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Being the Only Brown Girl in the Room: Knowing Your Value

Leann Bowen isn’t afraid to be the only woman or woman of color in a room. As a comedy writer for Netflix she has earned her seat at the table and confidently maintains her presence even when she is in the minority.

Leann knew early on that she wanted to fulfill her passion—writing. She attended film school in Los Angeles with the intent of getting into feature writing, but she soon realized comedy was her secret weapon. After spending six years honing her talent with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles, Leann got the opportunity to write for Netflix’s Dear White People.

On a recent shoot in Alabama, I got a chance to catch up with Leann to learn more about how she maintains her voice in a field where it can easily get lost:

KK: How you make your presence known when you are the only woman of color in the room?

LB: I definitely have moments in rooms where I notice an obvious blind spot where only a person of color would have some insight. I generally see them as that—blind spots. So, when I address them, I always address them from a mindset of knowing this isn’t a deliberate exclusion; it’s a situation where other people just aren’t aware because they haven’t been exposed to my experience. I don’t hold hard feelings. I know that when I do speak up or counter a thought, I know I’m only helping the show or doing my best to help it.

KK: How do you use your role to speak up for other women of color?

LB: As a writer in a room, the best mindset is “What is best for the show?” So, I know I’m only doing my best to help. That being said, I’ve only been in rooms that are eager to include different perspectives and service them as much as possible. I feel very lucky to be in great, warm inclusive rooms.

KK: What advice would you give to other women of color who are thinking about writing and are afraid of writing for shows that have limited to no people of color in the room?

LB: To women of color that are afraid of writing for shows that have limited to no people of color in the room, I say know that you are supposed to be there. Your life and experience are vital to our art, of portraying the human experience, making humans laugh and cry. You are necessary. It’s like painting a Monet without the color blue. It’s just not as vibrant and beautiful without your point of view. So, know your value and to anyone who doesn’t know your value, it’s their loss. Don’t let them get you down. Do the best you can and thank God for a union who will support you even if you feel yourself stuck in a situation that harms you.

While Leann truly enjoys the opportunity to be creative and funny, she also enjoys the collaborative effort that writing requires. She said, “It’s amazing what people can create.”

Her advice is to remind women to do their best to lift up other women around them and bring them into your space. Even if it’s inviting some friends over to have lunch in your office. Let your presence be known and that any hardship you feel, you are paving a way for a woman behind you and making it a little easier for her. Know your worth and don’t be afraid to fight for it.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a political room or a comedy writer’s room, understanding and knowing your value is important. Leann reminds us all that we can bring our full voice into every situation.

Kristal Knight is the executive director of Emerge Tennessee, which recruits, trains, and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office.

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