Diversity at your Fingertips

Aryn DrakeLee-Williams ’01

By Michael Blanding

Emojis—those tiny images of faces and objects that can be added to texts—are everywhere. And now, thanks to Aryn DrakeLee-Williams ’01, there is Ebroji, an app available through the iTunes store and Google Play that brings diversity to the toolbox of electronic communication.

The Ebroji app offers humorous images—actually mini-videos—that celebrate all, but especially brown cultures. “Rather than just put a brown face on existing emojis, the app provides a tool for communities of color and other marginalized communities that truly represents them. We wanted to expand the horizons of how people could communicate,” says DrakeLee-Williams, who created the app with her husband, Jesse Williams, an actor on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy , and conceptual artist Glenn Kaino.

The app, which is free, includes images such as Becky with the Good Hair and Michael Jordan Crying. Instead of static images, the app mostly uses short video GIFs curated into categories with names like Fake Smile, But I Can’t Even, and others too edgy to print here.

DrakeLee-Williams, who has always had a love of language and cultural expression, was a double major in French and political science at Barnard. “Knowing multiple languages makes you see things from a multitude of angles and understand there are nuances and different ways of expressing things,” she says. She experienced cultural differences firsthand when she explored New York City, working as an intern at Arista Records and BMG. “New York was a magical place, and having the freedom to move around the city was amazing.”

She hopes that the app encourages users to explore their boundaries of expression: “As a person of color, you always need to conform to the dominant culture, so you learn how to function in both. This is all about celebrating the value of what we have and what we bring to the conversation.”