All good things: A word from BYP Managing Editor Jenn M. Jackson on transitioning roles
Shout out to growth. Shout out to forward movement. Shout out to living my best life. But first, a little background:
2014 was one of the hardest years of my life. I lost my father. I had just given birth to my third child. After months of attempting to sell our home in southern California, we were having little to no luck. But I was heading to graduate school at the University of Chicago, and the move from California was just going to have to happen on whatever terms that materialized.
When we finally landed in Chicago three years ago, it was bittersweet. I had been looking forward to shifting away from the Corporate America grind and focusing more on my scholarly and writing work. But the trials and tribulations of the move had all but halted my writing career and studies.
That’s why I never expected to become the Managing Editor of BYP in 2015.
I had admired the brand and the work from a distance for a number of years. As I was becoming more politicized, watching the highly publicized deaths and extrajudicial violence against Black people like Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, and so many others, I saw the move to Chicago as an opportunity to more deeply connect with the communities from which I came. I had intended to do this through organizing. But, thanks to the gracious invitation from Dr. Cathy J. Cohen, I was also able to achieve that goal through the written word.
I started out as a contributor in September 2014. Back then, the team was just one web coordinator and a staff of unpaid writers. Over the next few months, a new Managing Editor was hired and I became the publication’s first Editorial Assistant. I spent months writing breaking news and Politics. I got my first viral piece about Hillary Clinton and her tone-deaf campaigning following the massacre at Emanuel AME. Then, the site was hacked in July 2015.
For months, I worked with the Managing Editor to help rebuild and redesign the site. Our traffic dwindled. We lost followers. And, when the Managing Editor made her exit in September, I stepped into the lead role.
From September 2015 to January 2016, BYP consisted of just me and the few freelance writers I was able to continue editing on my own. I spent days, weekends, and evenings crouched over my laptop, editing pieces, fixing images, touching up code, and repairing pages that were damaged during the hack. This work, I squeezed between my first year of graduate coursework and my duties as a partner and mother.
I reorganized the masthead and started hiring new staff writers and editors in spring 2016 and the site just grew. We added interns and fellows to our team. We expanded our topics and coverage. We grew our freelance staff to over 30+ contributors. We went through two site redesigns, the most recent of which was completed just last week.
We. Have. Been. Working.
Over the years, I have had the honor to hire and work with phenomenal editors, writers, and social media coordinators who have gone on to lead incisive work at other, major platforms. My staff of writers and media partners like Victoria Massie (who was my first hire), Liz Adetiba, Alyx Goodwin, Keith Reid-Cleveland, Jordie Davies, Akudo Mez, and the late TJ Henry have offered me respite and sanctuary in an industry that is usually hostile to queer Black women like me. I have also been deeply touched by the passion of our extremely talented, young freelance staff. I am so grateful for their work and their light.
I have had the opportunity to work with talented Black writers, organizers, and activists across the country because of my role with BYP. From invited talks to lectures to news appearances, this platform has opened up opportunities that I once thought impossible. Now, as I look forward toward a greater focus on my scholarship and the doctoral research that I moved to Chicago to complete, I am heartened by the platform that exists today.
I have had the honor of working with my Deputy Editor Hari Ziyad for the past year and couldn’t imagine anyone better to hand over the reigns to. Their unbridled commitment to Black people and our struggle to get free is only rivaled by their writing prowess and command of our living lexicon. I have been honored to learn from them and hope to continue to do so as time passes.
With the additions of Sherronda Brown as the new Deputy Editor and Imani J. Jackson—a long time contributor—as Staff Writer, I am excited about the direction of BYP.
While I have a dissertation to write, conferences to attend, a teaching job to land, and a writing career that I still plan to nurture, I won’t be going very far. You can still find my political commentary here as I step into the role of Politics Columnist for BYP starting in October.
But, beyond the title, my heart is with BYP. Part of me will always be attached to this platform, this city, this work, and this experience.
As I embark on my 33rd year, I promise I will continue to learn and struggle for and with us. Thank you for teaching me.
Jenn M. Jackson
Photo credit: Daren W. Jackson