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Before she became the founder of Safeword Society, before she made it through college or high school, Kristen McCallum spent a year in a youth detention center. She was fifteen years old and more or less estranged from her family. When she got out, she had no support, no one to give her advice, and no one to tell her what to do with her life. Still, she was determined to succeed.
In 2017, at thirty years old, she founded Safeword Society. At the time, it was a podcast, but it has now grown into a Brooklyn-based consulting firm that provides workshops and programs that facilitate discussions around equity and marginalization. McCallum hopes Safeword Society can be a resource for people who have nowhere else to turn to figure out who they are or who they want to be.
“A lot of how Safeword Society came about is through experiences like the one I had in the detention center,” she says. “I know for a fact there are people out there who just don’t know how to do every day because of things they’re dealing with. I was one of those people…anything I’ve done with Safeword Society is an opportunity to get people to engage and involve themselves with each other.”
The podcast that started it all came about based on McCallum’s discussions with her friends. As a queer woman of color, she loved talking to her friends about important topics like misogyny, gender, and sexuality. The more chats they had, the more she realized the thoughts and ideas they exchanged were too important not to stretch beyond brunch talk.
“I think a lot of people don’t give value to the conversations they’re having,” McCallum says. So, she started the podcast, named it Safeword Society, and hoped it would help listeners jumpstart conversations in their own circles.
For five seasons, McCallum and her cohost, Lamika Young, explored topics ranging from mental health for queer women of color to food as healing to bisexuality to safety in the Black, transgender community. The goal of the podcast, as explained on the website, was to “navigate the authenticity of identity and spread the tools for revolutionary survival on a daily basis.”
McCallum didn’t grow up having these kinds of conversations. Her family, she says, was uncomfortable talking about heavy or serious issues. She spent a long time starving for it, and she hoped Safeword Society would help others who had nowhere else to find it.
As the podcast grew in popularity, McCallum wanted to find a way to further engage with her audience. So, she developed a card game, The Visibility Pack, a set of 100 questions that helps groups continue these important conversations on their own.
McCallum created both the podcast and The Visibility Pack with no outside funding. “It’s very difficult as a queer, Black woman to get funding for a podcast about being queer, black, brown, and all of these other identities unapologetically,” she says. “So that was coming out of my own pocket.”
Eventually, she needed to create a more financially sustainable model, which is why Safeword Society is now centered on workshops and consulting. McCallum leads workshops on facilitating The Visibility Pack as well as other topics. She has partnered with organizations like Brooklyn Nets Pride Night, Ace Hotel New York, and Lesbians of Color Symposium Collective, Inc.
She also consults for PeopleMovr, a creative studio which focuses on bringing people closer together. There, McCallum works on giving marginalized communities more access to arts spaces, like operas and museums, that are not typically marketed toward them.
McCallum is comfortable with Safeword Society being a conglomeration of her interests and goals. “I’m not a person who only does one thing,” she says. “I’m a person who does many things. Safeword Society is the way in which I can do my work, and the umbrella that holds all I think is important about the stories of queer black and brown folk and other marginalized communities.”
In 2018, McCallum won the Harvey Milk Alumnus Award from the University at Albany – SUNY, from which she graduated in 2013, for her work with Safeword Society. She made her acceptance speech on a stage down the street from the detention center where she once stayed.
It is only now that Safeword Society has been around for a little while that McCallum feels she can start planning for the future. She hopes to soon begin spending more time working with youth, helping them design their own paths through life. “It’s hard to think about the future when you’re so used to wondering if you’re going to make it to the next day,” she says. “I finally feel like I’m allowing myself to dream big.”
March 11, 2019 at 03:47PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs