Black media-makers across the Northwest sent in their reflections to The Skanner News about their various disciplines.
We here at The Skanner News are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the National Newspaper Publishers Association during Black Press Week. In honor of this special event we are highlighting Black journalists and those who focus their work on African American communities throughout the Northwest.
Though representation in media can seem small, we reached out to a number of media members in various disciplines (reporters, bloggers, television news anchors, etc.) covering a span of topics (politics, fashion, entertainment, etc.)
All were asked the same three questions:
• What you do in writing and journalism? What’s your specialty?
• Why do you choose journalism and your particular audience?
• What is like for you to be a Black journalist in Portland/Seattle?
Their responses showed a span of different approaches to their work, but also highlighted the need for more African American representation in Northwest media.
(Editor’s note: Not all the journalists contacted for this story responded. If you know of other Northwest Black journalists who deserve recognition for their work, email Donovan@theskanner.com.)
Rhonda Shelby, meteorologist at KATU (Ch. 2)
1. I love this job! My view of weather forecasting is like a recipe: one part forecasting, one part context, and the other part education. I am a day-to-day forecaster, scientist, public servant and weather storyteller.
2. Each day as a weather journalist, I find and tell the ‘weather story of the day’ for our area. I make it my mission to help viewers understand what to expect, what time to expect it, and weather changes that could alter their lifestyles (or alter their very important plans--I don’t like surprises!) I’ve reported on and explained many major weather events in my 21 years on the air in the Portland-Vancouver market, including windstorms, major flooding, snow and ice storms, wind-driven wildfires and small tornadoes. The highest compliment anyone could ever pay me is telling me they trust or rely on my forecast because they know it’s accurate.
3. When I first started in the early 90s, I was the first black female anchor to land a weekday weather job on television here. Talent agents would tell me that they perceived Portland as a 'stop' for me on the road to a larger market. However, I never saw it that way. This is a wonderful, open and collaborative community to live in, work and raise children. Now, I appear on KATU News This Morning every weekday, as well as seven Clear Channel radio stations. I hope to see more black journalists consider moving to our vibrant city.
Walidah Imarisha, PSU professor, journalist and author
1. I've written (and continued to write) in numerous genres, including poetry, journalism, essays, creative nonfiction, science fiction, scholarly writing. Different genres and styles, to me, are different ways of knowing. To me, poetry is just another way of knowing and exploring and learning, just as valid as an academic article.
2. I write first and foremost because I need to for myself. It is my way of exploring and making sense of the world. I share my writings publicly because I hope to contribute to a shift in culture by presenting alternative frames for the world around us. I don't think cultural change happens through speeches, I believe it happens fundamentally through art and artists, who support the people in transforming the way they see and process and engage with society, with each other and with themselves. The Liberation Movements of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in this country would not have been possible without the cultural shifts that allowed folks to re-envision freedom. I think all art, all writing can help this happen. Currently, I am using visionary science fiction to do that, through my own writing as well as by co-editing the upcoming anthology Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements. Those of us involved with the anthology firmly believe that all organizing is science fiction, and that being able to collectively dream new worlds gives us a vision to begin building into reality.
3. There are immense challenges to being a Black writer, a Black artist, a Black anything, in Portland. But my work around Oregon Black history has privileged me in seeing that there is and always has been a culture of Black community-building and resistance in Portland, which is powerful in a place where Black communities weren't supposed to exist at all. It has been beautiful to see contemporary Black writers and artists building collectively, working to envision ways to tell their reality (and then work to change that reality) in this city, and continue on that legacy of resistance so many before us have built.
Ahjamu Umi, freelance journalist and author
1. I write primarily about issues of class, race, and gender oppression of African people worldwide. I have written two literary fiction novels related to those themes. The 2010 - 362 page "Find the Flower that Blossoms" and the January 2015 - 542 page "The Courage Equation." I am also in the process of having my 2005 Masters Thesis published. The title of that 60-page paper is ‘Mass Incarceration, It's about Profits, Not Justice.’ I regularly write articles which are picked up and published by international Pan-African online sites like Pambuzuka and All Africa.com. In February, 2015 those sites published a piece I wrote on literary fiction as a tool for African liberation and reclaiming the revolutionary legacy of Malcolm X 50 years later.
2. Whether I'm writing fiction or non-fiction, my objective is to get readers from all backgrounds to think about the world we live in, how we fit in it, and what our responsibilities are to contributing to the problems that impact society. I focus my works on what I consider to be the most oppressed segments of society; women, youth of color and youth in general.
