What are NFTs and why should Black people care?

Photo by Charles Hallman Jonathan Johnson

The world’s first NFT (non-fungible tokens) conference is now history. Held last weekend at the Minnesota Vikings’ downtown stadium, VeeCon 2022 organizers called it “a super conference [for] all things entrepreneurship, marketing, culture, business and innovation.” An estimated 5,000-10,000 people attended.  

However, other than a few presenters and scattered faces of color, the crowd seemed to lack diversity.

Local entrepreneur Jonathan Johnson was among the VeeCon attendees. He has a “lifestyle brand” business called Homegrown. He told the MSR that although there weren’t a lot of Blacks he ran into at the event, he was there to learn more about NFTs as well as connect with others.

“Sometimes we’re in spaces where we don’t see a whole lot of people that look like us,” acknowledged Johnson, “and that’s uncomfortable. But sometimes you just have to go out on a limb and just dive in, take a chance on learning something that you don’t know. That’s really why I’m here.”

Submitted photo Simone Berry

“I can count the amount of us in this room,” noted creative consultant and entrepreneur Simone Berry, the co-founder of People of Crypto (POC) Lab. “Our focus is to educate and onboard people of color, LGBTQ community—really focusing on ensuring that they’re participating within this space,” Berry told the MSR. She provided a quick tutorial on oft-used words and phases heard throughout VeeCon:

  • NFT – a unique unit of data that is used to log and authenticate digital content such as videos, audio files and images
  • Cryptocurrency – often called crypto, a digital currency 
  • Metaverse – a virtual space where users can interact digitally
  • Web3 – a new version of the World Wide Web

The next new thing

Black Enterprise reported earlier this year that nearly 25% of Black Americans own cryptocurrency as opposed to 11% of Whites and 17% of Latinos. Berry advised that Black people get more involved in the new digital economy such as Web3 and NFTs, especially entrepreneurs, artists and other creative types.

“We need to be a part of this conversation,” she pointed out. “The problem is that a lot of the people that are creating aren’t diverse. You’ll see projects that represent diversity, but the teams behind them are not equal.” She expressed concern that Blacks will be passed over and not see this as a chance to become more financially independent.

Photo by Charles Hallman Spike Lee and son Jackson Lee

Filmmaker Spike Lee and creative marketer Monica Hyacinth were among the 150 scheduled VeeCom speakers. Lee will soon unveil his NFT based on the Mars Blackmon character from his film “She’s Gotta Have It.”  

He explained during a media scrum after his appearance last Friday, which included the MSR, “I went through the 35-millimeter film curated images of Mars from the film,” nearly 4,000 hand-picked original frames from his first commercially successful film.   

The legendary director told the MSR that he agrees that more Blacks should be involved in NFTs. “This is the new thing,” he stressed, adding that his two adult children urged him to get involved. 

“As I said before on stage, a large part of my new acquisitions I am buying online are by artists of color,” Lee noted. His son Jackson Lee pointed out that he and his father are “both kind of learning this together. It’s fun.”

Before her scheduled appearance, Hyacinth said, “We’re at ground zero when it comes to Web3 and NFTs and all of that stuff.” She has two decades of experience building brands for media and music companies. 

“I run a Metaverse company called Cyber,” she continued. “We work with artists to help them tell their stories in new ways and interactive ways, and we take all of their creativity, their art, their music, and create virtual worlds and virtual events online. It’s a platform for music, digital art and entertainment.”

Berry reiterated that Black people can’t allow themselves to be on the outside looking at Web3. “I don’t even know if it’s a next frontier… I wish more [Black] people would start research. I think there’s a community for us.”

Monica Hyacinth
Photo by Charles Hallman

“Statistically speaking,” she said, “Black and Brown people are adopting crypto faster than any other demographic. The reason we started [POC Lab] was to ensure our communities are getting the education that they need and onboarding into the systems to see where they fit in.

“We cannot be locked out at this moment again,” concluded Berry. “We have the moment right now to change that paradigm.”

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