In 1968, in response to uprisings by Black communities in cities like Newark and Detroit, President Lyndon Johnson launched a task force to determine the cause of the riots and make recommendations about what to do next. After a lengthy study, the task force, which was known as the Kerner Commission, released a report which pointed to the myriad ways that “white society” was deeply implicated in the unrest and the harrowing conditions in the “ghetto.” The report also called out the role of the “white press” in fomenting unrest and recommended swift and substantial changes to the structure of U.S. media and coverage of Black communities.
Today, we find ourselves in a similar season of racial reckoning in the U.S. A new report from the Ford Foundation shows that many media companies did not heed the call of the Kerner Commission and prioritize media equity in their coverage and operations. On the other hand, some, especially newer digital outlets, have taken up the charge to put Black Americans at the center of their staffing and storytelling. PushBlack is one such organization.
I spoke with Eskedar Getahun, Interim Co-CEO for PushBlack, to learn more about how the organization is using storytelling to serve Black Americans and build a more inclusive democracy.
What does PushBlack do and how are you advancing civic engagement and democracy?
PushBlack is the nation’s largest nonprofit media advocacy organization for Black Americans, currently serving 9 million people. We use the power of narrative, especially Black history, to educate and activate our subscribers to build their personal power and create lasting economic and political change.
Black people are not a monolith, but we do understand that one of the keys to creating change is voting in every election to determine who is in power. Since our founding in 2016, we’ve been focused on encouraging our subscribers to vote. We're also focused on other issues of critical importance to our community, including criminal justice reform, financial empowerment, and economic justice issues.
In 2018, we ran a very successful Get Out the Vote (GOTV) program. Over half a million subscribers shared our GOTV messages with millions of friends and family members. In 2020, we aim to run the largest digital GOTV program reaching 70% of Black Americans.
Why Black history?
Marcus Garvey said, “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” We agree and believe that in order to make change it’s critical to have a strong and accurate understanding of the successes and failures of our past. History provides a context for understanding the present and can also give us a roadmap for the future.
Unfortunately, the Black history that we are taught in school is inadequate both in the amount and type of stories that are covered. In many American schools, Black history is only covered for one month!
For example, when I think about the suffragist movement, I think about Susan B. Anthony and some of the other prominent suffragettes that we all learned about in school. But if we study history, we also know that the suffragist movement had racist roots and excluded Black women. We’ve written about this at PushBlack.
In any history there are multiple perspectives and voices. We want to ensure that the voices and stories of Black folks are not erased. We want Black people to have pride in and a deeper understanding of where we have been so that we have a stake in and can actively work to change our future.
You’ve built a huge subscriber and follower base. How did that happen?
We have a strong culture of listening to our subscribers, including a rigorous process for testing all of our content before sharing it with our audience. This has helped make us a trusted source of information for Black people. Also, we are meeting Black Americans where we are - on our phones!
We’ve also scaled our impact and growth because of our subscribers. We encourage our subscribers to share our content with their friends and families and they do. Research shows that we are much more likely to take an action like voting when asked by a peer or friend.
Is there anything else you want to share?
We have a small but mighty team of 17 and we are the people we serve. That’s important and something that I am proud of.
We need more donors to support our innovation efforts. PushBlack’s success to date has been driven by our lean start-up approach and ability to quickly test new products and platforms. For example, we recently launched our first podcast, Black History Year. It has already received 660,000 downloads and even caught the attention of celebrities Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union who agreed to do a special episode for us.
We’re looking for funders who appreciate our methodology and give us the flexibility to test new content formats and platforms.
Support PushBlack with your money, time, and talent to increase civic engagement among Black Americans and advance a more inclusive democracy.