Kenyatta Founder of Trading Races: Gamifying Tough Conversations About Race and Black Culture
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Do you have the courage to play a game where your beliefs are tested? It's rare to see game designers tackle complex issues such as race, gender, and privilege. But that's precisely what Kenyatta Forbes sought to do. She wanted a tool for people to have meaningful conversations about race and Black culture. As an educator, she wanted to create something that would give students an outlet to discuss critical race theory and racial identity. Wading into these issues, such as race, power, and privilege, can be difficult.
Trading Races is a card game that allows people to discuss Black History and Culture in depth. Using the idea of gamification to be a driving force for people (including the youth) to have tough conversations about the impact of race as a social construct. Kenyatta Forbes, the founder, stated, "I quickly saw that was an opportunity to do a lot more with this game, and it can be a vehicle to a much larger conversation."
What's the biggest fear you had during your business journey?
Kenyatta had similar fears as most entrepreneurs about being brand new to the business. She believed that Trading Races came too early before America was ready to have hard conversations surrounding race.
She said, "So I think that the first couple of years was always challenging. I think one of the pieces of American society is just like, we deflect. We don't necessarily talk about the thing. We talk about the symptoms of the thing.
And this game can get right to the root, which is very uncomfortable, depending on what type of space you're playing it in. So I would get a lot of pushback at the beginning of, like, is this game racist? And I'm like, does this game have the capacity to be a system of oppression?
Tell us about a major setback you had in your business and how did you recover?
Kenyatta is an educator by trade and had zero exposure to entrepreneurship. There were few Black-owned card game companies around when she began her entrepreneurial journey. She had never created a game before and needed to learn how to work with distributors. With zero work-life balance, Kenyatta made a lot of mistakes.
She said, "I can remember a misprint on a card because I was, as my grandma would say, doing the most and doing too much. And then having to make a decision like, do we just not care about this? Or do we send out a card to replace this card that has the wrong spelling? So you learn. You learn from these types of smaller mistakes. Sometimes they're larger mistakes, but ultimately there are opportunities to learn and get better."
What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Kenyatta said, "I think anytime that you create something and you put it into the world, that's a risk. "Cause it's, what did Erica say? I'm an artist, and I'm sensitive about my s****. So you take a chance because you don't know how it will be received. You don't know if people will understand the intention. And then once it's out in the world, you don't have control over it anymore."
What are you most proud of when it comes to Trading Races?
Kenyatta's proud moments are watching people play the game for the first time and bearing witness to their debates. The game is a vehicle to something greater, which is the conversation because, as Kenyatta said, "That's where the magic happens."
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This isn't Kenyatta's first pitch competition. She has a mentor who encourages her to pitch in competitions. This was her fourth pitch competition. When asked what some of those differences and similarities were from her previous experiences, she said, "I felt like this one had a lot more community to it. But I've always been of the mind that there's always enough food on the table.
Throughout the rehearsals, even like our ramp-up to the pitch competition, I'm rooting for everybody. And so, I felt a lot more of that in the BGV space than I felt in previous competitions. So that was really nice. I was happy for everyone. The community was very different and very encouraging."
Kenyatta shared some pitching tips. She shared, "Memorizing so it can be very fluid, can be very, is difficult for me. But the more that you do it, the better that you get. And what I've found as a byproduct of doing pitches is that I've gotten more clarity on my brand, my intention, and my focus. And so it's easier to manifest these things because I have so much more clarity because I have to communicate that to others.
So keep doing them, whether you're winning or not. You are winning because it's adding value, and a lot of these pitch competitions come with networking, mentorship, and other resources that are not monetary but are super invaluable."
Winning a pitch competition through BGV also means learning to crowdfund. Kenyatta initially launched Trading Spaces through Kickstarter. She already had an awareness of how challenging it can be.
Kenyatta said, "When you're crowdfunding, it's like you definitely want to have a plan and a strategy for it. Because, in many ways, you are tapping into your existing supporters, right? And so, how do you message that and make them feel included in the process of what you plan to do next? So for me, I built almost like a marketing strategy about how I would go about bringing people into the fold."
Trading Races plans to use the funds for product development and expansion.
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business?
