She left Birmingham for the entertainment industry, now wants to make sure others don’t have to

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This is an opinion column.

She’s still that little girl on the couch. On the couch in the West End. Kristena Hatcher was an only child. Leonard, his father and entrepreneur is committed to building a legacy for his family with his auto repair service, now open for over four decades. Patrice, her mother, a business accountant, was buttoned up and polite.

Kristena spent a lot of time on that couch. Lots of time watching the world. The world beyond her family (Krstena’s parents divorced when their daughter was young) and those around her. Beyond his street. Beyond the West End. Beyond Birmingham.

Worlds filled with beauties and beasts, with little mermaids. Fantasy worlds filled with color.

Worlds filled with cultures and traditions, with families celebrating holidays, two-parent families, like the Cosbys. “I know it’s controversial now, but it was a black family unit,” she now recalls, “solid and working together. Husband and wife loved each other and worked together.

Worlds with young women, young black women, girlfriends living and aspiring together. “Career black women go through different phases of their lives,” she says, “having a variety of personalities and styles, and working together.”

Worlds beyond. Spain. Jamaica. Beyond. “I’ve traveled to all these tropical places sitting on my couch,” Hatcher says. “It just got me fired up.”

She is still, today, at 37, the little girl on that sofa. Only now his couch is the world. Hatcher chased the worlds that pierced her. She entered the entertainment industry right after earning a degree in criminal justice from the University of Alabama and fully intends to be an entertainment lawyer. Something she didn’t see possible in her hometown.

“Unfortunately at the time I couldn’t see how to seize the opportunities on the business side of entertainment in Birmingham,” she says. “So I was like, ‘Let’s go try my luck in this at one of the entertainment meccas.’ I moved to LA with $300 to my name. Wouldn’t recommend it. But sometimes you have to have faith and for me it’s such a blessing and it paid off.

Not as she had originally planned. After enduring more unsuccessful interviews than she can remember – “70 plus” is her best guess – Hatcher found herself at Warner Brothers interviewing for an executive assistant position (“I had no idea what I was doing”). “The hiring manager happened to be a black woman,” she recalled. “I saw myself in her; it clicked for me. I was like, ‘I can have the opportunity to really shape and curate what these companies look like from a people perspective and provide opportunities for my employees.’ It changed everything for me.

Changed the plan. But not the goal. It changed the trajectory, sparking a journey after Hatcher eschewed being an entertainment advocate and became a talent and people acquisition strategist and advocate for inclusion, equity and diversity at Netflix. She returned to Birmingham this week (not to live, much to Leonard and Patrice’s disappointment) in a bid to ensure that other youngsters in her hometown, sitting on their own couches and aspiring to join the field of entertainment, don’t have to leave Birmingham. do this.

“What if they didn’t have to leave?” Hatcher asks. “What if they could stay in town and have a career?”

Hatcher and industry colleague Eric Pertilla, senior vice president, television production and development at Endeavor Content, a global film and television company, brought Hollywood to the city this week for three days of events designed to expose local youth to entertainment industry opportunities with a focus on comics and film.

Coordination with Alabama flourish, a Birmingham-based non-profit organization that engages young artists of color across the South, they will be hosting an edutainment storytelling conference this afternoon (Thursday 4:45-6:45 p.m.) at the AG Gaston Boys and Girls Club . This event will feature a hip-hop artist and writer seven richmusician Derrick Lilypoet artist Shaun Judahand writer Tania De’Shawn.

On Saturday, Oscar-winning and Emmy-winning comedian and filmmaker Travon Free, Marvel toy designer David Vonner, Marvel Black Panther comic book editor Chris Robinson, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book illustrator Tony Washington and composer (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), rapper and producer and musical artist Quelle Chris will highlight an intercommunity day (10:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m.) at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

According to Pertilla, an upstate New York native, “This conference provides an opportunity to expose, educate, and engage multicultural elementary, middle, high school, and college students, their families, and the large Birmingham community (writers, artists, music makers) who are generally excluded from the endless creative career opportunities present in the entertainment industry.

“You can start drawing and realize it’s a career and eventually you can work at Marvel or Tapas Media or one of those big companies and make a career out of it,” Hatcher says.

Hollywood comics and entertainment heavyweights have come to Birmingham to expose the industry to young people.

Perilla calls its vision CreateHubs. It is an anchor point where young people can nourish their creative passion. “Helping this next generation of leaders grow overlaps with what I do from a hiring perspective,” Hatcher says.

The Birmingham collaboration began with Hatcher telling Perilla the idea seemed perfect for his hometown. She called her father, who put her in touch with Birmingham Executive Resource Center board member Lisa Cooper, who almost immediately Executive Director Bob Dickerson. Hatcher was amazed that the town she had left was suddenly moving at the speed of light towards a new idea.

Lightspeed that assures Hatcher and Pertilla that a weekend in Birmingham can be more than a one-time wonder, leaving us wondering what’s next.

“That’s the norm, isn’t it?” Hatcher asks. “Somebody from Hollywood or one of those industries comes in, has a big event, and then they go away and don’t provide any infrastructure to be able to sustain what they’re doing long term. For us, that’s sad. It’s not expensive, it’s banal.

“We want to make sure we have sustainability, that we highlight the curriculum, get feedback from educators and amplify the efforts of organizations already across the city of Birmingham who are doing amazing work,” Hatcher continues.

And the families. It took a few years for Hatcher and Leonard to mend their relationship after his only daughter moved west. It broke her heart, he told her. He missed her.

“Our relationship was strained for probably the first two years,” Hatcher says. “He didn’t understand how I was going to build a career in this space when I told him very clearly why it couldn’t happen in Alabama. Once he started seeing my progress, it’s a lot better. There at those moments of discomfort that you go through for the greater good.

Beyond Flourish Alabama, Hatcher salutes the Greater Birmingham Arts Education Collaborative, who has worked with the city’s youth in the arts, including at Ramsay High School. She discovered that some groups aren’t even aware of what similar groups are doing,

“They do poetry workshops, recently released a music video where they taught students the process of making one,” she said. “They’ve done so much good creative work across the city.

“We have conversations with some of our community leaders, and they haven’t heard of The Flourish. So, I’m from here, but, yeah, we’re two people from LA, having conversations with the Birmingham community and connecting community leaders who didn’t necessarily know each other. That’s what we’re here for. We want to create connectivity between people who are already doing amazing work. »

Ultimately, CreateHub could be based in Birmingham, Pertilla and Hatcher.

“Honestly, I’m still a kid at heart,” Hatcher says. “That’s why the entertainment industry and why I feel like that’s what I’m called to do.”

Called to be, for another child, the black woman who made her hat first.

“So relatable,” she says. “I love this job so much if I didn’t have to get paid I would literally be helping early career talent pursue their dreams and get into the entertainment industry.”

It doesn’t matter where their sofa can sit.

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Roy S. Johnson is a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary and winner of the 2021 Edward R. Morrow Prize for Podcasts: “Unjustifiable,” co-hosted with John Archibald. His column appears in The Birmingham News and AL.com, as well as the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Press-Register. Join it at [email protected]follow him on twitter.com/roysjor on Instagram @roysj.

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