When we spoke the other day, Laverne Cox was excited to get out of the house for a few hours. “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment later today, and I’m like, ‘Oh wow, I’m getting out of my house for a change,’” she told me, laughing. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage Los Angeles, the Emmy-nominated actress, producer, and LGBTQ advocate spends most of her time holed up at home—but next month, she’s hitting laptop screens everywhere via an upcoming Women’s History Month promotion from Smirnoff.
Throughout the month of March, Smirnoff is presenting Meet Us At The Bar(re), a partnership with D.C.-based, Black women-owned fitness studio SideBarre, for a series of virtual barre classes in support of Black women entrepreneurs across the country. The classes will feature Cox, alongside soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe and Orange Is The New Black’s Diane Guerrero. Stemming from Smirnoff’s overarching $500k commitment to the Black community, the vodka brand will pledge $50,000 to Black Girl Ventures (BGV), an organization providing Black and Brown women with access to “community, capital, and capacity building in order to meet business milestones that lead to economic advancement through entrepreneurship.” The BGV website reads:
“We fund and scale tech-enabled, revenue-generating businesses (under $1M) founded by people who identify as Black/Brown and woman. We ignite civic engagement and hyperlocal infrastructure at the intersection of business support services, supplier diversity, social and financial capital.”
BGV has its fair share of foodie businesses—including the Mo Wine Podcast, a wine podcast founded by WSET certified wine educator Chandra Savage, Ehime Eigbe’s SweetKiwi frozen yogurt brand, and Natalie Antoinette’s New Secrets tea enterprise—so a partnership with Smirnoff certainly makes sense. The initiative is also a reminder to uplift Black women’s history as an integral part of Women’s History Month. As Cox explains below, there is no women’s history without Black women’s history.
The Takeout: What excites you about working with Smirnoff to support Black Girl Ventures?
Laverne Cox: I’ve worked with Smirnoff now for several years, and we’ve always had a lot of fun. But we also often take time to talk about and partner with incredible organizations and raise money for those causes. This initiative accomplishes a few things: by partnering with Sidebarre, we’re getting virtual barre classes to keep us fit, which is so crucial to maintain our mental health in quarantine. Then, we’re having a little “meet me at the bar” moment that will allow us to have some fun but also lift up Black women entrepreneurs.
TO: Tell me more about how this initiative supports Black women.
LC: Black Girl Ventures provides community, capital, and resources for Black and brown women. That is absolutely essential. I actually just covered this on my podcast—we talked all about the history of structural racism in the United States in terms of residential segregation. There has always been a huge wealth gap between white folks and Black folks in this country, and so much of that has to do with the history of residential segregation. For most people in the U.S., their wealth is based in home ownership. But for generations, Black people have been denied the opportunity to own homes, making it difficult to create that wealth. By supporting Black-owned businesses—particularly Black woman-owned businesses through Black Girl Ventures—we hope to create wealth for Black folks that can be passed down to the next generation. Supporting Black entrepreneurship is all about making sure people have access to resources to take care of their families in the pursuit of equity and equality in the U.S.
TO: This initiative is also about taking care of yourself in a time when we’ve lost rituals like workouts and happy hours. How are you making time to unwind, and does it involve food?
LC: I’ve been doing a virtual brunch with my girlfriends every Sunday. We’ve been doing them almost every week—we may have missed one week in the past year. Most of my girlfriends live in New York, and since I’m in L.A., I’ve actually been seeing them virtually more frequently than I was seeing them before quarantine. For me, it’s all about the catch-up, the connection, and supporting each other. That’s become a ritual for us. Things can get busy—virtually busy, now—but it’s important to carve out that time to connect with people that you love. A good brunch cocktail is great, and I love good food, but it’s really about the people that you’re with.
TO: Speaking of good cocktails, do you have a go-to?
LC: Earlier in quarantine, I was really into Smirnoff’s Red, White & Berry spiked seltzer. It’s just an easy thing to pop open for a delicious cocktail, even if you’re hanging out at home alone. When I do entertain—entertaining over the last year has just been, like, me and one other person—I’ll just do Smirnoff with some club soda and some ice, and a little lemon garnish. Sometimes I’ll add a little cranberry juice, but I like to keep things really simple.