Browse Tag: #howtomakeitinmedia

Live Podcast: African Women and Girl Storytellers in the Digital Age

On March 13, as part of Women, Action, and the Media (WAM)‘s 4th annual national conference, I’ll be hosting a live podcast about African women in the Diaspora who are using media to subvert mainstream narratives about Africa, “African Women Storytellers in the Digital Age.”


About Women, Action, and the Media (WAM)

Founded in 2004 by writer, educator, and activist, Jaclyn FriedmanWomen, Action, and the Media (WAM) is an independent national nonprofit dedicated to building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media… “Because power and privilege is about who gets to speak and who is listened to. And, most of the time, it’s not women.”

In an effort to nurture local feminist networks and raise awareness of women’s and gender issues in the media, WAM annually coordinates an international convening of activists, journalists, academics, artists and media-makers, all taking some kind of media action at the same time, in various cities across the U.S. and Canada. This year, the conference takes place between March 13-24.

Incidentally, my live podcast is one of two virtual events in the conference lineup. Other events happening include: 

a film screening about sexual violence in the military, a webinar on how to edit Wikipedia, a social networking opportunity for women musicians, and an all-day local conference about feminist media in NYC. Learn more here.

Re-Birth of the Kitchen Table Conversations Podcast

I’ve participated in WAM events for the past six years; specifically, their annual multi-city conferences are fun, educational, and a great excuse for me to reach out to fellow media creators I admire and respect together for smart, insightful, and candid conversation. In fact, the very first podcast I ever hosted (LGBT Africans Speaking on Media, Gender, and Culture) was such a huge hit that it inspired me to create the Kitchen Table Conversations series, a podcast the offers a sneak peek into the lives of activists, artists, and thought leaders.

My travel schedule has made it impossible to maintain the podcast’s consistency, but I certainly credit participating in WAM’s festival with sparking my passion for utilizing the power of media to increase visibility for minority groups, recognizing work that’s overlooked in the mainstream, and creating virtual networks for support and empowerment. And now, I thank them for creating the opportunity for me to revive the Kitchen Table Conversations series.

Follow my SoundCloud and BlogTalkRadio channels for impromptu live and pre-recorded podcasts with my favorite changemakers, coming soon.

Tune in for a Live Podcast about Gender, Media, and the African Diaspora on March 13th

This year, I am so excited to be moderating a conversation about the media’s (mis)representation of Africa/African women and the power of stories to influence and empower. In true kitchen table conversation style, my guests and I will be pontificating on mainstream storytelling about Africa and the role of western media and social media innovations (both on the continent and in the Diaspora) in shaping these narratives. We’ll also, of course, be discussing the panelists’ amazing projects — African journalism, creative feminism, audio storytelling, afropop culture, media advocacy, and more!

Spectra Speaks African Women Storytellers

African Women Storytellers in the Digital Age
Hosted by Spectra Speaks
March 13 @ 6:30 p.m. EST

How are African women currently depicted in the media? If mainstream media were solely responsible for telling Africa’s story, what role would the African woman play? What role can individuals–westerners, Diaspora, Africans on the continent–play in influence new narratives? How are African traditions of oral storytelling honored (or compromised) by the rise of social media? What are some ground-breaking African-led media projects we should be amplifying? And what other/less popular forms of media offer potential for influencing Africa’s narrative?

Follow @spectraspeaks and use the hashtag, #africanwomenmedia to tweet responses to the questions above. Also, feel free to tweet questions you’d like the panelists to explore by using the same hashtag, #africanwomenmedia, as we’ll be dedicating a portion of the discussion to responding to your ideas/questions. You can also submit your questions anonymously, using this form.


Spectra Speaks ProfileSpectra (Host) is a writer, storyteller, and new media consultant whose work focuses on the intersection of media, identity, and social psychology as it occurs in activism and philanthropy. Last year, she successfully crowdfunded Africans for Africa, an independent project that involved travelling through Southern Africa for 6 months, training women-led social impact ventures in new media and technology for storytelling, awareness-raising, and thought leadership. She is the founder and editor of media advocacy organization, QWOC Media Wire,  and the engagement officer of Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), a startup foundation nurturing African philanthropy in the Diaspora. She writes about media, gender, and love at || Twitter: @spectraspeaks, @qwocmediawire, @AiDinnovations

yolanda-sangweni-by-lenyon-whitakerYolanda Sangweni is a South-African born writer and editor. She is the entertainment editor and founder of AfriPOP. Prior to joining Essence, Yolanda worked as a Features editor at TRACE Magazine and contributing writer for Arise Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Time Out New York, O: The Oprah Magazine (South Africa) and Glamour covering music, fashion and culture. AfriPOP! is an online magazine she started in 2008 with partner Phiona Okumu to highlight contemporary African youth culture, music, fashion and film from an Afropolitan perspective. She calls AfriPOP! a labor of love, “a celebration of our innovativeness, our funkiness, our style, our possibilities as children of Africa.” || Twitter: @afripopmag

