By Zenger News
Imagine creating a work environment where every member of the family is gainfully employed. It’s also profitable enough to be the sole source of income — and don’t have to leave your house.
For Rita and Mirthell Mitchell, that’s a dream come true. The couple built a brand based on their four kids. Now, Shalom, Sinead, Sade (Shasha) and Shiloh are brand ambassadors and content creators.
Better known to the YouTube world as “The Onyx Family,” they have created a huge following.
“The Onyx Family” claims 6.3 million total subscribers, over 81 million monthly views and nearly 3 1/2 billion lifetime views on their channel. Opportunities to work with Dr. Fauci, an interview with actor Matthew McConaughey and an invite from the Biden/Harris campaign tops an amazing year of growth. This family prides itself on giving as much as it receives. Their philanthropy work includes funding community outreach programs and contributing to HBCU scholarships.
Zenger News spoke with Rita and Mirthell Mitchell to discuss their unique work situation and the decision to quit their 9-5 jobs and build the family brand.
Percy Crawford interviewed Rita and Mirthell Mitchell for Zenger News.
Zenger News: It must be a dream come true to turn an idea into an empire. Did you ever see ‘The Onyx Family’ becoming this big?
Rita Mitchell: No! When we first started, we felt it would be us going on YouTube, making some great family memories. But we didn’t have a concept of how people made money on YouTube, much less build a brand. Everything evolved with time and experience.
Percy Crawford interviewed Rita and Mirthell Mitchell for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)
Mirthell Mitchell: In 2015, we were dabbling around with YouTube and making funny videos. Not seriously. It wasn’t until 2016 that Rita started doing some research, and then we took it really seriously in March. We got a channel and did all these videos, and in that month, it actually took off. We had never seen that much money in our lifetime in one setting. And in two months, we paid off all of our debt.
Rita: In two weeks, I quit my 9-5. I was at a crossroads. I had to decide if I’m going to work with my family or if I’m going to build this medical company that in the long run could turn a profit. When you’re launching a regular business, it’s more overhead and stress. We put out our first video, and it got a few views. And I thought: “Well, where’s the millions of views?” I started to do my own research and learned about search engine optimization, how to make an appealing thumbnail.
I also let my kids and their creativity just go! Kids can speak to kids. We said: “OK, you’re really good at this, focus on this.” And we did that with everybody. My whole thing was organizing everything, researching, so that when it all came together, it was having the maximum impact.
Zenger: Did you get “You’re crazy for leaving your ‘real’ job” treatment?
Rita: When we first started, I never involved my family or my friends. In fact, for about nine months, we didn’t tell a soul what we were doing. We just did it and depended on loving who we are. We never asked anyone to support it. People really didn’t know what was happening. They saw us going on certain vacations, and they were thinking it was all from my medical company. Till one day, I decided to start sharing what we’ve been doing and letting people know that I actually hadn’t been working in the medical field in a long time. Because the results had already been proven, they were much-much more open then if we had said, this is what we’re going to do.
Mirthell: They were more curious than anything.
Zenger: What was your “Wow,” moment when you realized how much the brand was growing or went to sleep only to wake up to the views being through the roof
Rita: We had posted this video, I think on a Friday. We hadn’t checked the views, but by Saturday night, it had over 3 million views. It wasn’t even a full 24 hours. We had no clue something could go that far, that high so quickly. When you saw the revenue going up by the thousands every day, it made us understand why some people are doing it full-time. That was my a-ha moment! If you can continue to do this formula, you can get out of the whole 9-5 rut.
Mirthell: I had left my job in October to join my wife in her medical company. I had worked at my job for about 17 years. I loved what I did. I was a marriage and family therapist and also an ordained minister. I really didn’t want to leave my job, but my wife had supported me for many years, and she had this opportunity with these doctors to start this medical company in Florida. It was really her being a nurse practitioner that carried us financially. It brought us to a place where we could sustain ourselves.
A few months later, I actually resigned and left the congregation. I’m Canadian, so I cannot work in the United States — so I am depending on this medical company to be the thing. So, you can imagine when my wife tells me she doesn’t want to do the medical company anymore, she wants to do this thing. And she’ll figure it out. She could foresee that she wouldn’t like it. I was just beside myself: “What are we going to do now?” My a-ha moment came when we started to do YouTube in March. About six months later, it took off. I was like, “OK. We can do this.” It seemed like a blessing outside of anything I could have ever imagined.
Zenger: Then a global pandemic hit. Did that affect the way you put out content or the family dynamic of working together?
