As some of you may know, I have been pursuing my PhD at Prescott College. As a child, I dreamt of being a journalist, but never felt like I would be successful at the traditional news organization for the most part. As a young adult and undergrad, I ended up pursuing community organizing.
While I had been doing traditional activism work for several years, and even work I did not know was community organizing at the time, it was not until 2009 that I began to understand community organizing, intersectionality, injustice, and resistance and liberation and emancipation.
At the time, my at-the-time new mentor had gotten me involved with an organization now known as Voices for Racial Justice (VRJ). For a year, I was the youngest in a class of 20. 20 experienced organizers and community leaders. I was not yet one of them. I was still cookie dough (yes that was a BtVS reference).
Within a few months of starting VRJ’s yearlong organizing training, I had started interning (not for credit or anything, but out of wanting to do journalism) for The UpTake, a nationally-recognized citizen journalism organization. By May, at the end of my 5-month internship, they had offered me a job as Community Manager, what I believe was their first paid staff position. I worked full-time for a year; I covered amazing stories (FBI raids on peace activist’s home, elections, and two legislative sessions, the introduction of the constitutional amendments to defeat gay marriage and require a Voter ID, and the beginning of the successful fights to beat those amendments. I produced a 15-hour of live TV for #GiveMN and was at the State Capitol every Friday morning at 6am to prep coverage. I developed an intern program for the organization and implemented it. I met with community leaders from across the Twin Cities day-in and day-out and worked to build relationships between our organization and theirs.
By the end of all that, I was burnt out. I was tired. And organizing called to me. By the end of my position with The UpTake, a year after becoming a staffer, a peer-organizer-classmate and I had already launched a campaign taking on Sodexo at our undergrad, a campaign which took the better part of 18 months before we handed over the reigns to other students.
My master’s degree was in the Humanities with a concentration on Justice, Activism, and Solidarity. My focus was food systems organizing. Except, I was realizing I did not have a role as a community organizer in the Twin Cities. Organizing was something I would struggle with. I could build relationships and sustain them and understand why people organized, but I struggled to have the technical skill to make organizing a tool in my toolbox.
On my first day of orientation for Master’s program, I was connected with Ernesto Todd Mireles. Professor Mireles was and is an incredible organizer, he was also a trained journalist. And he was more than willing to invest in me. And, as two organizers with similar visions and backgrounds and commitments do, we built and sustained a very powerful relationship which allowed us to do some kick-butt work together.
When I first began looking at PhD programs, I was focused on food systems. Though I had freelanced, in the years after leaving The UpTake, and served as the Boardmember for an organization named the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I had sort of given up on the dream of being a journalist. As I did organizing work, I had pretty pigeonholed as the media & communications person. I worked the jobs, but I felt like a fraud and like a liar. My insides were made of journalism and they were rebelling against everything I was doing.
It was not until I escaped to Arizona, with nary a plan or a job or anything, that journalism became a thing for me again. I co-founded an organization named the Rizoma Community Media Collective, TA’d for every class Todd asked me to including an Introduction to Journalism course, started falling in love with journalism again. Suddenly the itch to do journalism could not and would not leave me.
In August of 2015, I announced I would not write another press release. That ended up not being true, though I did cut way down on that. What did happen though was journalism. I ended up at Prescott College, again, for my PhD program. My focus had become journalism. It was beginning to seem inevitable that I was doing it again. I had left the field, learned, brought it back, and since then I’ve sought to do journalism differently. I have been exploring what it means to use journalism as a tool to amplify the stories and narratives of people of color. What does it mean to hold institutions and people in power accountable when it comes to the oppression and injustice faced by communities of color? What does it mean to put people of color at the center of each article, to honor their expertise, and to not fear doing the work differently? What does it mean to sustain this kind of work? And what structures need to be in place to sustain this journalism practice? What kind of commitment does it require? What is needed to make it happen? What does it actually look like? What is the relationship between the journalist and the community?
I don’t have any answers. I wish I did. What I do know is that I cannot answer these questions. But we, as a community, can. We can explore these. We can do this journalism. I’ve been trying to do this through my own journalism practice and intentional reflection, but this idea, “journalism of color,” needs to belong to all of us.