Black creatives and media moguls have been working hard to gain equity in their own storytelling, but what does the next chapter of that fight look like?
Insider will host a panel on August 18 at 12 PM EST/9 AM PT on the future of Black media, moderated by entrepreneurship reporter Dominic-Madori Davis. Panelists include Michele Ghee, CEO of iconic brands Ebony and Jet Magazine; Detavio Samuels, CEO of REVOLT, the cable network owned by hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, and DeShauna Spencer, founder of KweliTV, a video streaming service dedicated to the issues, stories, and culture of the global Black community.
They’ll discuss what it’s like running a Black-owned media enterprise in the 21st century, as well as the challenges in maintaining control over Black stories in the US. They’ll reveal their career journeys and how how they’re increasing equity for the next generation of creative leaders.
“Richmond is the root of oppression.” That’s one of the ways Ashley J. Williams described the city she’s called home for 10 years.
She said she was speaking of the Virginia capital as a whole, as well as specifically the neighborhood of Shockoe Bottom and the 17th Street Market.
The 17th Street Market has been a site of commerce since the 1700s. Depending on whom you ask, that commerce included enslaved Africans, with the 17th Street Market being the site of an auction block. (Others say it was close to an auction block.) A few minutes away at Lumpkin’s Jail, or Devil’s Half Acre, enslaved people were jailed and tortured before being sold.
Today, less than a five-minute walk from the open-air 17th Street Market, you’ll see a few markers for the Slave Trail, but these are easy to miss if you’re not keen on the history.
But for Williams, a yoga therapist and the CEO of BareSOUL, who’s been with the studio since 2015, “there’s energy that’s very present.”
“Our whole role is to restore the energy there and reenvision what it looks like to bring more life and vibrant energy while acknowledging and honoring the past,” she said.
The wellness space, especially yoga, can feel extremely white, she added. BareSOUL employs a dozen Black instructors, and each 17th Street practice begins with a brief history of the space that was once a source of pain.
“The 17th Street Market was a place where Black families were split up. It’s where the Black life was devalued. So the practice of yoga is a practice of connection. And it’s a practice of liberation of our minds,” Williams said.
Williams isn’t the only small-business owner bringing new life to the space. After being approached by Richmond Parks and Recreation to host an outdoor, COVID-19-friendly event in August, Faith Wilkerson, UnlockingRVA‘s owner and founder, who’s run the event-planning company for five years, lined the concrete and cobblestone walkways with partyers donning neon-lit headphones playing old-school and current tunes.
“Every single moment I step foot on that market, it’s done with authority and purpose because it’s what the ancestors would want us to do. Black Americans have this special gift of turning tragedy and pain into triumph and longevity. You see so much joy in our guests’ faces as they dance the night away, and it makes the moment even more special,” Wilkerson said.
Participants in yoga or the silent disco usually work up an appetite, so Williams and Wilkerson do their parts to support and promote food vendors, especially Black-owned ones, in the area.
But the women acknowledged initial hiccups in businesses not exactly embracing their audiences, which tend to be predominantly Black.
Williams even recalled one business owner calling the police on a homeless yoga participant. Both women chalked it up to establishments adapting to new faces, new spaces, and a COVID-19 world.
Adrienne Cole Johnson and Melody Short, the cofounders of the Richmond Night Market, also experienced the same blowback from some owners in the area when they brought their nighttime affair to 17th Street two years ago. They said that quickly blew over once they introduced themselves.
Johnson and Short described the work they and the Night Market do as reprogramming and reclaiming the space. The market operates on the second Saturday of each month in the summer to early fall.
Though they’re open to all vendors, Short acknowledged that the market naturally attracts a majority of Black businesses.
“I think people feel safe. It’s different when you’ve got Black women leading the charge because we welcome everybody – versus sometimes when it’s led by other groups. Black people, sometimes, we don’t feel welcome,” Short said. Being heavily invested in the businesses and the people behind the businesses is what she said keeps vendors returning year after year.
For their first in-person event since the pandemic, the market hosted about 20 vendors selling everything from art to handmade goods and food.
“We’re often, as Black people, putting our money in other communities,” Short said. The market allows them to flip the script, she added.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic first began nearly two years ago, it exposed sharp disparities related to poverty, access to healthcare, and overall quality of life that one time left Black Americans more than three times more likely to die from the virus.
“We carry a higher burden of chronic disease that predisposes us to the more serious complications of coronavirus,” Uché Blackstock, a physician who works in Brooklyn told the Washington post. “We don’t have access to care and if we do it’s likely that care is of worst quality because they are often termed minority-serving.”
While part of the larger contingent of Black Americans, for many Caribbean American communities in the US, their unique impact But for many, the unique
A New York City Health Department map showing the virus’ early spread confirmed neighborhoods with a high concentration of Caribbean-Americans in the city’s Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx boroughs were among the areas most affected by COVID-19.
Now, as states reopen and communities are tasked with rebuilding, Caribbean diasporas across the country told Insider their unity behind their shared cultural identity is key to their sociopolitical, health, economic recovery.
Many Caribbean American diasporas were in coronavirus hotspots
Most Caribbean immigrants and first generation Americans reside in New York state and Florida according to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute – accounting for 63% of the entire Caribbean population in the US.
Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Black people hold many of the jobs in the taxi service industry, the foodservice industry, as well as the hotel industry. Many immigrants, including Caribbean immigrants, also work in the healthcare industry – the very frontline workers that have been caring for the nation during the pandemic.
A report from the Migration Policy Institute also shows that more than 2.6 million immigrants were employed as healthcare workers as of 2018. They account for 18% of healthcare workers in the US.
That meant when the public was asked to stay at home to flatten the curve, it was immigrant communities and Black and brown Americans who largely kept the country running.
But advocates note that in polling and surveys, Caribbean Americans are often lumped together with African Americans and that can make it difficult to campaign for their unique needs as a community culturally, politically, and economically.
In 2020, the US Census Bureau released a new questionnaire that included the option for people to note their country of origin, which will help differentiate Caribbean Americans from African Americans.
“Twenty percent of New York, New Yorkers are of Caribbean descent so it’s very important that we’re seen,” Shelley Worrell the founder and chief curator of caribBeing, told NY1.
The cultural advocacy group cautioned that impact came at a cost to the community as the coronavirus spread.
As evictions skyrocketed and joblessness grew, Worrell jumped into gear serving hot meals to frontline workers at two hospitals, including facilities that primarily serve the city’s Caribbean population in Brooklyn.
Many Black-owned businesses, already severely impacted by disparities in access to federal aid, were forced to close altogether or struggled to stay afloat. Among those, Worrell focused efforts on the Caribbean business community federal and state aid can overlook.
caribBeing’s directory of Caribbean businesses then served as a one-stop-shop to support local businesses right as a public campaign to support Black-owned businesses gained steam following the killing of George Floyd in June.
“We were able to really try to amplify the Caribbean businesses in our neighborhoods to drive traffic and media attention to the community,” Worrell said.
In South Florida, where the Caribbean diaspora is 21%, drawing attention to community resources was just as much a public health and cultural necessity as an economic one.
Black Americans, including Caribbean Americans, are familiar with the country’s history of medical exploitation which leaves room for misinformation to propagate.
With misinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccine has been spreading in the community, Miami-based attorney Marlon Hill focused primarily on ensuring the people are efficiently educated about what’s happening throughout the pandemic, as well as facilitating mental health and wellness of the community.
“With the assistance of the Caribbean medical professional community, we have conducted a number of webinars to dispel myths about COVID-19 vaccines and the ongoing pandemic,” he told Insider in an email.
But Hill told Insider keeping the community culturally connect is as vital as medically informed. South Florida’s annual Caribbean carnival was cancelled last October, putting the final nail in the coffin of a festival tourism season that begins with Trinidad and Tobago’s pre-Lenten celebration in February.
Last year’s masquerade of colorful costumes in the twin-island Republic is one of few the region, and its diaspora in the US and elsewhere, have seen ever since – devastating a thriving tourism and cultural entertainment scene.
The pandemic devastated communities reliant on culture and entertainment
Entertainers and entrepreneurs took to social media to connect people the best way they know how – music. Ronnie Tomlinson, director of public relations at Destine Media PR, a full-service agency that works with Caribbean artists, told Insider she was happy to see how naturally entertainers came out to support the diaspora.
“Their intention was to relieve the minds of the people,” she said. “Just using the music to entertain people. We know they’re human, but we also [got to] see that side of them.”
Similar to D-Nice’s Club Quarantine sessions during the pandemic, DJs including Brooklyn-based Kevin Crown and Tony Matterhorn of Jamaica played live music sets designed to virtually recreate the high-energy fetes that can draw thousands of patrons.
Over time, his shows garnered as many as 5000 viewers per show. Crown told Insider that those music sessions started to help fans, as well as himself.
“I even lost my uncle to COVID so it was just a lot of anxiety every day and as much as [my music] helped people, it helped me cope and gave me a purpose,” he said, at the time receiving messages from fans that his performance kept them from the brink.”
Advocates say the tireless work to keep the diaspora together during a time of global suffering will only ramp up as states re-open.
Following a pandemic, and racial unrest that saw communities of color targeted, Hill cautioned for political leaders to mitigate some of the socioeconomic and healthcare issues in the community by meeting the community where they are.
“Be more proactive in sharing these messages in a vernacular that the community can understand and also see,” he said. “Be more proactive in speaking in our language and in our culture.”
Johnny Hackett Jr. is the founder of The Black Dollar Corp., a retail location and online directory.
The directory gives Black entrepreneurs opportunities to gain exposure and customers.
Hackett also runs Black Friday Market, which has 90 Black-owned vendors and hosts community events.
This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”
Johnny Hackett Jr. appreciates being a part of the entrepreneurship community in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 2019, he started The Black Dollar Corp. to support Black-owned businesses in the state through a retail location and online directory.
“We’re trying to give a platform for African American entrepreneurs to be found, to get more exposure, to get more customers,” Hackett, 37, told Insider.
Hackett, who was recently named one of the Triangle Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” said he often partners with the city to spread the word about programs and initiatives.
“So many different opportunities exist here in Raleigh,” he said. “It’s just a place where an entrepreneur can come and get off the ground running. There’s a lot of community support and there are a lot of folks who are invested in making sure that upstart companies do have a chance here.”
Hackett moved to Raleigh just before he started high school and later attended North Carolina A&T State University. His background is in information technology, and he’s worked for Xerox, IBM, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
He first got into entrepreneurship in 2009 when he founded the nonprofit Life Foundation to educate teens about taxes, credit, health insurance, and other life skills.