Arao AremyArao Amenyfrom Lira, in northern Uganda, is a trained print and online journalist covering African immigrant issues in New York City. She ithe Founder and Executive Director of the Association of African Journalists and Writers (AAJW), a unified platform for African journalists to connect; collaborate; and promote better reporting and understanding of Africa and African communities. She is also the Social Media Editor at United Nations Africa Renewal magazine, a print and online publication produced by the Africa Section of the UN Department of Public Information, and Social Media consultant at the Africa-America Institute (AAI), a non-profit dedicated to promoting engagement between African immigrants and the U.S.. || Twitter: @araoameny, @AAJWnewyorkcity

Amina DohertyAmina Doherty is a young Nigerian feminist activist and artist whose work focuses on feminist philanthropy and creative arts for advocacy. Prior to her role as the Coordinator at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, Amina worked at the women’s rights grant-making program at the Sigrid Rausing Trust in London, the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington D.C., and the London-based creative network, Arts & Business. Amina brings to her activism a passion for music, art, travel and poetry, which she chronicles via her blog, Following Her Footsteps. She’s is a self-taught painter, DJ-in-the-making, and freelance writer for several magazines across the Caribbean. || Twitter: @sheroxlox, @FRIDAFund

Selly Thiam

Selly Thiam is an oral historian whose work has appeared on NPR, PBS and in the New York Times. Raised in Chicago by her Senegalese immigrant father and American-born mother, Thiam graduated from Columbia College, Chicago, with a B.F.A. in Creative Writing, and later received an MA in International Journalism from CUNY, Graduate School of Journalism. She is the founder and Executive Director of None on Record, a digital media project documenting the stories of Africans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. She was a producer for the Storycorps Oral History Project and PBS’ Learning Matters, and a Carnegie Fellow at the ABC News Investigative Unit. || Twitter: @sellythiam, @noneonrecordGot a question you’d like a guest to respond to? Submit your question using the #africanwomenmedia hashtag on Twitter, or leave a comment below! Alternatively, you can use this form to submit your question anonymously

Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise

I recently spent some time reflecting on my work as a media activist and advocate.

This reflection came partly in preparation for my feature at New York University’s “Making it in Media” panel, a lunchtime panel series that provides an opportunity for students interested in careers in media to connect with media professionals of diverse backgrounds.

I had been looking forward to sharing my experience as a media activist with students, and hopefully, making a case for the importance of alternative media as a tool for advocacy as well as a worthwhile career path. But as the event approached, and I tried to think about what I’d say to students who were just starting out, I realized I wasn’t quite clear on what I would say exactly.

My career path in media hasn’t been linear or conventional by any means.

I went to MIT to study Mathematics, which I thoroughly enjoyed before realizing that I really enjoyed writing and had to “come out” to my parents as an artist hoping to end up with a liberal arts degree from a science school. (It went well, considering…)

In an effort to earn my stripes as a certified nerd (and rid myself of immigrant parent guilt — “you mean we sacrificed so much for you to attend the best science school just for you to be a “writer”?), I worked in the software industry for about five years. I hated it. Yes, hated it. So I channeled all the frustration that came with working 60-70 hr work weeks into my passion for new media and social justice, which culminated in my founding and growing a social networking organization for Queer Women of Color in Boston, then later on, QWOC Media Wire, a media hub for LBTQ women of color and the Diaspora.

When the recession hit and I lost my job, I realized I still had a reason to get up every day and ‘go to work.’ My organization had grown, and was receiving national exposure due to our social media campaigning efforts. So, even though I wasn’t getting paid for my work (whether as a writer or activist) the show had to go on.

With new media as my focus, I continued down the path of social justice, and very quickly, the successes in my community work earned me a reputation for “applying” what I knew about media and diversity. People started inviting me to come speak, train, coach on how to use social media for thought leadership, community outreach,  and online fundraising. I couldn’t work with everyone that asked, so I relaunched this blog, and began writing about the issues I was working on, sharing my ideas.

What Does Success in Alternative Media Look Like?

Flash forward a few years, and here I am with an international blog readership, a few more accolades, and the privilege of making a decent living through various writing, consulting, and media projects for good.

I raised over $15,000 in less than 30 days for my Africans for Africa project this year; I was just offered a contract position to advise a prominent foundation on how to re-write their site’s content to make it snappier, more engaging, and reflective of their brand; and I’m constantly invited to sit on panels that indicate people think I know a thing or two about “How to Make It In Media.”

I know my parents are proud of me, but I’m also pretty sure that this isn’t quite what they had in mind when they dropped me off at college. They hadn’t banked on my tendency to strive to be the best at nearly everything I did to manifest as my becoming the “gayest Nigerian ever” (seriously, my site stats report that this is what someone searched for one day and found my blog). And, to be honest, this isn’t what I’d imagined my life would be like either. Thus, when people ask me, “How does one make it in media, exactly?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.

