I was 13 when I watched a plane hit the second tower from the corner window of my classroom in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. I remember thinking that 9/11 was the scariest thing I would ever experience in my life, but more than that, I remember the screaming of ambulances and whirring of the helicopters that rang overhead for weeks. I watched as my neighbor, stirred to action by the attacks, screamed out in tears in the hallway of our apartment building that he had to do something. He later joined the army. Others vowed to never forget. That’s what scary moments do. They bind us through trauma and beg the question: What did you do when your world was on fire?
I know now, as helicopters hover and surveil nationwide protests calling for the protection of Black life and the incessant sirens that signaled more COVID-19 deaths start to fade, that we are living through something far more traumatic. I know we will remember these sounds forever, and the declarations that we make now are the ones that will change the trajectory of our collective and personal histories. That’s the thing about the uncertainty of tomorrow, it makes you turn a mirror to your intentions in this life.
For the last few months, the Okayplayer team has worked through the fog of fatigue and trauma, making judgment calls about coverage, timing, and the personal and mental wellbeing of ourselves and our colleagues. In early March, days before NYC shuttered into quarantine, I closed my laptop and organized my work desk for the last time and knew, somehow, that the to-do list in the black moleskin notebook on that desk would never get done. Prior to that very moment, we had big plans for the relaunch of Okayplayer, plans that were in place for months prior and included travel and cover shoots, and everything else coronavirus would soon render moot. I mourned the cancellation of those plans. And it’s okay to say that. We have been in a state of collective global mourning for moments, people, and the lives we led before, but much like we’ve had to do with everything else, we learned to pivot. We slowly rolled out new branding across our socials, quietly changed our logos and tag-line, and now we’ve arrived at what serves as the official launch of the new Okayplayer.
If you’re reading this, I am sure you have some background information about Okayplayer’s origins. Or maybe you read The Undefeated piece that chronicled our past but didn’t reach out for comment about our future. Or maybe you’re asking “But what is Okayplayer now?” I admittedly have had some trouble answering this in the past. I would sheepishly explain the history of the brand instead of my vision for the brand as editor in chief. As a young Black woman, I thought there was so much I had to learn and so much to do before I could step out in front of the brand with a clear declaration of the work. I, like many in an uncertain media landscape, feared the tiniest critiques.
But today, as we introduce the Legacy “issue” of Okayplayer coupled with a rebrand, and the launch of a new site, I do not want my legacy to be one in which I hid behind screens and tinkered and tinkered until everything was never perfect. I want my legacy to be one that says I led with compassion during tough times, knew when to apologize, gave opportunities to new voices, and led a team that produced content we were proud of that accurately captured the times. I want it to be one that notes that we moved towards creating this space even when we were strangled by the fears of our realities.
So I will say it to you here: from this launch forward, Okayplayer is the home for premium content about the culture by those who consume the culture and know it best. This is a place where we can treat our stories with the thoughtfulness and care they deserve before it is trendy to do so.
That’s the thing about scary times, it makes you consider what of you will be left behind— so this issue is that. It is a reflection of Okayplayer with Rachel Hislop as editor in chief. Every piece published in this issue— from an interview with Reggae legend Buju Banton by the amazing Sharine Taylor to a piece where we allow Chloe x Halle the space to imagine their own future, and an article that highlights the Black communities forming within ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ —is an example of the type of content we are committed to serving you. And it is all housed on a beautiful new okayplayer.com website.
While a lot has changed since I’ve joined Okayplayer, including our work to improve the integrity of our coverage and our expansion of more culture, political, and social reform stories, I am most proud of the network or creators we have been able to build with over the years. Hiding within our audience were some of the most brilliant wordsmiths I have encountered. Whether it’s their first byline or simply their latest, it is a joy every time I click on a writer’s socials or clips and see our publication’s name.
This is not everything, this is just the start. This is a forward-facing declaration to our audience that no matter the landscape we will continue to do our best to bring you work we are proud of, to tell our stories, to expand our coverage to give voices to all corners of our community and to do so with polish and panache, even if we have to perfect it as we go.
Fear will always be present, in a pandemic, in a routine traffic stop, while walking home with a bag of skittles, while sleeping in your car, or your bed, but our need to create despite fear is the beauty of our culture’s legacy.
I don’t have to remind you that Black Lives and Stories Matter, our content will continue to reiterate it yesterday, today, and far into the future.
I look forward to seeing you on our pages.
I guess this is as good time a time as any to tell you we won an amazing grant from the Google News Initiative to expand our storytelling and to connect local journalists to stories in their cities, so look out for that in the coming months.