By Madelyn Gee
We hear about the need for more Black events all of the time. I had my own experiences at a PWI amd now work in a white-dominated industry. Being able to celebrate and create with those who understand your experience on a deeper level is healing. It opens the doors for generations beyond us to have experiences we only dreamed of. With the creation of organizations like SZNs CHNGE, more opportunities are opening up for Black businesses and creatives to join forces and represent.
“SZNs CHNGE is a creative content agency focused on bringing original ideas to life and partnering with creatives within the Texas area with the goal of bringing new business opportunities to our neck of the woods. It grew out of a merch idea I had back in college (originally from one of my best friends/brothers: shoutout to Christian Broussard) and turned into a collaborative space where I hope I can show creatives and business owners that they can become the stars they want to from their own backyards,” said Eriq Hardiman-Rhone, founder of SZNs CHNGE.
“Bold as it may be, but when you look at the Chicagos, NYCs, Atlantas, LAs - you can see a lot of Texas influence in there as well. But Texas doesn’t receive that same acclaim. SZNs is the space where we want to change that perception,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
Through the theme of “Blank Slates,” Hardiman-Rhone and SZNs CHNGE used the concept of chess to shine a spotlight on Texan impact on the culture.
“I’m heavily interested in the dynamics of chess - albeit not the greatest player myself. I allowed the people to choose a theme and “Blank Slates” was the space created where our SZNs community got to be an interactive piece in the event and coordination,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
“I wanted everyone to see that they had both good and bad happen in the year and those experiences were shared by all attending. Through the burning of the bad experiences, I wanted everyone to stand positively in their space knowing there were others to the left and right of them that could support them and share with them,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
Evolving from the creative content agency’s first “Synth and Sip,” the event was able to come bigger and brighter than ever to close out the year.
“This actually is the second of the year, believe it or not. It was definitely more intentional - messaging, execution, drink curation and lessons. I would say a large difference going into ‘Synth & Sip: Blank Slates’ was development. We were blessed to see rapid expansion and were able to take each step as it came, developing skills and knowledge we hadn’t previously had,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
“Synth and Sip” creates a night to celebrate the past, present and future of Black culture and creativity. However, the event also provides a space for one’s professional and personal goals to grow through connections and shared experiences.
“Synth & Sip was originally introduced by our CEO Sasha Bowman. From there, my team and I discussed how we can recreate moments with likeness of a previous generation: Vintage-feeling photos and recaps that we can speak to in a similar manner our parents speak to their own. Personally, I want to see the community come together, network and start to see the strength we have as a general body when we come together,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
“But I also want to create moments in time that give people a feeling of nostalgia. From there, professionally, I want to show businesses and brand names the waves we’re making and have them want to be a part of creating and supporting the vision we’re trying to build to create new opportunities. ‘Synth & Sip’ really is just the soil in the field for those seeds to be nurtured,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
One of these target areas being nurtured is community service. Through their “Blank Slates'' Initiative, SZNs CHNGE donated a portion of their ticket sales as well as accepted donations to the “HOPE Farm'' in Fort Worth, Texas.
According to their official website, “HOPE Farm is a long-term leadership development program that guides at-risk boys, without the benefit of a positive male role model in their homes, from the time they are five to seven years old until high school graduation and beyond.”
“Prior to the event, the goal is always focused on finding a way we can give back to the areas we host from. I went out and asked members of our community where a large portion of impact was made in the Fort Worth area. 'HOPE Farm’ was one of the most recurring names that came up. So I reached out to Victor Neil, VP of Marketing and Development from ''HOPE Farm,’ to let him know it was in our heart to give,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
As SZNs CHNGE expands to do more work for the community, its events like “Synth and Sip” are growing as well.
“I feel like everything is best tested in three trials before the next takeoff. First event we checked for our community. Second event, we doubled down and expanded in location and achieved sponsorship from local businesses. Round three, we want to bring it back to Dallas and set the tone for our world and the people in it,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
As we enter the new year, resolutions and promises for change are all around us. For Hardiman-Rhone, the goal is simple – “to continue to sculpt SZNs into the masterpiece it’s supposed to be.”
“In terms of art, I look towards Renaissance pieces and Michelangelo pieces as inspiration. I want SZNs to be placed in a museum of time for people. I want to see partnerships expand, growth in my understanding of my business and mission, and I’d also love to see our SZNs family increase,” said Hardiman-Rhone. “I want to allow my team and myself the space to start believing a little more outside of the lines and provide more light to the community. I feel like since we became a certified business (circa 2022), we’ve made moves that have made sense. I want to continue that motion and speed.”
Representation allows for people to be seen. It can be the reason that someone believes that their dreams are possible. It helps people feel less alone. And through events like “Synth and Sip,” the SZNs CHNGE team is not only saying that Black culture and interests can be exciting. But they are necessary to the fabric of our society. It’s time to build up art, creative collaborations and opportunities in every field and invest back into what matters.
“I feel like that’s what created our culture, you know? The art was the focus and the brands/collectives were the dealers. I feel like we all have talents and skills that need to be given the chance to flourish. Most of the time the issue is communicating that it’s just as dope to be the guy in the background as it is to be the guy in the spotlight,” said Hardiman-Rhone.
“For me, SZNs is a chance to give creatives and business owners in Texas their flowers mutually. Yes, you invest in us (SZNs as a whole and ‘Synth and Sip’ as an event). But we want to figure out how we can help give that investment back to you and be servant minded in those ways to open the doors up for larger collaborations and crazier opportunities for all sides,” said Hardiman-Rhone.