In a year that has separated many due to social distancing, Lauren Gillon and Dominique Mitchell used this time to build up their personal brands while uplifting and connecting other Detroiters. Mitchell and Gillon are among many Detroit bloggers, creatives and artists using social media and other platforms to build community during the pandemic. Their genuine storytelling has created space for Black women in Detroit to celebrate, learn and support one another.
Gillon, known as Elle the Foodie online, began writing recipes and making food with friends while completing her bachelor’s degree from Ferris State University. Like many college students, she missed her mother and grandmother’s home-cooked meals. Gillon said she began posting about her food on social media, and it eventually turned into a blog. Her work has now expanded to private catering and virtual cooking classes.
“A lot of the meals are based on comfort foods and things that remind me of childhood memories,” she said.
When Gillon graduated in 2018, she wanted to return to Detroit.
“I love the familiar aspect of it, but also being back close to my family and Detroit’s blossoming food industry,” Gillon said. “I have so many opportunities here.”
Gillon sees opportunities for other Detroiters, as well.
The last few years, Gillon has continuously created fellowship space for Black women and Detroit millennials online and in-person. In college, she designed a mentorship program for young Detroit women. They went on field trips, listened to various speakers and hosted arts and craft activities. Outside of the mentoring program, Gillon has hosted community mixers for local entrepreneurs to network, used her social media to do community Q&As with members of local government, and created a podcast to discuss the Black millennial experience within corporate America, among other topics.
“When we are with each other, or are talking about the experiences of our failures, we realize that we have a lot in common,” Gillon said. “We’re stronger as a group. It’s terrifying as an individual, as a blogger. When you talk to other bloggers and you discuss whether you’re getting lowballed, (figure out) where to find resources, and in the long-run we can fix things together.”
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Gillon launched her virtual cooking classes during the coronavirus pandemic, and says she’s seen other Detroit women do the same.
“I’ve seen people launch new businesses, launch new products even, during the pandemic, which is a time when local (entrepreneurs) are losing business,” Gillon said. “It’s amazing to see how Detroit women can withstand any obstacle and still create community.”
Mitchell is one of those Detroit women who launched a business during coronavirus.
Mitchell is the founder and owner of Simply Social Event Space, an industrial chic space for creatives and women entrepreneurs in the Detroit area. So far, the space in Hamtramck has been used for photo shoots and small events. She hosted a pop-up for other local entrepreneurs last week and will highlight them on the blog.
“There’s no point in having this platform and followers if you’re not going to connect with them and lift someone else up,” Mitchell said. “Because, ultimately, if they didn’t sign up for these pop-ups, if they didn’t book these events, we wouldn’t grow, so this is also a way of giving back. They support us and we want to support them as well.”
Simply Social was partially inspired by Mitchell’s experience attending Salem College, a women’s college in North Carolina. Mitchell wanted to create a space where women’s empowerment would be recognized, and says most of her customers and online followers have been women.
“Women’s empowerment is so important, especially (regarding) Black-owned and women-owned businesses,” Mitchell said. “I really want to highlight the fact that we’re trying to bring all different types of women together because sometimes we get that stigma that we don’t work well together, and that’s absolutely false.”
A veteran, Mitchell has lived in several cities across the United States. She moved to Detroit due to her job within the automotive industry and began blogging about her business adventures and her daughter, who was born in 2020. Now Detroit has become a supportive and influential place for her, as Mitchell says she regularly receives messages from other women who say they want to learn more and are proud to see what she’s brought to the area. She says their response has been “tremendous,” and “more than she could have imagined.”
“I’ve never been to a city where I’ve seen so many Black-owned businesses, and the hustle is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mitchell said.