“I felt like I wasn’t utilizing my strengths to the best of my ability for the community,” Hackett said. “I started to see how many businesses and organizations didn’t have the tools that they needed to either gain access to funding or open certain doors.”
So he started building websites for business owners – and that paved the way for a directory.
Becoming Raleigh’s official Black-owned business directory
The goal of #BlackDollarNC, which features an interactive map, is to increase visibility for North Carolina-based, Black-owned businesses. Owners can add themselves to the directory for free, and it now lists about 1,100 companies. Each day, about 500 people visit the site, Hackett said.
Raleigh’s Office of Economic Development and Innovation engaged Black Dollar Corp. to expand reach, and thus #BlackDollarNC became the official Black-owned business directory of Raleigh. Hackett’s main goals are adding more businesses, turning the directory into a social channel, and expanding to other parts of the US.
Retail space gives entrepreneurs a place to sell goods
Black Dollar Corp.’s newest initiative is Black Friday Market, a department store located in downtown Raleigh where Black-owned businesses without retail space can sell their products. The store opened in December and features more than 90 companies selling clothing, beauty products, artwork, and food items. The market also hosts events.
Companies pay a fee to sell their products in the store and keep 100% of the sales, Hackett said. The store has been a hit so far, he added, and he plans to open more locations in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Hosting events engages the community
Street festivals that feature kids’ activities, musical performances, and food give businesses the opportunity to sell their products. Hackett said they saw a large turnout for their May and June events and is expecting a similar outcome for July’s.
This spring, they also hosted a scavenger hunt. Residents could earn points for posting on social media, attending events, signing up for newsletters from the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, and collecting stickers from locations for a chance to win $5,000 – but the money must be reinvested in a Black-owned company.
“It’s just awesome meeting these folks and talking to them, understanding what their talents are, and then trying to support them as best we can,” Hackett said.
The House of Representatives, on Wednesday, passed legislation enshrining June 19, known as Juneteenth, as a federal national holiday.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed the bill with unanimous support, and today, the bill passed in the House by a 415-14 vote. All votes in opposition came from House republicans.
The day celebrates the emancipation of people who were enslaved in the US – specifically the end of slavery in Texas. Roughly 3o months after the Emancipation Proclamation, which was delivered on September 22, 1862, on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordan Granger told slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they were free.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.
Many of the Republicans who opposed the bill worried the holiday would co-opt Independence Day, and until Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson said he opposed the bill because of the cost of giving federal employees another day off.
“This bill and this day are about freedom,” Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who authored the bill, said on the floor today.
The 14 GOP members who voted against the bill’s passage were:
The Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to pass legislation that would make June 19th, known as Juneteenth, a national holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the US.
The bipartisan bill, authored by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey and Republican Sen. John Cornyn, will need to be passed by the House and signed by President Joe Biden before it becomes law, but the Senate’s vote marks a significant step forward in the years-long legislative effort.
“Happy that my bill to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday just passed the Senate. It has been a state holiday in Texas for more than 40 years,” Cornyn tweeted on Tuesday. “Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union.”
The bill was only able to pass after Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, ended his efforts to block it, conceding on Tuesday that few of his colleagues have an “appetite” to debate the issue. Johnson argued that it was too costly to give federal government employees an additional day off and has suggested the government remove a federal holiday in exchange for Juneteenth.
No senator objected to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s request for unanimous consent, despite several Republican senators’ previously stated opposition to the legislation.
The Juneteenth holiday celebrates June 19, 1865, when a union general informed African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that they had been emancipated from slavery, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The day has been celebrated since the late 1800s. In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a holiday, and now the vast majority of states recognize the day.
Federal lawmakers’ efforts to make Juneteenth a federal holiday gained significantly more momentum last year amid the nationwide protests following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
There are a total of 10 existing federal holidays in the US, which amounts to far fewer annual paid days off than the US’s peer countries provide. It’s been almost 40 years since the federal government created the last national holiday: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
A federally recognized Juneteenth holiday would only technically apply to government employees, but private organizations often follow suit and give their workers the day off. A slew of private employers, including major corporations, made the day a paid holiday beginning last year.
Several years ago, Rosanna Durruthy took a seat in the reception area of a New York City office. She was there to meet an executive with whom she had talked on the phone for weeks regarding a potential business deal.
When a secretary told the executive, a white man, that Durruthy had arrived, he walked into the reception area, looked around, and went back into his office. He repeated this two times.
“I thought you said she was here,” the executive said to the secretary.
“She is.” the secretary said, pointing to Durruthy, an Afro-Latina. A look of shock washed over the man’s face as if he wasn’t expecting to see a person of color, Durruthy said. He also ended the meeting abruptly despite their strong rapport over the phone.
Durruthy said these types of experiences are far too common for those with marginalized backgrounds. Because of this, she’s dedicated her 35-year career to forging a more inclusive corporate culture.
Today, Durruthy is the head of diversity and inclusion at LinkedIn, where she’s on a mission to inspire others to embrace their unique identity at work. A big part of that personal mission comes from knowing firsthand the pain of not being accepted for who you are in the corporate world.
