whm: jade magnus is fighting for media justice

March 26, 2019
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Jade Magnus is no stranger to organizing. After completing a degree in African Studies and Political Science at Howard University, she’s done a host of high-impact work in social change spaces, including engaging Black youth on the importance of environmental engagement with Broccoli City, the nation’s  largest urban Earth Day Celebration and labor unions with SEIU.

Now, Jade is the Director of Organizing for Color of Change, leading on media and justice programs. Her work fights for fair representation of Black voices in media and demands accountability when it isn’t met. Recently, she worked with a team of Black women organizers to demand radio stations #DropRKelly after decades of sexual abuse of Black women and girls.

How did you get into your work at Color of Change?

Right before I worked at Color Of Change, I was organizing caregivers to fight for higher wages. The caregivers I worked with were Black and Brown women who were doing some of the most difficult work you can imagine — taking care of people who are elderly, chronically ill or differently abled. These women are not only bathing them, cooking for them, and cleaning for them — they are doing the emotional work of keeping them company, taking them to the doctor to receive care that may be painful or difficult, and standing in the gaps that friends and family may be unable to fill. And at the same time, these are the lowest paid workers — in a lot of cities, caregivers are actually barred from benefiting minimum wage increases. It was there that I got clear on my mission to create a better world for Black women and girls — but I wanted to explore how we could leverage power outside of fieldwork. How could we create spaces of beauty and power for Black women, and how could we hold exploitative corporations or politicians accountable for the harm they’d caused? I applied for a job at Color Of Change and the rest is history.

Color of Change uses things like storytelling and art to push for social change. What role do you think creative work has in social change?

Both social change and creative work are most interesting when they envision things as they have never been. That’s why I got chills the first time I saw a Kehinde Wiley piece in real life, right? He was imagining Black masculinity in a way that I hadn’t ever seen in real life, and that, in turn, inspired me to challenge the way I think about it. And the best organizers I have worked with are deeply creative — they’re not just talking about winning a campaign; they’re constructing new worlds and encouraging us to come along with them.

You’ve dedicated your life to making a more just world for Black folks. But what would your advice be to someone who wants to get involved but can’t dedicate their 9 to 5 to social change?

Keep learning. Challenge yourself on the big issues of race and gender, but also on the less mainstream issues like fatphobia and transphobia. And join an organization. Historically, that’s how we’ve won big. I think people think joining an organization for social change must involve marching or picketing — and that can be true, but at Color Of Change we have a bunch of ways to get involved, no matter if you have enough time to send a tweet to a corporation we’re targeting for inhumane practices or enough time come out to one of our #ServeOurSisters events and make care packages from returning citizens.

Who are your idols? Who inspires you?

Rihanna and Maya Angelou. I’m interested in the women who redefine what it means to have it all.

How do you keep yourself balanced? What’s your self-care?

We’re encouraged to think about self-care like, “Here is everything I have to do and how can I squeeze in my moments of pleasure.” I prefer to frame it like, “This is what I need to be happy and feel good, and how do I make my work and responsibilities an extension of that.” On a very basic level, I get dressed and do my hair and make up every day. I  get my 8 hours of sleep every night, and I eat breakfast every morning. And I say no a lot. My no game is strong.

What is your favorite social justice win from your time at Color of Change?

#DropRKelly. It was a campaign we started in 2017 demanding that record label RCA drop R. Kelly because of his long and violent history of targeting and sexually abusing young Black girls. What we know at Color Of Change is that you can’t necessarily force a jury to hold an abuser accountable, but there are other costs that you can extract by demanding that other institutions be responsible.

When we first talked to RCA, they blew us off, but we kept the petitions and calls going for a year and a half. Then, as a culture, we had this massive moment with dream hampton’s Surviving R. Kelly.  And when we reached out to RCA after the documentary premiere, in the light of the pressure and attention from the moment, they dropped him. But the interesting part is that if we wouldn’t have identified RCA as a target, they would have largely gone unnoticed as an R. Kelly enabler and would have continued to silently sponsor his recordings and music videos. That’s the power of a strategic ask — you might not win immediately, but you can win. And I really like to win.