BLUEPRINT: ON-AIR PERSONALITY & ENTREPRENEUR, DANA BLAIR
A legacy is how someone is remembered and the contributions they made while they were alive. Dana Blair is an On-air Personality and Entrepreneur who simply wants her legacy to be; I was good. Communication always surrounded itself around Dana Blair, however growing up she never planned to go into the industry. “I’ve always loved writing. I used to like writing poems or fiction stories and enter my stuff in contests all the time,” Blair said.
What most don’t know about the Essence LIVE host is, she was a dancer. After her dance career, Blair went back to school and received her MBA in Marketing. Although, she didn’t have a set plan, Blair is a woman who believes in options.
One of her favorite shows is ‘The Sopranos.’ “It’s brilliantly written. It’s one of those shows where it’s written where you have to pay attention to what’s being said. There’s so many gems dropped.” The HBO series is based on a fictional Mafia family, which focuses on the DiMeo crime family and is later referenced as the Soprano crime family. James Gandolfini plays Tony Soprano, the series’ protagonist and is the unofficial underboss.
Vincent Pastore plays Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero and is one of Tony Soprano’s men. Soprano suspects Bonpensiero is about to get caught by the feds. Blair recalls the pivotal scene and recites Soprano’s line that changed her perspective: “Never let anyone make you think, you don’t have any options.” She always keeps that quote in the back of her head. “That was a way of planting the seed that you don’t have to do this. I know someone is leaning on you to go one way, but you have options,” Blair said.
Once Blair received her MBA she had no idea what to do with it. “I needed options and I knew an MBA would give me options and I know I’m smart and I know I’m good at school so that’s why I did it.”
Something most recent graduates know is, a job doesn’t come as fast as you’d wish. Blair wasn’t dancing anymore and she was trying to find a job. She didn’t know the corporate world, felt behind the bar and put her resume on Monster.com. “I put my resume on every job board known to man and was sending it out like it was my life,” Blair said laughingly.
Born and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana, Blair remembers receiving her first offer visiting her family after Hurricane Katrina. “It was after Katrina, because Katrina hit August 29. It was late October early November and I got a phone call for a job at A&E Network to be an Ad Sales Assistant.”
She admits at the time she had no idea what the position was. During her time at A&E, Blair taught dance here and there and eventually went into Publishing. Not only has she worked for Essence, she’s worked at Vogue & Complex Magazine.
She is a force to be reckoned with and even started her own business with a friend of her’s who traveled the world. The E-commerce site allowed Blair and her friend to become global distributors, however Blair still wanted the flexibility to freelance.
“I quit my job with my six figure salary and my five figure bonuses, to be a freelancer.” While most would think with her new found freedom she would be ‘living the life’ going to every party or event and always on the scene, Dana Blair doesn’t believe in that.
“I go to the events that make sense,” Blair said. “I need to be in front of the laptop because there are so many seeds I plant that have to be nursed and watered. Amy Schumer says, ‘It took me 10 years to become an overnight success.’ When I interviewed Andra Day she said, ‘It took me 15 years to become an over night success.’ That’s the thing that people don’t see they don’t see the years that lead up to the day they know your name.”
When Dana began freelancing, she called her old boss at Essence and explained everything she was trying to do and also let it be known she wasn’t employed. “I said, ‘Do you need a freelancer?’ and she said, ‘Let me see what I can do.’” Her previous boss called her back and was able to hire her.
“That’s why it’s important to maintain good relationships,” Blair said.
While she was back working for Essence as a freelancer, buzz about a show Essence had in the works started to surface. In the meantime, Blair missed performing. “When you’re a dancer and you’re a creative there’s something you get about being on a stage, being forced to think on your feet. It’s beautiful and you miss that and crave that.”
Blair realized, she needed a way to ‘marry her business world and her high from performing.’ In order to do this, Blair asked the creators of Essence Live if she could be considered to host the show.
“I did a screen test November of 2014 and the first Essence Live did not go live until the end of March 2015.” From November to March, Blair’s personal life began to fall into shambles. The business owned by her and her friend folded. Her business partner wanted to travel the world and no longer be a business owner, her personal life wasn’t in a good place and she didn’t want to be a freelancer. “I was just trying to figure myself and my life out.”
“From the moment in November when that first camera rolled, I was at home and I knew this is what I was meant to do. I would watch people on Oprah’s ‘Super Soul Sunday’ and ‘Masterclass’ and they would say ‘I always knew’ and I’m like that’s bullsh–, but at that moment I understood it. I knew this is what I was meant to do.”
“I told myself, ‘Alright Dana Johnson if you’re going to do this you need to stop doing marketing full time otherwise you’re not going to fully jump and you’re never going to fully commit,’ and that’s what I did.” For those unaware, Dana’s government name is Dana Johnson, however she felt that wouldn’t fit for TV and decided to go with her first and middle name, Dana Blair. “I guess you can say the rest is history even though it was last year. That’s how I got here.”