For Durruthy, Pride Month is a time to double down on the work she’s spearheading. Executives need to focus not only on diversity, but inclusion, she said. One in three LGBTQ+ professionals face blatant discrimination and/or microaggressions at work, per a recent LinkedIn survey.
“As a leader, bravery has had to take different forms,” Durruthy said. “Making people visible often requires not just ‘marching people into a room,’ but having leaders take on new behaviors that allow them to be present when they’re interacting with members of their workforce.”
Durruthy spoke to Insider about the trials and triumphs of her ascension to LinkedIn’s head of diversity, lessons she’s learned along the way, and how she’s clearing the path for other queer professionals.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does Pride Month mean to you personally and professionally?
Coming of age as a queer Afro-Latina, there was a time when being out just did not seem feasible as a professional. It felt laden with risk. Working now for a company where our mission is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce, it is inspiring and it’s exciting to know that Pride Month is more than the significance of a month. It is about the work created by organizations to create a space where we can each feel safe, where we can be ourselves.
It’s also the recognition that that’s still not an option for everyone. I have a great privilege to lead this work in an environment like LinkedIn, and from the work that we’re doing to create a safer platform for all members. In doing so, it also makes me feel very aware of how much further we have to go to be a part of creating the solution that allows others to feel as comfortable in their skin as I get to be in mine.
You mentioned there was a time where you weren’t comfortable being an openly queer Afro-Latina. When did that change?
I think it happened early in my career, but the irony isn’t lost upon me that it was really a personal reckoning when I was getting ready to accept my first chief diversity officer role [at beverage company Seagram.] It was obvious that I was Black. I was very clear about my Latina heritage and roots. I’m proud to be a Puerto Rican woman. But being gay was something that I was not comfortable with.
I realized I really had to have a conversation with myself about whether I was equipped to lead diversity and inclusion for a company and not be out. And so it was one of those moments where the function of my work itself forced me to come out as opposed to hiding because I felt it would be disingenuous to lead diversity and not authentically be who I am.
What made you want to become a corporate DEI leader? Was there a specific moment in your life where you realized that you had the potential to make a difference?
I think I’m one of those individuals who were fortunate and blessed at a really young age to be aware of what was going on in the world around me. My own intersectional identity gave me the ability, in some cases, to hide that I was gay. It gave me the agility to be in environments where people often assume that I was someone different. There were times where I was made to feel not fully a member of the Black community because somehow being Hispanic made me not qualify as Black at that time, or that being Black made me not Latina enough. So the intersection cuts both ways.
The journey to being myself really came from an understanding of the civil rights era. I saw the work that Martin Luther King, Jr. lost his life for. I knew that I wanted to make a difference when I grew up. And when I began my career, diversity and inclusion didn’t exist. So in many ways, I was preparing for something that didn’t already exist in the business environment.
I feel like it’s been a real journey to create something that’s necessary.
Has there ever been a time when you’ve had to help someone work through difficulties regarding queerness in the workplace?
Yeah, throughout my career, there have actually been numerous times. Even as we look at the most recent research that LinkedIn has released, we look at the fact that over half of LGBTQ professionals today believe that being out negatively impacts your job search, and more than a third of LGBTQ professionals have faced discrimination and/or microaggressions at work.
The work that I do in diversity is not something I do alone. It’s the kind of work that requires others to stand alongside you, not only members of our LGBTQ+ community, but allies as well to recognize and regard the importance of ensuring that everyone in that environment has the ability to realize great potential. But it only happens if the organization empowers and enables that.
Great companies are going to establish clear anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. They’re going to create safe spaces for their employees and they’re going to enable brave conversations to take place because these aren’t one-sided conversations. And ultimately, they’re going to commit to inclusive hiring practices and goals, which means they’re willing to stand up and say, “I see you, and I want you in my environment, and I want you to bring your perspective to the work that we’re doing.”
And lastly, it’s not just about bringing people in the door; it’s about building inclusive leaders who are able to unlock the potential in each and every one of their team members, equipping leaders with the skills to understand and confront bias, to actively create a culture of inclusion, and to create the experience of belonging for another.
No one wants the mental stress of having to be someone that they’re not.
Earlier you mentioned the word brave. Could you tell me about a time in your career that you’ve had to be brave?
You just want one time? [laughs] As human beings, there’s always fear in creating something that hasn’t existed before. And the work of diversity, inclusion, and belonging is ultimately still a very new concept, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last 35 years doing this work. And the newness of the concept is this bravery to help people see that each and every one of us is different. We’re born different.
The real bravery of leadership is to create something that didn’t exist previously. When we talk about systemic bias, what we’re also talking about is the permission that society has given to create unfairness, to build in preferences that say you belong here when you come from certain environments or you look a certain way, or your degree is from a certain school, or you speak a certain way.
Ultimately that also lends to how you look, how you walk, the gender you possess, and who you live your life with. And I think bravery happens in each and every day when we say it’s not right, that we are excluding people, that we are designing systems and products and services to benefit some, but effectively are designed to exclude others, to ignore others in many instances.
What is a goal that you want to accomplish in the next year?
I personally would love to see us reach gender parity as an organization in leadership. It may not be in the next year, but I think the progress that we’re making will allow us to see it in a fairly reasonable period of time. And that we continue with the programs and the commitments that we’ve made over the next three years. We’ve pledged to double the number of Black and Latino underrepresented talent in the United States at the senior individual contributor level and beyond. So this year is largely about continuing to make a mark in that progression and that journey of doubling the number of people at LinkedIn who are Black and Latino.
