While I am probably writing this for myself, I hope it inspires some and gives others a birds-eye view into my thought process as I write. Writing, whether it be a book, an article, an editorial, or an op-ed, one thing is for sure, it is a very therapeutic process for me, but comes with its own set of challenges.
For instance to do Black Westchester, beyond giving people the straight facts in the news, the experimental project we call Black Westchester challenges me to create pictures with words and reach, educate, inspire and uplift people without the assistance of other artistic media. What do I mean you may ask? Movies and television give the watcher visuals to connect with, to see the images that evoke emotions. Music, which was my first career – where I painted pictures with words over a dope beat – gives you sounds that can create and evoke emotions. But to accomplish the same without the visual imagery or motion pictures and the sounds of music is the most challenging.
Especially in the time we live in with white noise all around us and the lack of promotion of the importance of literacy to our youth. The written word is almost a lost art. Even on TV/Cable and online news and news commentary you have the advantage of hearing it spoken to you. But the written word even when it comes to the news, depends on the aptitude of the reader. The written word cannot live on or exist without the reader, even in forms of apps like Audible, where someone is reading a book, poem, or daily news to you, it can only survive with the aid of a reader.
This leads us to all forms of extreme expression of viewpoints fighting for your attention. Instead of challenging you to form your own opinion, we are full of outlets fighting for your attention by giving you opinions where the orator performs for listening audience and speaking back to the private thoughts and feelings of people in the most controversial fashions to get the largest audience.
With the written word you still have to try and create and capture a visual and create the same imagery of a movie or a soulful song by simply creating the pictures with words and nothing more. Sure you can use the aid of pictures to accompany your words, but you have to dig deeper than when the words are combined with sounds and motion pictures or even a PowerPoint presentation. For some of us, sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t but we draw our inspiration from everything we see and hear and try to articulate that with the use of words alone.
Imagine this scene: Dr. King sets up on the National Mall—and delivers a PowerPoint presentation! Would we remember his words today?
MLK’s Dream speech worked so well for many reasons, but one of the most important was his ability to seize the audience’s imagination through mental imagery. He didn’t need a big screen with pictures portraying his message set up on the white marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial to get us to picture scenes of black and white children playing together “on the red hills of Georgia”, or to imagine freedom ringing from “every hill and molehill of Mississippi”. All he had was words, and words were more than enough.
Technology adds so much to our capabilities that we sometimes forget what we give up in return. I wonder if PowerPoint has sapped our power to evoke mental images through words, and if so, does it matter? I do believe it matters because when done properly, creating mental images can be more persuasive than the actual visuals. When done right, a few scenes or pictures cannot do justice to the most powerful images created by words.
That said, you have to dig deep as a writer to understand why you are doing what you do. My news coverage and editorials may never be awarded a Pulitzer Prize, which is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine, and online journalism, literature, and musical composition. But as a writer, as the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester, I had to realize the what it is we do is as important to our audience as the Pulitzer award-winning articles and editorials in the Washington Post or New York Times. I could change up (in Hip-Hop we say sellout or crossover) to reach that larger audience or tailor my writing to chase a Pulitzer or anyone one of the other prestigious awards but in the process loses myself and the core audience that rode with us for day one. Sure we will grow, but the trick is to remain true to the essence of who we are.
Do you know how many people have told me we would reach a larger audience or get more advertising if we dropped the word Black from our title or maybe even change the name altogether? But that’s the first thing they do to get you to disassociate yourself from your identity. We are Black Westchester – News With The Black Point of View. We have many white and non-black readers, followers, and subscribers, but not because we made an effort to cater to them, but by remaining who we are and drawing them to us.
I like how Bob Marrone, president of online station Radio Westchester and former morning host at AM stations WFAS and WVOX put it, in a Journal News/lohud article about us;
“They didn’t go more mainstream, the mainstream moved toward them a little bit,” Marrone said. “Because of that they still have a dose of radical. That’s healthy from a standpoint of credibility.”
It was our new and exhilarating approach to politics that made people take notice. We look all around from our viewpoint at a new landscape of activism: not just momentum, but the surging power of Black Lives Matter, criminal justice reform, social media campaigns against unethical commercial practices, and calls for citizens’ assemblies on all manner of issues, especially police criminality, abuses of power and governmental corruption. That’s what made people take notice. Becoming the Voice of the Voiceless and fighting for those who could not fight for themselves, fighting for due process. To change that, to chase an award or to garner or purposely appeal to a larger demographic would go against the original concept of why we created this experiment in African-American journalism and news.
