Sometimes, you just have to take matters into your own hands and create the narrative instead of running along with the ones already in place. It’s much easier said than done, though — especially if you’re a Black writer or reporter. It’s no secret that most of America’s current news cycles and mass media systems perpetuate inequitable access to quality journalism for marginalized communities. In turn, relative to their white counterparts, it’s more challenging for Black journalists to have a platform that allows them to share the unfiltered truth of stories from their communities.
Journalism is structured so that it’s closed off to working-class people of color. For years and years, Black people weren’t even allowed in mainstream newsrooms, and the government targeted any Black newsrooms that did exist. Statistics back it up. In America, only 6% of working journalists are Black, compared to 76% being white, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center. This has made it hard to imagine a media that loves Black people. But thanks to The Black Future Newsstand, we no longer have to just sit back and imagine. “The Black Future Newsstand invites Black folks to not only imagine a media that loves us but to step inside and create it.”
The Black Future Newsstand was unveiled by The Black Thought Project and Media 2070 earlier this summer in Harlem in honor of Juneteenth, where hundreds of people visited the installation to consume a specially curated selection of Black-owned publications.
Collette Watson is a co-creator and director of Media 2070, an organization dedicated to media reparations, which authored a 100-page essay that examines the history of anti-Black harm in the U.S. media system — and one of the brilliant minds behind the Black Future Newsstand. A graduate of Howard University, she has an extensive background in media, switching majors from journalism to communications law before ultimately earning a degree in media production. “I wanted to be a storyteller pretty much my whole life,” says Watson. After spending years in corporate media, she realized “the landscape felt like one that was never gonna yield anything true for Black people.” This realization led her to pursue more advocacy and nonprofit work, which led to endeavors like Media 2070 and, eventually, the Black Future Newsstand.
“While building Media 2070, a lot of people had come to the table to think and dream with us about what interventions were needed, but we had not yet identified what it is that we truly want,” says Watson. “In movement spaces, oftentimes we’re so bogged down in rapidly responding that we don’t actually get a chance to locate that utopia we’re working for.” Safe to say, the utopia was found and manifested with the Black Future Newsstand. The goal was to create something that would make the reparative movement of Black media irresistible — “something we’re not just fighting for, but something we’re inviting and feel embedded toward,” she says. As soon as one of her partners on the project said the words “Black Future Newsstand,” Watson began to envision a space where people could not just think about it but be immersed in it.
The Black Future Newsstand in Harlem is the first of its kind but won’t be the last. It’s an idea that Watson and her partners intend to take nationwide and potentially beyond. There has been great interest from their partners and friends on the west coast, so they hope to get it out there next. Since the newsstand launched, they’ve received invitations to Harlem Week and another event in Oakland. “We want to take the newsstand around the country,” she says. “And we want to be able to do so where we are paying every person who has any publication, content or art in the newsstand as we did this first time around — and paying them well.”
“When you have a newsstand, that says not only is there this media, but there’s this infrastructure behind it,” says Watson. While money isn’t the driving purpose of Black Future Newsstand, it’s necessary to help them achieve their mission of Black media reparations. “We’ve gotten some interest from some amazing Black folks who are in philanthropy,” says Watson. “That’s really important to us… the media reparations framework is not just Black folks owning and controlling our own stories, but being able to do so with ease and in abundance.”
In our time, journalism is mostly treated as a business. Watson and her partners at Black Future Newsstand embrace the true essence of journalism — service. “For us, it’s really important for people to understand journalism as the service of news and information that people need to live their lives,” she says. Amidst the varying changes that journalism has experienced over the past few years, Watson debunks the notion that the future of journalism isn’t sustainable. “[Journalism] has to be sustainable if we’re going to save our society,” she says. “But it has to divorce itself from this idea that it exists only for profit… then it becomes possible for Black people to enter into the industry.”
Black Future Newsstand is illuminated by the passion that fills the space. They are trailblazing a path for Black stories, culture and art to live on in a way they haven’t previously been able to. “We have poured our hearts, souls, art, dreams and self-love into this newsstand,” says Watson.
Black Future Newsstand is updating its online presence to make it easier for prospective journalists and artists to get featured by them. In the meantime, Watson says people who are interested can contact them through their current site, sign up for their frequent email updates, follow them on social media at @media2070 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The newsstand will be in the Africa Center’s Teranga Cafe (1280 5th Ave.) until July 31 — be sure to stop by and take in the history and future of Black media simultaneously. Learn more about it here.