After spending an evening with friends skipping through an entire 300-card meme game because its content was so “wack,” husband-and-wife team Morgan and Kareem Hawthorne decided they needed to create a game for the culture, by the culture.
“It was a cool concept, but it didn’t resonate with me and my friends,” Morgan told Atlanta Black Star in an exclusive interview. “So we were like we need this for us. That was the moment when we were like, ‘Yo, we can do this. We can make it dope and we can make it Black culture inspired.’ Game night means a lot in our culture. We have so much personality and we always put a twist on things.”
Enter “Lift Every Voice and Meme!” — a Black Twitter, Instagram-inspired and NSFW (Not Safe For Work) adult card game (emphasis on adult) featuring fully original photos and hilarious captions that celebrate Black culture and the levity it brings.
Serious about putting action behind their words, the serial entrepreneurs went to work in the summer of 2018 and spent over six months gathering content for the game. They did a ton of online research, hosted game nights and even opened one of their Atlanta nightclubs to the public one day for a fun photo shoot.
“We said we got free hookahs, free pizza; come in. We got our backdrop and we’re just gonna throw out a scenario. You make a face [and] we capture the picture,” Morgan said. “That’s how we got a lot of the pictures we actually included in the game. So it was really just like ground up; we muscled it together.”
HBCU grads from Morehouse and Spelman colleges, the Hawthornes are experts at fun. In addition to their Opium ATL and Alibi Lounge nightclubs, the couple runs an entertainment business that manages planning and staging of live events.
In addition to their popular FroRibbean Fest — an annual event that features a variety of Caribbean music and food — Morgan also is a food blogger and author whose brand “I Need Some Mo” is extremely popular, while Kareem makes music as DJ Bruckup.
Morgan said her entire family is with the foolery, and stepdad Steve Harvey isn’t the only one with comedic chops. “My whole family is ridiculous. They definitely played and were dying laughing so they had to put their stamp of approval on it for sure; and I think I kind of proved he ain’t the only funny person in the household. I got this,” Morgan said with a laugh.
With a name that pays homage to the Negro National Anthem, colors that represent rich African tradition and photos featuring all-Black subjects, Morgan said the game was “very intentionally” designed so Black people knew it was made with them “in mind from beginning to end.” She denounced companies that pretend to care about the Black experience for profit.
“It’s become trendy to market to Black people. Sometimes we see advertisements or owners of these companies throwing up some Black Lives Matter hashtag just to try to get our dollars,” Morgan said. “But it’s like, ‘Are you really living it? Is it really important to you that the Black community feels supported and thought of by your product holistically, not just some cheap dollar grab?’ ”
With anywhere from three to 15 players, the objective of the game is to make the judge laugh the hardest or be the most shocked. Each player receives seven caption cards; whoever can match the best caption to a photo picked by the judge wins.
Initially, the Hawthornes invested their own capital into manufacturing a few thousand copies to see how it went over with people. Once they realized they had a hit on their hands, they prepared to roll it out in larger numbers.
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the couple’s plans, but gave them time to really cultivate the game. In February, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to help market the product and secure $10,000 in funding for a larger rollout.
When asked why they didn’t just ask Harvey to be the main investor, Morgan made it clear that contrary to popular belief, they don’t expect her stepdad to back all their business ventures.
“It kind of shoots us in the foot a lot of times because people have the assumption that he’s a money tree that I just shake. Not to say that he hasn’t funded some of my siblings’ projects or things that he’s interested in, but that’s just not always a first resort or last resort,” Morgan said.
“We have our own entertainment business. We do real estate and we do all these things on our own, so it’s not really my first inclination to do things in that manner,” Morgan continued. “I really try to forge my own path, do my own thing and hopefully people receive it.”
Unlike many popular memes that circulate on social media, the Hawthornes own the rights to all the game’s photos. They’ve also created a sister game called “Aight Imma Head Out,” featuring extreme scenarios designed to show players “who has standards and who doesn’t.” Both have namesake Instagram pages and can be ordered on the company’s website.
Ultimately, Morgan said they hope to get Lift Every Voice and Meme! into big box stores so the masses can enjoy it. She knows they won’t be successful without support of the Black community.
“I really want people to know that this is a real passion project of mine and my husband’s that we are fully invested in,” Morgan said. “We personally backed it because we believe in it. … If we’re not supported by our community, then the game goes away; and I think that would be a shame because I really think that it’s something special that will bring a lot of joy to a lot of people’s households.”