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Cover Stories: Jessica Black can’t be put into a box

Cover Stories: Jessica Black can’t be put into a box

Jessica Black for Forty One Magazine

It’s a sunny but brisk Thursday in West Hollywood, one side of a 1920’s duplex is the set for a day of shooting. The space is decorated with unique art and furnishings complete with two Emmys and a chair from the Queen of England’s coronation.

Jessica is fiddling with a tripod and camera that she brought to set with her. “I got this camera for Christmas” she says to the crew “I want to capture some stuff for my vlog”. The creator in Jess is always at work, whether she’s producing shows for her Arsenal fan platform, She Knows Arsenal, or doing hosting and correspondent work at the World Cup, She’s living out a dream of hers.

For a long time that dream wasn’t always as clear, but the journey it took for her to get here has equipped her with the skills and the hunger to be a force in this space as the game continues to grow in North America.

Jessica Black for Forty-One Magazine
Photo Credit: Rich Gordon for Forty-One Magazine

Forty-One: Where are you from and how did you fall in love with soccer?

Jessica Black: I’m from Los Angeles, but if I’m talking to somebody that’s actually from L.A., I’ll say Walnut, California, because that’s in the suburbs of Los Angeles County. So, yeah, that’s where I’m from. It’s a very small town.

When I was younger, I played AYSO, almost everybody that was in my elementary school played. I started when I was about six years old and that’s kind of where my love for the game actually grew. Played all the way through college, and now I’m working in the sport, which is amazing.

There’s no connection to soccer whatsoever in my family. Nobody in my family played or even really knew anything about the sport. My mom actually just learned everything about soccer when I decided to start playing. She’s the type of mom that no matter what I do, she wants to be a part of it.

She became a ref, my dad coached, but nobody else really knew anything about soccer, and to this day I don’t think anybody in my family has ever played but me.

Jessica Black for Forty-One Magazine
Jessica is wearing a t-shirt from Arsenal’s Retro lifestyle collection | Photo Credit: Rich Gordon

How did you become an Arsenal supporter? What’s your fandom origin story?

People ask me about my origin story almost every single day, and I never get tired of telling the story because it involves my mom. My mom is my best friend. She’s the best person that I know, we both share a love for Arsenal. Like I said before, she didn’t know anything about soccer before I started playing.

She’s just the type of mom that whatever I wanted to do, if I wanted to be in ballet, she would have learned everything about ballet. If I wanted to be an astronaut, she would have learned everything about NASA. So she decided to learn a lot about soccer.

And at that time, late ’90s, early 2000s we really liked to watch the games. But you could only really watch MLS or the U.S. women, which was great, but we wanted to see more, so my mom on the weekends, would find games for us to watch. And it’s funny because the first game that I ever watched that was a Premier League game was actually Man United and they had Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole and Roy Keane and Beckham, I was like, “this team is cool”.

The very next weekend my mom came running in to my room and she’s like, Jess, you have to come watch this team. Their name is Arsenal, and there’s this guy on the team named “Theery Henry”. She didn’t know it was Thierry Henry, but she was calling him “Theery Henry”. It was the funniest thing.

From the moment I saw that team, I was like, “This is my team, This is it”. It stops here because I’ve never seen a team full of players that look like me. The way that they played it was just mesmerized, so I have a very deep connection with Arsenal.

It’s pretty much my life. I talk about Arsenal on a daily basis and I wouldn’t have it any different. It’s the best club. It’s a community. Some of my best friends are Arsenal fans. You meet your community everywhere and Arsenal just feels like family to me.

It’s the best decision I made and I’m glad that I didn’t go with Manchester United.

Jessica Black for Forty-One Magazine
Jessica in a Black arsenal hoodie | Photo Credit: Rich Gordon

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey? how you got to this point?

After high school, I actually wanted to go to fashion school. And it’s funny because I asked my dad if I can go to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) because they came to my high school. They talked to us about the school and I was like, this is a school that I would absolutely want to go to. Magazines, fashion, creativity, all that kind of stuff.

My dad said, No, absolutely not, because I played soccer my entire life. So I ended up getting a scholarship to go to Georgia State. I played all the way through, and after I got out of college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but my dad had agreed to help me go to FIDM after I went to Georgia State. And that’s exactly what I did.

I got a visual merchandising degree there, and after that I still didn’t know what I wanted to do because that didn’t really feel right. I was doing window design, I was doing websites, I was doing a lot of different creative things, but it still didn’t feel right.

I became a flight attendant, which is a random story, and I won’t go too far into it. I was a flight attendant for five years, traveled the world, tried to figure out what I wanted to do, and then the pandemic hit. And when that happened, I definitely started to really feel lost because there was no soccer to watch anymore.

