Kweighbaye Kotee: Fighting to Tell Your Story

June 28 - On The Dot
It’s a great day to be a woman! Melinda Garvey here as your voice, with the mission to give women everywhere a place to be heard and tell their stories. We’d love to hear from you!

FIRST THOUGHT: Giving a Voice to a Community Through Film

They say reading a book opens up a whole new world, but so does watching a movie—and it’s a heck of a lot faster. Whether you’re fighting off Darth Vader in Star Wars or singing your heart out in Pitch Perfect, it can feel good to just escape for an hour or two.

Today, let your hair down and answer some fun questions. If there were a movie made about your life, who would star in it? What songs would be on the soundtrack? I won’t tell you what actress I’d pick, but I definitely know Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T would be my theme song.


The National Association of Women Business Owners recently launched a contest called No Small Thing, asking women to submit short videos that explain the one little thing that has contributed to their business success. Five finalists have been announced, and later this year, one winner will be selected.

One of the finalists, Susie Fife, says her one small thing comes down to a three-letter word: Pip. The word pip means seed and stands for “people inspiring people.” For Fife, the key to her company’s success comes down to surrounding herself with smart, supportive peers. Now that is inspiring.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Kweighbaye Kotee, Founder and CEO of Bushwick Film Festival

Kweighbaye Kotee is interested in stories. She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and moved to the States after civil war pushed her family to seek asylum. Kotee received a scholarship to attend one of the top 20 boarding schools in the country when she was 14. Later, Kotee attended New York University and earned a degree in mass media and global communication.

Kotee fell in love with indie movies during her last couple years of college, and after attending the Tribeca Film Festival, where she’d later work for a stint as a program assistant, she was hooked and knew she wanted to pursue a career in the film industry. Kotee says being a first-generation immigrant has given her a sense of purpose and an entrepreneurial desire. That’s what pushed her to create the Bushwick Film Festival in 2007, with the help of friends.

Indie film means a lot to Kotee because indie filmmakers have to fight to tell their stories. After nearly a decade, Bushwick Film Festival is a mainstay in New York’s culture. It usually features 10 to 15 films and 20 shorts. About half are from New York and the rest are from all over the country and the world. The festival also runs programming year-round, such as film-related classes, panels and workshops.

Creating a film festival in the New York community of Bushwick was purposeful for Kotee. It’s where she calls home, and she is steadfast in preserving its culture. In late 2015, Kickstarter supporters funded a documentary film directed by Kotee called The Bushwick Diaries. The film will follow the unique paths of area residents and the story of the culturally diverse neighborhood of Bushwick.

Kotee also serves as the executive director of Slate Property Arts and Culture Endowment, or SPACE, which will give $80,000 in grants to local artists, as well as provide community spaces to residents and organizations to pursue cultural and art endeavors.

Here’s one lesson Kotee has taken from her career that we can all learn from: Even if she might fail at work one day, that doesn’t mean she’s a failure. Spoken like a true pioneer.


Kotee has found her calling. Have you? Take these wise words from singer Ella Fitzgerald to heart:

“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”

That’s all for now. Be sure to share this so more women can have a voice! Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

Photo by Alonzo Maciel

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