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The Black Voice 2.0

UW student bringing back early '70s newspaper run by black students


A year ago, Jordan Gaines felt the need to dedicate more of her junior year towards gaining tangible experience in journalism to apply to UW’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications. At the time, she was working in the Office of African-American Student Academic Services, now called Pathways. She was contemplating quitting until her boss, Pathways Coordinator Karla Foster, found a way for Gaines to keep her position and gain journalism experience simultaneously.

While putting together the 2015 Black History Month photo gallery, which compared photos of students protesting from the 1950s and beyond to photos of students protesting last December, Foster came across a vintage student newspaper titled The Black Voice. She had the perfect person in mind to breathe new life into the long-forgotten publication.

“I, for one, was surprised at how the archive reflected the black student life on campus, and how far back it goes. I was surprised that it had been documented that long ago, that it was seen as that important,” Gaines told The Capital Times back in February when comparing the photos from different time periods.

Originally published in 1971, The Black Voice was a student paper ran by black UW students to provide a space for black students to write about their own experiences, interests, and concerns on the predominately white campus. The paper served as a means of representation for black students to establish a central community that could serve as a support group against the aggressions and rejections endured on campus.

Jordan Gaines
Jordan Gaines

While the revival began as a special edition for Black History Month, Gaines kept with the publication to reestablish it as a real entity on campus.

Today, Gaines has stuck with the same concepts of the original paper, but rather in a contemporary blog format for the modern-day student. As the editions in the ‘70s were very politically driven, Gaines hopes to encompass multiple components of blackness rather than solely politics and tragedy.

“It’s not going to be entrenched in tragedy, or this idea of being tragically black, or all the woes of being at UW or in America as a black person. Those things will be covered, but I definitely also want to make sure that components of fun, fashion, laughter, and being young are included,” said Gaines.

The new website’s official launch will be on Saturday, Dec. 5 and will consist of articles written by student contributors, a live Twitter feed, poetry, visual art, and a comedy section. The Black Voice targets different angles of experiencing blackness on the UW campus and works towards an inclusive variety rather than only one person’s views.

“I look for authenticity: authentic interactions, authentic experiences. Ideally it won’t just be my voice,” Gaines said. “While the original title was The Black Voice, what I really want to establish with the reviving of The Black Voice is that it’s really about black voices because there is no such thing as one monolithic black voice.”
Last spring, Gaines approached UW Journalism Professor Sue Robinson about pursuing the publication as a form of independent study and working towards sustainability. Robinson advises Gaines on content, marketing, sustainability and goals for the site.

“She had a very specific project that she wanted to do. It’s unique to see someone take on so much responsibility in an independent study,” Robinson said. “She’s truly creative in thinking about how to bring The Black Voice back to life in a way that’s meaningful. It’s something that I think is very necessary and needed on this campus so I was very eager to help.”

Robinson researches how digital platforms enable and constrain people — particularly those in marginalized communities — who exchange content in the public sphere about racial achievement disparities in the K-12 education system. This upcoming spring, she will be teaching a course titled Journalism for Racial Justice: Amplifying Voices in Our Communities.

“This is something that gets at the core of what we do at the journalism school,” Robinson said. “It’s also very relevant to my research area which questions how we amplify voices that typically go unheard in other publications and how we empower citizens to amplify their own voices. So I think The Black Voice merges all these things together.”

As a graduating senior, Gaines is looking into keeping the publication running after she is gone from the UW. After doing research, she concluded that the original paper died out over the course of three years once the core contributors graduated. This semester, Gaines and Robinson have worked together to create content and build contributors and community partnerships. Next semester, they will begin to work towards taking steps to ensure that the publication isn’t lost in the archives again.

“There are a couple of ways that I’d ideally like to see it sustained,” Gaines said. “I think the best way is by meshing it with a student organization. I don’t want to do it with an office or a department because I feel like those are easily regulated. And while student orgs can be regulated, I feel like they have a little more freedom in the way they do things and are watched a lot less intently.”

One of the organizations Gaines has looked into partnering with is UW’s National Association of Black Journalists. She thinks the partnership could benefit both parties by providing a consistent group of contributors and built-in opportunities to publication for aspiring journalists.

Jordan Gaines presents The Black Voice at a meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists on campus in October.
Jordan Gaines presents The Black Voice at a meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists on campus in October.

The president of NABJ, Charlene Robinson, a junior, plans on marketing the publication to students of color interested in writing and creating a safe space to share personal narratives through journalism.

“There are a lot of creative people on this campus, and it’s a way to bring people together by writing stories about our experiences on campus. If we only targeted journalism students of color, I don’t think it’d sustain,” said Robinson.

A year ago, Jordan Gaines thought quitting her job would draw her closer to journalism, when in reality it was her job with the Office of African-American Student Academic Services that led her to The Black Voice. The revival of the student paper with a contemporary twist still serves its original purpose of amplifying marginalized voices on a campus of over 40,000 students.

“It is exclusively black,” said Gaines, “and I don’t feel bad for that.”