The Historic Square in Denton, Texas, is a sprawling lawn dotted with old oak trees. On weekends, it’s a destination for families and students from Denton’s two major universities. The historic County Courthouse is in the center, surrounded by a commercial strip with a few hip coffee shops, a pizza joint where indie bands play late into the night, an old-fashioned ice cream shop, and a bookstore.
For over a century – until last June 25 – there was also a Confederate monument: A 20-foot statue of a uniformed soldier over the words, “Our Confederate Soldiers.” And for the last two decades, nearly every week on Sunday afternoon, from 4 to 7pm, a Black resident of Denton named Willie Hudspeth would set up a lawn chair, some signs, and sit in protest.
The standoff finally came to an end one year ago, exactly one month after the killing of George Floyd, when under the cover of dark, county officials quietly dismantled the monument.
Hudspeth – a retired middle school teacher, Vietnam veteran, and leader of the local NAACP – was already 54 years-old when he started his protests; by the time he watched it come down, he was 75 and bent with age. On the infamous night, Hudspeth was there, hauled out of bed at 4 in the morning by allies who heard the commotion. Cell phone video caught Hudspeth’s shocked reaction, as buzzsaws could be heard cutting through concrete. “Thank god it actually happened,” he said in an interview the next day. But the secrecy around the removal was bittersweet. “For 21-years, I have been going down there, talking about removing the statue, and it’s just like these commissioners to do what they did.”
Today, there’s no trace of the monument on the Square. Denton has changed in other ways, too.
Hudspeth’s weekly protests were a catalyst for an investigation into Denton’s past – the legacy of Klavern No. 136, Denton’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan; the razing of the Black middle class district known as Quakertown; the dates that Black men were lynched in Denton County. At the end of 2020, Denton even elected its first Black mayor – a Republican who is also Hudspeth’s son.
“He read them for filth”
For Hudspeth, the whole thing started in 1999 with a seemingly innocuous proposal to turn on a pair of water fountains that were affixed to each leg of the monument’s arch. The consensus among county leaders, all of whom were white, was that the fountains had never been operable – that pipes would have to be put down for the fountains to work.
Denton’s Black residents remembered it differently; the fountains had definitely worked, and they were “white only.”
The fountains presented a mystery, and solving it required knowing the statue’s origin story. Around the turn of the 20th century when the South was emerging from Reconstruction to enter a new world order where Black people were now free, a few groups formed to remind everybody of how things used to be, and in their view, were supposed to be. One was the KKK, whose members sang in white churches on Sunday mornings and terrorized Black neighborhoods at night. White women who wanted to do their part could join the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).
And do their part they did-all across the South, as Jim Crow ramped up in the late 1800s and “The Birth of a Nation” hit theatres in 1915, the UDC and other similar groups fundraised to erect over 700 Confederate monuments in places of public prominence. A large majority were erected between 1900 and 1920, and tended to have a cookie-cutter look, reflecting the swift establishment under the perception of lost ground from the white South. Many of the statues feature a sculpted concrete image of a soldier atop arches or mounts emblazoned with “Our Confederate Soldiers” and a plaque honoring the sons conscripted into the War of Northern Aggression. The Denton Confederate monument went up toward the end of this era, in 1918, but with one distinction-the fountains on either side of the arch.
As the debate in 1999 turned increasingly contentious, a local historian dug up old newspaper clippings that showed the fountains in use. (Years later, in 2018, the county commissioned a ground test and confirmed that the fountains had indeed been operable.) But increasingly, it was a conversation that few wanted to have, and shutting it down meant tabling the water fountain discussion altogether. “Because,” Hudspeth says of the town, “it would show they were racist.” As Hudspeth saw it, Denton needed to deal with its past and, for that to happen, the fountains had to be turned on. “Turn them on,” became his battle cry. even before the fate of the monument was on the table. “Turn them on and let everyone drink.”
County leaders held firm. “I know for a fact that the memorial has never had an operable fountain,” Mary Horn, the chair of the Denton County Commissioner’s Court, which oversaw the monument, and who would spar with Hudspeth over the monument until her retirement in 2018, said at the time. “There is NO water line from the building to the memorial and never has been.”
Hudspeth started attending nearly every Commissioner’s Court meeting to talk about the monument. He showed up at City Council meetings. Katina Stone-Butler, a local artist, remembers stumbling upon Hudspeth on the local access TV channel in the nineties. “Just giving everybody the business,” she laughs. “He read them for filth.”
The Commissioner’s Court referred Hudspeth to the Denton County Historical Commission, which then referred him to the Texas Historical Commission, which then referred him back to the Commissioner’s Court. “They had me going in circles,” Hudspeth says. “Rabbit chases to wear me down.”
Finally, Hudspeth had had enough. If county leaders weren’t willing to engage with him, he would take the conversation to the Square. “[That] Willie was angry,” Hudspeth says, looking back. “He was angry at everybody and everything. My name was chaos. I wanted to create chaos wherever I could-and I mean everywhere.”
He was working then as a junk hauler but he had Sundays off. And so, on one Sunday in 1999, he held his first protest at the foot of the Confederate monument.
To the Black community in Denton, the city’s selective memory was nothing new. The forced relocation of Quakertown proved it.
