He’s no stranger to dating apps. After a long professional stint at dating sites like Bumbl, Grindr, and now BLK, Jonathan Kirkland understands our trials. Relationships, courting, dating, entangling—processes we’ve all endured for the hopes of finding our Mr. or Mrs. But the way we connect, with whom we connect, and the purpose for which we connect now are wholly different from the generations before us. Gone are the days of “I’d like to marry your daughter”.
Enter BLK. It’s the Black response to the sometimes bleak dating atmosphere in bars, clubs, and cities across the globe. With a simple swipe left you can “My name is Beyonce” that man off of your roster. Yet, with a just as easy swipe right, users can fall into the DMs of hopeful singles looking to spark a connection. It’s a simple technology that we’ve all engaged with, but as the app’s global head of marketing and brand, Kirkland is focused on BLK taking online dating one step farther.
“It’s important that we added a social justice [component] to dating,” Kirkland says. BLK approaches dating from a cultural approach. There are nuances that Black people deal with in living our everyday lives that others just wouldn’t (or couldn’t) understand. “We built this app to speak to those differences to provide a richly Black dating experience.” So, as swipers get notifications from would-be entanglers, the app also notifies users about social justice activations in their area.
The app, as Kirkland explains, focuses on the one-to-one connection through dating and courtship, and also the one-to-many community connection that comes along with Black culture. “The way we look at things…at BLK, is under three pillars: community, dating & relationships, and entertainment.” He continues, “we don’t want to be another dating app. We want to be THE APP for the Black community.”
During the 2020 election, BLK identified that the majority of poll workers, for instance, were over the age of 60. Most of BLK users, however, are under the age of 35. With the COVID-19 pandemic still high in the community at the time, Kirkland and BLK knew that older Americans were avoiding the polls which would disproportionately impact communities of color and their access to vote. “[BLK] worked with Civic Alliance to engage our users to work as poll workers,” Kirkland explains. “We got over 1200 BLK users to sign up to be poll workers across the country.”
“What BLK does is very different [is it marries] social justice and other aspects of my Blackness together in one app experience.”-Jai Makokha
@KaniesOfficial put BLK on full display in her now viral day-in-the-life video on TikTok. With over half a million views and counting, it has sparked nationwide chatter on Black Twitter about what monogamy looks like. Jonathan Kirkland responds.
A day in the life. She wakes up. Grocery shops. Tends to a project that is progressing nicely. Preps food for her man. Goes on a dinner date with the guy she met online. Comes back home to her man for a quiet evening with Bae. Sleep. Awake. Repeat.
It took about three times watching and four scrolls through the comments before I realized what Black Twitter was up in arms about. When I caught up with Jonathan Kirkland, I had to get his thoughts.
DW: Would you consider yourself to be an app guy who got into the dating business? Or a dating guy who got into the app business?
JK: I’m no love expert. Through BLK, I can help people make the connection, but I don’t know that you would want to come to for love advice.
DW: Do you think technology makes the dating process easier or harder?
JK: It depends on how you use it. From one aspect, it makes it easier because you can have those immediate conversations from the comfort of your own house. Where it gets a little tricky is, a lot of times, with text conversation they can be read wrong. May have the wrong inflection. It’s hard to engage the emotion with technology. And how you express yourself too. Everything is a tool of self expression. How you want to portray yourself in the digital world sometimes has a disconnect. So, it’s all about how you navigate it? The beauty is that everyone can navigate the dating world however they need to.
So there’s a video that went viral that featured your app pretty prominently. First impressions?
JK: I’m not mad at it all. The one thing that we at BLK do is focus on intent. If you’re in a relationship and want to spice it up, we don’t judge. There’s enough judgement in our community. I love being able to define your own story. It might not be for all, but it worked for them…I’m sure he liked the pasta.
DW: Broadly, in Black culture, do you believe that non-monogamous circumstances are a new phenomenon or is it just, because of technology, we’re seeing it more?
JK: We just see it more. It’s been around since the beginning of time. We see everything more. And now people are coming up with words for it like entanglement and situationship. I’m here for it because you define how you want to date.
A version of this story appeared in the September 16, edition of DW