How starting #OscarsSoWhite helped me figure out my purpose in life

NU Tribe magazine is a digital, bimonthly publication that covers all things related to lifestyle, entertainment and news for black millennials. I began there as editor-at-large, a position I still hold today, although my role has transitioned into one of facilitator, ensuring we have the best content for each publication.

At some point, while all of this was happening, I realized that I had to choose. I could no longer do it all. That’s something that women struggle with too often: the guilt or frustration at realizing that you’re actually not superwoman. We have to allow ourselves to be fallible, to be finite and to realize this before the well runs completely dry.

So I spoke with my husband and said, “This is what I need to do. It’s going to mean significantly less money, significantly more travel and I’m not sure where it’s going to lead, but I need to jump off of this cliff to find my happiness.” To his credit, my husband handed me a parachute of love and support and made it easy to take my leap of faith.

One fateful morning in January 2015, I’m getting dressed for work in my family room so I can watch the Oscar nominations on the big TV in hi-def because Chris Hemsworth was one of the presenters. I mentioned that I love my husband, right?

As I’m watching, name after name and face after face, the group of Oscar nominees was so homogenous that it was disconcerting. I took to Twitter, which is my community, to vent my frustration and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was born with the tweet, “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.”

It started as a sarcastic response. You can imagine some of the other uses of the hashtag as people around the world were equally flippant. But the conversation eventually pivoted to a much more serious and needed discussion about the importance of diversity and inclusion in film and entertainment. It was then that I had to decide if I was going to be the face of this movement.

I always say I wish I had a sexier story to tell, like I was sitting in a boardroom, planning my strategy with my team, and saying this is what we’re going to devote the next several years to. But that’s not what happened, and I think it’s an example of how you may not always see the opportunities coming, but you must be ready and willing to take them on once they do.

Through conversations that emanated from the OscarsSoWhite hashtag, significant change has been made, but more work must be done. For example, the Academy just invited 683 new members into its organization. Unfortunately, this substantial number does little to move the needle regarding diversity. Even with these new members, the Academy is still 89 percent white and 73 percent male, and the average age is in the 60s. I am already anticipating that some critics will say any 2017-nominated movie featuring characters of color only got that nomination by some perverse sense of affirmative action. But remember the stats. The Academy is still overwhelming older white males. It’s not as if the new members get more than one vote.

While the increase in people of color and women in the Academy is good, more change must occur. I submit a change in the voting structure is necessary. Right now, Academy members do not have to view the films or performances before they vote. Read that again. So while I argue that awards should be based on merit, there can be no meritocracy if you are not watching the films before you decide who should receive an award for it.

I do what I do to provide a better life for our children than the ones we had. For me, that is not just about a more comfortable lifestyle financially. It’s also about feeding their whole being, making them as complete as we can before we send them out into the world. It’s important to me that they see positive images in film, on TV and on stage with actors and characters that look both like them and their inclusive group of friends.

I now travel the country speaking to organizations and universities about issues of diversity and inclusion. This has become my life’s work. My mantra is: “What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it.” I say this every morning because it guides me. Sometimes we make grandiose plans, a five-year- or 10-year strategy, and we lose the trees for the forest. For me, it is important that I am doing something important every single day. That I can end the day and look back pleased with what I have accomplished, even if it’s something small like I was able to get through all of my emails before 1 a.m. We must learn to celebrate the smaller joys as we continue our journey.

April Reign is a speaker at the #BlogHer16 conferencethe premier event for women online taking place from August 4 – 6, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. Don’t wait! See the agenda and all the speakers and get your ticket now.


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