(HuffPost Black Voices) 8 Black Media Professionals Helping To Create A Better Tomorrow

These black voices matter.

02/01/2016 07:01 am ET

This February, HuffPost Black Voices is honoring black men and women who are paving the way to a better future for black America. As part of our “Black Future Month” series, we will highlight the work of deserving individuals who are striving to make the world a more inclusive place for generations to come.

To kick off our series, we’re honoring eight black men and women in mediawho constantly use their voices, across various platforms, to help unify and uplift others. We hope you admire their activism and participate in the conversation online: #BlackFutureMonth.

1. Franchesca Ramsey | Comedian and video blogger

FRANCHESCA RAMSEY

Franchesca Ramsey is one of the most recognized black voices in media. As the host of the MTV web series “Decoded,” Ramsey displays her smarts and humor as she tackles various topics about race and culture. “My ultimate goal is to make people laugh and make them think, which isn’t always an easy task. I like to think my work is furthering black culture by educating and empowering black people,” she told The Huffington Post.

Ramsey says it’s critical we understand the power of our voices, that’s why she uses her platform to talk about the importance of intersectionality. “Black people come in so many different bodies, genders and sexualities, so it’s important that we’re conscious of that so we can fight for a world that embraces and uplifts black people of every kind,” she said. “Our voices are powerful and have the ability to make change.”

2. Marc Lamont Hill | Academic, author and activist

MARC LAMONT HILL

Marc Lamont Hill’s spot-on commentary, powerful political punditry and insightful speeches makes him one of the most important voices of our generation. The scholar, professor and former HuffPost Live host consistently speaks power to the beautiful complexities of what it means to be black, which he defines in profound ways: “Being black means being part of a tradition that has built, fed, healed and inspired the world,” he told The HuffPost. “Being black is my pride.”

Hill says his fearlessness in speaking out against white supremacy and the nation’s neglect for black lives has been molded by the influential work of many black leaders — but it is men like Malcolm X who inspire him most. “He brought me to God. He taught me that books could change, and save, my life. He modeled discipline like I’d never seen before,” he said. Hill’s unflinching commitment to making sure black lives matter is a mission he upholds every day — and he says that if we are to achieve a better future, the movement must go on. “We must continue to organize,” he said. “We must continue to stretch our radical imaginations in ways that embolden us to resist the divisive forces of late capitalism, homophobia, patriarchy, ableism, and much more. I believe that we will win.”

3. Morgan DeBaun | Founder of Blavity

MORGAN DEBAUN FACEBOOK

Morgan DeBaun is the main mastermind behind Blavity, a booming news and culture website catered to black millennials. Since the site’s launch in July 2014, DeBaun and co-founder Aaron Samuels have realized their vision to provide a space where thought-provoking, comedic and insightful content merge seamlessly. “I think Blavity amplifies the good work, things and ideas that already exist in communities of color but oftentimes don’t get uplifted,” she told HuffPost.

DeBaun is inspired by the work of iconic black women of the past like Sojourner Truth, who she says was “fierce and so empowered to speak for herself and others to do the right thing in society.” It’s a mission DeBaun upholds through building great platforms like Blavity, which reflects the work of some of the most influential and important black voices around. “If we continue to share stories, news and ideas that are uplifting and engage one another,” DeBaun said, “I think we will continue to make progress towards a strong community.”

4. Wesley Lowery | Reporter at The Washington Post

WESLEY LOWERY

Wesley Lowery is known as one of the most diligent black professionals in media. As a political reporter at The Washington Post, Lowery has tirelessly covered issues of racial injustice, police violence and housing issues in America, among other topics. His riveting and detailed reporting explores these areas through “humanizing black characters and contextualizing the black experience for a mainstream (and largely white) audience,” he told HuffPost via email.

Lowery’s stellar coverage in Ferguson and respected commentary on social mediahas helped to establish him as one of the most credible reporters around — and he effectively uses tools like Twitter and TV to tell an important part of the black narrative. Understanding their power, he encourages more black people to leverage these platforms to do the same. “For much of American history, black voices were unheard, and therefore essentially voiceless,” he said. “We achieve a better future by refusing to be muted.”

5. Issa Rae | Actress, writer and producer

GETTY

Issa Rae is an awkward — and talented — black woman who is well on her way to changing the landscape of television. As the creator of the hit web series “Awkard Black Girl” and the founder of Color Creative TV, a platform that showcases the work of minority writers, Rae is helping to highlight stories that expand the narratives around black men and women. “I’m in this awkward definition of blackness,” she previously told HuffPost. “Black is supposed to be cool, black is sassy, black is trendsetting. I just don’t feel that way. It’s almost limited in a way and I feel like black is so much more than that.”

Black is so much more, and Rae isn’t the only one who recognizes that; so do the countless fans that admire and contribute to the platform Rae has built. Collectively, they are telling stories that are redefining blackness — and during a time where the work of people of color often goes unnoticed and undervalued by white Hollywood executives, Rae says now is the time to speak up. She previously told us: “Until you have people in positions of power that have varied experiences, nothing will change.”

