Since I started whipping butters as a side (and increasingly main) hustle in late 2014, the progress has been pretty incredible and, in many ways, this year has felt like my ‘breakthrough’. My butters were recognized by YouTube and included in the swag bag for YouTube Black, and I opened my first storefront in Brooklyn. So when I got a message from a BET executive saying they wanted to meet me, it felt like destiny — something meant to be. That the meeting fell on my son’s 5th birthday was just another stroke of fate.

“Happy Birthday buddy!” I said cheerily when I woke him up. “Mommy has a big meeting with a TV network today!”

And yes, I suck for making his big day about my big news but I was pretty excited. I would go into Manhattan, to the Viacom building in Times Square, meet with two marketing executives, and by the time I got back home to Brooklyn that evening I would be celebrating both my son’s milestone birthday and a BET exclusive on my business.

But first there was the matter of my clothes. Tricky since, still 18 pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight, I can’t fit into about 70% of my wardrobe. I fished through my closet for ankle boots, a pair of nice jeans that fit without too much muffintopping and the sleeveless turtleneck that always does a pretty good job of hiding my muffintop. Not comfortable, but I’d only have to endure this for a few hours.

After dropping the kids at school I stopped by my shop and picked out travel sizes of our most popular scented butters and called a Lyft.

The Lyft was late, and I panicked as it slowly weaved through Midtown. I texted updates to my BET contact as often as I could, “So so sorry! Really looking forward to meeting you!”

As I sat in my seat, I tested ways I could weave my lateness into the life narrative I was crafting to present to BET — a hard-working mother of three young kids who managed to grow a successful business, braving horrible Manhattan traffic in the late afternoon to chase her dream. Realizing that my Lyft was going nowhere fast and that walking to my appointment would add extra flair to my story, I resolutely told my cabbie. “Drop me off here. I’ll *walk* the rest of the way.”

“Lyft stuck in traffic. Getting out to walk to you.” I texted my contact before stepping onto the street.

After several sweaty blocks I arrived at the Viacom building, more than 30 minutes late. I got my name tag, went up the elevator to the 26th floor and met with my contact.

“Hi! I am soooo sorry!”

“No worries!” she said cheerily.

We did some small talk about traffic in Manhattan versus Brooklyn and then I presented my butters.

“So I want you to try these! These are some of our most popular scents. I did a lot of research when I first started because lack of absorbency is a big problem with a lot of whipped butter lines and I wanted mine to be as absorbent as possible…” My voice trailed off as I realized she was staring at her computer. She picked up a sample and flashed me a quick smile.

“Thank you! Okay, so I’m just going to give you this,” she said handing me a binder. “And here’s a flash drive with all the information.”

“Um, you should try the vanilla whipped shea,” I said, taking the binder. “It’s our most popular scent.”

She dabbed a tiny bit on the back of her hand.

“Wow. It’s soft.” She then launched into a detailed explanation of BET’s programming. I opened the binder. Inside was a catalog of BET’s various advertising packages. I scanned through and looked at the price tags. 6 figures. My heart sank as it dawned on me — she didn’t want to do a story about my business. She wanted me to advertise on BET.

My mind raced. ‘Why do they think I can afford this? What about anything I have ever said or done makes them think I can afford this??’

“So now we’ll do lunch.” my contact said, snapping me back to reality.

A tall, well-suited black man ambled up and extended his hand. “Hi, nice to meet you.” he said. “I’ll be doing lunch with you too.” I shook back as convincingly as I could, feeling hyper conscious of how hard the button on my jeans was pushing against my gut.

We took the elevator down and stepped out onto a busy street. As we passed more impeccably dressed New Yorkers my imposter syndrome went into overdrive. There I was, a mom of three who hadn’t showered in one and three quarter days, in between two high-powered marketing execs who somehow thought I could afford the advertising packages they were explaining to me in embarrassing detail. I figured I needed to diffuse the situation before it went further.

“Um, some of your advertising packages cost as much as my business earns…. in a year.”

“Well, you gotta put yourself out there. You have to try new approaches.”

“I don’t have ‘put yourself out there and try new approaches’ money though,” I replied. My contact’s glance wavered a bit, but she didn’t seem convinced.

We arrived at a fancy restaurant. “The crab salad is so good here,” she cooed.

As we took our seats I decided I could at least try to sell my story. I cleared my throat.

“You know I took a big risk opening up my storefront, “I started. “And this is actually my second venture. I started out as a blogger — I still maintain my blog — and was actually recognized by The Root as a top blogger in 2012. I’m a mom of three kids, five and under, and it’s hard to do this. I don’t have a lot of help. A lot of people told me I couldn’t do this, but I’m taking it on.”

