Reporting While Russell

Here’s an essay I wrote for my Public Affairs Reporting class that I felt was worth sharing.

From a very young age I knew that I wanted to work in fashion. I spent hours as a young girl sketching dresses and exploring my seamstress grandmother’s file cabinets full of patterns. At that age, I thought the only way to work in fashion was to be a designer, so that’s what I wanted to be. As I got older, though, I discovered an equally strong love for writing. At first I wasn’t sure had I’d converge my passions, but as a freshman in high school I was introduced to the idea of fashion journalism by my English teacher. 

As I grew older I learned of oppression based on race, gender, sexual orientation and wealth. Exploring the hardships that marginalized people like myself have faced in the past and the systems that continue to work against them led me to discover another passion: activism. Again, I wasn’t sure how I’d combine all my interests. However, as I’ve learned at Howard University, the journalist’s role is to serve the people. Because of this, I believe honestly reporting on the flaws of the industry is one of my responsibilities as a fashion journalist. In order to do that kind of work on an impactful scale, though, I decided that I needed to be a fashion editor with the influence to create content as well as lead others to create content that with marginalized people in mind.

My other responsibility as a fashion journalist is just as much to the individuals who religiously patronize the industry as it is to the businesses that make up the industry. Among those who view clothes only for their day to day utility and are uninterested in fashion, the industry is often thought to be simply vain and superficial, but I aim to produce work that can change that. My love for fashion compels me to address it from a historical and political perspective in addition to the cultural perspective to highlight its significance. 

All of this culminated to create what now stands as my ultimate goal. I aspire to become a fashion editor who by emphasizing fashion as a cultural, historical and political topic can simultaneously combat cultural insensitivity in the industry and elevate the public perception of the industry beyond just vanity. The work that I hope to do will positively affect the way people of color’s cultures are used and represented in fashion and media as well as highlight fashion as a serious historical discipline. 

I believe this gives me a unique perspective as a journalist because although I am certainly not the first journalist to report on fashion with such goals, I believe there is a serious need for those voices to be amplified and although I would still be happy if it was done before I was able to, I want to be the one to amplify them, which is why I aim to be an editor rather than a reporter. 

I am very aware, though that the reality is that the work I want to do will be difficult. Even if I wanted to be a general assignment reporter I’d have to work past the barriers that come along with being a Black woman journalist. It is simply a reality that being respected in any workplace as a marginalized individual can be a challenge. Then, there’s the added fact that I want to write about the issues that affect me. The problem here is I know I’ll be labeled as an “angry Black woman.” During a panel on campus, I asked Gillian B. White of The Atlantic how she dealt with this and she told me by relying on the facts. She said as long as she knew her reporting was based on facts the irrationality implied by the angry Black woman trope was invalidated. This sentiment has been echoed in Public Affairs Reporting, giving me the confidence to believe I’ll be able to produce despite the inevitable adversity. 

On the other side of the coin, I’m also aware that my choosing to report on race issues probably reinforces the false expectation that all Black journalists want to report on race. I feel slightly guilty about this, but I hate the fact that I have to. One of my least favorite things about being a minority is being thought of as a spokesperson for my entire race. Obviously, all Black people aren’t going to agree with me on everything and just because I want to write about race doesn’t mean all Black reporters do but people some people are either still obtuse enough to believe that or choose to pretend to be.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Presidential Shift

When I was in fourth grade my mother took me out of school for the day, wrapped me in my winter coat and made me stand in line to hear Barack Obama speak. I vividly remember the crowd of people rushing to hear him in downtown Raleigh’s Halifax Mall. I remember us chanting “that ain’t right” throughout his speech, jokingly mirroring the 2003 film “Head of State.”

I also remember the night the Black senator we stood in the cold to see became President Barack Obama. I was excited because everyone around me was excited, but having only lived ten years I couldn’t possibly have comprehended just how big that moment was. 

I grew up in the Obama era. During the years of my adolescence, while my entire life paradigm was being shaped, a Black man ran the oval office. That doesn’t mean I was ignorant to racism or discrimination. I grew up in the south and my mother always made sure I understood (and loved) what it meant to be Black. However, I still grew up with a capacity for hope those before me didn’t think was possible because nearly every time I turned on the television, I could see a Black first family. 

Then I turned 18. Now legally an adult, I was excited to take part in my first election. Like many others, I initially wrote Donald Trump off as a contender. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, but even once he lost I was sure Trump wouldn’t be able to defeat Hillary Clinton.

By this point, I was a few months into my first semester at Howard University. I was a young Black woman extremely aware of racial discrimination, not only against my own race but all people of color, but I grew up during an age of optimism and now lived in a tiny world filled with people who for the most part looked and thought like me. On November 8, 2016 my bubble popped. 

