Tell us about yourself and your business journey:
I was an entrepreneur since I was the age of 9. I used to cornrow hair for cash. Everybody in the neighborhood knew that I could braid hair. Everyone sent their daughters, their people and their heads for me to braid. In the age “say-it-loud, I’m Black and I’m proud” 1970’s, I was a budding entrepreneur. I took the money I made from my hair braiding business, and partnered with a friend Yolanda from the block, and we’d pool our money together to buy candy in bulk to do a penny candy sale to the kids in the neighborhood. Back then you could get a piece of candy for a penny, so what we did to beat out the local corner store competition, we sold two pieces of candy for a penny and we were always a huge success. We had no concept of failure. Succeeding is what we knew and did.
No, I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was then. I had never even heard the word before, but the ownership mentally came naturally to me and that entrepreneurial spirit followed me into adulthood, but in a not so direct way. It all started when I was a little girl, I decided I wanted to be a newscaster like my idol, Sue Simmons. I even joined the college radio station WSOU 89.5FM as a newscaster and engineer. Unfortunately, back then, there was no TV station at Seton Hall University, so I figured radio was the next best thing on the road to my broadcast television career. Well, in my senior year, a shift happened! The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered nationally and I was hooked!! Watching Oprah be herself, seemed different than the stiff, unbiased, melba toast, posture of newscasters and that’s attracted me, because deep down, I knew I was a straight, no chaser kinda girl, with a huge personality. But unfortunately, when I graduated from college in 1986, I had no clue how to get a job as a talk show host. I didn’t even know where to start. Sadly, because I was the first college graduate in my entire generation on all sides, there was no one who had done it before me, to give me career guidance or to mentor me. Even when I went to career day, there were no networks, TV stations or radio stations in attendance. When I told my mother that after graduation, planned to go backpacking in Europe to find myself, her response was, “girl, YOU’RE BLACK!! YOU NEED TO GET A JOB WHEN YOU GRATUATE!” LOL. So, I just took a job at Kellogg’s Sales Company. After having experienced close to ten years of corporate racism and sexism, I finally left Corporate America, to chase my dream of becoming a talk show host. I started out on public access television at Cablevision in Newark, NJ, as the host of my self-titled talk show; The Lisa Durden Show, then I was discovered by a producer there named Al Clark, who loved my talent and gave me a job as the host of their magazine show titled, “Brick City.” That experienced also opened my eyes to the rampant racism in media, so that was my last stop as “the worker” and I decided to launch Lisa Durden Unlimited Productions and became the owner!
Yes, being in front of the camera is what still feeds my soul! So, whether I’m serving as a panelist for such events as The African American Leadership Forum Part II, having served as a weekly A Plus contributor on My9 Network’s, ‘Chasing News’ from 2018 – 2020, to making hundreds of appearances and counting, on various major media outlets like the The Dr. Oz Show as a TV Personality, Political Analyst, Pop Culture Commentator and Subject Matter Expert, these are all very exciting pit stops along the way to my lifelong dream of hosting a national talk show. However, being behind the camera is what I do out of necessity, to give my community a voice, that mainstream media simply won’t. The projects that I have developed and am developing though my production company, focuses on Black and brown communities, with a particular emphasis on stories about Black women and girls.
Which black history figure has inspired you the most and why?
Anybody who knows me, knows, Oprah Winfrey is my wife. She is my idol. I love her so much that I even created a hashtag to solidify “our union” - #LisaDurdenWinfrey. I eat, drink and sleep, all things Oprah! Miss Oprah Winfrey is the Black history figure who has inspired me the most. She is the “Queen Of All Media.” Titles like that should be earned, agreed upon and accepted by the masses and Oprah IS IT! There is not one medium that Oprah hasn’t made an indelible impact in. She’s a mogul – Film, Television, Streaming, Social Media, Books, Magazines, Live Events, and the list goes on. Her company, Harpo Productions, creates much needed and important content, that compliments her brand to inspire, inform and uplift! And that’s exactly the mission I set for Lisa Durden Unlimited Productions.