In the decades after the Civil War. Quakertown was a thriving Black merchant district near the center of town. Denton was Denton-but Quakertown was theirs. There were Black doctors and lawyers and Black-owned shops.
But then, white Denton decided that Quakertown was in the way. The College of Industrial Arts, a school for white women, had been built on the edge of Quakertown, just beyond the Square. The town claimed the students needed more space for the ladies to walk safely from school. Plans had also been drawn up for a new Denton Civic Park – exactly where Quakertown then stood. As a historical marker set down in the park in 2013 puts it, “the civic-minded interests of Denton’s white residents threatened the future of Quakertown.”
In 1921, three years after the Confederate monument went up in Denton, the town voted to relocate the whole of Quakertown to Solomon Hill, a swampy cow pasture on the other side of the railroad tracks in southeast Denton, thus giving the white ladies their walking path to school. More than 60 families lost their homes and many residents left Denton altogether. It was the same year as the Tulsa Race Massacre, 270 miles north, when the city’s “Black Wall Street” was burned and 300 people were killed.
What happened to Quakertown sealed in a wound that has not healed to this day. Some of the old Quakertown homes still sit on cinder blocks from the hasty relocation. There was never an apology from Denton’s white leadership, much less compensation offered to those who had lost their community and livelihoods.
“I think it broke their spirit, really,” says Linnie M. McAdams, who is 83 and served as Denton’s first Black councilwoman. In the 1980s, she pushed to revitalize southeast Denton, where the grandchildren of the original Quakertown residents still live to this day, but she says that getting people involved in local politics was like pulling teeth.
Once McAdams, who had come to Denton as an adult, learned the history of Quakertown, things started making sense. “I didn’t understand the devastation of that move,” she says. “And what it did to those people to be moved out of their homes over to a god forsaken area with no city services. And the city was in no hurry to do anything about it.”
Katina Stone-Butler, an artist who also moved to Denton as an adult, described a similar experience. “Black people don’t really go on the Square,” Stone-Butler says. “There’s a spiritual barrier there because of the racist history of this county.”
With two major universities in town, a world-class School of Jazz, and progressive leadership on the city council, Denton enjoys a reputation as a blue dot amid the conservative Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
But to Stone-Butler, who is Black and co-hosts the podcast, Black History for White People, it’s the same old racism, just in a hipster outfit. “Coffee house, skinny jean racism,” she says.
A long, solitary protest
That first Sunday of Hudspeth’s protest, he set up a sign that read “God loves us all” – with a smiley face for the “o” in God – and sat down in a lawn chair at the base of the monument. And for years after that, rain or shine, he stuck with it. Often, he would strike up conversations with people about the history of the statue.
As the years passed, Hudspeth’s goals shifted – a fact that his detractors would seize on. At first, he wanted the fountains turned on, along with a plaque that would explain their history of Jim Crow segregation. Later, he said the monument should be moved to a museum.
If there was going to be a Confederate monument on public property, Hudspeth figured he would be its living presence, there to offer context and perspective. If the monument paid tribute to Confederate soldiers, as Horn and its defenders claimed, Hudspeth’s protests inspired a deep look at the past.
At times, students rallied behind him, though their efforts tended to come and go with the graduation cycles. In 2008, after students circulated a petition calling for the monument’s removal, the Denton County Historical Commission announced a plan for a Quakertown House Museum dedicated to Denton’s Black history.
In walking tours, blog posts and podcasts, the excavation of Denton’s racist past had started. Students found old newspaper clippings that revealed a KKK parade through Denton in 1921, more Klan activity alongside the raising of Quakertown, and Klan ties to city leadership. When Hudspeth discovered unmarked graves at the overgrown and unkempt St. John’s Cemetery, a plaque was ordered and work began to identify the dead and piece together their stories. Denton County lynchings were catalogued.
“Willie is a heat-seeking missile man of action,” says Shaun Treat, a local activist and historian. “He doesn’t quit.”
As Hudspeth continued his protest, the tension in Denton rose.
In 2015, after the words “This is Racist” were spray-painted on top of the monument, a white man confronted Hudspeth on the Square with a loaded AK-47, shouting “Counterprotest!”
The area had been thick with families and onlookers. When police arrived, the man forfeited his ammunition but was allowed to leave the scene with his rifle. He claimed that he was there “to make a point” and was never charged. Security in the Square ramped up after that.
Pressure was also building from outside.
The 2017 “United the Right” rally in Charlottesville brought things to a head. “That was a big one,” Hudspeth says. “We [Black Lives Matter] joined together, and chaos was on again.”
In 2019, Texas finally agreed to remove from its statehouse a plaque stating that the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” Texas still observes Confederate History Month every April and, according to the Texas Observer, while the state had removed more Confederate symbols than any other, as of 2019, 68 remained.
Denton announced a new Confederate Memorial Advisory Committee, which included Hudspeth in its 15 members. When the committee voted 12-3 to keep the monument in place, but add a plaque decrying slavery and video kiosks dedicated to Black history in Denton, Hudspeth was one of the dissenting votes.
However, it was only a recommendation and the Commissioner’s Court, now led by Judge Andy Eads, needed to approve it. Eads ordered ground-penetrating tests that finally confirmed the fountains had been linked to pipes.
