Don’t Know Where to Start? Follow #Woke100

Listen to Black Women. They got this.

Vanessa K. DeLuca and April Reign at PopTech, 2016.

Last October, I attended the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine. It was the 20th anniversary of the conference, and the FIRST TIME a woman was a co-host, the actress and artist Carly Chaikin. (A CO-host. She still needed a man up there with her apparently. A woman is the president of the org, f — k patriarchy, I digress. Anyways!) It’s a conference that is centered on design thinking, science and tech solutions, and in the case of this past fall, the theme was called Culture Clash. The attendees were well over 60% white and male, and having driven to Camden from Connecticut through a sea of Trump signs, I was in a foul mood and not convinced I could glean anything positive from yet another conference of mostly white liberal do-gooders who were still in denial about what was about to happen in the election.

I took a spin through the program and found some solace and reason for excitement: April Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite was a speaker. I have been IN AWE of her since she started the hashtag back in 2015, which called out Hollywood and the Academy for its all-white acting nominees, and then, it happened AGAIN in 2016. As a result of her work and the movement it created, the Academy instigated a massive overhaul of membership recruitment and retention, and Hollywood as a whole began to listen to the audiences demanding that their stories be told by people who look like them. At PopTech, April would be in conversation with Vanessa DeLuca, the editor in chief of Essence Magazine. (I was not familiar with her, so I followed her on Twitter and read some of her editor’s letters. I got psyched.)

The best thing about conferences is the opportunity to meet and talk in person with people whose work you admire. My problem tends to be that right when I have that opportunity, the introvert in me takes over, telling me to be polite and not bother people like April. Oh I hovered a few times as people were chatting her up and she engaged intently, but as they rambled, I would slink back and grab another snack as a prop to seem busy and tell myself THEY were rude for talking her ear off. Envy is dumb.

At the final party, I meandered around trying to find her, my introvert incessantly telling me to go back to the hotel and the internet immediately if not sooner. I went to a bar in the back and was bellied up next to Vanessa K. De Luca. Some election-related nonsense was wafting in earshot, and we both looked at each other, like, “This is really going down isn’t it? It’s gonna be him.”

We ended up talking nonstop for almost two hours.

Partying was loud and raging all around us, but we just talked and talked about the election, about the conference, about life. I admitted I was an April fangirl, we laughed a lot, she was gracious and funny and amazing, and the next day when she and April changed the topic of their talk from representation of women in color in media (very important!) to what does diversity and inclusion actually mean for spaces like PopTech, I had to pinch myself that I was in the presence of their greatness and their easy courage to tell it like it is. (You can hear me cheering on the video.)

Today, Vanessa’s magazine Essence rolled out their May feature in honor of their 47th anniversary — 100 Woke Women. It should not be any surprise that Vanessa and her team continue to knock it out of the park promoting and celebrating the groundbreaking, tenacious, creative, beautiful, loving and critical work of black women and women of color, but this list is overwhelming in how it both centers them and provides inspiration for the rest of us to find our work, namely to follow the lead of THESE WOMEN — who by the way, voted overwhelmingly (94%!) for Hillary.

Do yourself a favor: buy this magazine when it hits newsstands on Thursday. Read about these 100 women. Follow them on social media. Read their work. LISTEN to them. Embrace your discomfort and make space when they speak the truth about systemic racism and misogynoir and their children killed by police. (Pro tip — turn to a white friend to express the discomfort, it’s not the job of these women to coddle you. They need us working, not crying.) Let’s do what they say. They got this.

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