Two Austin women win YouTube Black Voices grants to build their channels
Evelyn Ngugi, aka Evelyn from the Internets, was an early YouTuber. As a freshman at the University of Texas, the now-30-year-old Austinite began creating her own videos. She would even burn them onto DVDs. (Remember those, kids?)
"I started placing them on YouTube just to have a place to store them," she says.
YouTube provided a community for her. People could comment on her videos and, at the time, even make their own video responses. She found video creators like her there.
On her Evelyn from the Internets channel, Ngugi lends her unique voice to everything from voting, to what she's watched during the pandemic, to all the flavors of LaCroix water to sunscreen that doesn't make Black women look ashy.
She's not alone among Austin YouTubers who have watched their seed grow. Tiffany Rothe of Tiffany Rothe Workouts began creating YouTube workout videos in 2010 after she was working in a Playa del Carmen gym in Mexico. Tourists would ask her how they could work out with her once they went home.
Now, she does a live YouTube video from her living room in Austin three days a week and brings a workout that is a combination of dance party, serious exercise and emotional therapy. All along the way, she gives shout-outs to whomever is watching that day.
Ngugi and Rothe are two of the 132 Black creators who received YouTube's first #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund grants. They applied last fall with an application and an interview. Recipients and YouTube are not disclosing the grant amounts.
"The specific amount isn’t disclosed," a YouTube spokesperson said, "but in addition to the grant, there are further benefits such as partner support from YouTube and participation in an intensive development program that will focus on training in production, community engagement and wellbeing, followed by ongoing workshops and networking programs."
Growing Tiffany Rothe Workouts
The grant is going to allow Rothe to hire an editor so that she can put out more lifestyle content in her noon Tuesday Tiffany Talks, as well as continue to do her live workouts at 9 a.m. Monday and Wednesday and 10:30 a.m. Friday. It will allow her to have someone to manage content and social media.
Before, this was a passion project run on a shoestring, she says: "It was really a strain to do everything."
The grant, she says, is "validating my worth and my contribution."
Rothe moved to Austin last summer after deciding she wanted to take her family on a staycation in a boutique hotel in the Houston area, where she was living. They couldn't really find one and decided to try Austin. "We all fell in love," she says. The "we" includes her daughters, 16 and 18.
Like that big life change, Rothe also has shifted the feel of her channel during the pandemic. At first she prerecorded and edited everything, but then she discovered the value of giving her audience something that was live and interactive. She put aside her need to produce the perfect video and decided to "just show up in service."
She likens it to when she would tune into "The Oprah Winfrey Show" every afternoon and look forward to Oprah teaching her something. "Every day people look forward to the workouts," she says.
She works hard on building the connection between herself and the people working out with her. "They feel like I see them," she says. "I acknowledge them and I let them know we are in this together."
"I've gotten so many messages: 'You were the saving grace through quarantine,' 'Your positive message was how I got through the day,' 'I've reached goals I've never reached before.' It's a beautiful thing to reach people I wouldn't have reached," she says.
Rothe sees her work as more than helping people become physically fit. "My purpose in life is to change the world one workout at a time," she says.
She combines African dance, weight training, boxing and more into each workout while also focusing on body positivity and mental health.
"When you feel good about yourself, you vibrate at such a high level, you touch so many people in your circle," she says.
Her motto is "train the mind, work the body, lift the spirit."
She wants to get out the negative feelings that creep in: of not being enough, of comparing yourself to others, of having unrealistic expectations.
She sees herself as helping people train their minds through movement into loving themselves, appreciating where they are and challenging themselves every day.
With the YouTube grant, she has challenged herself to get a million subscribers on YouTube. Right now, she has 919,000 subscribers.
The slow burn of Evelyn from the Internets
Since Ngugi quit her full-time job at NaturallyCurly.com in 2017, she has been working on her YouTube channel without taking a break, trying to create enough content and monetize it. She grew it to 247,000 subscribers.
People hear stories of YouTubers making meteoric rises to fame, but Ngugi says, like most YouTube creators, "it's been such a slow burn. It's a craft that you work on a lot."
She now realizes that she was "severely burned out," and being alone without co-workers has been a "shock to the system. ... I underestimated how much I miss collaboration."
Ngugi wants to use the grant money to slow down and create more video series as well as hire collaborators.
"I wanted to be able to take my time, hop off the grind of content creation, write a little more, hire people who are more talented than me to bring that writing to life," she says. "I've been a one-woman show," she says, and the grant will help her change that.
The web series she's working on include one that is based on the inner dialogue she has with herself and one that will be an advice column, in which people can ask her questions and she'll answer them in video form.
Having fun, even on serious topics, is part of what makes Evelyn from the Internets. She gets her humor from her family. Her brother is funny; her mother is dramatic and encouraged her to play dress up as a kid; and her father is a clown. "Because of my parents, I was able to explore my creativity," she says.
Even though she talks about a lot of topics on a personal level, Ngugi says she's not an open book, "but the art of this is it feels like I am." Some things are off limits, including relationships, religion and family, she says.
In five years, Ngugi would like to grow her channel to include more diverse stories. She also wants to "create shows and films and projects that provide a sense of silliness, that make you think and be a little introspective," with a higher quality scale, she says.
She's excited about the #YouTubeBlack Voices grant, because "now more than ever, it's important for Black creators to share their stories in tough times, or especially when it's the joyous time, to share the moments of joy, not just moments of sadness."
"I'm excited to see what people come up with," Ngugi says.
Nicole Villalpando writes about interesting people for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.