Donald Trump was elected president. I sat in my school’s student center where I had attended an election night viewing party surrounded by peers, all equally shocked. I didn’t go to class the next day, I was too numb. As the haze of confusion lifted it was replaced with anger. Anger with myself for being so naive, anger with those around me for collectively forgetting the silent majority and especially anger with all my peers who didn’t take the election seriously and took the write-in section as an invitation to make jokes.  

What followed was months of upsetting news story after upsetting news story. This was particularly frustrating for me as a journalism major. Living in the Obama era wasn’t perfect, but it gave us grand ideas of the future. Living in the Trump era is far from perfect and has us almost scared to ask what’s next. 

Now as we begin to move into the 2020 election, it’s hard to know how to feel. There are currently 18 Democrats and four Republicans, including Trump, officially running in next year’s election. It’s overwhelming, not only because of the ridiculous number of candidates I now have to research, but also because the last election was so devastating. I was so sure I knew what to expect, but I was wrong, so going into this election I don’t know if I should expect anything. 

Politics has become a bit of a circus and it’s easy to just decide to ignore it due to its complicated and frustrating nature. However, if the 2016 election taught us anything, it’s the importance of paying attention and acting. Trump’s presidency should not have brought about a feeling of resignation, but a spirit of determination comparable only to the spirit of hope brought about by Obama’s presidency. 

“Sustainable” vs. “Carbon Neutral”

In response to growing reports of the fashion industry’s wastefulness, many brands have adopted the philosophy of sustainability. The problem with “sustainability,” though is that it’s presenting more as a vague buzz word, rather than an action.

Many large companies have introduced “sustainable” lines and many smaller companies are building their entire brands around the idea, but there aren’t many real restrictions on what the label actually means.

The Environmental Law Institute noted recently the term “sustainability” was first introduced in environmental policy discourse in 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future. The report defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

However, the leaders of the Environmental Law Institute say the term still “suffers from ambiguity that must be overcome if governmental and private-sector decision makers are to optimize the concept’s potential.”

Instead of giving concrete requirements for the use of the word sustainability, the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides advise marketers on making environmental claims without deceiving customers.

Unlike “sustainability,” “carbon neutral” is a more concrete term that some luxury brands are beginning to strive towards.

In June, Burberry announced plans to be more responsible when it comes to carbon emissions and has since followed up by declared that its Spring/Summer 2020 show, “has been certified as carbon neutral.” Gucci announced that it would be completely carbon neutral by the end of September, including in-house operations and outside suppliers. Gabriela Hearst also announced that it offset its Spring/Summer show emissions.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the fashion industry is responsible for “around 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.”

However, “carbon neutral” tends to be less about actually cutting back means of production and more about finding ways to offset emissions.

“The only way we can have zero emissions is to shut our business,” said Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri.

In order to reach carbon neutrality, brands are funding projects such as building wind farms, truck stop electrification and planting trees.

“Credits to help fund these projects are proving a popular initiative for fashion brands that want to be more ecologically sound and achieve carbon neutrality, while still manufacturing garments and accessories, and staging runway shows,” reports The Fashion Law.

However, one major hurdle brands face if they want to become truly carbon neutral is calculating just how much greenhouse gases they produce.

According to The Fashion Law, “The inability of brands to adequately gauge their individual emissions is a critical element in the equation since carbon neutrality requires companies to determine the scale of their emissions in order to offset them.”

So the truth is fashion isn’t doing much to change its wasteful habits. Is achieving neutrality by balancing out the bad with good really going to be effective? It’s hard to tell. However, the fact that millennial and Gen Z consumers tend to be more environmentally conscious and seek brands they can connect with more holistically may be the motivation the industry needs to make substantial change.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Howard Students Attend Pharrell’s ‘Something In The Water’ Festival

Here’s my coverage of Something in the Water 2019 originally published in The Hilltop

Pharrell welcomed fans from all over to his hometown of Virginia Beach for the first-ever Something in the Water Festival on April 26, 27 and 28. The festival included performances from numerous big names in music spanning across various genres, engaging discussions with industry leaders and artists and various activities open to the public. The massive event took over Virginia Beach from 5th Street to 26th Street as well as some of the surrounding blocks.

After severe weather hit the beach on Friday, April 26 the day’s performances had to be canceled and festival-goers were promised 33 percent refunds, leaving many fans worried about whether or not they’d miss the acts slated for that day. The performers with solo sets were unable to ever take the stage, but many of those included in Pharrell & Friends still made it to the stage Saturday.

During Pharrell’s set he was joined by Snoop Dogg, Charlie Wilson, Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Diddy, Busta Rhymes and Usher. Tyler, The Creator and Jay-Z also took the stage to the surprise of the fans in the audience.

