Will the media still care about Black people after this historic moment has passed?

Photo credit: Roger Fountain

Dear media,

As a Black writer, I'm torn.

At this moment, I know you need me, and although I want to capitalize on that need, I need you to reflect, focus and institute significant and sustainable changes in your outlets. George Floyd is the news cycle now, but black bodies have been a casualty to white supremacy for hundreds of years. Too many Black people have died at the hands of police officers. Is this finally the moment of change? Think for a minute, why now?

You need my voice, insight and ability to help you navigate and understand our exploding racial powder keg. But most of all, you need my stories, my insight and my perception to speak to the moment. My question is, where will you be when I need you after this moment has passed?



Today, you fill your pages and websites with our bylines and content, hoping to infuse perspective and color into predominantly white content. You mine our pain with op-eds explaining systemic racism and the unyielding murders of our fathers, brothers, lovers, sons and daughters.

Will you still love us when the news cycle shifts? Or will we hear what we've heard so many times before? Crickets.

Will you be there to offer us the coveted jobs, with full-time benefits and paychecks that pay the bills? Or are your mastheads so full of white faces that you can't see us staring at you?

I've worked on staff in several television and radio newsrooms and gotten plum assignments as a freelance writer. I've even been fortunate enough to have stories published in prominent outlets and have been a journalist for eleven years. But I've seen firsthand the extreme racial disparities in the media. I've been the only person of color on a web team or in a newsroom. I've seen how few people of color are employed full-time at many organizations. I've rarely seen people who look like me inhabit the coveted seats of power.

You may ask: Why should we care?

These positions give writers like me the freedom to continue our craft, establish stable careers and support younger writers. It also provides us with the fantasy to explore our communities and the world at large—not just when one of us is struck down in cold blood.

Ebonye Gussine Wilkins' work focuses on media inclusion and better representation. She helps corporations, nonprofits and individuals assess their content and revise or create better work to reflect the communities they serve. Wilkins explains it like this: "Part of preventing this kind of scramble at the last minute would be to hire writers of color much earlier," she says. "Hire them more regularly, pay them proper rates, not the bottom of the barrel rates, and give them an opportunity to write about things other than just 'black issues.'"

In other words, editors, you're the gatekeepers. It's not enough for your outlets to hire the "one." The token African American, Asian, Native American, or person of Latin origins to sit in your newsroom and write, edit and assign all the stories about people in underrepresented communities. One is not enough.

Solomon Jones recently wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer about being the only Black male news columnist. He described the issue as a problem that exists at most major outlets. "It is whiteness — the structures and social phenomena that produce white privilege — that causes outlets like The Inquirer to publish racially offensive material," Jones wrote. Adding, "I truly believe it is not always intentional. However, when your editors are overwhelmingly white when you are self-congratulatory in your white liberalism, and when you routinely ignore the input of black people, you end up with headlines like "Buildings Matter, Too."

This month, Hearst Magazines named its first Black editor-in-chief. Samira Nasr to helm Harper's BAZAAR. She is the first black editor-in-chief in the history of the 153-year-old Hearst-owned publication. Let that sink in for a moment.

Condé Nast beat Hearst eight years ago when Keija Minor was appointed as the first African American editor-in-chief of a Conde Nast publication in 2012.

But let's not get too excited about Condé Nast. Amid ongoing allegations of racism and unequal treatment at Bon Appétit, editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigned. Days later, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988, artistic director for Condé Nast, and Vogue's publisher, since 2013, released a letter of apology for the lack of diversity at Vogue.

"We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes," Wintour wrote. "It can't be easy to be a Black employee at Vogue, and there are too few of you. I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will — and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward."

Jonita Davis is an Indiana-based writer who covers social and cultural topics. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Sisters from AARP, and others. She explained that outlets that had previously ghosted her are now clamoring for her stories. She says that as much as she has "FOMO" aka "fear of missing out," she's too pissed to take the assignments.

"If you can't go to your staff now to cover protests and all the issues happening now, then maybe that's a problem," Davis says. "If you have to go running and looking for Black writers, then you don't have a diverse staff. Instead of publications looking to this moment as a call to action to change things, they're patting themselves on the back for hiring Black freelancers."

Just in case you don't know the rates for freelance writers at major outlets – they range from the rare outlet that pays $1 or $2 a word to $100 for thousands of words – which is not enough to survive on.

So, here we are, and here are the facts. Real and lasting change comes from hiring people of color for full-time writing, editing and management positions that pay good salaries with benefits. The truth is, it's great that Black voices are being heard now, but it should have happened long ago.

The question is simple. But, the answer is far more complicated. You need us now. But will you still want us tomorrow?


Rebekah Sager is an award-winning journalist with over a decade of experience covering news, lifestyle, entertainment, and human-interest stories. She's contributed to Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Vice, The Hollywood Reporter, GOOD, and more. She's profiled Billy Porter, Ru Paul, Kathy Griffin, Amber Rose, Danny Trejo and the founder of Kind Bars, and the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Cullors to name a few. Sager is currently working on a book about her years working in media called "Clickable & Sharable," a Black girl version of "Bridget Jones Diary," meets "A Devil Wears Prada."

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

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“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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