J’na had a beautiful smile on her face when she talked to me about her music journalism career and her up-and-coming website. She highlighted the importance of unrepresented and marginalized voices and her resilience in this unkind world. During our interview, she talked about growing up loving writing, and how the pen serves as her tool to fight injustices in the world. As a young writer, J’na is already incredibly accomplished and has been published in VIBE, Billboard, Playboy, and many more publications. Her website, DOPEism, will be up early next year, and we are all super excited for it!
J’na, tell me about your background and how you got into writing.
I have been writing my entire life. It’s the only thing that I ever really wanted to do. My mom told me I started reading and writing when I was three. I wrote for my middle school and high school newspapers, and in college, I was on the newspaper staff as well. When I told my mom I wanted to study journalism in college, she was like “okay!” She was totally fine with it and wanted me to be a writer. Initially in college, I wanted to do television writing and actually had an internship with CollegeHumor, but midway through it, I wasn’t as into that anymore and I focused more on my own blog. When I was researching jobs and internships after that, I saw VIBE. I read their magazine ever since I was old enough to pick up a magazine on my own. I went into the interview and didn’t even get home before they told me that I got the internship!
Did you think you would become a music journalist before joining VIBE?
Music was always something that I had an interest in. My dad was a deejay, so I always heard Motown, different types of R&B, and funk. Then through my older brother, I got into late ‘90s hip-hop and rap music. I grew up in a predominantly white town, so I heard Britney Spears and *NSYNC and lots of pop. I listened to every type of music possible, and it has always been something I had a lot of interest in and knowledge about.
That leads me to your next big project. Tell me about this website you are working on!
As a person and as a writer, I’m continuing to learn so much about the world, and grow and expand my own intellect and interests. Recently, I found out that I am very interested in social justice. All the stuff that is going on with the Administration and this world that we live in- it really woke my senses and made me realize how many people are disenfranchised. I know many people share this experience, so I want to use my website as a platform where marginalized voices can tell their stories, since I can’t tell their stories for them. I also want it to be fun and easy to digest. I want to have articles, videos, photo galleries, podcasts, and therefore different ways for people to connect with others.
How exactly are the articles going to come along and to make sure everyone’s voice is heard?
I want to start with at least four articles a month where people can submit a proposal for an idea that they want to write about on the site. I also want to have different themes, so that the articles have some cohesiveness. Every month, there’s something going on in the world, like Black History Month for February and Women’s History Month for March. Right now since it is just a passion project, it’s a lot work to get people to write, but it is worth it. Don’t you want your voice to be heard and your writing published? I would like that [laughs]. That’s why I want to get a lot of young voices too, because I know many college students would love to get their work out there.
Humor is an important element in your work. Could you balance fun with seriousness?
I definitely don’t want it to be preachy or didactic. While I am a very serious person, I am also super fun, and I like to have humor in my work- like I said, easier to digest. I want my unapologetic and straightforward personality to come through in my writing as well as the website. The message that we should be unapologetic, powerful, and fun in all that we do and who were are are the driving forces for the website.
What makes you powerful?
I feel powerful when my voice is heard. For example, I am the baby of the team at my job. Although I am the youngest, my voice and my pen have proven in the past to be pretty loud and effective. Listen to this- why is it that women can’t be cocky? We are taught to be humble but men are able to be cocky, and that’s not right, because if you know you are the shit, you should be able to be confident in that. I know I’m a good writer, so when I am not able to push my ideas forward, or when someone tries to turn down the volume of my voice, that’s when I feel powerless. I don’t want my views or my voice be stifled.
“Listen to this- why is it that women can’t be cocky? We are taught to be humble but men are able to be cocky, and that’s not right, because if you know you are the shit, you should be able to be confident in that.”
I feel powerful knowing how resilient I am, and how I don’t let my struggles become my identifier, which could hold me back from things that I actually want to do. Even if I’m not totally satisfied with the place I’m in, I know I am still going to make it work. The stuff that I have put out in the past year, I am really proud of. My favorite piece this year came from an interview with Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo. For me, that piece was me going up that hill and realizing that this is the type of writing and work I need to be doing. Talking to her about social justice and its effect on the pop culture- because it obviously seeped into Hollywood- made me realize that these conversations are what I need to keep having.
Marrying my two interests, social justice and pop culture, has been enlightening. Instead of feeling like I can only write about a new album by a rapper, I’ve been able to write about a lot of deeper things. Some of my best writing this year has been about how culture reflects music and how music influences culture. It is frustrating because a lot of the viral content that people talk about in the culture is the petty beef between artists, or who said what, and it’s not pushing the conversation forward. I’m trying to change that. For example reflecting on mental health and drug glorification within the music industry. Conversations that are hard pills to swallow, but are important to have.
Finally, what gives you power when you need it?
The obvious answer is always going to be my mom. Like I said about resilience, we didn’t have much growing up. My parents got divorced when I was very young, and a couple of years ago my mom passed away. I keep going because of her; because she would never have wanted me to stop going to school or pursuing my goals of being a writer. She was the most powerful person that I’ve ever met, and she was always laughing and in high spirits through all her pain. If she was able to push through her illness with a smile on her face, there’s no excuse for the rest of us to not let a struggle hold us back from what we need to be doing.