My Choice to be Here, Working for this Publication, is a Deliberate One.
As U.S. newsrooms have shrunk and the count of Black journalists has fallen, some Howard alumnae remain on the job, ensuring that the highs, lows and complexities of Black life get deemed newsworthy and get covered. Mainly graduates of the School of Communications, those newswomen—and women raking in revenue on the business side of things—talked with Howard Magazine about what drives their work at some of the nation’s most venerable publications.
Black women at an ‘iconic’ Black magazine
Marielle Bobo (B.A. ’01) once earned paychecks from Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other White-run, largely White-read international magazines. But to her kinfolk, she wasn’t a major player “until I got to Ebony. That’s when my family says, ‘Oh, you made it,’” said Bobo, Ebony’s fashion and beauty director. “For a lot of us, Ebony is our iconic history.”
Other Howard alumni express similar thoughts about moving from marquee, mainstream news organizations to Ebony, where, they add, staffers are free to do what they couldn’t do elsewhere.
The Howard Woman is "... multidimensional, dynamic and powerful."
– Marielle Bobo, fashion and beauty director, Ebony
For example, said Ericka Goodman (B.A. ’02), of her recent interview of singer Alicia Keys: “There was this I-don’t-have-to-put-on, I-don’t-have- to-pretend air about her. ... With us, [Black celebrities] don’t think they have to feed into a formula. ... They can voice a reaction to social justice issues ... not that you don’t mention their drama, but the drama doesn’t define them.”
(Goodman left Ebony in August 2016, days after she talked with Howard Magazine.)
The Howard Woman is ... "enterprising and resilient."
– Ericka Goodman, former fashion editor, Ebony
As Ebony’s lifestyle director, S. Tia Brown (B.A. ’00) melds her savvy as a journalist and a master’s degreed, licensed social worker.
“At Ebony, I write for the relationships sections, the personal finance section and sometimes consult for the entertainment section,” said Brown, who has been an entertainment reporter and is an expert guest on The Dr. Oz Show, CNN and MSNBC.
“I’ve wanted to be in a position where I can help people,” she said. “I knew I wanted to both write for magazines and be a therapist. I love this work.”
Ultimately, she aims for her own TV talk show.
At Howard, Brown said, she was encouraged to believe those kinds of big dreams can come true and to push boundaries of race and gender.
Even now, iconic Ebony faces racial barriers.
“There have been designers who didn’t want to loan us their pieces,” Bobo said. “They’ll have a million and one questions about the fashion shoot. ... I have no problem with having a frank conversation about that with them: ‘Is this how you want to be perceived? Not loaning to the premier publication for Black folks?’”
The Howard Woman "is ... your sister ... role model, wife, secret-keeper, partner in crime, boss."
– S. Tia Brown, lifestyle and entertainment director, Ebony
Kehinde Akiwowo (B.A. ’99), an Ebony account executive, is a soldier in that battle: “My role at the company allows the writers to do whatever they need to do.”
Akiwowo continues: “My choice to be here, working for this publication, is a deliberate one. ... Just as Ebony is at the apex of Black media, Howard is at the apex of Black higher education excellence. My parents planted in me the seed of Black excellence; Howard University germinated that seed.”
The Howard Woman is "... prepared for the world she will step into, both personally and professionally."
– Kehinde Akiwowo, account executive, Ebony Media Operations
Likewise, said Jamilah Lemieux (B.F.A. ’07), a former senior editor at Ebony, Howard “helped me to make real the ideals I held about belonging to the Diaspora and exposed me to some of the most brilliant, gifted people I’d ever hope to know.”
She editorialized mainly about race, gender and sexuality in pop culture and politics: “Black people need strong representation in the media from writers and publications that can speak to our issues, and to us directly. I’m proud to do just that.”
(Lemieux left Ebony in August 2016, weeks after she talked with Howard Magazine.)
The Howard Woman is "... a force to be reckoned with."