I was always watching soccer. There was nothing there (for me) because everything shut down, so I started a YouTube channel so that I could talk to other Arsenal fans about the team and what’s going on. It just grew from there, I never would have imagined that my YouTube channel would have grown the way that it did over the two years of the pandemic.

It felt great because it was a way that I could be creative. I could talk about soccer, I could talk about Arsenal, and that’s kind of how I got to where I am today, it’s almost like I stumbled into it. But I feel like if you just keep searching and you keep your mind open, you can create something for yourself. And that’s pretty much what I did.

Jessica Black in Stella McCartney Arsenal Kit

From a Hobby to a Career

Turning something that was kind of a hobby into a career has been difficult because you have to learn everything from scratch. One of the things that I am happy about is that when I went to FIDM, I learned a lot of things that I’ve actually applied to my career as a content creator, everything from Adobe and editing different videos, etc.

I have very basic skills; but YouTube is also your friend, Google is also your friend, and I use those things on a daily basis to try to figure out how to take everything to the next level. Learning how to make media kits, learning how to talk to brands, learning how to send out emails, it’s beyond just knowing how to do things. It’s also the grind.

There are so many times where there’s nothing there. I’m a freelance content creator, so sometimes there’s no work, but I have to keep creating and showing people what I can do on a daily basis. I reach out to different companies and brands and talk to them about what it will be like working together and how it could work for both of us.

Learning how to be a freelance content creator is just grinding it out and using a lot of Google, that’s pretty much what I do. It’s scary because there’s no safety net, but I’ve never really had a job with a safety net beyond being a flight attendant, and that didn’t really sustain me either. Not inside.

I’m somebody that would rather take the risk and have to fight on a daily basis for what I want as long as what I’m fighting for is something that feels really good in my heart, and that’s all that really matters to me. It’s definitely scary, but I’m down for the ride.

Arsenal and Fashion

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Arsenal have been affectionately called Arsenal Fashion Club for years. They always have the best gear, the best merch and the best collabs. Watching the club do so many different things from high fashion collabs with Stella McCartney to having collections geared totally toward legends like the Ian Wright collection.

I think it’s fantastic. I even love the Arsenal (in house) brand that they come out with, day to day wear, because they make it so wearable that you’re literally wearing arsenal in your normal life. Years ago you would just wear the kit. That’s it. Now you have whole lines of things that you can wear, everything from baby clothes to snow gear.

I love that Arsenal are figuring out ways to weave themselves into your life, no matter what you want to do. I like the expression and the creativity that they go into and the quality of everything that they have. It’s showing that Arsenal are much more than a football club. It’s a culture. And anybody that’s an Arsenal fan knows that it’s literally your life, and so why not wear it as well?

What’s Next?

What’s next for “She Knows Arsenal?” I believe it is simply a matter of persistence. One of the things I really wanted to do, especially in 2024, was to upgrade my level of content. Become a significantly better content creator. I know the game and what to talk about, but I want things to look better, and I want my channel subscribers to see that I’m putting in more effort.

I want to work with as many companies as possible and tell as many stories as possible. I want to tell stories about what it’s like being an American (soccer) fan and what it’s like actually watching the game grow from nobody really caring to people being crazy for soccer in America. I want to tell the story of being a woman in a male dominated industry.

What I wrote in my journal before 2024 started was tell more stories. And in the next five years, I would love to be the next Kate Abdo, Taylor Rooks type you know? those are the people that I look up to.

If I had a little, board in my room, those are the two people that I’d have on there, because you watch some of these women in the industry and you think, wow, they do such great things. I want to be a better interviewer, get better on camera, learn how to do whatever it is that I need to do in order to get to that level.

Advice to someone coming up behind you

If I had to give any advice to a young woman of color, a girl like me on how to get into this industry, I would say “just get started and don’t wait”. One of the things that always stopped me from progressing early on in my twenties was analysis paralysis, always thinking about what I need to be doing and looking at what everybody else is doing.

I stopped because I didn’t have what they had or thought I wouldn’t be able to talk like they did. I just did nothing. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could press play and share it. It’s better to start, then modify and edit than to never start at all.

I would simply say, “Keep going,” or “Get started and keep going.” When you get pushback, which you will, because if you’re a woman, the first thing you’ll hear is, “My gosh, another woman talking about blah, blah, blah,” ignore it because there will be far more people who love what you’re doing than the negative voices.

The negative voices are always the loudest ones in the room. But there are a lot of silent fans out there that just want to see you keep going.

You can shop all of the looks that Jessica is wearing in this piece at World Soccer Shop

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