3. Being a writer of African descent in Portland is extremely difficult because the dominance of European cultural norms here reflects an entirely different language and style of communication which greatly impacts everyone, including people of African descent. Therefore, the process of writing things that resonate with people here is very tricky as anything that falls outside the established cultural norm is immediately marginalized and dismissed.
Sharde Nabors, blogger at Sharde Said What?
1. I'm an opinion journalist/blogger. I run a blog about culture and society. Sometimes, in an attempt to draw attention to oft-neglect concerns--or a simple attempt to be humorous. The hip-hop/Black community in Portland and the great NW has been a focus throughout my time blogging, including music and show reviews. I also do some work creating press releases and artist biographies.
2. Writing to me has been the answer to so many questions. Whether it's writing poetry or short stories to tickle creative fancies, or writing a piece to address issues with public leadership. I write about the Black community to answer questions. Who are we? What do we value? How are we thriving? By introducing local artists, writing about social issues and spreading messages of empowerment, I feel as if I make a contribution. I don't want to write in vain.
3. There are pros and cons in the world of a Black writer here, or as a Black person here in general. There's a surprising amount of collaboration and support from other writers and it helps you stay afloat. But, a part of that is because there's only so many of us. That also leads to some pressure. When you have a voice and an audience, as a Black person, you become a representative for all the Black people here in the overwhelmingly white city of Portland. So with everything you write you have to question if it's going to make us look better or worse, or if you even care whether it does at all. But at least we do get a voice. It becomes very rewarding when you speak to an issue and people respond, learn, take something from it. I enjoy making people aware of the few dark specks on this white canvas.
Fahiym B. Acuay (aka ‘Mac Smiff’) editor-and-chief at We Out Here Magazine
1. I like to think that I write on a broad array of topics, but my focus is typically on hip-hop culture from both a musical and political standpoint. I really enjoy doing event recaps and bringing a new angle to political discussions. I also do a lot of editing for WeOutHere.net where I have several writers across the region.
2. I write out of a strong need to express myself; it was the same when I was rapping. I also have a terrible memory so I've always found it helpful to document my thoughts. My focus on NW hip-hop was actually birthed from necessity. In my rapping days, I was frustrated with the lack of outlets for NW artists, so when I took over managing WOHM that became my main focus.
3. I've never been any other color journalist, so I don't know! I was really surprised when journalists from other publications started reaching out, and I've never really had anyone give me any issues despite owning and sharing some rather radical views. We'll see how that changes as WOHM starts making more noise in the region and people realize it's a negro in charge.
Kemea Smith, beauty and fashion writer at GoLocalPDX
1. I am a beauty and fashion editorial writer for GoLocalPDX. GoLocalPDX is still a pretty new news site so on a day to day basis I could be writing about food culture, breaking news, and the latest fashion trends that are taking over the internet.
2. I write because it is fun and addicting! I love making new connections with people, taking photographs of Portlanders with interesting style, and conveying the full experience of a fashion event through my writing. Sure it’s long hours, but it always feels satisfying to see what you have written “live” for people to read. I can’t tell you how many times people laugh or are amazed that Portland has a fashion scene. But the fashion industry here is really flourishing and deserves the support and respect of Portlanders and fashion enthusiasts alike.
3. It’s like going to a fashion event and being one of three Black people in the room (four if it’s a good night). We all head bob or smile at each other, like we are part of a secret society.
Charles Mudede, critic and columnist at The Stranger
1. My main subjects as a writer are social issues, economics, film, music, and books. In short, I'm a 'generalist.'
2. I write because I have no other choice but to do so. Writing is my life. As for the community, it just has to deal with my fate as a writer.
3. It is not easy because there are not enough black voices in mainstream media in this city. We really need more black journalists, more black stories, more black everything. Seattle is seriously lacking in just about everything that deals with black people.
Velynn Brown, blogger at Quenched (velynnbrown.com), and deepstory.com
1. Quenched (my blog) is where I write about my deepest pains, greatest joys and all the stuff in the middle. I'm still a newbie with this blogging thing-but it's changing my life and I'm loving it! My first writing gig was at Deeper Story. I am now making room for the messes of life at The Mudroom.
2. I write because I have to. Words are my air and people (especially my own) are my heart. Writing gives me hope, perspective and vision. It's where I get to do the "hard work" of making sense of the life I've been given. I now have about 1,400 followers. I still don't know how they all got here, but I am so humbled to share my journey with them. I don't target a particular audience but I write a lot about family, faith, community and culture.
3. As a native Oregonian I understand both the deep complexities and uniques opportunities we as Black writers face in Portland. I have an intimate perspective on navigating in Portland/Vancouver as a Black woman and mother. It can be very lonely at times. As a member of a marginalized and now gentrified community I feel it is my responsibility to say, "we are worthy", "we are still here" and our stories deserve to be heard".
