TalentView: Imani Black

Photo by Caroline J. Phillips
Photo by Caroline J. Phillips
Photo by Caroline J. Phillips

We recently got the opportunity to interview Imani Black for our Talent View. She is the Founder and CEO of Minorities in Aquaculture and has a lot to say about the Aquaculture industry. Imani graduated as a biologist with a concentration in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanology from Old Dominion University. She is 27 years old and believes our industry and community are in dire need of change. Before deciding to start her Non-profit Organization she held different roles in the production of oysters both in Virginia and Maryland and is now focused on building the change she envisions.

How did Imani Choose Aquaculture?

Imani grew up in the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, around water, and loved it. "So, you know, fishing, from a young age. I knew I wanted to be a biologist because I always had a passion for conservation and restoration". Her undergrad studies in biology showed her she wanted to do something for and with the environment, which led her down the oceanography track. During those times she also became a certified diver and got more involved with the ecosystems. At a point during her program, she got the opportunity to spend a month and a half in Belize, studying Sea Urchin feeding patterns. "I enjoyed it, the research was interesting, loved the experience. However, going down that track it would lead me to academia, and I felt like I needed something different".

After her program in Belize, she started interning for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in Oyster restoration. "And I automatically knew this is something I wanted to do. I was part of a team of amazing women who taught me so much and gave me different tools and experiences. They shared their passions, skills, and knowledge. At the time my boss told me that if I was really into what restoration offered, I should check out Aquaculture". The summer of 2016 was Imani's first introduction to Aquaculture at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. There she spent 6 months learning all things in the industry.

Photo by Imani Black

The Birth of Minorities in Aquaculture

While at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, Imani got the opportunity for her first commercial oyster farm experience in the Aquaculture industry. And she was the only woman next to 15-20 other guys. She knew it was going to be a challenge, as well as an adventure. But it was an experience she got a lot from. Her passion for aquaculture grew, she later moved back to Maryland and became the Senior Hatchery Technician and the Assistant Hatchery Manager for Hoopers Island Oyster Co. Women are a minority in aquaculture around the world, we have addressed this in previous posts. So, Minorities in Aquaculture as an organization comes to life.

Imani Black 's Catalysts

"The real inspiration was multiple things. The first catalyst is that I was frustrated with where I was in my Aquaculture Career. I wanted more. I wanted to keep immersing myself in the industry, I wanted to learn more and do more for our industry. Then at the beginning of 2020, I had a random thought 'why have I never seen another person of color in aquaculture?'. Thinking about when was the last time I saw a person of color for example in a leadership position in the Aquaculture industry. I asked a few people in the industry, including my mentor Stan Allen, who has been in the industry in the US for over 35 years, and he also couldn't answer that question. Because there didn't seem like there was any".

Another catalyst was, one night, Imani was watching Chef's Table on her Streaming Service and they had an episode featuring Chef Mashama Bailey in Savannah Georgia. The episode, among other things, featured a father and his son, they had an oyster company in Georgia and they were African American. "When I saw all this I was talking to the episode. Rewinding those first 5 to 10 minutes about six times. I was not registering what my eyes were seeing. Long story short. I got in contact with them and asked them the same People of color in leadership roles in aquaculture? none. And that validated to me that my thinking wasn't off. A few months later, the Black Lives Matter movement was happening, which was another catalyst for me.

"Does the Industry Care for Me?"

The conversation about diversity and inclusion was starting to happen in many platforms and industries. And this had a personal impact on Imani. "But people in the Aquaculture community were not showing a lot of support as far as Black Lives Matter, diversity and inclusion go. I have dedicated a lot of my life, time, and passion to this industry, it means a lot to me. And at that point, I was feeling like I didn't matter at this pace anymore. This space that has meant so much to me, I didn't really mean a lot to them. Some organizations put something out, but they were talking about making aquaculture more diverse for the future". And for Imani, the future is already too late, this needed to happen yesterday by the hand of people that have been in these communities that we need to include.

This was an overwhelming situation for her. She was overcome with a blind passion to find a solution and provide change to this. Before she knew it she was googling how to launch a non-profit organization. "And before I knew it I was talking to people about this, and before I noticed it was an official 501(c)3. We launched in October as a full-fledged organization dedicated to Women of Color in the Aquaculture industry. Honoring all women of color that came before me that have made huge contributions all around the world, but also in my family line".

Where is Minorities in Aquaculture Headed?

Imani defines herself as a creature of habit that always thinks of long-term goals. "I think of the overarching goals. And my overarching goal for Minorities in Aquaculture is to be a global organization, a global network, that highlights women of color all around the world and their contributions". And of course, to reach this long-term goal she has set other short-term goals for the organization. Right now they have 35 members and adding more every week. But for Imani is not about how many members they have, but the contributions and the resources they can have access to.

"We want to be able to provide them with the resources, skills, and experiences people are looking for in the Aquaculture industry. It is our mission to educate and empower women of color already in the industry. As well as those potentially interested. While we take care of the logistical, financial, and social barriers that might hinder them while building their careers. Through frequent webinars to educate our members about the many experiences and career opportunities in the industry, fully funded internship/field experiences. This includes stipends, transportation, flights, cars, housing, and all-around support from other minority women through their aquaculture journey".

For her, the final and ultimate goal is for people to see "Minorities in Aquaculture" in someone's profile, and have no need to look any further. Because the women of color that take a part in this organization will have access to all the opportunities and experiences they will need to have a solid and strong background for any role within the aquaculture sector.

The Deserted Island Dilemma by Imani Black

Photo by Jimell Greene

Imani, if you had to go to another industry completely unrelated to Aquaculture, and you could only take one thing from our industry. What would that be?

"I think I would take all the skills I have gained here. They are very versatile to any industry, as far as physical labor goes. If you can handle a full year season on a farm, you can do anything in life. Working with my hands, learning mechanical stuff, boat maintenance, plumbing, everything we want to teach within Minorities in Aquaculture. Those can take you anywhere".

Minorities in Aquaculture is having their End of The Year Support campaign to get funds for Sumer 2022 internships, if you would like to donate, make sure to go on their website. MIA is also looking for partnerships and corporate sponsors to continue to provide aquaculture experiences and break barriers in the industry nationwide. Start supporting this organization and many women of color in the aquaculture industry!

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