During the abolitionist movement of the 19th century, journalists were among those leading the charge to eradicate slavery. Two centuries later, they’re continuing to inspire change, with leaders at the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and the Boston Globe teaming up to apply the same pressure to ongoing racial injustice.
The result: The Emancipator, a platform cofounded by author, historian and Boston University Center for Antiracist Research director Ibram X. Kendi and Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman that will spotlight antiracism practices through the multimedia work of journalists, historians and scholars. Content will include written stories, research and interactive events like roundtables.
The idea for the initiative came to the cofounders in June, when, after discovering their shared interest in Boston-based, 19th-century antislavery publications, they started wondering, “Could we create a publication, a megaphone for leading thinkers, ideas and debates about bringing about a racially just society, in the same way that those abolitionists created a megaphone for thinkers who wanted to bring about the end of slavery?” says Venkataraman.
“In many ways, I have married scholarship and journalism in my own work, and what it’s allowed for is the ability to have the research techniques and methods and methodology combined with writing in a way that’s accessible for everyday people,” Kendi adds. “Putting both together under the same roof with [The Emancipator], I think it’s going to be quite effective. Quite impactful.”
Though the platform doesn’t officially launch until later this year, the cofounders are already establishing a team (they’re currently looking to hire two Boston-based co-editors-in-chief) and finalizing details. They’ve decided, for example, that all content will be free to the public. “We really believe that in order to move our society forward in this really ambitious way, we should be reaching as many people as possible,” says Venkataraman.
The team has also recruited an advisory board of journalists and scholars, including the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, Harvard historian and author Annette Gordon-Reed, journalist and immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas and The 19th CEO and editor-in-chief Emily Ramshaw. Members of the founding team also include Dr. Monica Wang, associate director of narrative for the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, and Kimberly Atkins, Boston Globe columnist and MSNBC contributor.
Joining the effort is a full-circle moment for Atkins, whose first journalism job was at the Boston Globe. Atkins will serve as The Emancipator’s lead columnist and will author its biweekly newsletter, Unbound.
“This will be something more than simply a news organization . . . it’s something bigger,” says Atkins. “I’ve been asked a lot over the last year, ‘What can I do? How can I help? How can I understand?’ And there’s no easy answer to that. . . . A lot of that understanding needs to be grounded in research; it needs to be grounded in study and analysis. I can direct people [to The Emancipator] and say, ‘If you want to understand more, this is a place to start.’”
Kendi hopes to grow The Emancipator into “the premiere vehicle for sort of data-driven, research-based, evidence-based journalism and scholarship and opinion on the most important racial issues of our time.”
“If we can get to a time in which we could say that we’ve abolished racism, people will look back on The Emancipator and see that this multimedia platform was critical in that work, just like when we reflect on the movement against slavery in the 19th century,” he says.
by Brianne Garrett
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