I get emails all the time from younger people who want to know how it is that I get to do what I do. What did I study? What courses would I recommend? How do they get started in their own media careers?

What to tell them when my own “career path” (it feels so weird to even think of it that way!) hasn’t been straight-forward? I don’t have the answers. I’m not even sure I can say that I’ve actually “made it”. I posed the question of #howtomakeitinmedia on Twitter followers and got a few great responses. I’ll share my favorite one from Soli Philander:

“I think what’s most important is to define what “Making It In Media” means for you.”

Because I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life, “Making It In Media”, for me, has meant using media to connect with “my people”, whether African women, Nigerian feminists, LGBTI Diaspora, queer bois, and more, for the purpose of affirming each other’s experiences, growing and healing together.

“Making It In Media” has meant being able to build for myself and others, a support network, so we all can feel less alone, using my voice to advocate for people who don’t have as much access to resources as I do, filling the spaces between the black and white of political agendas with the personal stories that are often missing from policy implementation, a result which when botched, impacts marginalized communities the most.

“Making It In Media” for me means nurturing a younger generation of women (and other marginalized people) to claim their right to their own histories, by writing it; equipping them with one of the most powerful ideas I’ve ever received — that we do not need to sit around waiting to be written about; we can write our own histories, influence policy, and change the world from where we are.

And yes, “Making It In Media” means, also, one day, being interviewed by Ellen. Maybe for winning a Pulitzer.  That’s obviously nowhere near happening yet, but I’m working on it. ;)

So You Want to Make It In Media: Now What?

I don’t know what “Making It In Media” means to you — you who are still reading this, and I might guess, are interested in doing the same. I don’t know where you should begin or where you are. But, I do know this: regardless of who you are, or what your parents wanted you to be, irrespective of what you studied or didn’t study in college, whether or not you event went to college, if you can’t find your ideal job description at your school’s career fair or on Craigslist, you absolutely possess the power, more now than ever, to transform what you love into what you do for a living.

I’m more fulfilled in my work as a writer and media activist than I ever would have been as just another ivy league consultant on wall street. I’ve met smart, passionate, inspiring people from all walks of life who have taught and given me so much. The passion and drive I have for helping others has been so rewarding, and I know it will continue to be as long as I remain true to myself, and lead from within. Maya Angelou puts it best: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

So I offer this to you: Don’t drive your career with someone else’s rear view mirror. Don’t tailgate an externally constructed ambition or let someone else’s version of success distract you from the most important driver on the road… you. 

This is especially true for people you look up to. It’s easy to compare yourself–especially in media–to others who may seem more visible (more press mentions), more influential (more followers), more “successful” than you. Resist the urge to veer off your path chasing someone else, whose destination you do not know.

Be the center that guides your trajectory. Shine brightly enough from within and your path will become clearly illuminated ahead of you. And when that happens, follow it.

Follow it even though it feels endless and like you’re headed nowhere. Follow it when you’re the only one on that road and you see no other cars next to you. Follow it when the voices in your head tell you that it’s time to give up, admit that you’re wrong and turn around. Don’t turn around. Follow it, and one day you will arrive at your very own version of paradise.

I have spent years navigating awkward relationships with my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would invest so much time and energy into something that wasn’t helping me pay my bills. There were times when I went weeks with just eating ramen noodles because I couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. I worked jobs I hated, took gigs that paid me a fraction of what I was worth. I doubted myself whenever a classmate, or a close friend got a promotion, bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation; whenever my straight friends would ask me why I write so much about LGBT issues all the time, “Isn’t it pigeon-holing you?”

I would ask myself over and over again each morning, “What are you doing?” But what’s most important is that I could always answer, “I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it as me.” When you are down in the trenches of your own epic movie, and there’s no one to look to for inspiration (for fear of jealousy, envy, or that they’ll see that you’re not quite so sure of yourself), all you have is your own voice. Make sure it’s always honest. Make sure it’s always true to you. Listen to it. Lead with it. And you’ll make it, not the right way, but your way, and find all the love, fulfillment, and pride you were denied in your journey, waiting for you at your destination.

I haven’t “made it”. But I’m proud to say that the gains I have made came with authenticity and integrity; all of me. I’m relieved to know that I will never have to fragment myself to fit into anyone else’s narrow lane, because from the very beginning, I promised to find my own way. I wish for so many of you, the same exact thrill.

Safe journey.

Now, because I do feel strongly about giving out practical advice, I’d also like to share some grounding principles I’ve acquired and tweaked during my “career” that have helped me gain the visibility and influence I do have in my own lane. Check them out via the post “Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist“. I hope you find them useful.

But hey, before you go, leave a comment so I know you’re listening, or relate. It’s always good to know that I’m not the only crazy driver trying to find my way off the main road. :) 

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