It’s easy to describe Lynae Vanee(Opens in a new tab) by all that she does: poet, producer, writer, director, social media star. But it’s the creative innovation building the resume that really defines who she is.
It radiates off of Vanee, who brims with the sheer force it takes to do all of those things at once and still remain focused and relevant in a digital environment known for its incessant, trend-based churn and systemic stifling of Black creators(Opens in a new tab). To cut through all that with important, social justice-oriented content seems even more daunting.
Somehow, though, Vanee’s developed the perfect formula to position herself at center stage of digital culture’s biggest platforms, like TikTok(Opens in a new tab).
“I took time to study the psychology of these apps and what gets people’s attention,” she explained. “The bite-sized format — I think that’s just what everyone modifies their art to. TikTok has been instrumental in developing careers, and it’s like that because we have this information access in the palm of our hands and we feel connected. Also, I think it promotes a space of vulnerability that didn’t exist before.”
Mashable Voices: These leaders are working to solve some of tech’s most pressing challenges
Vulnerability (or, more accurately, authenticity) is an inextricable part of Vanee’s successful brand. Online, the 28-year-old is known for the multifaceted Parking Lot Pimpin’ digital series, known affectionately as “the parking lot,” which is a short-form video series posted weekly to social platforms including Instagram and TikTok. The content resembles a variety show of education, politics, and pop culture, combining short need-to-know clips (you might have heard their “I’ma keep it Black, but I’ma keep it brief” intros) and longer stories, like her recent “Drive In” spinoff featuring Black storytellers and stage and screen stars like actor Daveed Diggs(Opens in a new tab).
Vanee’s launched a longer video series on YouTube, as well, known as The Let Out(Opens in a new tab), and started a podcast called Femme Time(Opens in a new tab), which both center the voices of people of color in conversations on culture, mental health, and identity. Vanee sees herself as part of a movement of online creators who are, as she says, “down for the cause,” a network of people who are amplifying important information, championing diversity, and even organizing against injustice.
Vanee’s also an influencer in her own right, a brand partner, a public speaker, and even a two-time NAACP Image Award(Opens in a new tab) nominee. She knows exactly what she does well and how she wants to reach her audience. (“You can tell people I’m not running for office,” she noted.)
But you’d be mistaken to think this long list of accomplishments is too much for her to manage because, in her eyes, there’s still at least one thing missing from her resume: Vanee wants her own show.
That manifestation is in her Instagram(Opens in a new tab) bio (“Stop playing. Somebody give this girl a show.”), it’s the center of an ongoing docuseries for her Patreon subscribers(Opens in a new tab), and it came up in Vanee’s recent call with Mashable, which she fielded quickly between her jam-packed day of content scheduling, NAACP Image Awards meetings, and the release of her latest interview with actor Issa Rae(Opens in a new tab). Vanee on TV screens isn’t even that far-fetched, with Parking Lot Pimpin’ basically operating as a network interview show already, bolstered by a team of producing staff, and as creators naturally transition their social feeds into streaming programs(Opens in a new tab).
“The basis for all of the brands that I produce is some type of education through storytelling, a comedic lens of storytelling,” Vanee explained. These stories are scripted and told in her own voice, and while that personalized touch has offered a trustworthy sense of authenticity, flexibility, and even authority in a digital space, it’s also made it difficult to welcome outside oversight.
“It’s not so much that I want to give people what they want, but that I give what I want to give. I made something that was very personal to me and had a specific goal, and I want to make sure that I stick to that. What I’ve realized is that my content, while directed for the empowerment of minority communities, has attracted people from all walks of life, all shapes and sizes. Being vulnerable, I think, is one of the best tools to reach across the aisle without sacrificing the quality of your content.”
We’re creating communities for people who look like us, that feel like us, that think like us, not necessarily just people who we want to be like.
So Vanee is still pitching her vision of what a network show made in the image of Parking Lot Pimpin’ could be, not skirting around the ways her digital content pushes against many of her viewers’ comfort and the constrained envelope of what a network program normally looks like.
It’s all part of her journey.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Vanee has always been deeply connected to education in its many forms. She graduated with a degree in psychology from Spelman College and went on to earn a master’s degree in African American Studies at Boston University. While at heart a creative, Vanee took to teaching in her mid 20s and mentored high school students in a variety of core and extracurricular classes, often incorporating Black history.
Vanee’s even casually dropped a cosmic connection with learning to her TikTok followers, explaining in a brief video caption(Opens in a new tab) that her mother went into labor with her while watching the 1995 film Higher Learning, which tells the intersectional stories of students of color at a fictional university.
She’s also had a lifelong connection to the performing arts, as a public speaker, a choir singer, and a dancer, participating in a dance program at Virginia-based historically Black college Norfolk State University. “I was always surrounded by Black culture,” she said, “and was very inspired by the way we express ourselves.”
With all that in the back of her mind, Vanee found herself among millions of others seeking new modes of expression and work in 2020. She was getting back into spoken word poetry(Opens in a new tab) — recognizable in a cadence of speaking that a lot of her viewers pick up on in her videos even today — but was soon impacted by the stay-at-home orders of the pandemic. At the same time, a wave of social unrest was reaching its peak and, during what Vanee calls the “Black Summer of 2020,” Black communities and their allies around the nation were rising up to demand change.
Vanee felt it was the perfect moment to reconnect to her art, and what better way to combine a passion for underrepresented history, activism, and performance than with a digital series?
Thus, Vanee took to the parking lot, posting the first Parking Lot Pimpin’ IGTV video in 2020 to an audience of around 10,000 Instagram followers. Her Instagram page(Opens in a new tab) now boasts more than 700,000 followers.
That same year she signed on with YouTube’s Crash Course to pen a Black history series and began posting one-minute Parking Lot summaries(Opens in a new tab) to tens of thousands of views on TikTok(Opens in a new tab).
Almost three years later, her videos are still consistently engaging followers and audiences, and she’s bringing on even bigger names as guests to her casually salient show. In terms of numbers, her TikTok page has accumulated more than 420,000 followers and 5.8 million likes. In many ways, Vanee is becoming a household name herself, rising up with a pandemic-inspired class of conscientious online creators.
On the platform today, which just honored Vanee as one of TikTok’s Black History Month Visionary Voices for 2023, her breadth of experience and interests serve to create a space for education and reflection, but also deep community building. She says that the latter is an aspect that’s been especially poignant for her as an artist, creator, and Black woman operating online.
“The feedback that I get — now that I’m able to meet people in person — is that they feel so seen and they identify with the content. It’s empowering for them as well,” Vanee said.
It’s this depth of impact that has made Vanee so effective in building a home amid our evolving digital culture, one that she plans to continue expanding through content that resonates and uplifts.
“TikTok has shifted social media, because we’re creating communities for people who look like us, that feel like us, that think like us, not necessarily just people who we want to be like.”