The chorus is forming…won’t you support it?

Back in August, I wrote a post Lemons to Life and the Raising of the Collective Chorus. To recap, as I looked out at a changing landscape, I decided that after eight years of just writing in this space, I wanted to make changes and accommodate more voices in this space. Starting in early 2017, I will be adding podcasts to the mix, and I am looking to move Black Girl in Maine from more than a blog and podcast but to a media hub for non-white voices in Northern New England. From Black Girl in Maine the blog to BGIM Media.

I have long held to the belief that we need to look at who creates the narratives that we read and believe. In most places, the narratives are fed to us by white people who are often unaware of the biases and prejudices that are often projected in the messages they share, which in turn tends to keep things like white supremacy and institutional racism alive and well, in both subtle and overt ways. Stories about the “Dapper alt-right,” anyone? Articles that normalize Steve Bannon and his hateful rhetoric?  Now more than ever (especially as we see so many Black hosts in particular having their shows yanked recently from various channels like Comedy Central and MSNBC), there is a growing need for non-white voices to be heard and elevated, and my mission is shifting to do just that.

Since that announcement, I have added Teddy Burrage and Marena Blanchard as regular contributors, as well as a few drop-in guests such as my brother and my co-parent (granted, my co-parent is white, but his two decades of experience in my family give him provisional standing in non-white circles). I have been inundated with resumes and writing samples from writers of color throughout the region and I am looking forward to bringing new voices to this space.

Now more than ever as our nation grapples with the realities of a Trump presidency and our racially divided nation, spaces such as this are places for camaraderie and learning. My blog posts continue to travel far and wide; this was brought home to me one day recently when my tween daughter came home and told me that her school’s Civil Rights Team had used one of my posts in class as a learning tool. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a local high school that has been using my posts for learning. An old childhood friend who is a professor at a prestigious university contacted me after a faculty meeting when a colleague suggested several of my posts as resources for students. We had quite the laugh. My words have come a long way from the South Side of Chicago.

As wonderful as it is that this space and the curated posts that I share on the BGIM Facebook page resonate with many and are tools for learning and knowledge, there is a cost. Frankly all the media that we consume digitally has a cost, yet for legacy media, they still have the resources to underwrite or absorb those costs with corporate and institutional support.

For smaller creators like myself, I ask readers to support the work. For many years, I wrote and was happy to just have readers but as the readership grew along with the time devoted to this space, I started to ask readers to consider making the occasional donation to help underwrite the cost of maintaining the site. In the past year, I have moved to using Patreon , which allows people to pledge monthly support to content creators they enjoy. I also offer the Paypal tip option for one-time or sporadic gifts of support.

I recognize that the internet is a vast place and that there is plenty of good content available, but increasingly legacy media uses paywalls and limits access. Also, some sites are so littered with pop-up ads and other distractions that the noise gets in the way of reading the good stuff. There is none of that here. However, this space involves a great deal more than just writing a post and posting it. I am also committed to offering my contributors financial compensation because I know all too well about writing for free and earning nothing but a headache. I also know that we live in a world where Black women earn 63 cents to the white man’s dollar. Given my primary focus on using this space for the uncomfortable discussions of race, for me to consume the work of Blacks and other non-white people without ensuring that we are working towards financial parity would just one more way we continue to perpetuate the systems that create divisions and maringalization. We can’t talk about racial justice without realizing that there is an economic piece too.

If you are already a financial contributor to BGIM, thank you. Your support has allowed me to kickstart the wheels of transformation and to start shifting this platform. If you have never financially supported this space and it matters to you, please consider becoming a monthly patron or making a one-time, year-end contribution. If you work with a group or organization that could benefit from a dialogue on race, consider bringing me out to your space. I do travel nationally.

Thank you again for your support!

BGIM, aka Shay and crew
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The American Dream died…they forgot to send the memo

Coming from humble working class roots, it was instilled in me that my ticket to the good life was to be found in attending college and getting a good job. The kind of job that paid at least $50,000 a year and had good benefits.  I suspect many of us heard some version of this when we were growing up, especially those of us who came from economically fragile families where a college education was sold as the miracle cure for all that ails.

I don’t fault my folks, from where they sat, a college degree did appear to hold the key to ensuring that my brother and I didn’t find ourselves falling down the path that my parents did, which at times included food insecurity and a brief stint of homelessness when I was 10.