Pharrell, Timbaland, Missy Elliot and Pusha-T, who performed Sunday, April 28, are all natives of Virginia’s seven cities: Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Newport News and Hampton, which made the weekend particularly exciting to natives. During the Pharrell & Friends set, Missy and Diddy both compared SITW to Greek Fest, a 1980’s Virginia Beach tradition which many Black natives say ended because of racial discrimination.

“As a Virginia Beach native, I can honestly say that the 757 has never seen something like that,” said junior journalism major Rebecca Johnson. “To see the greatness that we produce was remarkable and I’ll forever love Pharrell for what he has done for us and what he continues to do.”

Other performers included A$AP Ferg, SZA, Travis Scott, Jhene Aiko, DRAM and Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals. Sony also offered festival-goers a chance to view their latest technology throughout the weekend. At the Timberland lounge area guests were asked to pledge to do their part in saving the planet and at the Adidas lounge guests could customize their sneakers.

On Sunday, there was a pop-up church service including sermons and performances by local church and college choirs as well as performances by Israel Houghton and Tye Tribbett. Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary were also meant to perform but high winds Sunday night put an early end to the festivities.

Despite the rapidly changing weather, fans remained enthusiastic throughout the weekend and left ready to return next year as Pharrell made it clear that SITW will be back.

“Overall the festival was 10 out of 10,” said junior marketing major Taylor Ellison. “Pharrell really put his heart into and it shows. I will definitely be attending next year.”

City officials also noted the weekend as a success. The festival took place in conjunction with College Beach Weekend and initial reports showed that “serious crime” had gone down in comparison to recent College Beach Weekends.

“Initial early indicators are that the numbers are trending in the downward notion, so that’s a great thing, especially with the increase in people we had here,” said Deputy City Manager Steve Cover.

Following the festival Pharrell shared images on social media of fans enjoying the festival as well as cleaning up the beach once it ended.

Revenge of the Dreamers

Here’s my coverage of Dreamville Festival 2019 originally published in The Hilltop

Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, NC welcomed 40,000 music lovers on Saturday, April 6 for the first-ever Dreamville Festival. The sold-out festival, which was originally scheduled for September 2018 but postponed due to Hurricane Florence, featured J. Cole’s entire Dreamville record label as well as Rapsody, Teyana Taylor, Nelly, Big Sean, 21 Savage and SZA with Cole as the headliner.

Cole’s love for his hometown of Fayetteville and the state of North Carolina is a common theme throughout his music. The day-long festival was an ode to the state filled with moments of familiarity for North Carolinians such as myself, including being shuttled to the festival on school buses through the campus of local historically Black university Shaw University and the on-site food trucks serving Southern cuisine reminiscent of Raleigh’s downtown food truck rodeos.

“The festival offers an opportunity for J. Cole to give back to his home state that has helped shape the artist he has become with a one-of-a-kind celebration of local culture, food and art,” states the Dreamville Festival website.

While the Carolina theme was obviously prevalent, Cole fans from all over were able to appreciate the day which was three years in the making logistically, but seemingly a lifetime in the making for Cole.

“Dreamville Fest was so special to me as a fan, just witnessing Cole be able to bring his dreams to fruition, not only for himself but for his team and his community,” said junior psychology and math double major Stacia King. “Everything was so purposeful, from the shuttle bus routes to the Black food vendors. He’s really making his state proud.”

One of the highlights of the festival was the pause Cole took when he first came to the stage, seemingly in awe at the crowd of fans filling the 308-acre park in support of his dream, Dreamville. Other highlights included numerous dedications to the late Nipsey Hussle throughout the day as artists Teyana Taylor, Big Sean and Cole took time out of their sets to remember the rapper and activist as well as a surprise performance by Meek Mill.

“Dreamville Fest was crazy, man. The vibe, the people, everything. Every artist did their thing and the energy was incredible,” said junior marketing major Jalen Rose. “I’ve been listening to Cole for at least the past decade so to hear the songs live was definitely an experience to remember.”

The festival was also thought to be a success by city officials who considered Dreamville a chance to test Raleigh’s capacity for such a large-scale event.

“The city definitely had a great experience with Dreamville,” said Joseph Voska, program supervisor for Dix Park at a Monday afternoon press conference. “We wanted a test to see what this area of Raleigh, what Dix Park, with downtown Raleigh — how would it all come together? As future opportunities come up for the city of Raleigh, how did we handle it? And what we’ve seen so far, we handled it pretty well.”

Following the festival the city cited no major medical or safety issues and traffic within their expectations, creating a promising outlook for Dreamville Festival 2020 as it was announced at the festival that this will become an annual event.