But then came COVID. And then, the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Confederate statues were coming down across the south. In Denton, police shot and killed Darius Tarver, a young Black man in mental crisis. There were also renewed questions about the mysterious death of Lermont Stowers Jones two years earlier on Denton’s Old Alton Bridge, a rumored site of past lynchings.
Suddenly, it wasn’t just Willie Hudspeth protesting at the Confederate monument.
On June 9, 2020, the Commissioner’s Court approved an emergency request to the Texas Historical Commission to relocate the monument to protect it from “desecration.” When Denton woke up on the morning of June 25, the Confederate soldier was gone.
Hudspeth spends his Sundays at home with his wife of 52 years, who is happy to see him simmer down for once. But he still attends county meetings, as he says, to keep its leaders in check. And he shares his views with his son, Gerard Hudspeth, who was elected as Denton’s first Black Mayor in December 2020 and has largely stayed out of Denton’s debates about race.
“My dad and I still argue politics and sometimes it gets hot,” Mayor Hudspeth says. “I am what I am because of his modeling on how to serve and be active in your community.”
“He surprises me,” Hudspeth says of his son. “We still fight. But we laugh, too.”
Hudspeth chuckles and shakes his head. “He’s doing a good job.”
What comes next is up to the Texas Historical Commission, which in April approved plans to move the monument to Denton’s Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum. McAdams, the retired councilwoman, is pushing for a memorial honoring victims of lynchings in Denton County to be installed there, too.
“That statue is a tribute to the people who have mistreated me all my life,” she says. “It gives comfort and a sense of right to those people who are bigoted and filled with hate… a symbol of the good ol’ days when they had control and you didn’t have all these n*****s walking around everywhere. That’s what it says to them.”
As Stone-Butler, the Denton artist, sees it: “It’s not enough to move a monument that has been the physical gatekeeper of racism and systemic oppression. It needs to crumble to the ground.”
“If Denton wants to put up a monument,” Stone-Butler says. “They can put up a monument of Willie Hudspeth.”
As part of the settlement program, the player’s brain function scores were to be adjusted against an average score, or “norm” for similar demographic groups, a practice called “race-norming,” ABC news reported.
This norm assumed that the average Black player would start at lower levels of cognition than white players, meaning they would have to score lower on the test to prove that they had sustained brain damage to qualify for compensation, ABC News said.
The league has denied that the practice is discriminatory, saying that this was meant “to stop bias in testing, not perpetrate it,” AP News reported.
A “replacement norm,” will be developed by a panel of neuropsychologists, the NFL, and magistrate judge Christopher Seeger, the lead lawyer who represented the class of retired players, The New York Times reported. But the league did not say how long this would take.
The new norm will be used to reevaluate claims from Black retirees who would have otherwise qualified for the award if it wasn’t for the race adjustment, the NFL said.
The league said that practice was never mandatory, but left to the discretion of doctors taking part in the settlement program.
However, the NFL has appealed some claims filed by Black players not adjusted for race, according to AP News.
Two retired NFL players, Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry, were denied awards that would have been granted if they had been white, according to a civil rights suit and a suit against the settlement raised in August last year, the AP reported.
Both Henry and Davenport’s cases were dismissed in March by Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, who is overseeing the settlement and ruled on the original court case. At the time of the dismissal, Brody called the case an “improper collateral attack” on the settlement, according to the Times. Brody’s ruling has been appealed.
After the dismissal, Brody ordered an investigation, led by Seeger, into concerns about the league’s use of separate scoring curves, the Times reported.
The news of the investigation led a dozen NFL retired player’s wives to send Brody a petition calling for an end to race norming, which got almost 50,000 signatures, the Times reported.
The involvement of Seeger in the court-ruled investigation on race-norming has been called out by Davenport and Henry’s lawyers, who expressed doubt that he would represent Black players fairly. Seeger and the NFL, they said, introduced race-norming into the settlement agreement, the Times reported.
Seeger had previously said that his firm had “investigated the issue” and “not seen any evidence of racial bias in the settlement program,” ABC News reported.
In an interview with ABC News’ Nightline released on Wednesday, Seeger walked back his statements, saying: “I was wrong. I didn’t have a full appreciation of the scope of the problem.”
“iCarly,” which is set to premier on Paramount+ on June 17, is a remake of the Nickelodeon show that ran from 2007 to 2012. It stars Miranda Cosgrove as Carly Shay, who runs a web show with her friends. In the new series, Carly and her friends will be “navigating work, love, and family in their 20s,” according to EW.
A post shared by Miranda Cosgrove (@mirandacosgrove)
Following the tweet and subsequent comments from Laci Mosley, a Black actor set to join the cast of “iCarly”, Insider spoke to experts with experience in the way people of color are treated in the entertainment industry. They highlighted the pervasive racism from online trolls, many of whom struggle to accept diversity being newly introduced into television shows, and the importance of speaking out in order to effect change.
Laci Mosley spoke out about racist abuse she’d received from fans who were angry she was joining the ‘iCarly’ cast
It was announced in March that Mosley, an actor best known for her role in the sitcom “Florida Girls” and her podcast “Scam Goddess,” would be joining the cast in the role of a new character called Harper, who will live with Carly.
While many of the original cast, including Cosgrove, Jerry Trainor, and Nathan Kress, are returning to the reboot, fans noticed that the character Sam Puckett, played by Jennette McCurdy, was missing.
