The powers at AspireTV made a tremendously wise decision in my opinion, in hiring Melissa M. Ingram as their general manager. It’s crystal clear, from her current accomplishments at the network, that she genuinely loves being African American. That she loves “us” and is, in her own way, an activist at the highest level.
To that end, as GM, she inspires her team to look at content that authentically reflects contemporary Black culture and urban lifestyle. All of their programming is a must inspire and entertain but mostly to inspire.
Not afraid to step into that mantra, Ingram oversees the network’s content, brand, and operations, and is responsible for long-term strategy, planning, and personnel.
Ingram walks it and talks it. Under her leadership, AspireTV has emerged as a premium lifestyle content brand that serves a fast-growing, dynamic audience of Black millennials with the promise #SeeYourselfHere. That promise is supported by hit shows like the cooking series “Butter + Brown,” executive produced by Issa Rae, the interview special “Idols, Icons + Influencers,” hosted by comedian Chris Spencer, design series “Unboxed with Nikki Chu” and the network’s expanding web and social footprint.
The building of this legacy began in 2012 when Ingram joined AspireTV as senior counsel, business and legal affairs, and was promoted to senior director of business affairs and development in December 2014. In her role as senior director, Ingram was successful in executing partnerships with the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (WHI-HBCUs) and launching an unprecedented partnership with the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) and its member schools to produce original programming, highlighting the rich legacy and history of HBCUs and their students.
Ingram also oversaw AspireTV’s official designation as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)—the first and only national cable television network to receive this certification. She continues to serve as the network’s liaison with the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council (GMSDC). In 2013, Ingram was selected as one of Multichannel News’ 40 under 40 industry executives and was also honored in 2016, 2017 and 2018 as one of Cablefax’s “Most Influential Minorities in Cable.” She was also named to the “Who’s Who in Black Atlanta” list in 2017 and was selected to the Cablefax “Most Powerful Women” list in 2018. In addition, Ingram will be honored with the WICT SE 2018 Horizon Award for Woman to Watch as well as being the first female recipient of the 2018 SYNERGY Award by the African American Film Critics Association.
Ingram joined AspireTV from its sister-network UPtv, where she was senior counsel of business and legal affairs, serving as lead counsel and negotiator for programming acquisition agreements. While at UPtv in 2011, Ingram was awarded a scholarship from the Walter Kaitz Foundation and was selected to attend the Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) Rising Leaders Program in San Diego, California.
Before joining UPtv in 2008, Ingram was an associate lawyer with an Atlanta-based boutique entertainment firm, The Carter Law Firm, PC, where she handled various entertainment contracts. She began her career in 2004 as an associate lawyer in the labor and employment group at Alston & Bird, LLP in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ingram earned a Juris Doctorate (J.D) from the University of California, Berkeley (Boalt Hall) School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English, magna cum laude, from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Ingram is a former board member of the Southeast Board of Directors for WICT and is a proud member of one of the nation’s oldest volunteer service organizations, The Links, Incorporated.
Here is what AspireTV’s General Manager, Melissa M. Ingram had to share about being in Hollywood and buying Black.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Full disclosure. I like [entertainment] lawyers.
MELISSA M. INGRAM: (laughing) Well, I like to say that I’m a recovering lawyer.
LAS: Understood, but I bet there isn’t a contract that slides across your desk that if there was something “missing” or “added” that you didn’t catch. Am I right or am I right? I’m right.
MI: Definitely, that [legal] background comes in handy in my day-to-day.
LAS: Right! People are tricky in Hollywood. I watched the short film ‘Endangered’ (#EndangeredMovie) on ApireTV that featured an expecting couple, Chanel (“Bianca Bethune,” “Bad Boys for Life” and “Switched at Birth”) and Malik (radio personality Abdul Quddus), on their way to their ‘Gender Reveal’ party. It wasn’t a perfect short film but at least there is a platform for new voices. That’s major and I feel, important.
MI: Thank you. We have this motto that has been with the network since day one. And that is to give a platform to new voices and fresh faces. The first series that Aspire launched in partnership with ABFF (American Black Film Festival) when the network first launched. The first series was ABFF Independent and that was the precursor to our community film block that we have now. The partnership was just that to give these spaces and voices an opportunity for exposure and to shine and tell the real story.
LAS: To tell the real story, Mrs. Melissa M. Ingram, can you push into that a little bit more? Why was it important that AspireTV allow these storytellers to tell the real story?
MI: Absolutely. Often things get so lost. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big features.
LAS: Tentpole, event films. Yay, me too but …
MI: But these independent films. Man, there are so raw and so, so real.
LAS: I love the passion in your voice. You care. It’s in your voice. You give a damn. Ladies and gentlemen, filmmakers, storyteller of color, you have an advocate here.
MI: These stories are so true to our audiences and so, we have from day one. That’s what we are about. We started with ABFF and we moved into Urban Indie Film Block and this is season three and we will continue to provide that. That also includes our lifestyle programming.
LAS: Yes. I like your lifestyle programming. We should re-group later this year to discuss those. What do you think?
MI: Absolutely. We rebrand as a Black lifestyle, Black culture as our anchor in 2016. Again, that commitment to fresh voices and new voices in cooking and inter-design and our talk show; those were found because of our strategy. We wanted to find the influencers that are impacting Black culture and Black culture impacts American culture.
MI: These are the people that are changing things. They are on the pulse of things and we just want to lift them up for people to see them for who they are in all their glory and greatness.
LAS: It’s our job as creatives to re-write the narrative. Love it. Please, continue. You are now — in my head — my new friend.
MI: We also have a great little vignette called the “I Aspire Profile,” which is central to our brand as well. We were going around and trying to find everyday people doing extraordinary things.
LAS: I want to see those. Can I?
MI: I will have the team send you the links.
LAS: Does your Aspire team have a core? Meaning, are there principals that your team works from?
MI: At Aspire, we have these pillars which are a lens of how to look at content. I like to say that we look at how Black audiences do these five things: eat, live, shop, dream, and play. The mantra that we have internally is that we want to empower our audience not just to eat, but to eat well. Not just to live but to live with intention, to live your life because you only have one. Not just to shop but shop with purpose.
And it’s not just play and work hard, but to entertain and not put yourself last. And most importantly, we say, not just too dream but to dream big.
LAS: Pushing into “shop with a purpose,” I’m trying to compile a series of stories that I’m loosely calling “Buy Black,” which will provide some guidance on where we and spend our money. Thoughts?
MI: Two years ago, I came up with an idea. My dad has been banking for years; he’s a CPA. He always pushed on my brother and I, and of course, my mother as well, and he demonstrated it — shop Black.
LAS: Wow! I think I might have found my partner in my Buy Black story series.
MI: (laughing) He instilled in us to think Black. Buy Black. He reasons that if we don’t support us no one else will.
LAS: Amen. Father wisdom, I say priceless. Please, continue.
MI: It’s not often easy [to buy Black] but it’s worth it. Economic empowerment. So, two years ago, I said, ‘what If?’ As a television network, [Aspire] we have a unique opportunity to amplify Black-owned businesses. So, we started Aspire Market Place. Merchants come into our studio with Black-owned products and we do an interview to understand their struggles, to understand their stories and we tell people where to buy their products. It’s a little like QVC.
LAS: But better! Bam! The Eagle has landed. I will now be using Aspire Market Place as part of my Buy Black stories. Thank you.
MI: You are welcome.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Below are links to the Aspire Market Place and I Aspire Profiles.
THE ASPIRE MARKET PLACE
TWO DOUGH GIRLS