Updated November 4, 2023
PrideIndex had the pleasure of interviewing Darius Caffey the CEO and Founder of The Closet Unlocked.
Caffey was born and raised in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago. He attended the University of Missouri, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in sociology and psychology.
In 2020, he started The Closet Unlocked, a social enterprise community responsible for creating art and producing multimedia assets to assist Queer, Trans, and Non-Binary Black people amplify their voices and experiences.
In the spring of 2023, he launched The Table On Air, a popular television show at Chicago Access Network Television. The Table On Air, focuses on the work and accomplishments of the Black LGBTQ+ community.
PrideIndex: Please introduce yourself. And give us a little bit about your journey and where you have landed today thus far.
Darius Caffey: My name is Darius Caffey. I’m 28 years old. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, and I am Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Closet Unlocked, LLC, which is a social impact media production company, as well as community that co-creates and co-produces various media efforts and tools to help amplify the diverse voices and intersectional experiences of Black, Queer, Trans and Non-binary people worldwide. We do this work, in hopes of reaching our vision of creating a world that fosters a deeper sense of belonging for all these intersectional Black voices. I want them to feel more welcomed, supported, and included in the varied parts of our lives and hopefully have their needs met, whether it be socio-economic or health-wise.
We started The Closet Unlocked in June of 2020, as we began our first media project, which was a series of anonymous anthology stories that highlighted what Queer, Trans and Non-binary people experience during their time “in the closet.” My mission, The Closet Unlocked mission is to essentially reshape the narrative of what the closeted experience means for an individual, as well as the way the rest of society understands what those moments mean for us. I want to take away the negatives that are typically associated with people being in the closet and reinforce the positives that comes from it. I want to bring these conversations to the forefront to share some of the lessons that we’ve learned through our journey.
In terms of the anthology stories, community members can submit anonymous statements or experiences as they relate to being in the closet. I take their stories and edit them chronologically. We have produced about 20 stories from different community members and are starting to receive more support around them. More people have begun tuning in and figuring out how they can become more engaged in our programming. We’ve continued to figure out ways to expand the work we’ve been doing, which has led to what we’re doing now. We’ve had to become more relatable and find other ways to engage with culture and community. We expanded our media portfolio to not only include written word, but audio and visual media assets as well. We also needed to expand our topics of conversation. We began with lived experiences, then moved to music and entertainment. We have curated playlists and write biographical and editorial information on several community members that are making a change and have contributed to the movement. It sometimes seems hard for people to really see the value in the many spaces that we occupy in the community. I want to make all of that a bit more accessible for people. We’re also figuring out how to better celebrate our culture, which we’re leaning into a lot more these days with our “At the Table” segment, which originally began as a web series in 2021.
Photo Still of DeAndre Brown, on ‘The Table On Air’!
PI: Tell me two things that you are currently doing, and what are what is the takeaway?
DC: One thing that I am currently doing is writing. I originally started The Closet Unlocked to focus on my writing and gain more skills. I have been writing monologues for the talk show that we’re currently doing. We’re also still writing and editing adult anthology stories. I’ve been writing grants for fundraising as well as copywriting for social media and our website. Another thing that I’ve been do is engaging more in community, which is at the forefront of the work that we do. I’m making sure that we’re bringing in more inclusive voices. Now that I’m in a larger city, I’m able to connect with more people. I’ve been focusing on getting out in the public more, talking with people, letting them know what we’re doing and sharing how we can support what they’re doing. I’m finding more ways to create more media assets and tools to help the larger society better understand us as a population. I’m working with different individual creatives and larger organizations while continuing to create content internally. The takeaway is learning how we can network and share more resources. I’ve gone to different Queer events as well as different Black events to make sure people know who we are and where we are in the community. I am also figuring out who and what else is out there. I want to know what great works other people are doing and how we can amplify that.
PI: You bring people on your show from the community, talk about what they’re doing and how they are positively impacting the community. How do you decide on your guests and content?
DC: On The Table On Air, we’re essentially celebrating the many accomplishments of different Black, Queer, Trans and Non-binary people in the community at various stages of their journey. Our guests don’t have to own a company or be at the top of the leadership chain. We simply try to connect with people where they are, celebrate them and give them their flowers in the moment. Right now, a lot of our guests have either been different people that I’ve known in my network, or they’ve been recommendations from other people. We also have a submission form on our website for anyone who may not be in close proximity to us but are interested in being a guest on the show.
I’m also very much into arts and culture. I might be reading a book and realize that there’s a Black, Queer author that I might be interested in connecting with and I’ll reach out to them. Our very first interview was with Black, Queer musician, Siena Liggins. That interview came about because I was listening to and enjoying her music. I reached out and engaged with her on social media to secure the interview. It may be someone or something that is a part of my interest, or someone who is directly a part of the community that piques my interest as a way to bring more audience and subscribers on board. I’m really excited about this journey of building out our social media and digital presence. It’s been really good to know that there are people around supporting us. In addition to our YouTube channel, and our social media pages, we’ve also been able to amplify our message by sharing this content by also broadcasting The Table On Air through a partnership with Chicago Access Network Television (CAN TV) on their distribution channels as well. We are currently in the second season of The Table On Air. This past Spring, during our first season, we were able to gain a little over 60,000 LIVE viewers for each of the eight episodes. That was a really proud moment for us to be recognized as the top show during that season. But more intentionally to have people actually engage in these conversations about what queer culture exists, looks and sounds like in all its different forms.
Photo by goldenlytphotographyllc from ‘The Table On Air’ ad campaign with Darrious Hilmon
PI: In addition to your YouTube channel, you also have a show that is actually airing on public access? What channel again?
