August is officially National Black Business Month and PAPER is showing love to some of our favorite Black-owned businesses throughout the entire month. Our dedicated series, Booked x Busy, is all about shining a light on the entrepreneurs and brands that embody Black excellence.
A former small-town girl from Toledo, OH, Emmy award-winning television host, actress and producer Zuri Hall made her Hollywood dreams a reality, broadcasting in millions of homes across the US through shows like E! News, Access Hollywood and American Ninja Warrior.
But her impact on current culture can be felt far beyond her on-screen appearances. Hall stood in solidarity on behalf of the Times Up movement at the 2018 Golden Globes, acted as the AdCouncil spokeswoman for breast cancer awareness, served as a NAACP keynote speaker and now, she's created her own brand to continue her advocacy work.
Through her self-help startup, AlphaBabe, (which raised thousands for COVID-19 relief) and her hit online show, Hey Zuri Hall, the multi-hyphenate celebrity is using her platforms to be a voice for the voiceless.
PAPER sat down with Zuri to discuss her experience as a Black woman in Hollywood, what it takes to build your own brand and why every time is the perfect time to empower one another.
What does it mean to have a platform and opportunity as a Black influencer, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement is getting so much attention?
I'm grateful to have the opportunity and platform. It's always been important for me to speak my truth and stand up for what I believe is right. I've done that for years, on my platforms — whether social media, televised, or simply in the everyday interactions with those around me.
Tell me more. How have you managed to use your platforms to speak up and speak out?
From discussing the terrible events in Charlottesville on a national daytime talk show like E!'s Daily Pop to and giving my perspective as a Black woman on why we didn't need a controversial show like HBO's Confederate on the airwaves to advocating for and being a part of the more recent Black Live Matter TV coverage at Access Hollywood, I'm not afraid to speak up or speak out.
I've always used my social media platforms to speak up about social justice issues, even when at times it felt a little scary to do so. I even began doing this before speaking up was widely accepted in some spaces, or even encouraged. As a public figure, I've always felt a responsibility to do my part to help push important conversations forward and I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to do so.
We haven't been able to go out and socialize in-person much due to COVID-19. How has this affected your brand?
I think what it's definitely done for me (and many others, I think) is it opened my eyes to new, innovative ways to extend my brand... particularly my AlphaBabe social media initiative.
Because I've always worked a full-time job, I'd felt that I never had the time or resources to execute the women's empowerment events that were always a part of my vision. But when quarantine hit, virtual events became the new norm and I decided now was the time. I put together an AlphaBabe Power Panel and curated a panel of some of my industry friends and colleagues who are also amazing women from the industry.
It was also a great example of women supporting women, essentially dismantling the idea that women have to be against each other. It was nearly two hours of wisdom, positivity, mutual support and encouragement. We sold out almost immediately and 100% of the net proceeds from tickets sold went directly to COVID-19 relief efforts, during that peak/ initial quarantine phase. We raised thousands of dollars to donate and educated hundreds and hundreds of women and men.
In all, it affirmed my belief that there was a desire for this kind of content and expanded my mind on the ways I could make it happen. I'm excited to do more.
Tell me a little about AlphaBabe. Why did you start such an empowering initiative?
The concept of AlphaBabe is something I came up with nearly five or six years ago at a time when I didn't see strong, "alpha" women being celebrated and encouraged to be strong and unapologetic as much I thought we should be.
To be an "AlphaBabe" means being an unapologetically ambitious and mindful Millennial woman, who is designing a life she loves, and leads. She knows what she wants, and she's not afraid to work for it. That juxtaposition of "alpha" and "babe" is all about embracing our duality, as women: we can be smart and sexy; strong and soft; a hardworking badass and a self-care connoisseur; a balance of substance and style.
You also produce your online show, Hey Zuri Hall. What are the benefits of owning your own narrative and brand story as a Black woman?
At the end of the day, I wanted a narrative and platform that I was in complete control of. In my industry, you may bounce from network to network or show to show... but you don't necessarily take that audience with you when you leave. So, really dedicating myself to growing Hey Zuri Hall from the ground up, is really paying off. I have a home base to speak directly with my followers and supporters; no matter what twists or turns my professional career may take.
I've always produced, shot and edited almost all of my episodes; so, to have racked up over five million views is really rewarding. It hits differently when you have to do the daily grind of building something yourself, and it finally starts to pick up speed!
You also juggle so much as a TV personality, actress and everything in between. What are some ways you balance it all?
Really prioritizing work/ life balance is important to me. I no longer feel the need to do everything, and show up everywhere, and be everything to everyone. I now understand and appreciate the fact that rest is action. You can't pour from an empty cup, so I've learned to slow down and recharge. I'm trying to do less but do the things I commit to fully and mindfully.
Wine helps! [Laughs] The typical self-care stuff is nice, too, like bubble baths, candles and meditation.
I may technically be balancing it all, but it doesn't mean things don't get hectic or crazy with everything I'm juggling. Trust me, it gets crazy!
What's the best advice you ever received that helped you get where you are today?
The best advice I've received is, Don't go out into the world saying, "I'll take whatever you throw my way" — because it won't give you much. Go out into the world with a clear vision of what you want, and it's much easier for those doors to open.
In hindsight I've realized that advice was really just about setting intentions. This type of specificity allows you to get clear with the Universe about what it is you want. It's always easier to give someone something, if they can tell you straight up what that "thing" is.
You have an Emmy, which is so cool. Which celebrities do you name-drop for inspiring, mentoring and/ or supporting you in your "Thank You" speech?
Well when I won for "Outstanding Talent – Host," it was quite a few years ago before I really knew any A-list celebrities, let alone had any I was close enough to thank in an acceptance speech! [Laughs]
But it's always been my family and closest friends, who have been the real stars and are the driving forces in my life. I will add that Oprah is the ultimate inspiration — and since having the honor of meeting and interviewing her quite a few times, I can gladly say she has more than lived up to all the things about her that I admired.
Looking back, what would you tell little Zuri from Toledo, OH?
It's all going to work out! So, don't stress so much about the day-to-day of "how" you're going to get there. Just trust that you will and enjoy the ride.
Through your multiple platforms, how do you hope to impact people for the better over the next five years?
I hope to continue building on my work in women's empowerment in all aspects of life, including financial literacy and health. Overall, I just want to continue sharing my experiences, and helping lead, moderate and create space for conversations and content that help positively impact the lives of those around me.
Fill in the blank: My Black is...
My Black is MY STRENGTH AND MY HONOR.
Thanks to you, the world's a little more ambitious. What's next for Zuri?
I wish I could share right now because there's something very specific and very exciting in the works right now! Give me a month or so, and I'll come back for the big reveal? [laughs]
In the meantime, I'm still covering content on Access Hollywood and All Access. And I'm the sideline reporter for NBC's American Ninja Warrior, our new season premieres very soon, so stay tuned for that!
Photography: Brett Erickson