skin Tones Class