I come from the era of Public Enemy. The ‘Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy,’ era. [quote from Terminator X to the Edge of Panic off Public Enemy’s 1988 album “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”] Run DMC, Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Sam Cooke are just some of the great artists who have never won the award, but no one can deny their importance not just to Black Music, but music period. While they never won the award, they never changed who they are and that’s what they are still loved for today.
I am always asked to advise the youth. If you take only one thing from this editorial make this be it. Instead of chasing success, awards, and those more diverse audiences, we found an audience by filling a void and doing it our way. Now we had a lot to learn on the way. Had to do our homework, had to educate ourselves on civics and politics and we are still always learning something new every day. I learn something new with every article or interview I do. We are still trying out new things – some work, some don’t – but we are never scared to stand up and try something different or express ourselves, being who we are.
I often say I personally break several laws in grammar and journalism daily. My English teachers are probably saying I taught you better than that or turning over in their graves. But to quote that lohud article again, “It’s a raw, ‘sometimes unfiltered’ website known for its fiery publisher [that helped] Black Westchester is gain newfound influence.” Not worried about the traditionalist. Not worried about those who told us we cannot do it this way or that way. But being Bold and standing our ground and delivering our message unapologetically.
To produce editorial like, ‘Why Are The Youth So Angry…?’, ‘White People Can’t Comprehend The Deadly Consequences Of Being Black,’ the Racism By Zip Code series or Black, Missing & Forgotten About By Mainstream Media, just to name a few to educate others and some of our own who forgot or are simply just out of touch. To give them small glimpse of what we face as a people everyday. Painting those pictures with words without the aid of sound or motion pictures, but still evoking the same emotions in the reader.
That is the challenging task at hand. That is what I wrestle with. To maintain that same intensity of when we first began and not become complacent by awards, proclamations and accolades. But those use them to give the new readers and subscribers something to look at now that we got their attention. I often said I could have created an entertainment based format discussing pop culture and the latest ratchetness on TV and in music and would have way more subscribers and advertisers. I could dumb it down for a dollar and chase success or realize success is what you make it.
There are different levels of success. When you use your gift to entertain or educate an audience, some of the most important voices will never be household names or known outside of the local region. And if that is what comes of the Black Westchester experiment, then I will be content, knowing we made a difference in the region, in the space on the universe where we reside. I will know the Black Westchester experiment was a success, no matter who co-signs us or writes us off.
Another challenge is when the very people you are trying to unplug from the matrix and fight for, are the very ones fighting against you. It’s more than a paycheck or a job when your passion pushes you to continue to do the work even when it is not always appreciated by the people you are trying to help, uplift, and educate. What keeps you going is because it becomes your calling. Some might even say your ministry. Sharing your gift with the world to make it a better place. That ability to paint those pictures so others can vividly see without the aid of sound and motion pictures to assist you, but accomplishing that all the same with your gift that you have been blessed with.
To see things as they are, not how you wish they were and want them to be. To articulate the struggle and empower people to fight for freedom, justice, and equality, that’s the trick. At the same time educating others about their implicit biases and force them to face systematic racism. To push people who wouldn’t normally talk into having difficult conversations. All while maintaining your integrity and running a successful business, oh trust me it is a challenge. But prayerfully we will challenge and inspire a whole new generation of truth-tellers along the way, cause that will be our REAL Success and Legacy.
As we continue to grow, take chances and incorporate new technology the mission remains the same, we will never sell out or crossover to appeal to a larger audience. While Roger Ailes was misguided in his promotion of bias in the delivery of news, one thing he did I agree with was continue to speak to the portion of the population he felt was not being reached. While we pride ourselves on delivering the facts as we know them and speaking directly to and for our people, like Roger Ailes who created the highly-rated Fox News, we will not forget the audience that rode with us from day one. We will ride or die with them and bring the mainstream to us instead of chasing them.
Whether the mainstream truly moves more to us as supposed to moving to appeal to the mainstream as Mr. Marrone described in the lohud article, we will continue to Fight The Power, painting pictures with words in this experiment we call Black Westchester.