6. Kyle Banks, André Verdun Jones and Khary Septh | Founders of The Tenth Zine magazine

THE TENTH

Kyle Banks, André Verdun Jones and Khary Septh are Brooklyn-based artists who came together to create The Tenth, a groundbreaking magazine that explores the experiences of being black and gay. The biannual publication, which is filled with glamorous images, amazing art and powerful written pieces, shatters stereotypes around black gay youth and brings dimension to the experiences and battles they face. “A huge issue for us is the black church and the hateful abomination doctrine being spewed from pulpits all across this country. We stand as a line of defense for so many LGBT youth that lack the proper defense against such rhetoric,” Banks told HuffPost. “As we continue to build our platform, this is just one of theissues we intend to tackle head-on.”

Banks said the team gives praise to men like Bayard Rustin, a civil rights icon who “also lived as an openly gay black man during a time when hostility toward both were off the charts,” Banks said. “Baynard Rustin, for us, represents a life lived with integrity and unyielding selflessness.” Through taking ownership of their own narrative, Banks and his team are well on their way to creating revolutionary work. “We believe in W.E.B. Du Bois’ philosophy that ‘earnest hard work, political activism and racial community should be the hallmarks of the black community,'” Banks said. “We also believe in Malcolm’s ‘By any means necessary.’ Ideas for a brighter future are nothing new, you see.”

(Upworthy) Remembering the time David Bowie called out MTV for not playing black artists.

Early MTV had a major problem: It was almost exclusively white.

As it set out to revolutionize the music industry, MTV hit a few major bumps in the road, which included accusations of racism for the lack of diverse artists on the network in its early years.

“There was a shortage of Black videos by urban artists,” MTV co-founder Les Garland told Jet Magazine in 2006. “The success of this AOR (album-oriented rock) format in radio certainly had its influence on MTV. But, there were no music videos. They weren’t being made. We had nothing to pick from.”

But that wasn’t entirely true.

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for MTV.

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for MTV.

Artists like Rick James and Michael Jackson were making music videos, but having a really rough time getting airplay.

And while MTV would eventually premiere both Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” videos in 1983, it was the network’s initial reluctance to play his “Billie Jean” video that led to Walter Yetnikoff, then-president of Jackson’s label CBS records, threatening to pull the entire label’s catalog.

“I said to MTV, ‘I’m pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I’m not going to give you any more videos. And I’m going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don’t want to play music by a black guy,” Yetnikoff recounted.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

This magical button delivers Upworthy stories to you on Facebook:

Rick James, who at the time was trying to get the network to play his video for “Super Freak,” said in frustration, “I’m a crusader without an army. All these Black artists claim they’re behind me, but when it’s time to make a public statement, you can’t find them. … They’re going to let me do all the rapping and get into trouble and then they’ll reap the benefits.”

That’s when David Bowie stepped in.

During a 1983 interview with MTV veejay Mark Goodman, David Bowie asked a simple, important question.

R. Serge Denisoff describes the heated exchange in his book Inside MTV.

Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images.

Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images.

“Why are there practically no blacks on the network?” Bowie asked Goodman during one of their interviews.

Goodman was stunned, not expecting the question. “We seem to be doing music that fits into what we want to play on MTV,” said Goodman in response. “The company is thinking in terms of narrowcasting.”

“Don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s them.’ Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair … to make the media more integrated?”

Not about to take that for an answer, Bowie pushed the issue. “There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV.”

“We have to try and do what we think not only what New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest,” said Goodman. “Pick some town in the Midwest which would be scared to death by … a string of black faces, or black music. We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we’re a rock and roll station.”

“Don’t you think it’s a frightening predicament to be in?” offered Bowie in response.

“Yeah, but no less so here than in radio,” said Goodman.

“Don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s them.’ Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair … to make the media more integrated?”

Screen shot 2016-01-11 at 4.35.49 PM
Bowie’s interview with Goodman was a great example of how to be an ally.

Black artists, as James said, were subject to some major pushback if they spoke out on MTV’s lack of diversity. They held no leverage, and they had reason to fear that their careers would take a hit if the network decided to blacklist them.

Bowie and wife, Iman, seen here in 2006. Photo by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.

Bowie and wife, Iman, seen here in 2006. Photo by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.

So Bowie did what an ally should: He used his platform and his privilege to advocate for others without making it about himself (that last part is important).

Maybe it wasn’t Bowie’s interview with Goodman that led to more black artists on MTV, and maybe it wasn’t Yetnikoff’s threat of a CBS boycott that did it; maybe the how doesn’t really matter as much as the what.

In the end, MTV helped launch the careers of prominent black artists, and the shift away from early exclusionary policies may have been the best decision the network ever made.

The article was published on Upworthy.