Women of Wednesday: Jenn Jackson on Making Space for Black Women and Preserving Black-Owned Media

WOMEN OF WEDNESDAY is a micro-interview series featuring women of color in various industries and walks of life, focused on highlighting their pursuits and making it easy for readers to support their endeavors. If you would like to be featured, please submit your answers to the below five questions here.

Jenn Jackson, Chicago

1. Tell us about the work you’re doing and why it’s important.

Professionally, I am the Managing Editor at Black Youth Project, a platform dedicated to amplifying the voices and concerns of young Black people through the written word and research projects like the GenForward Survey. I am also the Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos, a blog I co-founded with my partner in 2012 where we cover cultural and political topics concerning nerdy Black millennials.

Academically, I am also a doctoral student at the University of Chicago studying the politics of race, gender, class, and sexuality through a lens of deviance and public spaces. I will be done probably around 2020 so that gives me another three years to tear shit down and disrupt the status quo.

Through my doctoral work and my appointment at the Black Youth Project, I teach Chicago Public School and charter students during the summer about research methods, activism, and social change. I frequently partner with Chicago educators to provide curriculum and models for teaching young people of color about the political conditions and societal frameworks that affect them everyday. Through this work, I empower them with the tools necessary to make change in their own communities.

I am also working to create a nonprofit for young Black women and girls called The Worth Campaign. My goal is to create a mentorship and sisterhood based learning environment where young Black women learn about their worth through magnanimity and community building with other women.

While all of these disparate roles sometime seems totally unrelated, they all point back to my commitment to making space and holding that space for Black women, specifically queer, deviant, unrespectable Black women. That goal animates everything I do.

2. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in pursuing the work that’s important to you?

Growing up in Oakland, California, I learned very early that I would have to grind hard for my goals. I knew that the things I wanted a) would not be given to me, and b) would require an immense amount of labor and dedication.

Getting to undergrad after facing abandonment from my parents, homelessness, and sexual assault was probably the most challenging yet rewarding part of my life. But, it wasn’t necessarily those experiences that were hardest for me. Instead, it has been the consistent exclusion, undermining, gaslighting, and disbelieving of my professional and academic work, thoughts, and aspirations by predominantly white folx for whom the status quo is beneficial.

Frankly, it is tiresome constantly fighting against those forces and it can cause burnout. But, to surmount these issues, I reflect on the words of foremothers like Zora Neale Hurston who once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” I can’t be silent. It is inherently disagreeable to my personhood and philosophical commitments.

3. What do you need in order to continue your work in the way you envision?

I think that, like many other producers of content, I need support for the work that I do online and in my community. I am a manager of Black-owned media. So, support in growing my various platforms, funding the incorporation process for my nonprofit, providing critical assistance for pushing those efforts along is imperative.

Preserving Black-owned and managed media is the only way we can ensure that it continues to exist.

4. Where and how can we support you to make #3 happen?

I definitely think it starts with just reading and sharing content from the various sites I manage. People don’t realize how far that kind of support can go. This means reading and sharing content from my blog and personal website. I also have a few books I am working on that need publishers and agents.

5. What is your favorite quote?

This is really difficult because I have so many favorite quotes. However, I have two main gifts of wisdom from foremothers to whom I credit much of the critical work I have done on my personhood.

The first quote is from Zora Neale Hurston when she said “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” It tickles me because this is the kind of attitude I have. It pushes back against the idea that Black women are unlovable or unworthy of kinship by turning the lens on the haters.

The other quote that I carry with me everyday is from Audre Lorde when she said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” It took me well into my twenties to begin defining myself for myself.

I also have to tag on the crunkest white man in history, Socrates. I always joke that if Socrates were alive today, he and I would be close friends. I approach life in a socratic way, always questioning, never sure of my knowledge, never truly convinced that I have figured things out. My favorite quote that is attributed to him is simply, “Know thyself.” I love this quote because we live in a world that so often tells us to disbelieve ourselves, to devalue our intellectual contributions, and to dismiss our own potential.

I am at the point where I know who I am. I am unfuggwittable. As Ava DuVernay said, “When you’re in your lane, there’s no traffic.” It is so freeing.