My contact and her associate smiled nicely. And then pivoted the conversation to the lack of black representation on House Hunters.

“You know, a lot of black people can afford the more expensive properties, but they don’t SHOW that,” said well-dressed black man. “You should blog about *that*.”

By the time the raw tuna tacos came I realized my best bet was to just enjoy my free meal. I locked eyes with the restaurant cook, a young black man with locs working at an open grill. His sympathetic gaze seemed to say, “Yeh we BOTH don’t belong here.”

About halfway through the meal it seemed to finally dawn on the male exec how pointless the entire affair was.

“You know I take every meeting that comes my way, because you never know where people will end up.”

I smiled. He was throwing me a bone and I appreciated it.

“You have such an incredible story, and I’d love to write about it on BET Her, the new platform we’re launching.”

I breathed in sharply.

“But it’s not up to me.”

I know enough to know that an ‘It’s not up to me’ from a network executive is a nice way of saying, ‘That shit ain’t happening.’

He started to ramble about how I might have been perfect for BET’s reality competition, “Queen Boss’ before it was canceled on orders from Viacom.

We finished our meal and my contact pulled out a black card to pay for everything.

‘Nice touch,’ I thought. ‘If that shit meant anything to me.’

We descended the restaurant’s curved stairs and headed back out to the street.

“Uh, I don’t need to follow you back to the office. I’ll just catch my Lyft from here. And just try my butters, okay?” I offered weakly. “They’re really good.”

“Yeh, I’ll definitely come by your shop.” tall black man promised.

And with that we departed.

I headed down the street only to realize that my phone was dead and I’d forgotten my purse at home. I ducked into the entryway of a columned building to come up with a plan and let my disappointment flood. Was I stupid for thinking BET would be interested enough in my story to cover it? In that moment, I honestly was not sure.

I scanned the street. Going back to the BET offices to charge my phone was out of the question. Insult to injury and all… I headed towards a Duane Reed.

I trudged up to the counter. “Hey. I need to call a Lyft but my phone is dead and I don’t have any money.” The store clerk handed me a charger and pointed me towards an outlet. “Just don’t leave the store with it.”

I plugged my phone in and sat on the cool floor beside it, clutching my knees as I watched people pass, looking for bandaids, nail polish and instant coffee.

‘Well’, I thought to myself, ‘*I’m* proud of me for opening my shop. There’s that.’

When my phone hit 8% I called a Lyft. My cabbie dropped me off at my storefront and I shelved my disappointment to go into work and mommy mode. I finished whipping a couple bowls of shea, and picked the kids up from school. We sang Happy Birthday, ate a cupcake, unwrapped a few presents, and talked about my son’s big party, coming up in a few days.

I got the kids down for the night and looked at my phone. I had a missed call — from my contact at BET!

My stomach fluttered. Maybe this was it! Maybe she had tried the butters after all and realized how incredible they were. Maybe this was a mea culpa, a new proposal.

“Missed your call,” I texted, “Sorry!”

I was about to ask what time I could call back when I got a reply text.

“Sorry didn’t mean to call. My son was playing with my phone.”

***This story is entirely true from start to finish and happened yesterday. I’ve excluded the name of my contacts at BET because they were genuinely nice people. Dialogue isn’t exact (just rehashing from my memory) but yeh, all of this happened…

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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85 Comments on "I was Wined and Dined by BET, and Then I Got Played"

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Char

Wow. I’m so sorry this happened to you! I hope the BET people you met with read this post and see how defeating they can be. I probably would’ve asked what they wanted to meet me for, but you never know.

You’re doing amazing work. Keep it up!

Guest

Did he visit your store tho…???

Nancy

Oh No…..So sorry about the bad experience. But there’s definitely an upside to the story. Perhaps you don’t need the validation of a Media Giant. Every happy customer is much more important. Congratulations on you storefront. Its a big step and you should be proud of how far you’ve come.

Chocobelle

THE END! That really hurts.

You got this! Your subscribers are all proud of you

Frecklefaced

I just love you. Can’t wait to support your store!

Faith Kel8

Oh shucks!

Tanisha Thomas

Cyber Hug! My son was playing with the phone! Boy, bye’ Love your drive. BET ain’t even black anymore, so, I wouldn’t even trip sis! MOMMY POWER, GURL!!! You rule that world!