Tonya Mosley, NPR journalist and former King 5 anchor
1. I am primarily a broadcast journalist. I have more than 15 years experience as a TV reporter/anchor. Most recently I've incorporated radio and print into my work. The blending of mediums offers me the opportunity to explore stories in different ways.
2. Most of my journalism work focuses on social and cultural issues. Although I do cover topics and news stories beyond these types. I love the power of the written word and I believe journalism is a vital component of democracy.
3. I moved to Seattle in 2005 to work for KING 5 television. I worked there for 7 years and during that time I was one of two black reporters. I was fortunate enough to cover issues that were important to my community. Since then I produced a 4 part radio series called Black in Seattle for NPR. This has opened up a dialogue about race issues in Seattle.
Greg Lewis, producer at All Power to The Positive
1. I produce weekly mixes that both entertain and educate, using audio recordings of actions, panel discussions, and guest speakers (in English and other languages); plus commentary from me and my co-host Jacob "The Jacobin" Brown on important issues, against a backdrop of some of the hottest hip-hop, r&b, dancehall, and more; from the "mainstream" to the "underground.
This is called "edutainment". We call our particular brand of edutainment "God Dammitry", or "Hip-Hop for the Politically Erect". Lol.
2. I don't write as much as I used to. I usually let the rhythm hit 'em. Most of my mixes feature sounds that are relevant to multiple generations.
3. I do most of my promotion at hip-hop sites, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in Black communities in Seattle and elsewhere. I often wonder if anyone, besides the NSA, FBI, and my numerous political enemies are actually listening. Lol. Nowadays, most people have a smart phone and/or a computer (or access to one) for listening. We can also be found on iTunes and Stitcher. And, we are also syndicated on a couple terrestrial/on-air radio stations.
Jelani Greenidge, blogger JelaniGreenidge.com
1. My topical sweet spot is right at the intersection of evangelical Christian culture, hip-hop culture, and nerd culture. I don't consider myself a journalist per se, which is to say I'm not a reporter and I don't cover a specific beat--I'm more of an essayist. I write editorial pieces about events, trends or entertainment products, relating them to the principles and issues that matter most to me.
2. That's kind of an ironic question, because the truth is, I don't necessarily feel like my writing connects on a community level. It's always feels like a random collection of people who end up reading my stuff. Don't get me wrong, I mean, there is some community surrounding matters of faith and people of faith, but even among other Christians, sometimes the amount of disagreement and vitriol is through the roof. When I write something passionate, I am fully prepared for a lot of people to disagree. With the internet, it's not like writing to a specific community of people like a town or a university or a church group. As such, my specialty is to be versatile, to be relatable and approachable enough to be able to reach a lot of different people. If I have a niche, it's probably Gen-X and millennials who are passionate about God and conversant about sports and entertainment. People who are educated, who are curious, who want to know more about how and why the world works the way that it does. And people who love old-school hip-hop, which, you know back in the day, was just called... hip-hop.
3. I tackled that question in longer form on my blog, although it didn't focus as much on my writing so much as my everyday lifestyle. The truth is, there is a black community in Portland, and I'm grateful that because of my family connections and some of my professional connections, I get to meet with and see other like-minded African-Americans who are trying to make positive contributions to our city. But I have to really be intentional to make those connections, because we just don't have the numbers like we used to have. Because of demographic changes over the years, there isn't a critical mass of black folks in N and NE Portland like there used to be, so we all sort of have to try to look for each other, try to find each other. It's like you're hustlin', busting your hump trying to get bills paid and keep chasing your dreams and you look up and go, "man, where y'all at??" It's almost like family... when you're younger, you take your family for granted, but as you get older, you appreciate it more, and you have to sacrifice more to keep those family connections alive.
Connie Thompson, reporter at KOMO TV
1. I’ve been anchoring and reporting at KOMO TV news in Seattle for more than 40 years. My specialty is consumer news, which includes everything from consumer rights to product tests, to avoiding the myriad of scams designed to take your money and personal information.
2. I’ve always been drawn to consumer news because it’s information everyone needs- “news you can use." My daily goal is to help make viewers smarter about what they buy, who they hire, who gets their money and their rights under the law. In addition, because of my position I’m often able to advocate for people who are being treated unfairly and get no response on their own.
3. First and foremost, I see myself as a journalist. My goal has always been to do my best work. Period. As a journalist of color and a female however, I do make it a point, when necessary, to advocate for broader points of view and more inclusive focus in how we approach our reports. I’m happy to say that over the years I’ve had more company in that regard, as journalists with more diverse backgrounds have assumed different positions in the television news industry.