“If you didn’t go this year, make sure you go next year,” said senior legal communications major Brittany Read.

“Get Out” vs. “Us”

Here’s a short essay I wrote for a film class and felt was worth sharing. Oh and, *SPOILER ALERT*

Jordan Peele’s sophomore film “Us” was understandably highly anticipated after the success of his first film, “Get Out.” “Get Out” was scary, witty and most importantly Black. The entire rollout of the film was intriguing; I remember being unsure if the movie was even real after viewing the trailer for the first time. Fortunately, it was very real and very good. The subtle humor and horror specific to the Black community and all the clues that slowly came together made for a viewing experience that remains uniquely satisfying even two years after the film’s release. Because of this, I along with everyone else I know had high expectations for “Us.” Sadly, those expectations weren’t met.

For me, “Us” was just okay. It lacked the subtle humor of “Get Out” and as a fan of horror films, it definitely wasn’t scary. What’s worst of all, though, is that it was so predictable. I knew from the moment Adelaide saw her doppelganger in the funhouse that the two had been switched. Her inability to talk to or connect with her parents after that night confirmed it for me way before we reached the big “plot twist” at the end. The entire movie I waited for something to shock me and nothing really did. I certainly won’t say it was bad, just disappointing in comparison to “Get Out.” “Get Out” was an engaging ride that kept me thinking the entire film.

More importantly, “Get Out” answered all my questions and connected all the dots before the credits rolled; it even answered questions and connected dots I hadn’t even thought of. “Us,” on the other hand, left far too many questions for my liking. Maybe I’m thinking too practically for a movie but if the government created the tethered wouldn’t they have some kind of defense system in place? Why would the tethered be able to come to the surface so easily that young Adelaide was able to just wander there? What exactly are the rules of when characters can control the actions of their doppelgangers? There were just far too many loose ends for my liking. I understand that sometimes things are purposely left up to the imagination of the audience, but at some point too many unanswered questions are just plot holes.

As one of my classmates mentioned during our discussion, “Get Out” was Peele’s baby that he worked on for years while “Us” clearly got less attention. Again, I don’t think “Us” is a bad movie. The concept was certainly interesting and it features some great cinematography and acting, but it just didn’t live up to “Get Out” for me. In all fairness, though, “Get Out” was a hard act to follow. However, in both films it felt good to see Blackness centered. Even though “Us” wasn’t about race, the family was a Black family who listened to hip-hop on road trips and featured a Howard alumnus father and mother with natural hair. I believe this was a beautiful step towards normalizing Blackness in films that aren’t purely “Black movies.” Jordan Peele’s recent statement that he has no intention of casting a white male lead any time soon has only made me more excited for what he’ll create next.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Redefining Protest

The recent PR fiascos in fashion took no break for Black History Month. In fact, some even felt that brands had decided to use the month as an opportunity to stir up some buzz by antagonizing the Black community. Balmain’s late January blackface incident, Gucci’s questionable sweater design and Burberry’s blatantly bizarre use of a noose on the runway caused understandable outrage on social media.

As with all social media conversations sparked by outrage, boycotting inevitably came up. Most people seem to agree that if brands can’t be culturally sensitive then they don’t deserve the Black dollar, yet it still seems boycotting is something that’s hard for us to commit to.

Just as everyone else, arguably even more, luxury brands are an aspiration for much of the Black community. Labels are a symbol of wealth and as an oppressed people, it feels good to look and feel upper-class occasionally; furthermore, for those who have obtained substantial wealth it feels good to finally flaunt. This is why there are countless Gucci and Prada references in hip-hop.

In the spirit of protest, though, Young MA says at the end of her “Thotiana” remix, “we ain’t buying Gucci, we ain’t buying Prada,” likely referencing the aforementioned Gucci sweater as well as Prada keychains that went viral in December 2018 for similar reasons.

However, when discussing protests we may have to broaden how we view the issue. I saw someone on Twitter note that Black people can’t protest luxury brands because we buy knockoffs instead of the real thing. While I think it’s important to note that everyone buys knockoffs, not just Black people, this got me thinking about the stigma behind fake luxury pieces, because although they’re common they’re still a source of shame.

What Dapper Dan proved over 30 years ago, though, is that it doesn’t matter if its authentic as long as it fly. His now iconic work was often made from knockoff materials because at the time high-end brands had no interest in this Black man’s shop in Harlem. He was a pest who received numerous cease and desist letters.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’re simultaneously looking for an effective means of protest while shaming people wearing fake labels. To me, the answer is evident. While I obviously see that value in authentic fashion and wouldn’t normally encourage counterfeits, there is no protest in doing what you should and normally would do.

 

Be the zeitgeist.