This appears to have led to backlash towards Mosley on social media, with fans angry that a beloved white character is not present, but a Black woman is.
“Laci’s character Harper isn’t replacing Sam,” Ramsey tweeted, following up with statements from her fellow writers condemning the racism. “No one could replace Jeanette McCurdy or her incredible talent! But it’s both racist as hell & completely unfair to decide that Laci hasn’t earned her role especially since the show isn’t even out yet!!”
Mosley tweeted that she had received racist TikTok videos and social media comments since the announcement, and it had broken her heart. She said “being a Black woman is exhausting” and “we all deserve better.”
“I was shocked when a celebration of all the hard work we’ve put into making this reboot was overshadowed by the most racism I’ve ever experienced in my life over the course of 72 hours,” she said. “I felt silly being so upset because I’ve been in this little brown body my entire life and racism isn’t new but it still hurts.”
A post shared by Laci Mosley (@divalaci)
‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression’
The issue of racist backlash against women of color in entertainment is widespread. Amina Smith, a former Stadium Sports Network host who is now the on-air talent for NBC Boston Sports, told Insider she has experienced racism in many different ways. She’s had people calling her the N-word slur in messages, and has been told she’s not qualified for her job because she is simply filling a “Black quota.”
“It sickens me to see that people who have never met you have so much hate for you just based on what you look like,” she said, adding that anonymity makes it easier for people to be comfortable spewing hate.
“I think people often detach celebrities from being actual humans that can hear, see, and feel the hate that comes their way,” she said. “All of this just shows that racism isn’t something of the past and unfortunately, very much a reality in this country.”
Cheryl L. Bedford is the founder of social action organization Women of Color Unite, which focuses on fair treatment and fair pay for women of color in the entertainment and media industries. She told Insider that racism directed at the success of Black people is a blatant example of “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
Seeing more Black talent taking starring roles can cause an angry reaction from some white people because they are so used to being centered in every conversation, she said.
“Content has always been seen through the white male cis-gender heterosexual gaze,” she said. “So as we get more and more diverse, you will have that backlash.”
It’s particularly apparent when shows are rebooted because people tend to have a nostalgic attachment to them, she said, and don’t like to see them changed – especially when the show wasn’t initially diverse.
“They have these feelings from childhood that come up,” Bedford said. “What they fail to realize is that people like me, we never saw ourselves in that. You might be attached to it. We’re not. And if you want our dollars, you got to put us in it.”
That fallout is a spectrum, from casually racist comments to rampant, hateful abuse. And it will continue to increase until diversity is the norm, Bedford said.
“The work that I do is exhausting. The emotional energy that comes from calling things out over and over and over again is exhausting,” she said. “But it’s the work that needs to be done because we have to get to the point where it is normalized.”
The hateful campaign highlights a gendered form of anti-Black racism
Tyler Parry, an assistant professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Nevada, told Insider that directing racist hate towards people of color cast in television shows is common.
“This has been a pretty consistent thought process amongst racists on the internet,” he said. “Where even before the show begins, it is doomed for failure in their minds, simply because the network had the audacity to recast the part for better representation.”
He thinks campaigns of targeted harassment can be intended to psychologically damage the actor, but also to put pressure on the studio to recast them with another white person.
“We also have to consider that this is a gendered form of anti-Black racism, and this is just the most recent manifestation of that,” he said. “And I think that’s important because it does seem that Black women are the ones most targeted by these campaigns.”
Support from allies is vital to send a message that racism should not be tolerated
Philip McKenzie, the chief strategy officer at MediaVillage and the executive director of AdvancingDiversity.org, told Insider that when racist abuse happens, it is important for casts, productions, and studios to have a united front against the hate “to not only support the talent that is under attack but to send a clear message to fans this behavior is not tolerated or welcome.”
The Instagram account for “iCarly” on Paramount+ shared a statement following the tweets, saying the racist attacks were “not acceptable.” It was shared by Mosley’s costars Cosgrove and Trainor, who added that he never wanted to hear the phrase “iCarly fans are racist” ever again.
“Our company is proud to uphold the values of inclusivity and collaboration, where we work to embrace new and diverse voices, act with care, and work together,” it reads. “The upcoming Paramount+ iCarly series is one of many examples of this commitment, and we support our entire cast and crew and stand against all instances of hate and racism.”
Some experts think studios could do more. Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the civil rights organization National Urban League who has fought against racism in Hollywood, told Insider that in order for people of color to see themselves in the stories that shape our worldview, diversity and inclusion needs to be pursued “at every level and in every facet of the entertainment industry.”
“It is just as important for white America to see people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures represented realistically in the media they consume,” he said.
Bedford said this means hiring more people of color as writers, producers, and directors because “the marginalized can write for the ones in power.”
“The opposite is not true,” she said.
Insider has reached out to Paramount representatives for comment.
A post shared by Jerry Trainor (@jerrytrainor)
Parry said that with the rise of social media, even a small collective of online trolls “can have a very big voice.”
“It does amplify people who have prejudices that they want to let loose and unleash on specific groups,” he said.
The support shown for Mosley has also been huge though, according to her recent tweets.
“I just want to thank you all for being so kind and uplifting me over the past few days,” she said on May 19. “I can’t believe how a scenario that started out so negative has become SO overwhelming positive.”