Being an entrepreneur can feel like a solo journey. Kenyatta said, "You can't do it alone. And that doesn't mean you need to have a partner or a co-founder. It just means that it's okay to ask for help. So find your trusted—it doesn't even have to really be a team. I have people who have been dear friends that I will bounce ideas off of, or, you know, I'm like, Hey, I'm thinking about this kind of marketing social media strategy. How does this land for you? Right? So, ask for help, and find a mentor. Somebody that you dearly trust and that has your best interest, personally and professionally. I think people just look for a professional mentor. But you want somebody who can grow you personally, too."
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
Kenyatta believes that all entrepreneurs need resilience and understand that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint and that you're entering a long game. She said, "I'm nowhere near. You know, where I would love to be, but I am a proponent of slow motion is better than no motion, and things will happen when it's time. I don't force anything. Don't force ponytails, and don't force relationships.
It'll happen when it's supposed to. And to be honest, having that kind of mindset has always kind of worked out for me. Getting a full segment on Vice News happened organically when it was supposed to."
Support is not always given to women of color in business; when has this shown and hurt or
Kenyatta said, "I've had both happen where I've gotten the support in unexpected spaces, and I haven't gotten it. I think when it hasn't happened, it's because of that fear surrounding the topic of race. I think people are generally interested. But as a person of non-color, they don't know how to engage. And therefore shy away from support for the brand.
And then it does sometimes happen where it's unexpected. For instance, I was doing a market in Chicago, and this woman kept coming up to the table. But she wasn't playing the game. She was kind of peeking at the game. She'd come over, she would listen to the conversation, and she would leave.
She'd come over again, like maybe three times. So I'm like, I'm going to meet you where you are. And so she comes over the last time, and she hands me her card, and she says, 'I want to put this in the gift shop, and I look down at the card, and she's the buyer for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
So you never technically know where that support will come from and when it won't. Or what, you know, people's hesitations are. And so it just goes back to what is meant to be, will be when it's supposed to be."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Kenyatta understands that people's knowledge and society change over time, and it's exciting for her to see how those two elements impact the game. She said, "For instance, the 2011 Kanye is very different from the 2022 Kanye. And that's a really interesting conversation to have. So that's always exciting to me. That this one thing that's like static and a physical element still has this ability to be so malleable and change and shift in many ways, sometimes daily, based on what's happening in the world or what's happening with somebody's growth within themselves."
How do you measure success?
Success for Kenyatta is walking away from something which continues without you. It's not anchored to you in any way.
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs?
Kenyatta said, "The future is endless for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and small business owners. We have such a unique perspective on the world and are solving problems and developing solutions at rapid speed. I see the future having more Black and Brown women in CEO roles and leading the way for the development of new products and tools."
If you and I were meeting 3 years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Trading Races hopes to have a digital operation of the game, even creating a sister game that she's looking forward to revamping in 2023, called Trading Rappers. She anticipates tremendous growth and entering new markets and growing mini epicenters.
Being a business owner is a tough job; how do you take care of yourself?
"I close the laptop," said Kenyatta. She still works as an educator, and she's done for the day she's done. She gives herself a lot of grace and does her best, knowing everything will be okay. Kenyatta has boxed and done Bikram Yoga and spends much time with family and friends. Setting aside time for the people she loves brings her balance, and they hold her accountable for closing her laptop for the day.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not its idea of you."—James Baldwin.
What book and podcast would you recommend?
Podcasts: Crime Junkie, NPR's Code Switch
Book: Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal
What's your favorite business hack or app you can't live without?
Canva and Later.
Name one food item you have a hard time saying no to.
What's next for Trading Races?
In 2023 Trading Races will debut its sister game, Trading Rappers. They have an expansion pack that will be released during Black History Month called Game Changers. As a team, they will decide if they will pursue a digital version of the game and what that would look like. And as the world opens up, they do festivals like Afropunk, Curl Fest, and the Essence Festival.
Any last words…
"No, just thank you, guys. This has been a fantastic opportunity. Jess and Wendy have always been great. They actually sent me an email like two days ago, like, is the baby here, send me pictures. So I just, I really appreciate the mentorship, the guidance, the networking, and just the infinite opportunities, and it was great to meet Omi. It's been really cool."
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