“Are you a speaker?” a small, yet firm voice asked me as I approached the check-in table. Name badges were displayed and being carefully checked off by a volunteer and their child as people arrived. And this child was keeping the line moving. “A speaker,” I said, and with that I got my badge (and maybe a small smile) and was on my way.
This was the start to my first Afros & Audio Podcast Conference, now in its fourth year and taking place in Philadelphia’s historic Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. What began as a small gathering of podcasters has now grown in size and scale to include industry executives, content creators, ad tech companies, and a live stream available to domestic and international speakers and attendees.
The two-day agenda was filled with industry talk tracks on the likes of monetization, growth and marketing and that art of podcasting, but also topics specific to Black podcasters like the future of African podcasting and the wellness of Black women in podcasting. As a Black woman, I appreciated the opportunity to combine the professional with the personal, and hear from people that look like me and come from places like where I’m from, talking about the kind of work that we do in this podcasting industry. Being able to attend in person enriched the experience for me and made it clear that this was a family affair, if I didn’t already get that from my check-in experience. The most accurate description I can offer is that I felt like a guest at a family reunion.
Everyone here knew each other and there was easy rapport and enthusiastic chatter in between sessions. It was clear from the organizers to the panelists to the attendees that everyone was invested in this idea of shared success. The presence of camaraderie, community and collaboration is embedded within the DNA of Black culture, but I was particularly impressed to see it at a “work conference”. Talib Jasir, founder of Afros & Audio Podcast Festival, shared that his understanding of community and the intention that’s been set for the conference from day one comes in honor of his great-grandmother.
“I grew up on a farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with my great-grandmother and great-uncle from the time I was six months to seven years old. And we lived ‘down the road’, because it was down the road from the city, and I was surrounded by Black folk,” he laughs. “We bartered, we traded, what we had on our farm we gave away, and this went on before I was born. There was never anyone that came to the door that my great-grandmother didn’t feed. So I understand what ‘community’ feels like when it’s pure. This is what we do. This is how we support one another, this is how we contribute to one another.”
That intention is directly attributable to the growth and success of the podcast festival. Nicole Walker, Sponsorship Manager at Afros & Audio, shared that “from year one  to 2022, Afros & Audio has grown 94% in attendance…it’s super amazing to see the continued growth of the festival and people who support it.”
The atmosphere made for a relaxed weekend where you could choose the pace for your learning journey from the programming, but also get a chance to participate in community and get to know your neighbor. I saw lots of hugs after sessions and attendees who were meeting for the first time in person after years of virtual collaboration; Q&A segments were filled with specific questions and there was no shortage of answers giving tips, tricks and best practices. It felt different from other festivals and that was by design. Jasir believes that “people who build community are also seeking it” and seeking community was what he was doing in the beginning. “And because of that, this is my community. I’m not doing it to access them, I’m doing it so that we can access each other. That’s the difference.”
If there’s a “why” in podcasting, it all comes down to storytelling. Very few mediums have provided the level of access and amplification to marginalized people and communities as podcasting. As the closing session wrapped up, I was thankful to have a seat at this table, created by and for Black podcasters as a place to inspire each other in the work to make sure our stories are told.
You can learn more about Afros & Audio and their 2023 Podcast Festival at their website.