By Kathy Chouteau
“Hello, what are you working on?”
Sometimes, a simple, genuine act of communication is all it takes to open up a new world of possibilities, according to Christina Kenney, a digital media manager at CoBiz Richmond, the high-tech co-working space and business incubator located in the heart of downtown.
Kenney would know. She recalled approaching a CoBiz member in that vein and, next thing she knew, she was helping behind the scenes of a music video sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation and #SaveLACougars, part of the #IfIwasWild campaign that launched last July (see the video here).
To Kenney, communication is key, and storytelling is empowerment — both in her role at CoBiz and in other areas of her life as well. She’s become a familiar face at the downtown technology hub and also within the community, with a reputation for promoting the mission of local residents and businesses and their myriad stories online.
“Every day, I see Christina challenging herself, investing in her craft, and honing her talent to help people and organizations tell their story in a manner that is authentic, human, and effective,” said Wesley Alexander, CEO of CoBiz, a nonprofit and one of the projects of eQuip Richmond, an economic revitalization initiative funded by Chevron Richmond. “Her ability to tell stories and connect with people truly started to emerge during her tenure at CoBiz when she began to own her story, her journey in all ways – essentially owning her truth.”
Hailing from a family that’s lived in Richmond for five generations, Kenney is uplifting people from the same community she grew up in. The guiding force along the way? Her personal mantra: “True power is the power to empower others.”
“My whole thing in terms of philosophy is empowering the soul,” said Kenney during a recent conversation with The Standard. “And I do that in business and then in my every day life and at CoBiz.” She said that, in her role at CoBiz, she engages with members and listens to their stories, finding ways to best spotlight them in ways that create positive outcomes. Some of the stories have been particularly “heavy over the past two years” due to COVID, she said.
The experience has reaffirmed for Kenney that we’re “not just companies with products and services… we’re human with a story as well.”
Kenney first encountered CoBiz Richmond while attending the grand opening of the adjacent Richmond Food Hall as City Councilmember Demnlus Johnson’s social media coordinator. She soon found herself returning to use CoBiz’s workspace and relying on Alexander’s guidance for her small creative business—essentially utilizing some of the same business incubation services she now helps support in her role there.
“I could give a tour of the space as if I was an employee,” joked Kenney about her frequent early visits to CoBiz.
CoBiz is a nonprofit and project of eQuip Richmond, an economic revitalization initiative funded by Chevron Richmond. Members of CoBiz can access modern work space, business insights, networking opportunities, a supportive community and more through its multifaceted offerings.
Kenney was hired by Alexander to be CoBiz’s community manager in August 2019, and in a short time, has worked up to becoming its digital media manager. She said when she moved into her current role, she was given the opportunity by CoBiz “to explore every facet” of her creativity and “to build [her] position.”
“CoBiz is really whatever you can imagine,” said Kenney, adding “we really don’t say no to ideas.” She shared that Alexander’s tagline for the organization is “let’s build” and that whatever people can imagine for themselves, if they’re willing to put in the work, CoBiz is there to help with the resources to make it a reality.
She emphasized that CoBiz literally means “community and business.” With CoBiz, the community and doing business go hand-in-hand.
When it comes to Kenney’s creative role helping to tell the stories of CoBiz’s members, she said she tries to “capture the light” within people and “bring that out.” She emphasized that she started with herself because the best way to start as a creative “is to work with you before you work with others.”
Kenney’s creative storytelling extends beyond CoBiz to her own side business, Empower Souls Studios, where she develops branding surrounding “the voice and soul of the company” she’s working with. She currently assists numerous black-owned businesses out of Richmond in developing their stories and credits Alexander with helping her formulate her business game plan.
She also takes on speaking engagements, such as the recent women-empowering Confident Catwalk, as well as hosting duties for community events like the T-Shirt Con Fashion Show at Bridge ArtSpace (under the name Christina Alexandria).
Kenney said she had an amazing time recently at the Confident Catwalk event sharing her story and the stories of the women and also getting in some one-on-one time. She added that the experience solidified her philosophy on life that the power that we have is not necessarily solely for us. It is “for all of us” she said, noting that the event drove home “how our internal power really speaks to others.”
When Kenney’s not busy empowering businesses and women via her storytelling, the graduate of Pepperdine University—where she managed the women’s basketball team—feeds her soul with myriad interests such as photography, tennis, weightlifting, gaming (Ghost of Tsushima), “geeking out” on tech and indulging her inner foodie. Her current favorite dish is the caramel pancakes at Mely’s Café in San Pablo.
Kenney topped off her conversation with The Standard with a little piece of industry advice. As a black woman herself, she said that black creators lead the social media realm, but in her view, tend to not be the decision makers. “If you can’t find a seat at the table, create the table,” she said. “Build the world that you want to see.”
Connect with Kenney at [email protected]. Learn more about CoBiz Richmond here.