DC: Yes sir. You can view the show every Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. on CAN TV. It’s available on Channel 19, If folks have local Chicago cable. If they don’t have cable, they can watch it on the CAN TV YouTube channel. They can also access and watch it on the CAN TV Facebook page as well as the Closet Online website. We have a section that’s specifically focused on The Table On Air segments. You can download the CAN TV Plus app. You can also download the app from any of the mobile app stores. You can even download it on Roku or Firestick and be able to stream the episodes directly on each of those platforms as well.
PI: How many shows have you done to date?
DC: We’ve done eighteen shows or interviews so far. We’ve also produced over one hundred different media assets in the form of videos and audio recordings as well as different graphics that we create for different promotional items.
PI: You have eighteen interviews, but you mentioned something about one hundred mentioned assets, what are these assets?
DC: Media assets are a combination of our different ways to share information. One version would be the video asset that we post on our YouTube, while we have an audio asset that would be the version of our content that you can access on Spotify or Apple Music. Other assets would be a resource guide that we just released this from a workshop that we did to help small business owners figure out a strategic process for their organization. Simply put, the media assets are variations of the types of content of which some are available for purchase.
PI: You mentioned that you participated in a small business workshop. What was the process like to put that together?
DC: We recently partnered with Maison Mogul Consulting Foundation + Studios, which is a Chicago-based nonprofit that connects different creative individuals to different opportunities in professional development, skill building, or just community engagement. You can find them on the web at www.maisonmogulstudio.com and on Instagram @maisonmogulconsulting. We recently worked with them to create a curriculum for our workshop that we hosted at Soho House Chicago, where we focused on the Creative Entrepreneurship journey for small business owners. We had a panel with them in on October 4th as a soft launch for the curriculum that we would be hosting. We actually hosted the full workshop on October 7th to share some of the resources that we’ve learned along our journey to continue helping other small business owners, We also made the information available for download on our website for anyone that was unable to attend the October 7th session. We have also launched our new client services as well. We’ll be engaging more directly with small business owners and creatives to help them figure out what their creative process is and make it work for them. We’ll have services focused on communication strategies, content creation, strategic planning, and overall project management for any media productions that they have, or any media projects, to continue to utilize the information and knowledge and resources that we have to help our community.
PI: I believe I read somewhere that your background is in communications and earlier you mentioned writing. Could you tell me more about that?
DC: No, actually, I’m a writer by practice. I’ve been writing all my life in different formats but have not gone to school to study it traditionally. My educational background is in social sciences. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. I have a multicultural certificate from the University as well as a Master’s in Public Affairs with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management. But I’ve also done Continuing Education courses at Northwestern University for Leadership Development. I’ve done additional education with AT&T for an externship program, which focused a bit more on Communications and Marketing. Keeping myself abreast of the social science areas and how to continue figuring out what all facets of community engagement looks like.
PI: Why do you believe what you’re doing is important?
DC: More people need to understand who we are and how to support us, instead of what they are used to seeing in the news and media. I believe this work is specifically and directly calling out what we need and giving our people a direct space to tell the world where we need or have to thrive as Black, Queer, Trans or Non-binary individuals.
PI: You’re a 28-year-old millennial, and you’re doing stuff like this right now at this age. What drives you?
DC: I’m trying. This is all a part of an array of things that I’ve been working on and figuring out. How can I lean more into my own creativity? How can I lean more into my own education, background, skill sets and interests? I’ve been using all of that to help me find my voice and help my community advocate for their voice as well. I’ve used all my experience to do the work that I’m currently doing. I didn’t get here and start doing this work. I’ve worked in several other settings and other types of management and leadership roles at Rush University Medical Center. I’ve also worked as a consultant with AmeriCorps and United Way. I’m currently on the Board of Directors for Black Alphabet. I’ve been doing a lot of this type of work in different areas in different settings. I’ve been working and engaging with lots of different people, helping them figure out their community engagement, development and fundraising strategies. I figured why not do or try to do all of that for myself and learn how I can lean more into my community and give them those same opportunities and resources?
PI: What is your ultimate goal?
DC: To save our lives. To save the lives of Black, Queer, Trans and Non-binary people. That is my ultimate goal, because Black Trans and Non-binary people are dying at alarming rates, they’re getting bullied or getting taken advantage of. They’re not being well served in health care, education, housing, pay equity, and so many other ways. Even representation in the media is lacking. This is the best way I know how to get their word out. I’ve done extensive research on the Black Queer community, and what our future outcomes might look like. When you look at it from a health equity standpoint, you see the life expectancy, and where we are in terms of our White counterparts, or straight counterparts, and my goal with this is to hopefully help us receive more for our needs. That way we can live longer. Whether that be by hiring or paying us more for jobs or services or making sure that we’re getting quality health care. Perhaps even making sure that we’re getting the access that we need in educational spaces or access to proper housing. All of these things can help us live longer. I think that the best way to do that is with media representation, because what people consume most is the various types of media.
PI: If someone were interested in having conversations with you about their project, or just being profiled on your show, what should they do?
DC: They can visit our website at www.theclosetunlocked.com. They can submit a request to talk with us as a free consult to figure out if we’d be the best company to help them with their creative projects, or they can go to our section regarding The Table and fill out the submission form to sign up to be a guest on the show.
PI: How can they find you on social media?
DC: Our Facebook handle is The Closet Unlocked. You can find us on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter/X @closetunlockd. We also have a The Closet Unlocked account on Patreon where people can join our membership and support. You can join the membership for free, but we also have other pay tiers that include different benefits and perks for other members as well. We appreciate your support.
PI: All right. Thank you, sir, for your time.
DC: No problem. Thank you.