Inside ‘Hold The Line,’ A New Publication For Parents Committed To Social Justice

A photo from ‘Hold the Line’ Issue 1
‘Once you move past the initial shock of the world not being what you thought it was, it’s time to take action and do something about it.’

After the Nazi, white nationalist march in Charlottesville, many parents struggled to explain to their children how such inhumanity could take hold of people, and such injustice of a system. For Bellamy Shoffner, these discussions were particularly fraught; her family is black, and the march took place in their own backyard.

A resident of Charlottesville, Shoffner suddenly found herself raising marginalized sons in a place that had become a symbol of vicious bigotry. But far from being defeated, she was inspired by those in town who were taking a stand against hate.

Leveraging her background as a writer, Shoffner decided to join her fellow changemakers by launching an online publication, Hold the Line, to address issues sitting at the intersection of parenting and social justice.

The inaugural January 2018 issue achieves this mission brilliantly, combining a stunning visual layout with stories ranging from candid personal essays (“That Time My Son Called Me A Racial Slur”; “The Calling In of Uncle White”) to handy guides (“Everyday Ways to Add Diversity”; a section devoted to socially conscious gifts for kids). Featured writers, artists, and photographers represent a diverse range of backgrounds, and a share of the profits go to charity.

I spoke with Shoffner about why she decided to launch Hold the Line, the current media landscape for parents, and what’s next for her venture. (Full disclosure: Shoffner is a writer for The Establishment, and hell yes we are promoting her amazing, crucial work.)

Get your hands on the first issue right here.

What inspired you to produce Hold the Line? What’s your mission with the publication?

It is overwhelming to carry the weight of worry as a black woman and also as the partner of a black man and mom to black sons. I can’t say I ever stop worrying about the three of them and the way they are perceived in the world. I thought I could sit back and continue to worry and write the occasional piece about that worry, or I could take a more active stance and reach out to other parents and educators, share our worries, and make plans to turn that fear and concern into meaningful change. When I knew I’d be able to fund a new business, I considered what would make the most impact and be the most rewarding. I thought about going around to schools to do diversity and inclusiveness workshops with kids, but ultimately decided on the magazine for the infinite potential to do good. Not hindered by a schedule or travel, we can reach more people. I asked Selena Wolf Berkley and Kristina Weaver, who have more experience editing, to assist so I could better navigate this new terrain.

Except from ‘Hold the Line’ Issue 1

Why does this magazine matter right now, in this exact political moment?

After the election, I went to my former job, where nearly all of my coworkers were white women in their early twenties and everyone was stunned or crying. I remember thinking how telling it was that my entire life is shaded by the color of my skin, but these sweet, clueless women had no idea racism, bigotry, and just basic disregard for other humans was alive and thriving. On top of their other privileges, they’d lived almost all of their teen years and their entire adult lives with a black president, which is incredible, but not helpful to their world knowledge. I thought about how many other people are out there like them, who are sad and angry about the state of our country, but don’t know what to do next. As a parent, that eventually led to me realizing that many of my mom friends were in this same scenario — just waking up to inequity as a true problem at a systemic level. Once you move past the initial shock of the world not being what you thought it was, it’s time to take action and do something about it.

I intentionally left the name Trump out of the magazine, because I don’t believe every space for healing and activism needs to give him airtime. However, I am wholly aware of his impact and I hope that the voices in Hold the Line help those whose hearts are heavy with the ugly truths of his election and presidency.

What was the inspiration behind the name?

Prior to deciding on “Hold the Line,” I’d spent weeks trying to think of just the right word to be the title; I even asked my kids for input. When I was doing interviews for “What Really Happened in Charlottesville,” one of the people I spoke with, Rachel Zaslow, used the phrase “hold the line” repeatedly. I hadn’t really given the phrase much thought before that day but the imagery, and then the reality of physically or figuratively holding a line and creating a barrier for justice, really struck me.

You pay your contributors for their work. How do you manage this? And why was this important to you?

A light through some unfortunate circumstances is that my husband and I were able to fund production ourselves. I was able to pay writers and some photographers, but I hope to be able to pay more per piece in the future. Writers should be paid by publications who are generating income or otherwise sustaining as a result of the work of the writers. I gained confidence that paying writers is possible and vital, in part, by my work with The Establishment. It’s very cut and dry to me. I can’t reach my goals without the help of others, and I won’t allow myself to take advantage of anyone else. After I was diagnosed (with multiple sclerosis), we seriously struggled to make ends meet. So when I say the coolest thing I bought with my money as a freelancer was food, I really mean it.

What’s your take on the current slate of parenting magazines? How are they failing on the social-justice front? Which publications (if any) are doing a commendable job addressing these issues?

I can admit to having a few years where I was enthralled with mommy chats and birth clubs and trendy parenting magazines that encourage you to cut stars and hearts in your kid’s PB&J. However, at some point, I felt a shift internally that helped me realize the value in being a parent isn’t the ability to buy cute cloth diapers or have internet fights over feeding choices — the value is in raising good people. If parenting magazines are covering social justice now, it’s as a passing thought or an occasional feature. But we know social justice is an all-of-the-time issue. I am sure there are many blogs that take on a sector of social justice and parenting — we have pieces from Woke Mommy Chatter and Chicana M(other)work, to name a couple — but our aim is to take a broad, inclusive in-depth stance on what social justice includes. This means that we’ll have issues of the magazine that include features on gender norms, LGBTQ issues, food equity, sexual harassment, etc. in addition to our ongoing conversations about race and culture.

Part of the profits from the debut issue go to a nonprofit (Mother Health International). Is this something you will be continuing for future issues? How are you selecting who to donate to? Why did you make this decision?

Excerpt from ‘Hold the Line’ Issue 1

Yes! So much of Hold the Line is about making an impact. It’s one thing to get in Twitter fights or have conversations with friends about social issues but it’s another to turn those feelings into action. One way Hold the Line can be an example of that change is through a commitment to giving. Every issue, we’ll donate a portion of profits. Ideally, we can continue to find non-profit directors who can contribute essays to deepen the partnership.

I chose Mother Health International because of my knowledge of the validity of their influence. Sometimes donating can be intimidating; you wonder where your money is going and who will benefit from it. With MHI, I know the statistics of perinatal mortality rates in Uganda and the ways in which MHI is saving lives and changing communities while also respecting their indigenous beliefs. Locally, the executive director of MHI created a doula collective here where perinatal mortality rates for women of color present an ongoing concern.

How often are you looking to publish Hold the Line? Are there any features you’re hoping to introduce down the road?

For the first year, we’ll publish quarterly at minimum. I am considering the benefits of doing special editions or featuring free or low cost downloads of other content. In future issues, I want to prioritize adding content created by kids and increasing the diversity among contributors. We had a wide range for this issue, but I’m aware of the lack of male-identifying voices and I would love to have more black contributors.

What has feedback been like so far?

I feel like gratitude has been the main sentiment. I expect some pushback from some of the topics or suggestions, but that hasn’t come yet. We are all sort of desperate for a chance to tell and read these stories and commit ourselves to meaningful change. The layout is a hit, which is especially awesome because I’m a self-taught designer. There have also been a few requests for Hold the Line in print, which would be pretty dreamy.