“The dreams that God has for you are far greater than what you can dream for yourself. As I look back over my life and reflect over it from that day a year ago, I’ve never fallen, I’ve been disappointed but I’ve never fallen. God has never let me fall. I’ve gotten what I wanted because He wanted the best for me. I told myself you know you can’t stay here, if this is not what it’s supposed to be, than what is supposed to be will come. You’re going to be alright, and that’s just the way I did it. That’s all you can do.”
Essence Live celebrated its one year anniversary in March and as you can imagine, Blair has interviewed some of the greats. Her most memorable interviews were with Gladys Knight, Regina King who Blair refers to as ‘intoxicating and powerful,’ and Shonda Rhimes, “I just want to sit in her brain and look around. I find her fascinating,” Blair said.
“There’s this energy about a star. There’s an energy about someone who can walk in the room and change the entire room without saying a word, Oprah’s like that.” All the people Blair referenced can be classified as ‘Black Hollywood.’
Essence’s Annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon is powerful because it brings names mentioned by Blair above and other #BlackGirlMagic together in one room. “I think it’s always beautiful to get women together, especially a minority group of women who many people overlook and historically has been overlooked and underestimated. I think it’s a beautiful event in that regard to shine light on dope women.”
While #BlackGirlMagic is a movement within itself, Blair created her own. I Have Never Been That Girl is a bold website documenting everyday women, sharing their stories and providing support and inspiration in spite of what societal and cultural norms may dictate.
In 2014 six words were asked of Dana, ‘Who do you think you are?’
“I’ve always known who I am. I was just never comfortable sharing it, because who I am makes other people uncomfortable. Anytime anyone owns who they are, people who don’t own who they are uncomfortable and it’s a lot of people walking around uncomfortable in who they are. I’m really smart and I always felt like I was dumbing down my intelligence for other people and then latching on to other people who were really smart.”
The conversation that sparked this question was happening with her ex who Blair describes on her site as a man who would go from “Amore” to “Assassin” quickly.
“I knew I shouldn’t have been dating that knuckled head boy. I was never in love with him because I’ve been in love before. I cared about him, but I saw certain things in him that reminded me of my father in terms of the way they grew up and the type of homes they grew up in. But, the difference between my father and him is that my father never wanted to repeat an abusive home and he didn’t, but this guy was falling victim to it.”
That crucial moment in Union Square for Blair is what Oprah Winfrey likes to call an ‘unforgettable, connect-the-dots moment when everything suddenly, somehow changes’ or simply put, ‘Aha!’ moments.
Blair describes the moment on her website, “Little does he know, but my spirit walked away from that unhealthy relationship in that moment. Little did I know that my body would follow just two short months later after he lost his mind outside of my apartment in a semi-drunk state.”
“We all have those gut instincts especially women and we don’t listen to our guts enough for whatever reason, when we’ve always known,” Blair said.
“I want to share the stories of real women, the “gals next door”, that I have encountered or admired from near and afar, who have NEVER BEEN THAT GIRL to sit within discomfort or unhappiness in order to please others. I want to acknowledge the women who have bared arms to protect the joy, laughter and dreams of the little girl that still lives within.”
According to Dictionary.com the word grow is defined as: to increase by natural development, as any living organism or part by assimilation of nutriment; increase in zine or substance.
Everyone grows, majority of the time it’s for the improvement of their life. I asked Dana those same six words that were asked of her two years ago, she answered, “I’m Dana Blair Johnson, daughter of Donald and Kathy, sister to Myles, auntie to Scarlett and I’m good, I’m enough and I’m creative. I’m smart, I’m sassy, I’m sexy and rebellious, I shaved my head balled because that’s how I feel today and I will grow the world’s biggest afro next week if I feel like it, that’s who I am now. If you are uncomfortable with all that power then you don’t need to be in my state. I’m okay with saying that now.”
I Have Never Been That Girl is completely different from what Dana does on Essence, however they’re both congruent because each platform is geared to tell stores in someway, shape or form. In front of the camera and behind the scenes Dana Blair’s journey has been nothing short of amazing but it’s come with its struggles as well. In the end we can all learn from Dana, “You can’t stay where you are.”
When people are asked about the future or their legacy, it usually takes them a minute to answer the question. When Blair was asked she answered quickly and her answer may shock you.
“I just want people to say I was good. That’s it. My grandfather died in 2007 and my father gave his eulogy in this small church in Louisiana. My dad said, ‘There’s a lot of things you can say about this man, and me and this man didn’t always get along but he did whatever it took to take care of his family. He did whatever it took to give me opportunity. He showed us love and he taught us lessons, and at the end of the day he was good. I think at the end of the day that’s all we want people to say about us is that I was good.’ That’s all I want people to say is I was good. Whether it’s good at what I do, good at heart, even if it’s good at baking a cake, I was good, because I’m a good person and my intentions always come from a good and positive place. That’s all I want.”