We’ve all probably heard someone mention the concept of “having a seat at the table” at some point, right? It’s a great idea in theory, but in practice, a lot of people get left out.
But in 2022, we’re building our own tables and expanding the party! That’s what Polly Irungu did when she founded Black Women Photographers in 2020.
“I didn’t have a seat at the table,” says the photographer and entrepreneur, “And I wanted to create something for us by us to provide that seat at the table.”
Black Women Photographers has grown into a non-profit and global community of over 1,000 women and non-binary photographers in a little over a year. So far, Black Women Photographers has partnered with a variety of companies and organizations, including Nikon, Phmuseum, Getty, and IWMF, to bestow grant money on talented members of the collective, as well as help them build stellar portfolios, and get amazing job opportunities.
Polly learned major lessons about the importance of having support at a young age. She was born in Kenya but eventually moved to the United States, where she moved around a few times from Kansas to Arkansas to Oregon, by the time she was in high school. In Oregon, Polly had a hard time adjusting and turned to photography as a hobby after getting encouragement from guidance counselors.
“I needed a positive outlet and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, something that’s still amazing to this day,” she explains. “I expected to pursue a traditional career like doctor, lawyer, engineer, but my guidance counselors suggested photojournalism as a career and I didn’t realize that could be an option, but it felt like a natural fit upon exploration.”
Polly completed a degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 2017. Her last full-time job was at WNYC as a digital editor before she decided to focus on entrepreneurship full time. To date, her work has been published in numerous publications, including Adobe’s Create Magazine, The New York Times, Reuters, Global Citizen, BBC News, MEFeater, Refinery29, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, CNN, NPR, and more.
Polly is amazed by what she has accomplished thus far but emphasizes that she couldn’t do it alone, underscoring the importance of mentorship, guidance, and paying it forward.
“I have several mentors. That’s important because no one does it alone. These are people who have experienced what you’ve experienced in some capacity and can give you answers and advice, and to help you not make the same mistakes. A lot of us have had people who have helped us along the way,” Polly explained. “The mentorship that I have received, I’ve looked at their journey and wasn’t afraid to ask those questions so mentorship is important. I have mentors in my life and I also mentor others.”
Polly shared all of her experiences throughout her journey as a journalist, photographer, and creative entrepreneur during the live interview with Parsons Entrepreneur Academy. In case you missed it, Polly discussed how her passion for photography led her on a journey to creative entrepreneurship and how to become the change you wish to see in the world.
There is more where that came from! Watch the full replay below!
Key points from Polly’s interview are:
…and so much more!
Do yourself a favor and hit that replay button!