– Jamilah Lemieux, former senior editor, Ebony
Serving the audience, and showing advertisers an audience’s value
For Essence magazine, lifestyle and relationships editor Charreah Jackson (B.A. ’07), among other duties, pens a column on living well. It’s laced with lessons she’s gleaned as a cancer survivor, a child of divorce, a child of God and a certified career coach striving daily to live purposefully.
Her Howard experience—she underwent chemotherapy while a student—stoked her fortitude. It helped her view sickness and other seeming defeats as momentary setbacks.
“I had the dream before I got to Howard’s campus. I didn’t have the muscle,” Jackson said. “Howard prepared me, groomed me. And not just in the mechanics of a career. It built my spirit. It sent me out strong.”
The Howard Woman is "... someone who knows her integrity is not for sale."
– Charreah Jackson, lifestyle and relationships editor, Essence
Strength is essential for workers in an industry remaking itself after years of falling revenues, said Essence’s corporate sales director, Kim Smith (B.A. ’90). Part of her work at that organization involves dispelling some non-Black people’s notions of how much currency a Black audience possesses.
Smith said she’s “on the front lines, proving that this audience is ... worth a share of the (advertising) budget ... of (mega-festivals like) Coachella that don’t target or speak to us. ... It’s really exciting to watch what happens once they know this audience is not only a consumer, but an over-consumer of their product, and should be spoken to in a way that makes her feel like she is not taken for granted.”
Likewise, Jackson knows Essence devotees want to be taken seriously, whether they’re shopping for mascara, a job or a mate.
“I’ve always viewed my role as an editor, as a service position,” Jackson said. “We’re providing a place to decompress ... and discuss our relationships ... our health, home, children, grandparents. ... It’s about telling people that the most radical thing you can do is love yourself, love another, love your family.”
The Howard Woman is "... Black girl magic. Personified." – Kim Smith, corporate accounts director, Essence magazine/Essence.com/Essence Music Festival
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 dial-back of the Voting Rights Act, Maya Rhodan (B.A. ’12) told her editors in TIME magazine’s Washington bureau that several layers of that headline- grabbing story needed to be unearthed.
“I said to my bosses, ‘This decision impacts Black people and old people and young people in a particular way.’ It’s not that they weren’t thinking about that,” said Rhodan, the sole Black and youngest woman in that bureau at the time. “But the story I saw was a story that, initially, seemed low-impact to them.”
Her editors at that 93-year-old, international publication gave the go-ahead for Rhodan’s follow-up article on the fuller fallout from the Supreme Court’s ruling. Having to school her white supervisors about what’s in plain view for a Black journalist is one of the burdens she bears and a task she willingly assumes.
“You don’t realize how different perspectives can be,” Rhodan said, “until you are in the room discussing things that are first nature to you but might strike another person—who is not Black and not a woman—in a different way."
The Howard Woman is "... comfortable in her intelligence and in her blackness."
– Maya Rhodan, reporter, TIME magazine, Washington bureau
Tailoring the storytelling
Karen Good Marable (B.A. ’94) is one of those freelancers on whom the news industry increasingly relies.
In summer 2016 alone, the vaunted New Yorker magazine ran her “Remembering Sandra Bland’s Death in the Place I Call Home” essay. ESPN’s The Undefeated ran her news article on how Mississippi’s Black Dancing Dolls aren’t just Lifetime TV reality show characters.
Howard helped give Good Marable confidence to be her own self-directed, clear-eyed boss.
“The common thread is that I’m concerned about Black people,” Good Marable said.
“Those little dancing girls in Jackson, Mississippi—it’s important to know that their dancing is rooted in a culture. That their dancing has everything to do with Mississippi and the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the confederate flag still flying down there and them doing their thing.
“I’m not limiting myself to certain topics— because I do write all kinds of stories. But I am saying these are my favorite kinds of stories. I am here to tell those kinds of stories.”
The Howard Woman is "... exceptional; she made the bold choice of Howard."
– Karen Good Marable, freelance writer