BLACK HISTORY MONTH
3 Bold Voices to Follow on Clubhouse
How the social app helps thought leaders emphasize ideas over image.
Talk, listen, hang out
No matter what brings you to the buzzy social media platform Clubhouse, voices come first.
In the past year, Clubhouse members have spent more than 600 billion hours listening to—and joining—the real-time unscripted conversations; and as the app grows, its community has become as diverse as the topics members routinely dive into. Black women especially have found ways to harness the app to network, brainstorm, critique, organize, and simply shoot the breeze.
“One of the most magical things about Clubhouse is it levels the playing field,” says Maya Watson, global head of marketing and a woman of color herself. “People who have historically not been seen and heard are leading the rooms and at the forefront of the conversation.”
Here, we profile three Clubhousers who are using the platform to hold the floor and raise one another up.
‣ Clubhouse handle: @officialdham
Denise Hamilton, a diversity and inclusion specialist and Clubhouse mainstay, spends anywhere from six to 10 hours a week on the platform. The 51-year-old Houston resident regularly leads discussions on equality and corporate culture—and has even chatted with Oprah Winfrey in the app. (They discussed Winfrey’s interview with Adele last November.)
“It’s literally changing my life,” Hamilton says. She met Wharton economics professor Adam Grant through Clubhouse; he later became her mentor and introduced her to her book agent. An impromptu Clubhouse chat with Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe landed her a regular commentator spot on the cable network’s morning news show.
When I want to tweet, I go on Twitter. When I want to have a conversation, I go to Clubhouse.
“As soon as I got on, I was completely smitten,” Hamilton says. “I realized that I loved audio and the intimacy, complexity, and nuance of real-time conversation. Clubhouse is the biggest swap meet in the world, where we share all of this information that we usually keep to ourselves.”
For her entire career Hamilton has been the first Black woman to fill her roles, so she especially appreciates Clubhouse’s egalitarian slant. She’s made friends with people of all ages, income levels, and positions on the corporate ladder.
“It’s not about how you look or who you know,” she says. “You have an entire village to support the growth of your career—it’s just about getting into the room and holding your own. For a lot of people, especially Black women, Clubhouse has been an incredible equalizer.”
Hamilton recalls jumping into the app after the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict was announced to digest the news with fellow members—those with similar and dissenting opinions alike. “There’s an honesty that I value,” she says. “When I want to tweet, I go on Twitter,” she says. “When I want to have a conversation, I go to Clubhouse.”
Toni Thai Sterrett
‣ Clubhouse handle: @toni
Toni Thai Sterrett was blessed with good looks—and also cursed with them.
The New York native began modeling as a teenager, which made her college years atypically glamorous. “I was already ‘on the scene,’” Sterrett says. “But that’s not the best environment for meeting authentic friends.”
It didn’t necessarily get easier as she got older. Though Sterrett is a director, actor, photographer, and writer, she often felt pigeonholed, even silenced, by her looks. “I’ve felt like my voice wasn’t heard,” she says. “It was just ‘Shut up and be pretty.’”
The people I’ve met through Clubhouse have helped me tremendously—professionally, spiritually, and emotionally.
—Toni Thai Sterrett
That changed in the summer of 2020, when hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddie introduced Sterrett to Clubhouse. “I thought it sounded stupid,” she recalls, but her curiosity got the best of her.
Today, she’s at the forefront of Clubhouse conversations about everything from film to non-fungible tokens (NFTs). She’s known for supporting other creators, which she says is core to the platform. “The culture is that you lift other people up. You’re in a space with people who want to heal, grow, and learn.”
The app’s audio-only format allowed people to hear and get to know her before they knew what she looked like. “It’s a sorority I didn’t know I needed,” she says. “These people are like my sisters—it’s the first time in my life I feel seen for who I am.”
‣ Clubhouse handle: @drtinaopie
Tina Opie has no lack of credentials or connections. After earning an MBA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from NYU, she went on to work in banking, consulting, and academia. She’s an associate professor at Babson College and a visiting scholar at Harvard Business School.
She seems like one of the last people who would have time for a buzzy new social media platform—or something to gain from it. But Clubhouse opened up her world, she says.
“It feels like an opportunity to gain access to information and people that you wouldn't normally have. Musicians, philosophers, actresses, engineers, business professors, authors. I’ve met people from so many walks of life.”
Opie joined in March 2021, after a Harvard Business School colleague, Frances X. Frei, invited her to cohost a room. She ended up hosting weekly case-study discussions, as well “office hours,” where people could bring questions about leadership.
Clubhouse frees people from power-dominant groups in order to hear the voices of historically marginalized people.
What struck Opie about Clubhouse was how the platform encourages equitable interactions. “We know that Black women are less likely to receive credit for their ideas; they’re less likely to be celebrated,” Opie says. “When you pull away that visual richness, it puts the focus on the ideas.”
On Clubhouse, she’s been able to forge “true sistership” with women that she has never met in real life. Opie recalls a conversation she had with Beth Livingston, an assistant professor in management and entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa.
“Her identity slipped,” Opie says. “It was like we were talking soul to soul.” She attributes this transcendence to Clubhouse’s audio-first format. “I know people are going to say, ‘This is just an app,’ but it’s a really unique vehicle.” (The two have written a book together, due out this fall.)
“Clubhouse has been tremendous for me, and for other Black women. That’s part of what excites me about the app. I think this is just the beginning.”