Everything You Need to Know You Can Learn From Blair Imani

The activist, organizer, producer, and beauty brand owner is a Jill of all trades and one of the most necessary follows you’ll find on your feed.

Blair Imani

Kaelan Barowsky

Over a century ago, famed playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” As offensive as it reads today, this archaic sentiment still frames how some view teaching, which, like other professions historically occupied by women, remains undervalued and disrespected compared to more “masculine” roles. (Doctors vs. nurses, we see you, too.) But there are those who not only persist, they find creative, non-traditional ways to spread knowledge — teaching and doing all at once.

Meet Blair Imani, a Black American, queer, Muslim woman who has spent the last few years challenging how we think about learning while developing a radically disruptive educational approach that reaches millions of people every month. “Smarter in Seconds” is a web-based series of short videos that tackle various topics in an accessible — and incredible sharable — format. The videos are available on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, reaching a whopping 633,000 followers and everyone they share the videos with. From recognizing and confronting fatphobia and ableism to breaking down the origins of Kwanzaa and Pride month, Imani has been using her platform to keep us all informed about the urgent  issues of our time. When each day’s news can bring an uprising in Iran, the fall of Roe, or some gravely offensive misuse of language or another, she’s become one of the most necessary follows you’ll encounter on your feed. 

Growing up, she developed an early conviction for social justice after her experience being one of only a handful of Black students at her primary schools. “I felt like I had to be the representative of all Black people,” Imani said during a recent conversation we had via video chat. She didn’t mind, though, because she’s always had a bit of flair for performing and taking the stage. She found her cultural grounding strengthened while growing up in Southern California, where she acknowledges the experiences of Black Americans differed from those who lived in other parts of the country in unique ways. “The sense of collective care was strong,” she said about her suburban Black community. She spent a great deal of time interacting with wealthy white students at school and though her family wasn’t struggling financially, she was acutely aware of the stark class differences and how class shapes not only our individual experiences but our worldviews. “I grew up around a lot of people whose families owned the means of production, but my parents were still the workers.”

This is Everybody’s In, a celebration of people making the world a better place for everyone in 2023. You’re ‘in’ if you’re making an impact. Read on to see who’s with you.

Imani had left California and headed to Louisiana State University, because she wanted to experience the music scene, the parties, and frankly, be around people she didn’t know. She says that while she looked forward to being around Black people, she had a bit of a skewed idea about race relations. “I kind of went with this perception [about] us being in a post-racial society,” she recalls. “It was 2012 when I graduated high school and Obama was president. I was thinking ‘it isn’t that bad, things aren’t that intense, things have changed.' I would get along with everybody." It became clear that she had a lot to learn. “It was very humbling for me to learn what it meant to experience other aspects of Blackness,” she remembers.

Imani became involved in activism while at LSU, primarily working with LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, teaching others about civil disobedience and participating in a series of demonstrations called “Blackout Wednesdays.” She graduated early and moved to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard Law School, but remained in contact with the Louisiana activists. In 2016, she went back to Baton Rouge to support the protest organizers and found herself on the front lines, face-to-face with a SWAT team. She made several friends throughout this process and also began to gain a following on social media. Before she knew it, she had thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram and the numbers kept climbing. She knew she had a platform and she set about using her platform to promote justice and social change.

This was around the time I first encountered Blair. There was a horrific mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in June of 2016, and I remember asking if I had any queer Muslim followers. I was concerned about the lack of representation of people who were both queer and Muslim in the larger discourse about the shooting, so I followed her to learn more from her. She converted to Islam in 2015 and, to me, she offered a unique perspective as someone who was in the early stages of her religious journey. Imani says that was when she began taking her social media usage more seriously, and I’m honored that, since then, she says she’s seen me as a mentor and among her sources of inspiration. By following people like me, Imani says she realized “OK, I can really use this to educate more people. My stuff has always been education-driven, but also community-driven.” 

Since then, Imani has been an outspoken human rights advocate, motivated by her own experiences existing at the intersection of a number of marginalized identities. She founded a now-defunct nonprofit organization, Equality for HER, which provided a forum and resources to empower women and non-binary people. She briefly worked for Planned Parenthood in 2016 as a press officer. In 2017, she inadvertently “came out” as queer on national television while appearing on the Tucker Carlson Show and that was when she began to fall back from using Twitter, due to the violent harassment she received in the aftermath (she now has a new Twitter account). She is also an author, and her first book Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History, a glossary of social justice history-makers, was released in 2018. As a historian, she has focused her writing on documenting history in accessible ways and her 2020 book, Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream exhibited the care she takes to make sure she can reach as many people as possible as an educator. Her most recent book, Read This to Get Smarter About Race, Gender, Disability, and More, based on the video series, is “an approachable guide to being an informed, compassionate, and socially conscious person today.” 

Imani has won numerous awards and has been featured in several ad campaigns for progressive brands as a model and brand ambassador. She is also the Head of Education at Feminist, the largest woman-owned and operated platform for women, girls, and gender-expansive people. As she finds herself shifting gears a bit, realizing she wants to focus more on wellness and lifestyle content, she is also the co-owner of Fempower Beauty, a cosmetics company committed to “healing the harms of the beauty industry with luxury products and services that affirm and uplift.”  And if that isn’t enough, she has a cartoon series coming soon to a screen near you.

All of this before she turned 30 years old (which she will in October of 2023). I remain incredibly inspired by her ambition, her drive, and her commitment to the work that she does. Imani has a raw talent for engagement and it has helped her grow a platform that has been deeply impactful on so many people’s lives. Having done a #SmarterInSeconds video with her, I can attest to the virality of her content and the overwhelming support she receives for each one is truly amazing. People are listening and learning and walking away with a conscientiousness that used to be housed in ivory towers. 

Now, more than ever, we need learning to be made accessible, engaging, and fun, to change society one mind at a time  and — respectfully, Mr. Shaw — she is doing that.

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