The winds of change have taken an interesting turn at the online publication Twin Cities Daily Planet. TCDP began with a mission to cover culture diversity and, increasingly over the years, to do so by the pens of minority writers. It was the first such entity hereabouts since the magazine Colors: A Journal of Opinion by Writers of Color folded in the late ’90s.
Jeremy Iggers helmed the Planet, a well-intentioned White publisher working with demonstrated integrity. Effective as he was, the new head, Adaobi Okolue, succeeding Iggers as executive director and publisher at Twin Cities Media Alliance/Twin Cities Daily Planet, has the advantage of innately grasping minority culture and concerns through the lens of an accomplished professional of color.
It is, in fact, conspicuous in a metropolitan area taking great pains to pat itself on the back for prizing diversity and multiculturalism that Okolue is one of only two Black female publishers, Tracey Williams-Dillard of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder being the other. Iggers acknowledges in an email, “As a very talented young woman of color, and an immigrant, Adaobi Okolue is well-positioned to help the TC Media Alliance [TCMA] and TC Daily Planet fulfill its mission of ensuring that all Twin Citizens have access to the media resources they need to participate fully in the life of our community.”
Without going on record with her exact age, Okolue, sitting in the TCDP conference room, says, “I’m young but I’m experienced.” Indeed, her background includes being a writer, visual and performance artist, and creative producer who crafts stories and produces work that, she attests, “challenges the way we view ourselves and reveals the truths, brilliance and ideas of the people we choose not to see.” She has been a contributing artist to Sha Cage’s and Signe Harriday’s MaMa mOsAic for the past two years and was featured in the critically lauded Blacker the Berry ensemble and exhibit at Intermedia Arts.
Okolue is an alumnus of the Givens Foundation Black Writers Collaborative, where she mentored with novelist, book editor and University of Minnesota instructor Alexs D. Pate She holds a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications, public relations, and African/African American studies from the University of Minnesota. She has held marketing roles at Page Education Foundation, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Best Buy, Inc.
Okolue reflects that she expects being both Nigerian-born and African American to “impact stories at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and how they are told. “What kind of stories we want to tell, who gets to tell those stories — the who is really important to me. Oftentimes our stories are filtered through White [perceptions], mainstream media.”
She has her own ideas about journalism, itself. “When you break it down, how do you tell stories, tell news, better — specifically for African and African American communities?” To her that means bringing in fresh blood.
“We want people to come on board, to tell stories,” she adds. “You don’t have to be a journalist to be a writer. It doesn’t mean you’re not equipped. We can debunk the idea of only using reporters to [report]. We’re looking at anybody that wants to create content. How can we bring them to the table?”
An astute observation, since long before journalism schools opened their doors to admit students of color, writers of color have conveyed the reality of their world for community newspapers. “You can bring [cultural] nuance, to get to what the story’s really about and not just [what’s on] the surface. We want to amplify marginalized voices, telling untold stories.”
She notes that mainstream media frequently pats itself on the back for giving minority communities a voice. “We have our own voices. We don’t need anyone to give us a voice. How we see the job at the Daily Planet is amplifying [those] voices that aren’t being heard.”
How did she come to take on the position? The interest was born in no small part of her younger days admiring Essence magazine. “I’ve always wanted to run a media arts organization. As editor or publisher, I’ve always wanted to have some kind of leadership role.
“Prior to [this] role, I used to be on the [TCMA] board. In Februrary, we were looking at the fact that Jeremy Iggers was thinking of leaving.” In what seems to have been a simple, straightforward process, Okolue put herself under consideration and the sensible choice prevailed.
Okolue is also the principal strategist at Coloring Circles LLC, a marketing studio in Minneapolis that works primarily with nonprofits, foundations, issue-driven initiatives, small-to-medium businesses and creative entrepreneurs.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.