TD Bank celebrates Black History Month by honoring and amplifying the work and experiences of colleagues, customers and communities across North America who continue to "March Forward" for equality. We acknowledge the incredible achievements of the past during this incredibly important month, with an eye on forward progress and the bank's lasting mission to support those who are creating the foundation for a better future for all. This includes colleagues making a difference within TD, customers inspiring so many outside the bank and organizations who continue to be change-makers in the communities they serve.
It takes a certain kind of boldness to stake your new business plan on a print magazine — an industry that has seen much better times. Yet, that's exactly what DéVon Christopher Johnson did when he launched Bleu Magazine, a print publication in 2006 focused on diverse coverage of Black men.
DéVon has been able to beat the seemingly insurmountable odds to success. His burgeoning media empire, Bleu Life Media Group, has grown immensely to include digital, podcast, ecommerce, and many other offerings. This is only the beginning for the Harlem resident. In 2020, DéVon co-founded the non-profit Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute (BOMESI), which is a TD Bank Small Business customer. The institute's mission is to unite and advance Black-owned media businesses, educate the public on the importance of these platforms, and provide the critical resources to support.
"I'm an entrepreneur," DéVon said. "However, all I kept seeing in the media were rappers and athletes, as a representation of Black men — which is great if you have the aspirations to be that. I wasn't seeing any other possible career paths or career potential. I wanted to create a space that I could see myself and others like me reflected in the media."
DéVon's experience in building his company was difficult because of the resistance from advertisers and companies for supporting diverse communities but the importance of his mission kept him going.
"The biggest positive surprise was the amount of appreciation I received from my local community in Harlem," he said. "I would hear from people how they liked an article or women telling me they encouraged the men in their lives to read it. I didn't really expect the amount of cultural impact that it would have. That was a driving force — even when difficult times came — to keep going because there was someone outside of myself that needed to see and experience what I created. The world is finally catching up to our concept. I'm even more encouraged and energized for what I do than when I first started out."
What a life
If you know DéVon's life story, you would not be surprised at his success. The New York native, with roots in Far Rockaway, Queens moved to Uniondale on Long Island as a toddler. His years as a Boy Scout and reaching its highest honor of Eagle Scout, high school years as a volunteer peer educator for the American Red Cross, Bachelor’s from Seton Hall University and a Master’s from Harvard University, he’s had a strong foundation. His career began at Def Jam Records and moved on to Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Atlantic Records; collaborating on projects for artists like Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Mariah Carey, and Rihanna.
Outside his career, DéVon has made it a point of volunteering his time to help others. One of the highlights in his outside work was a trip last spring to Rwanda with Entwine, an initiative of the JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). The group visited schools, and met with start-ups, young people, government officials and others to identify the best ways to help the nation that has emerged from genocide and is making progress towards a more just and inclusive society.
"The human experience should not be that we do things just for money," he said. "We should be part of the solution and make things better, attainable, and more comfortable for all people. I was lucky growing up with so many opportunities. You've got to pay that forward."
Reaching out to help Black media companies to overcome the struggles
DéVon and Rhonesha Byng, the founder and CEO of Her Agenda — a digital media platform bridging the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women, teamed up to co-found BOMESI in 2020. They rallied industry stakeholders to advise them on the framing of the organization including:
- Kay Lucas, founder, and CEO of MediaSense, a company which specializes in strategic communications and integrated marketing solutions for Fortune 1,000 companies.
- Anastasia Williams, a brand strategist who has worked with Kraft, Unilever, VEVO, and Moet Hennessy.
Their mission is to help scale Black-owned media outlets and educate advertisers and others about the importance and potential of this market. BOMESI is focused on nurturing:
- Economic Empowerment
- Ecosystem Sustainability
- Innovation & Growth
Among their achievements was the curation of a database of Black-owned media companies across the country. The institute has prioritized issues such as voting rights, civil rights, fair pay for all, unionization, education equity, and healthcare disparities.
"The advertising industry has not caught up with the changing population or changing demographics of the United States," DéVon said. "In 2020, on the heels of George Floyd and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, there were some brands that had made public statements around DEI and changing their budgets to spending more money on more diverse publishers-we seized the opportunity to create a non-profit to educate the advertising industry."
Another key priority was to make sure BOMESI expanded outside of the most well-known legacy Black -owned media outlets and embraced the next generation.
"We wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to have a seat at the table, to have a piece of the pie," DéVon explained. "Our focus is to make the pie bigger."
TD is proud to work with BOMESI for its important mission, and the relationship holds a special importance for Marcus Gonzales, TD Bank Community Business Development Officer in NYC.
"From the moment DéVon and I connected it was seamless," Marcus said. "Our stories were very different but, very much the same. Our willingness to help pay it forward made partnership easy. Working with DéVon to help our community has been rewarding and we are still only getting started."
DéVon is also very excited to work with TD Bank and looks forward to the future as the relationship deepens.
"TD Bank is the first banking relationship that I've had as a business owner that felt intimate," he said. "To be able to know your bank officer is a different experience. There’s a tremendous amount of community involvement and engagement. TD takes the opportunity to highlight its customers. I don't know any other bank that does that."