However the world has changed; the dreams that America sold to her people have become nightmares that don’t end when we wake up. College may be the ticket to a bright future but increasingly it has become a noose around the necks of millions as the rising cost of college means millions must take out loans to afford the costs of attending. Yet when one graduates, the good jobs with the good benefits are increasingly hard to find. We Uber and Airbnb to make our ends meet, we cover up our financial insecurity with those magical little plastic cards that are yet another form of bondage but in the short run, we cannot avoid the painfully honest reality that the America our parents and grandparents lived in is not the one that most of us are living in now.

A few days ago, Paul Krugman wrote this piece on The Insecure American, where he wrote he was startled to learn that 47% of Americans don’t have the financial resources to meet an unexpected expense of $400. Frankly I am impressed that it is only 47% of us who can’t meet an emergency expense of $400, especially in a world where regular raises are no longer the norm. Where your employer may give you a one time bonus or a perk rather than a reasonable raise.

For all the talk that people “waste” money on frivolous treats such as the daily latte or i-gadgets, I find myself noticing more that the cost of living has gone up and the wages stopped keeping up a long, long time ago. Wage inequality is real. Hell, the dialogue has gone mainstream. Yet even when we have that discussion we still tip-toe around the reality that wage inequality is not just limited to those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder; in fact, it affects almost everyone but the wealthy. Lately, I fight myself grumbling more and more about the cost of healthcare as I face the reality that having good insurance no longer means what it did 20 plus years ago when I had good insurance. Today’s good insurance means being nickled and dimed to death by a fractured healthcare system. Earlier this year, I wrote about my unexpected visit to the Tufts Medical Center Emergency room, a visit of such epic proportions it deserved a blog post. Well thanks to the way the visit was billed, my good insurance paid very little, leaving me with a bill for a cool $962. Throw in two months of twice-weekly specialist visits that had a nifty little co-pay of $75 a pop, suddenly healthcare costs are a very real thing. Never mind that in August, I will be going under the knife…who knows how much of that will be covered by my good insurance. Yet, I am one of the lucky ones, I have insurance. I lived without insurance for a number of years (employer didn’t offer it) and I know that struggle all too well.

While I have not known homelessness or food insecurity as an adult, I also haven’t known that good life that I was raised to believe in. I know now that home ownership can be a killer of dreams and relationships, I know that graduating from college after being a high school dropout was a high point in my life but as I journey through middle age, the reality that the loans for that education will be with me well into my retirement years in an uncomfortable truth. I know that when I talk honestly with my inner circle, almost all of us are struggling financially despite our good jobs. I know that there is shame around it and rarely will we admit to it openly.

Paul Krugman refers to us as insecure Americans. Yes, we are, but we are also survivors of a dream gone wrong. The American Dream in 2015 is largely inaccessible for most of us but to admit that sounds so wrong, so hard and so utterly un-American. So let us anesthetize ourselves with a triple Venti raspberry mocha and plug into our i-gadget, at least we can get a little relief from this nightmare since $5 mochas in a country where basic living is out of reach for millions makes us feel as if maybe things aren’t so bad.
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I’m so gauche or the high cost of consumption

Deep breath here. This is a post that has been simmering for months yet every time I try to get the words out, my inner good girl would chide me and say don’t do it… Yet after a really strange series of happenings, it’s time. I may lose a few readers and that is okay but sometimes truth needs to be spoken even if it’s uncomfortable.

Back in 2007 I was licking my psychic wounds after having been laid off from my teaching gig at a for-profit college. I was at a crossroads with a fairly new Master’s degree, a toddler, a boatload of debt and no idea what my next steps should be professionally. So I scraped together my pennies and worked with a life coach who helped me gained some clarity around my professional goals. Like many, I was caught between the practical and the creative and in the end it was clear that going back to non-profit management made the most sense practically speaking and that I should look for outlets to feed my creative self. As well as a way to create an additional income stream. That passion and plan along with a desire to connect with other people of color led to the creation of this blog in 2008.

In the early days of this blog, which I truly believe were the heyday of the blogging world, it seemed like every other week there was a blogger quitting their day job to earn a living from their blog. Like many I had my dreams and hopes of striking it big with this blog, getting that book deal, getting the attention, etc. It was also clear early on though, that despite becoming classified as a “mom” blogger that I was not going to become the next Pioneer Woman or Dooce. Despite my attempts at monetizing this blog, I knew the chances of earning more than occasional coffee money wasn’t going to happen and I made my peace with that.

