In eighth grade, I remember learning about the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. And then learning about the 1964 murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, three civil rights workers who were working on voter registration in Mississippi as part of the Freedom Summer Project. When people were looking for their bodies, they found the bodies of many other African-Americans who had been missing. It devastated me to know that there are thousands of others who had been murdered, whose names we will never know. From that moment forward, I knew I’d spend a big part of my life documenting our journey.
In 1909, W.E.B Du Bois was among the founders of the NAACP and from 1910 to 1934 he served as director of publicity and research, a member of the board of directors, and founder and editor of The Crisis. One of the main reasons Du Bois created The Crisis was that the mainstream media was not writing about lynching. He has always been a big inspiration to me. In 1903, he prophetically stated: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” I think we can say today that the problem of the twenty-first century remains the problem of the color line.
I’m responsible for all of the operations of The Crisis. This includes assigning and editing content, reviewing pitches and queries, and working with a dynamic art team on design and layout. For example, I manage and supervise a team of 30-40 talented, mostly minority, freelance consultants including writers, editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, graphic designers, social media strategists and online producers. I work with freelance writers in shaping stories and provide guidance and direction to our social media team and digital editors. One of my most important roles is making sure that we highlight the work of the NAACP. The nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization is needed now more than ever and part of my charge is to make sure our readers know how the Association is still in the trenches fighting for our rights and changing lives.
There are the tough topics of social justice, health disparities, income inequality, the wealth gap, the digital divide, criminal justice reform. The mass incarceration of African Americans—the list goes on. But there are also uplifting topics around individuals such as the first African American woman to lead the Girl Scouts or the first black president of NASCAR. Every day there are firsts, and every day there are trailblazers. We love to give opportunities to African American writers to cover issues they are passionate about and may not get the chance to write anywhere else. The opportunity to communicate through a publication that serves activists and advocates means a lot to me.
When The Crisis was created in 1910, it was created as a for-profit entity. We used the magazine as a tool to raise money for NAACP programs like our Civic Engagement Program and our Criminal Justice Program.
Over the years, the cost of printing the magazine and the postage required to deliver magazines to our 200,000 subscribers became prohibitively expensive. So, we started looking into digital publishing as a way to reduce costs while continuing to engage our subscribers. Then, as we looked into Issuu, we saw many opportunities to repurpose NAACP content—not just The Crisis content—to a wider variety of audiences. We saw that we could embed videos to make our content more exciting, promote content on social media, share links, embed the digital magazine on our website, and so on. For example, it’s nice to be able to embed videos of our popular virtual town hall meetings for those who can’t attend in person on the day of the events. And, it’s great to be able to make corrections to The Crisis and other content and simply re-upload it.
We created a special feature on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the African American community. It includes a story on mental health and how people are coping during the pandemic. Many minority populations and essential workers do not have access to mental health practitioners. We also covered Black entrepreneurs and how they are coping with the economic downturn. There’s a story about prisons. The prison population is made up primarily of minority populations, yet social distancing is nearly impossible in that setting. In addition, we wrote about the heartbreak of hard-hit nursing homes and the inability of the elderly to have physical contact with their families during this crisis.
We’ve received really good feedback. The digital version is convenient, interactive, and accessible on mobile. There are still a few subscribers who want to receive hard copies, so we keep a small stack for people who prefer print. Many of these NAACP members are people who’ve been in the Civil Rights movement a very long time and may not have access to a computer.
Our website traffic has increased by 77 percent because people are looking for stories about social justice, racism, discrimination, and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. They are also looking for information about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on minorities and specifically on African Americans. And they want information about potential coronavirus vaccines and testing among African Americans. As you know, there’s distrust of the medical community due to horrors like the Tuskegee Experiment.
It’s still early days in terms of digital publishing for us, but the main thing is to reach a broader audience across a wider variety of platforms and provide a richer, more interactive experience.