CLEO Speaks: Celebrating a New Network in Black Woman-Centered Media

iOne Digital journalist and producer Tia Brown, left, with Blake Gifford, Shelah Marie, Miko Branch, and Patrice Grell Yursik
Photo: Picture Perfect Photography (Xfinity)

Can a sister circle exist on a cable network? That’s the question posed by CLEO TV, Xfinity Black Film & TV’s entry into the growing arena of aspirational lifestyle and entertainment media content created specifically created for women of color—with a particular emphasis on millennial and Gen X black women.

The network officially launched in January, but at an event hosted last week by CLEO TV’s VP of Marketing and Partnerships, Content Distribution and Marketing LaTanya Butler, Coordinator of Content Distribution & Marketing Morgan Franklin, and Executive Director of Multicultural Products at Xfinity, Keesha Boyd, CLEO reintroduced itself to its Chicago market. Eager to catch a glimpse at CLEO’s offerings, journalists and influencers flocked to popular venue The Promontory in the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park, where we were treated to sips, sounds and an episode of the network’s signature series, CLEO Speaks.

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Per a release from the network:

CLEO Speaks highlights the personal stories and voices of influential women of color. The series has showcased a variety of these powerful women in politics, beauty, entertainment and business including activist Tamika Mallory, activist and creator of #OscarsSoWhite April Reign, co-host of Sway In The Morning Tracy Garraud, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Alicia Garza and more.

Miss Jessie’s founder Miko Branch was the star of the evening’s episode, giving insight into the journey she and late sister Titi made to build their groundbreaking brand. “We built our brand from scratch,” she recalled in her one-on-one with CLEO’s cameras, becoming emotional as she discussed the impact Miss Jessie’s has had upon what we now fondly call the natural hair movement. “To see women wear their hair in its natural state, it lets me know that the self-love is being inserted in the right way,” Branch said. “I know that my fingerprint—Titi’s fingerprint—is on that phenomenon.”

After the screening, Branch was joined onstage by fellow black beauty and wellness influencers Shelah Marie (founder of Curvy, Curly, Conscious), Blake Gifford (content creator at Signed, Blake) and locally-based luminary Patrice Grell Yursik (black beauty blogging pioneer Afrobella) for a panel moderated by iOne Digital journalist and producer Tia Brown. In a surprisingly candid discussion, the five women discussed the challenges of being black female innovators, the professional and personal sacrifices made by each, overcoming so-called “generational curses,” mental health and even how partnership can empower or inhibit a woman’s success.

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Tia Brown, left, with Miko Branch, Patrice Grell Yursik, Blake Gifford and Shelah Marie,
Photo: Picture Perfect Photography (Xfinity)

The empathy was palpable in the packed room as Gifford shared her story of pivoting from a seemingly safe career as an attorney to the world of influencing, revealing that growing up, she had no blueprint for what success should look like, saying: “Part of healing is sharing, and that can be difficult when the memories are painful,” as heads nodded throughout the audience.

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“I have never been to an event that was so validating,” an attendee commented during the subsequent Q & A. And presumably, this is exactly the type of emotional response CLEO TV hopes to elicit with its growing roster of programming, which currently includes both beloved classic series like Eve and Girlfriends and original content spanning design, cooking, travel, careers and starring Adrienne Houghton, Jordin Sparks, Jazz and Jake Smollett, Chef JJ Johnson and more.

Photo: Picture Perfect Photography (Xfinity)
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As Keesha Boyd noted: “CLEO TV is making space for voices of color to be heard, so it makes perfect sense for us to be here in support of them as Xfinity Black Film & TV on demand is also about making space for stories about black culture & identity to be seen, heard and enjoyed. We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with CLEO TV in bringing authentic and empowering experiences like ‘Cleo Speaks’ to women,” she added.

LaTanya Butler agrees.“This was a great collaboration with Xfinity Black Film and TV. We welcomed the opportunity to bring CLEO TV to the community and make a meaningful impact. Xfinity opened the door for women of color in Chicago to experience firsthand, a network that authentically reflects their truth.”

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Attendees pose with Shelah Marie, second from right, at the post-event reception.
Photo: Picture Perfect Photography (Xfinity)

You can opt-in to CLEO TV wherever Xfinity is offered.

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.