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The Fight To Tell Black Stories

Kevin Merida, executive editor of the LA Times, answered questions about how being a Black journalist can inform your work:

Gillian White: A question that I've gotten asked before, and I'm sure you've heard a million times, is, “Why does having Black journalists, as opposed to other journalists, matter when it comes to coverage? Why does it matter what race they are versus just someone who’s a good journalist?” And I wonder how you answer that question for people.

Kevin: Look – we were born Black. I grew up in all-Black communities and there's something about that. I know everybody's had different experiences and so we all are different, right? But there is something that connects us. When you walk past Black people … that nod. I was down in Hawaii, in Maui, you see each other, there's a connection that even if we don't know each other, we probably have some shared experience somewhere in our background, in a family. And that does inform your practice of this craft, right? And how you see what you see. And I think it's always, you can be Black in many different ways but being Black is part of what you can bring to a story and to how a story is framed and shaped, and what stories you choose to tell.

The Big Interview: Creating Your Own Lane

Tyler Perry sat down with Worldacad Atlanta Editor Gavin Godfrey, and shared how a weekend trip with buddies for Freaknik inspired the hub now known as Tyler Perry Studios:

“When I got here, [Atlanta was] the first place I ever saw Black people do well,” Perry said. He was there to party with friends, and the wheels started turning in his head.

“I'm looking around going, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Black people live there … wait, they're going to the movies. Wait, this restaurant's full of Black people. You know, I didn't see that in New Orleans unless we were serving, right? So, and this wasn't the ’40s or ’50s, this was the ’90s. So to come [to Atlanta] and feel the pulse and the energy of a place where Black people were welcome and not only welcomed to thrive, but they were also running the city. All those things were important to me.”

Perry also highlighted the need for finding your audience and telling stories that cater to your audience.

“Super serve your niche, whatever the niche is. Super serve it. Super serve it. … And I mean uber focus on them and everybody else will come. And that's what I did.”

Centering Black Stories In Journalism

Errin Haines, Editor-At-Large and Founding Mother of The 19th* joined co-founder and Chief Audience Officer Akoto Ofori-Atta to discuss the need for newsrooms like The 19th and Worldacad.

Akoto: I believe last year, Brent Staples wrote about white newspapers' historical role in fueling racist violence, white supremacy, erasing Black stories, and how in recent years so many newsrooms have had to atone for their behavior, for their past behavior, right? But it is really nice to work at a place that has a chance to get it right from the beginning, that baked into its existence is the idea that journalism has failed so many of us for so long, and we are going to start on Day One trying to get that right. And so, as you sort of charted this path, I'd love to hear what it's like to be in a newsroom that is fueled with that mission, not just for your work, but I'm sure it's just a thing that sort of drives all of the work that you and your colleagues do.

Errin: I think that there is absolutely something very exciting about the idea of building culture instead of fixing it, which is what our work is. It's hard work, but it's very different work, right? We are building this plane as we are flying it, right? But we are also not throwing the engine out the back and whatever else is not working. No, that stuff, that baggage that exists, frankly, at a lot of legacy mainstream is that makes it very hard to turn those cultures and those institutions around, we are not burdened by that, right? We bring, certainly, our strong journalism foundations, the best of what we love about journalism, we bring that to this work, while we then try to build on that to make these newsrooms the newsrooms of the future, the newsroom that we are envisioning more equitable. Equity was at the core of The 19th, which I think was so important for us, because like you said, we launched in January 2020, right? So five months ahead of the reckoning, we launched. But even a year before that, we were already thinking if we're going to start this, we may not even know how to fully get there, but equity is absolutely going to be at the center of what we are doing here because we know that that is absolutely the center of what's missing in mainstream legacy media.

Sister Storytellers

Lauren Williams, Worldacad CEO and co-founder, chatted with her sister, Tia Williams, bestselling author of “Seven Days in June,” about their shared desire to tell stories for Black people and the harsh criticism that came with those dreams.

Tia shared that when they were growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, the mainstream media that they consumed was majority white. Everything from the novels to the fashion magazines that she read. Her obsession with reading and lack of representation developed into a dream of changing the landscape.

“I always knew that I wanted to do this, which I know is a rare thing, but I had two big goals: that I was going to work in fashion magazines and kind of change things from the inside because Black beauty editors in the ’90s were not a thing. And then I also wanted to write fiction for us, write the books that I wanted to read for me. So yeah, I guess that's where it all comes from, the lack.”

Tia shared the harsh realities of writing Black stories and trying to get her books published.

“Back then it was like, if it's not about Black suffering and if characters aren't seen through the lens of some sort of oppression porn, having to get over the trauma of Blackness to find happiness it's like they didn't understand us in any other context. And so when I come in and I want to write like fun, saucy novels about a young, Black beauty editor, or a Black woman working in fashion, and some of the feedback I would get was actually like, ‘Are there even any Black fashion editors?’ Is this even realistic?’”

Stories from the South Side

In a conversation with Morgan Johnson, co-founder of The TRiiBE, actor, writer, director, and showrunner Diallo Riddle talked about the power of authentic storytelling.

Morgan: What I really love about “South Side” is that it doesn't attempt to translate Blackness for anybody. It is just authentically Black, probably one of the Blackest shows I've ever seen.

Diallo: Thank you. That means so much.

Morgan: Very authentically Chicago. It's like a big inside joke between Chicagoans that not everyone is going to get.

Diallo: What we try to do with our show is replicate some of the chaotic, fun silliness of some of our favorite comedies. I always say that, you know, 'cause we get a lot of comparisons to “The Office,” which makes sense 'cause we take place in a workplace and “The Office” is sort of like a workplace comedy, but really what we're trying to do is “The Simpsons.” On “The Simpsons,” everything that happens in the city of Springfield can pop up on the screen, and so we sort of use the South Side as our Springfield. That's why we have like, my character is an alderman. We've got Bashir [Salahuddin] playing a police officer with his real-life wife, Chandra Russell, who plays Officer Turner. We've got the guys who work at RTO. We've got Chase, the white dude who's randomly in the neighborhood. We got Travis, the aspiring rapper. We go out of our way to sort of build a whole universe of characters. I mean, I think the first two seasons of the show had something like 170 speaking parts each season. … We just really go out of our way to try to build this universe. It's building this universe where we can literally pop into any place in the South Side and be confronted with just a really funny character, a funny, unexpected character. These are the colorful characters that when you're growing up in these communities, you meet.

Black History, American History

Glory Edim, co-creator of Well-Read Black Girl, talked with author Clint Smith III about the story behind the title of his bestselling book, “How The Word Is Passed.” Smith traveled to different locations to examine how history is remembered and discusses how as a country we have and have not reckoned with the legacy of slavery.

“In The Getting Word Oral History Project, I came across a quote from one of the descendants of someone who was enslaved at Monticello. And he was talking about the way that he heard the story, learned the story of life in Monticello, from his grandmother who learned it from her grandfather, who learned it from, you know, and that is how it has always been passed. And he said, this is how the word is passed down. And there are some times when you're a writer, when you just like the title, just like, bam, you just see it. And you're like, all right, this is it. And, I knew as soon as I saw that phrase, how the word is passed, captured so much of what I was trying to excavate in this book. And so many of the things that I was trying to wrestle with. So, you know, you don't always get the title right on the first time, but I got this one right I think.”

You can watch the replay of Thursday’s conversations on our YouTube channel. To keep up with Worldacad and join in our events, you can become a member, or subscribe to our newsletter.

This event has been sponsored by Reebok.

Miela Fetaw is a live event producer for Worldacad. Twitter @mielafetaw