Keisha Burns, forecaster at KING 5 and Northwest Channel News
1. I’m a weathercaster for the local news station KING 5 and NWCN in Seattle. My specialty is broadcast journalism, with an emphasis on meteorology/science. A typical day at work for me starts at 2:30 am. Depending on the day, I spend anywhere between 30-45 minutes looking over the radar, forecast models and compiling the forecast together. It's challenging to take complex forecast and turn it into something that's easy to understand, but so exciting. I'm originally from southern California, so it took about 3 years to get a good feel of the weather pattern.
2. I worked hard and wore many hats to land my dream job here in Seattle. It’s always been a dream of mine to forecast here because of the constant changing, yet amazing weather and the challenge it presents in forecasting. I love that I can come into work, create maps and graphics for our viewers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho while explaining how the weather will influence their day.
3. I’d say forecasting in a competitive field, while living in a big city like Seattle is very rewarding. It took time to get to this level, but I get the chance to lead by example every day. I've become the person that other future black journalists and forecasters want to follow, and that's a good feeling. Every time a young black girl writes me, or stop me on the street to ask how she can become a reporter or meteorologist, I feel an enormous responsibility to encourage her to follow her dreams. Besides being a role model, I know I have to be a voice for them as well.
Olivia Olivia, lead reporter/photographer/web editor at The Portland Observer
1. I work at a very small newspaper, so I do a little of everything. I am often assigned stories, usually on social justice and specifically race, housing, or LGBT issues, and then I follow up on them. Sometimes I find my own leads and push forward my own stories. Sometimes community members come to me with issues and I pitch stories to my editor about an event or a story. I love writing about Portland and would say I have a personal preference for stories about LGBT issues. I push through for other publications to write about abuse, women’s rights, and immigration as well. I like to think of myself as someone who spotlights injustice and tries to bring hope to communities in need through my writing.
2. I feel that all people, even and perhaps especially those tin power, can benefit from reading stories about “little guys” - by which I mean underdogs and the oppressed of every category. I tend to work closely with the Portland literary community and, through the Portland Observer, for particularly progressive audience, but I think getting people who don’t read stories about oppression to look at themselves and those around them in also a very powerful and important goal.
3. Covering Black life in Portland is constantly an experience that pushes me into conflict with oppressive and white supremacist interests and I believe that good journalism decenters whiteness from discusssions of Black and Brown lives. It means that we are seeing people losing homes, building businesses, reuniting with loves ones, writing books, protesting, winning awards, losing children, starting families, passing away, staging plays, uplifting each other. The full spectrum of Black life is so valuable to the larger Portland community because the Black community has always been a portender of things to come. When Black people are pushed out of a community, gentrification is sure to follow for the rest of the community. When Black people start doing something, white audiences will later come to investigate, eventually to co-opt, re-enact, and appropriate. Black people are from the future. They are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Pay attention to the lives of black folks as they are the biggest indicator of life to come for everyone else, and the biggest reflection of who we are as Americans.
Reagan Jackson, columnist at The Seattle Globalist
1. I have always been interested in traveling and seeing new things, so writing for the Globalist has given me the opportunity to explore international affairs from the lens of my home community in Seattle.
2. A lot of what I like to write about stems from wanting to tell the stories of the people in my community in a way that honors their voices and allows them to be heard in different spaces.
3. I became a reporter on accident. I was having brunch and discussing my views on people of color participating in study abroad and the editors of the Seattle Globalist invited me to write them a story. One piece turned into a thing where, when it moved me I would write a piece and submit it. Finally we made it official and now I have a column that comes out twice a month.
Da'Love Woods, sports analyst at Spread Da Love
1. Right now there’s no real specialty. I prefer video. Really what we’ve been trying to do is introduce people to people in our city that are athletes that are up-and-coming or we feel like have reached a certain level of signifigance. Also we want to highlight other community programs that have an interest in sports or athletics because that is pretty much what got us through our struggle was playing sports.
2. It was almost by accident that I got into journalism. The whole media thing to me, I never really understood or got it. But I think for me, I like to keep up with sports and comment on them. So for me it’s just a part of life. I read about sports, and talk about it so it was almost like a ‘why not share.’ So you’ve just got to find your lane and play your position. You reach your target audience and hope other people get exposed to what you’re offering.
3. It can be complicated and difficult. You knock on a lot of doors and don’t get answers. We covered the Oregon School Activities Association 6A tournament last year at the Moda Center and it’s dominated by White males. As far as I’m concerned I’m just going to continue doing what I do. As long as I enjoy it, and continue to have passion for it I’m going to continue to offer it and not really worry about what other people have going.