Telin the truth

Sounds just like. BET…to play there own. Ive heard several stories about BET screwing there own. Thats how we do when white people are controlling your shit. Yall forget or either dont know blacks were slave owners too….for the white man.

NaturalGAGirl

OMG! You were on their radar! That’s an accomplishment. Know that this is just the first of big recognitions to come and it only gets greater from here! YOU are making things happen for you. I mean, you opened your own store and I bet you didn’t see that coming at first. Keep on keeping on. #blackgirlmagic

Olena

I would feel the same way. It’s hard being a mom and trying to pursue our dreams at the same time. If a big name like BET even knew my name I would be elated. The fact that they were just looking for money from you is upsetting. But you know what you are making great strides. There are many blessings on the way for you so keep your head up and keep moving forward!

Natalie

This was a great story, reminding me of early days as a self-published author. Every experience is a footprint in the path of a journey. This will prepare you for the next step. Keep learning and keep at it. Your time is here! Please let me know where your storefront is, my daughter is in your area and we would love to support!

LaRita

The struggle is real. Don’t give up. Storefronts are expensive.Keep up with your 1000 VIP customers. You need them to spend 100.00 a year with you.

Sharon Doe

I’m sorry about your disappointment, Leila. However, I am proud of you for taking that journey in an attempt to gain more exposure for your business and share more of your great products with the world. Don’t feel defeated. You’re doing great things and inspiring others along the way.

Black female director
Black female director

Hmmm. Yes. Entertainment biz = sketchy. I would have loved to watch a show centered on you and natural hair! In the future, should something like this come up again: think on your feet ladies!! Turn lemons into lemonade!!… Not saying it’s a guarantee but –> You could have pitched them on an idea for a show that would bring in black hair care/beauty advertising. That way, they walk away with an idea they can say they originated which is much bigger than their original concept. Everyone wins.

Val

It’s all just stepping stones. Keep moving forward ?

JBL

Keep your head up; you’re gonna make it, girl ?

Gloria

What is the name and address of the shop?

Sasha-Shae

Awh man!! On the upside they know who you are. Keep pursuing your dreams!! You’ve come a mighty long way and it inspires many others like myself.

LDub

They totally pulled a bait and switch on a small business owner. They suck for that

Portia

Now, you know the Lord has something Great for you. Keep your head up and continue on…I pray and agree with you that all of your needs are already met…and I will be ordering from you soon….

Remy

It wasn’t your damn “good” idea to be late!! Ignore that last comment. And every experience, even the crazy unnerving, undermining ones, serve as purpose to make us better!!! Congrats on owning it girl!!

Latasha C.

No matter what, I’m proud of you for taking that chance and putting yourself out there. This shows how much you believe in yourself and your product. Every door that opens will not welcome you in but you keep knocking until you get that one yes (which you will) and you will realize everything you have done to get to that point was not without reason.

Tomaca

Don’t feel bad at all. They were sales people looking to make money off of you. They knew what they were doing when they contacted you. They had no intention of doing a show or promoting you. It was all about BET being able to make their money. If they had stated that in the beginning, you would not have wasted your time. And yes, they did waste your time!

W. Lotus

After their bait-and-switch on why they wanted you there, I was expecting you to say they had expected you to pay for your lunch. What a lack of class on their part.

denise

The best is yet to come…keep on doing awesome and it will come when you least expect it.

Diona Vaughan

What a disappointment Leila…the right opportunity will find you lord knows you have worked hard for it. And by the way…I’m a black woman and a producer for House Hunters :). Lots of all brown episodes are already on the horizon 🙂

Nicole Dawley

I adore you even more after this. So real!

Gloria P. Smith

girl they were just salesmen, and not that good at that if they thought you were at the top of the game, spending company monies and getting no return, two of them at that, girl please, they on your level or soon will be if they don’t get some real leads, LOL

Gloria P. Smith

Hey girl, they thought you were ready, next time go with that. You were distracted by “little thing”. like how you look, “I’m late”. THEY called YOU, next time play them, say things like “I was going with “O”, magazine”, but I will get back with you guys depending how it goes”. Ask for their cards, and say “who told you I was looking to up my media exposure”, You known what I mean Girl, play them back, and get a contact, But first you got to FEEL YOU BELONG, play the game..

TWA4now

WOW!!! I am still staring at the story…and I had a bad day?! Yeah, right! All I can muster to say is with or WITHOUT them, KEEP at it!

Nitabug70

What GOD has for you it is for you, keep on keeping on.

Tonya B

You’re truly an inspiration to me and I admire you!! Sister better things will come your way.

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