Fall 2022, News
Anti-Racism Activist & TikTok Creator
By Kristin Beal
Photo by Ron Coleman, C4 Photography
What does it mean to have grace? More specifically: What does it mean to have grace when you want to educate and have a platform to make a difference?
For one native Omaha TikTok creator and educator, having grace is at the very cornerstone of her beliefs. It is how she chooses to operate in her social media platforms and real-life presence. So if you want to know what it looks like to see someone live out their mission and their passion through a lens of grace, look no further than Portia Burch and her online content.
“I actually struggle with calling myself a content creator,” Burch humbly explains. “I just speak my truth.”
However she wants to define what her role is, it’s clear to see Burch’s content has amassed quite a following over the last few years. Her TikTok page (@portia.noir) is a prime example: With more than 150,000 followers and a total of 3.7 million likes across her videos, it’s clear that people are tuning in to what she has to say. And what she has to say is rooted in educating folks on anti-racism.
Portia Burch is a Black, queer woman who found herself re-examining what she wanted to do after social tensions in 2020 reached a fever pitch. In addition to the cultural shifts happening due to the Covid pandemic, 2020 also brought about a bigger focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, the fight for social justice, and a public outcry for change after the murder of George Floyd.
Burch says she was never afraid or ashamed of being Black and queer. She is self-described as being very out and very proud for a long time—long before the events of 2020. And although she was also never ashamed of her skin color, she steadily found herself becoming proud of it. That shift started for her back in 2014 after the murder of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri. By the time the national Black Lives Matter protests occurred in 2020, Portia had realized that being Black was her power, and she wanted to use her unique voice in a bigger way.
She quit her full-time job at the height of 2020 and leaned into her virtual presence—including creating a TikTok account. In the beginning, Burch joked that her account started out as “equal parts thirst traps and education.” But her mission was to educate on anti-racism, to explain boundaries, and to highlight the correlation between the two. Her goal was and is always to uplift and amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.
The followers came organically and grew steadily. No one video in particular went viral, but Burch says that having her videos shared by celebrity activists such as Alyssa Milano, Wayne Brady and Mandy Patinkin helped broadcast her messages to a wider online audience.
And if you’re interested in becoming a part of Burch’s growing community, she has a few pinned videos on her TikTok that outline her boundaries and how she ideally expects her followers to interact.
“If you show up to my page, I offer a space of 30 days to not do any commenting,” Burch says. “That, I believe, has really made a difference. Because it takes away the expectation that you have to respond to something. And it creates a space for people to really hear something without the need to fire right back.”
Burch believes that this method not only helps folks remove themselves from the center of a bigger issue, but it also allows for some personal reflection.
As for the people who might make ignorant remarks in her comments section? Portia has a simple response for them: “Go on.”
This response, laden with grace, allows a person to express their views further, which is exactly how Burch hopes change can occur. These people will explain their initial comment, and one of two things usually happen. They will either talk themselves into the root of what they meant to say and realize how awful it sounds, or they will realize their initial approach was all wrong. Putting responsibility back on these commenters to critically think for themselves is all a part of the educational journey Burch has designed.
But she’s not afraid of a swift block, if needed. One thing Burch makes clear is that her boundaries come first. “There is nobody around that is going to steal any amount of joy that I have in this world,” she says.
Her goals for the future aren’t contained to social media, either. She hopes to continue to spread her education and mission in real life, especially in and around Omaha. There is a need for not only DE&I training, Burch says, but anti-racism education as well.
“There is a real drive for change in Omaha,” Burch explains. “I think that there needs to be a real focus on the people of Omaha, and not just the policies. Not what makes Omaha look good from a governmental standpoint, but what does it look like for the people who actually live here.”
It’s clear that being able to teach and educate brings her joy—when she speaks about the change she’s seen, it’s obvious that this is a calling that has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling for her. Almost like watching a bird learn to fly, Burch loves watching someone she has worked with transform and grow in their activism.
When she thinks about how far she’s come with the work she’s done, and how much she’s grown, Burch reflects back on her relationship with her late father. She holds true that she is fulfilling a legacy that he left for her; one that makes her heart truly happy.
As for what the future has in store for this incredible educator and activist, it is nothing short of exciting. In addition to growing her TikTok, she has a podcast launching episodes this fall, and an updated website with all the services she offers.
Or, as Burch herself summarized so perfectly: “Keep your eyes on me.”
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