A funny thing happened though. After accepting that I was not going to strike it rich with this blog, my writing became more focused as I started to write from my heart and not a script for blog success.  I started to write about the things that interested me and the things that I was knowledgeable about, which meant taking my lived experience and academic background and writing about matters of race and occasionally musing about growing older. That decision changed my life in many ways starting with an appearance on the Melissa Harris Perry show in November 2012 after the Maine GOP made a gaffe of ginormous proportions. My readership increased and suddenly this blog was receiving attention. Initially it was wonderful to receive attention; writers write because we have something to say that we need to get out, but we love it when our words are read.

However, the past two years have been tiring for me. With the increased exposure it has meant dealing with trolls, nasty attacks and requests. A non-stop stream of requests. Speaking of which, when I announced my decision to accept my current position as the executive director of Community Change Inc., one of the longest, continuously running anti-racism organizations in the US, it meant an increase in exposure as I was no longer seen as just some yahoo online spouting off but an actual  professional with the backing of a long-established organization. I had anticipated an increase in exposure and actually had factored it into my strategy to increase CCI’s exposure.

What I didn’t expect though was an inbox full of individuals and organizations requesting free services. People who are interested in anti-racism training and information but who have no interest or means to pay for said services. As a blogger this was one thing but as the head of an organization with a staff that requires payment and an office that isn’t free, freebies aren’t possible.

Recently a series of requests for unpaid services as well as a few extraordinary requests for my own time (again, uncompensated) led me to sitting down and tallying up just what this blog is costing me. For almost 7 years, I have spent $19.98 a month for this blog (in the day and age of intellectual property, slapping a site up on a free space is a very bad idea) I have laid out almost $1,678 to run this space, which says nothing for the countless number of hours I have spent writing posts, interacting with readers, and managing social media for this space…that’s just the cash that I have spent out of my pocket so that this space exists. It’s not a lot of money but I can honestly say that in all my years of blogging this site has not ever financially paid for itself much less generated any profit.

I have spent the last 17 years of my life more or less in the non-profit sector minus the year I spent teaching. I typically have worked at small organizations with budgets of $500,000 or less, the types of organizations that do critically needed work but lack financial resources. Places where you earn a salary and you get a generous supply of paid time off since you often don’t have any other benefits. My last position in Maine didn’t even offer health insurance; the organization couldn’t afford it.

As I find myself creeping closer to 42, I am starting to think about my future in the next 20-30 years and the truth is that unless I make some course corrections now, my golden years aren’t going to be  golden.  I will be the senior citizen who I have served meals to at the low-income senior housing complex. I will be the elderly woman who cuts her pills in half or eats one less meal because I can’t afford my medicine and food. I don’t want to be that woman when I am elderly.

Yet for those of us who dabble in the creative,a bleak future awaits us all if we are fortunate enough to grow old. (Lack of consistent health insurance and access to affordable health care might ensure an early death) No longer do people pay for creativity, thanks to the internet. We consume it with no financial investment on our parts. Back in the ole days, I remember when listening to music outside of the radio required someone paying for the music. Back in the old days, books, movies and magazines were paid for if we wished to consume them. (even at the library, the materials are often paid for). But now? We can read a smorgasbord of material from the comfort of our homes and never pay a penny for any of it and we have more or less come to expect this steady stream of material with no thoughts about the creators of this material. I am a writer with writer friends and I know more than a few writers on the brink of financial insolvency because publications that do pay writers, often pay pennies for articles ($50 for 1,200 words but millions of pageviews) or pay nothing at all. For bloggers, unless you have a popular and marketable niche the odds of earning actual money for your writing is harder than ever.

Back in the old days of blogging, a blogger might throw a tip jar up on the blog but as the digital landscape has changed, the tip jar in most cases is seen as tacky and as I have learned over the years the tip jar often stays empty. It’s been enough to make me think that it’s time to close my digital door and pick up a weekend job at Wal-Mart where at least I would earn a few dollars to stash away in the retirement fund. But the truth is, I really don’t want to do that and I am hoping that maybe a few of you wouldn’t want that either.

So I am putting on my tacky and gauche hat and asking regular readers to support this space. I am willing to continue giving my time to write pieces that I hope resonate with you but I am asking for your help to make this a donor supported space in an era where it’s increasingly harder for writers to receive more than pageviews. I love pageviews but here in Maine, the Central Maine Power company won’t accept pageviews for payment. I have met many wonderful people as a result of this space and I most certainly don’t wish to alienate any of you but I also know that long term I can’t sustain this space without financial support. I do have a modest goal, I would like to raise the $1,678 that I have invested in this space to date. Practically speaking, your support would allow me to pay up next year’s blog costs in advance and take care of a few minor things that I have been putting off as I pay down debt and save for my eventual relocation to Boston. So if you have the means, please consider a small donation and if you don’t send well wishes and keep reading!