Rita: Since we home school and work from home, the only thing that was different is we didn’t focus so much on work. We were conscious of the fact that, as an adult, it’s hard living in a pandemic. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a teenager or 20 and wonder what my future is going to be like. When it came to our daily schedule for YouTube and other things, we took a relaxed approach, making sure that everybody’s mental health was prioritized.
Mirthell: It created more intimacy than content. During this time, Shiloh, who’s into gaming, came to us and said: “I’d like to learn Japanese and coding.” We enrolled him in a coding class for part of his homeschooling and he started learning Japanese because a lot of the games that he’s interested in are Japanese. We like to give our children that leverage to be able to discover where they would like to go. That happened during the pandemic.
And then when things like George Floyd happened, we kind of rolled with the punches. We went out there for some time just lending our voice to the movement. As well as with the pandemic, we would create jingles about washing your hands, making sure you’re quarantining effectively. Dr. Fauci saw some of our videos, and he called us and wanted to collaborate. The Biden and Harris team got wind of our channel, and they asked us to help with, ‘Rock the Vote.’ And when they won, asked us to participate in the inauguration.
Zenger: I understand Vice President Harris is related to one of you?
Mirthell: Yes! We didn’t know this prior. We found this out in 2019 when Kamala was running for president, and her father put out his memoir. His memoir kind of went viral, her Jamaican roots, especially within the Jamaican community. My parents are both Jamaican. My mom saw the pictures and the name, and she said: “I know these people. They are my relatives.”
It was quite the surprise to hear the stories from my mom about visiting Kamala’s grandmother back in Jamaica. But we never really met Kamala or her father. I’m not even sure if Kamala knows all of this. It was our little secret, and we enjoyed it, but it did make it a little bit more special. Not only that it was the first black female Vice President that my wife and my daughters could be proud of, but in our hearts, we were like: “Yeah, we in the White House, ya’ll.”
Zenger: You have four kids and allowed each to use their talents to keep this engine running. You’re not forcing them to be a part of something they’re not into.
Mirthell: There is a book that we just read from Matthew McConaughey … we’re doing an interview with him in the next couple of weeks. He described his mother as saying that raising her child was almost like a bowing arrow and a target. Rather than pointing the child toward the target as the arrow, she saw it more that he was the target and the focus was coming toward him. We could identify with that because you get one shot to get them to hit that target. Instead, their gifts and talents were more like magnets, drawing the opportunities to them, as opposed to us trying to make them hit that opportunity.
Fast-forward: They are 21, 20, 18 and 14, sitting at the table with the very professionals of some of the cartoons they were watching as a little kid. The leaders at Nickelodeon responsible for SpongeBob and The Proud Family are all working on our cartoon. The first season launched and is now bought by Amazon Prime. They’re sitting at the table as writers, as producers, my daughter creates the music, and it’s just like, “Whoa!” You shift from them hitting a target to people coming to you.
Zenger: How important is it to keep building the brand and maintaining healthy working relationships with a number of different companies?
Rita: It’s very important. I always teach the kids this. Now and then, I’ll put on a show, or I’ll put on a song from the ’80s or ’90s and ask: “You think these people are still around? You think they are doing what they were doing back then?” 99% of the time, it’s a no. What I try to do is let them know we are not just entertainers, but a business. That’s why it’s so important to make connections. Brands come and go. But as long as we are networking, we’re being professional and showcasing our platform, but also allowing it to be a platform that showcases other people’s inventions or products.
There is going to be a peak for us, so I’m trying to teach them there can be a legacy — they can pass this on to their children. And have that leg-up we were not allowed to have as black people. The way you do it is by continuing to have business relationships along with being entertaining and fun.
Zenger: Speak a little about the charitable things you have done and are doing.
Mirthell: We make sure we take a certain percentage of our income, and we set it aside just to give back. We don’t even consider it ours. And we encourage our children to look for opportunities to give. Every week, we give to some family in need, whether it’s online, or it’s brought to our attention that they have a problem. And we encourage our kids to look for individuals in need, so that we can give back to them. Systematically, we give as well to our church and Historically Black Colleges [HBCU]. Every year, we make sure we are giving to the college funds and the university funds. Right now, we have a project that is happening in Africa.
Rita: In Zimbabwe.
Mirthell: The way the pandemic is affecting them is unique, as well as some of the political issues. We are working with a foundation to help. We’re constantly looking for ways to give back to our local community as well as abroad.
Rita: Just last night, one of my daughters came in and said: “Mom, can I have the card?” We call it the ‘giving card’ or the ‘charity card.’ It’s connected to that account, and they know to just get the card. They are always looking for opportunities to give. We do it intentionally every week, but also, we just do it when we see it. We just think it’s very important to give back.
(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Fern Siegel)