How have your efforts impacted the black community?
As a seasoned social justice journalist, award-winning director/producer, celebrated content creator and multi-hyphenate media maker, I am committed to sharing compelling narratives with audiences, that speak to the diversity of the Black community and the nuances of the Black experience; not just depicting our trauma. Black people are not a monolith. We experience, joy, pain, pleasure, ups, downs, successes and failures, so I’m very intentional about telling stories that reflect the fullness of us!
Some of my recent community impact projects I’m proud to have been a part of are: Director/Producer of the short film, Girls Matter, which WON Best Animation at the Tokyo International Short Film Festival ’21 and distributed by LightbeamTV; Assistant Director of the Verizon PSA, Conversations With Mom; Producer of award-winning PBS 2019 Online Festival Short Film, Paris Blues in Harlem; Co-Producer of the provocative, award-winning, feature film TITLE VII; Conceived & Produced the award- winning PBS Maya Angelou Film’s successful Live Twitter Chat, which garnered 8 Million Impressions; Former Broadcast Manager for Black Public Media’s AfroPoP Series; Produced ImageNation’s 2016 star studded Revolution Awards; Associate Producer of the award-winning PBS’ feature documentary, Soul Food Junkies; Associate Producer of the Peabody award-winning, Prime-Time Emmy and NAACP Image awards nominated, Sundance Channel’s, 5 part docu-series, Brick City 1; Production Director of the star-studded Reel Sisters Awards and my Directorial Debut with the critically acclaimed, award-winning, documentary, PROJECT WOW: Men On The Down Low, which broadcast on the 2009 BET J Series, Black Stories and distributed by Echelon Studios Inc.
What is next for you in 2022 and how can readers connect with you online?
As the saying goes, “I’ll have enough time to rest when I die’ cuz a sista is trying to be booked and busy!! So, what’s next for me in 2022 is my “Can’t stop, Won’t stop plan”, to created content across all platforms. You can expect for me to be make more television appearances, writing essays, think pieces and op-eds, and developing projects like ‘Blind Divas,’ my short documentary in pre-production, following two blind, Black, women entrepreneurs, determined to challenge the stigmas and stereotypes about the blindness community, through their annual Miss Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant, in which I won a national pitch competition for, sponsored by Lightbeam.TV in collaborated with African American Women in Cinema Film Festival (AAWIC).
Also, look out for season two of my new video podcast, Stop Brutalizing Black Bodies, it’s a platform created to amplify Black voices unapologetically!! Each week, I’ll feature a panel of guests whom I call, #DopeAFContributors. The topics discussed are all centered around matters of race and gender, at the intersection of politics. It’s a movement b@tchez!! You can watch it and a lot of my other amazing content on my YouTube channel.
My priority this year will also be to continue seeking funding to complete principal photography on my feature documentary titled; ‘My Brother: The Ethiopian Orthodox Priest,’ and pitching The Ultimate Soul Food Cook Off, my part travel show, part reality sitcom, and part cooking competition, set on an authentic soul food tour, in which I was recently selected as one of four Realscreen Everywoman Studios 2021 Propelle Finalists; a content accelerator program for women-owned production companies. Although I didn’t win, that opportunity has sparked interest in the project and I’ll be taking meetings with cable networks and streaming giants.
Describe the legacy you plan to leave behind for generations to come:
I’m not sure what legacy I plan to leave. In my view, a person can’t plan their legacy. Legacy is something that you leave behind once you die. While I’m not dead yet, my passion and purpose since I’ve graduated with my Masters in Fine Arts in Social Documentary Film, from the School of Visual Arts in New York, is to teach on the college level, in order to give back and contribute to the next generation of content creators and media makers. So I would say that part of legacy would be imparting knowledge to the next generation of change-makers and impact makers.
How can people connect with you?
People can stay connected with me through my website: www.Lisadurden.com and/or my Social Media Handles: