‘Identity Unboxed’ podcast serves up unfiltered life lessons and business insights from Black professionals

Tiana Cole, ’21, and Brad Blackburn III, ’21, ’23, are two young alumni offering sound advice.

Brad Blackburn and Tiana Cole engage voices of experience on subjects like code-switching and how identity can influence decisions.

In the past year, Tiana Cole, ’21, and Brad Blackburn III, ’21, ’23, have spoken with Black civic leaders, broadcasters, business owners, educators, nonprofit directors and other successful professionals about their careers—including how race has factored into their journeys. Their unfiltered conversations are now streaming on “Identity Unboxed,” a podcast they launched in 2023.

Cole, who majored in journalism and public interest communication, and Blackburn, who majored in political science and completed a master’s degree in public affairs, created the podcast as a resource for young Black professionals. They see it as an opportunity to learn from established professionals who have been through a similar journey.

“We’ve met so many exceptional people who have inspired us and helped us along the way on our own journeys,” Cole says. “We thought a podcast would be a great way to learn how they’ve gotten to where they are and provide those stories of inspiration and resilience.”

Blackburn and Cole met as students at Tumwater High School. Both came to the UW with plans to pursue health-related majors, convinced that would ensure stable and lucrative careers. They quickly realized their interests lay elsewhere. Cole discovered a passion for journalism and storytelling. Blackburn’s interest in social justice led to courses in political science, public administration and law, societies and justice.

The two alums recently started their professional journeys—Cole as a program administrator in the UW’s Continuum College, Blackburn as community engagement and in-kind manager at YouthCare, a Seattle nonprofit. Their podcast has already helped them on their own journeys.

“I was going through a tough life transition when we started the podcast,” Blackburn says. “To hear from professionals who had gone through the same things was really a guiding force. Even now, if I’m struggling with something at work, I’ll go back to an episode and listen again. That’s the joy of this podcast. We’re reaping the benefit of our mission, getting that mentorship. We hope other folks are as well.”

The hosts have a long list of potential guests for “Identity Unboxed” in 2024. They look forward to highlighting careers not covered in previous episodes, such as engineering and medicine. All guests are local to the Seattle area, by design. “That’s been a priority for us,” Cole says. “Seattle doesn’t have the most visible Black community, so we felt it was important to show that there are Black professionals here and they’re successful. We look for folks who have been through adversity and reached a position where they can shed light on their experiences.”

Another factor is the podcast’s authenticity: The in-depth conversations are not heavily edited. Most are an hour or longer, covering everything from childhood experiences to professional crossroads. Guests discuss moments of self-doubt and moments of clarity and confidence. “We really get into the intersection of their personal and professional lives, and how their identity has influenced their decisions,” says Cole.

While most podcast listeners are Black, the hosts “want this to be a learning space for non-Black people so they can hear our unfiltered conversations and learn how to show up better as allies in professional spaces,” Blackburn says. “Everyone is welcome.”