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Photo: "Jackets" by Michi Meko.

The articles that made my 2021 AND the stories behind them

When I think about the year 2021, one word that comes to mind: Blessed. It sounds cliche, but to have my health, sanity, career, family, friends, and shelter in the midst of a global pandemic is nothing short of a miracle. The last 21 months have been filled with insanity and chaos. But, if we take the time to look beyond the headlines, we can see the good. I truly believe that the lesson of this time– if there is one– is to be present and grateful.

In the past, I’ve measured accomplishments by professional milestones, but not anymore. I am my own work of art. I meditate daily. I say no to assignments that cause me stress. I ask for what I need even when I’m afraid of being judged for needing anything. As the lessons come, so do the blessings.

With that, I also understand that the gift of telling stories is one with which I have been entrusted and I am thankful. So, I’ve decided to reflect on my year in journalism. Below, you’ll find my top five list of stories I wrote this year and how they came to be.

I’d love to know what the year 2021 has left you with. Share the good stuff in the comments!

Trouble in MindAmerican Airlines TheatreRoundabout Theatre CompanyBroadway May Be Back, But Who Is It For? (American Theatre) – In September and October, I made two trips to New York City to see the new plays by Black playwrights making their Broadway premieres. I saw seven shows between the two trips. In this essay, I write about how Broadway has influenced regional theatre programming in the past and whether or not I believe that trend will continue.

“It takes time to transform the tastes of critics and audiences. As theatres strive to become more inclusive, it will take more than one or two seasons to open people up to plays that may upend their beliefs.”

New Flavor in your Ear: Women are changing the Face of Hip-Hop– and Atlanta is Ground Zero (Atlanta magazine) – Last fall, I pitched a women in hip-hop feature to the editors at Atlanta magazine. By spring when I hadn’t heard from them, I figured the idea was DOA. But in May, they contacted me and said they wanted to move forward with the idea for the September issue. To give you an idea, it normally takes three to four months to put together a magazine and we started in June. My co-editor, Heather Buckner and I, put together a team of women of color in Atlanta journalism to write the articles for this issue. Getting this issue to the printer was like playing a game of Operation, making sure we mentioned as many Atlanta women in hip-hop as possible and giving everyone their shine. I only wish we could have published extended versions of each interview. My conversations with rappers Rasheeda and Princess felt like talking to old friends. I am so proud of how the issue turned out and for the love the artists felt being celebrated by their city.

“Women have been a part of hip-hop from the beginning,” says Dr. Lakeyta Bonnette-Bailey, an associate professor at Georgia State University who researches hip-hop and politics. “This idea of women in hip-hop is not new. Their stories just haven’t been told.”

This artist disconnected from the world to regain clarity (The Undefeated) – The editors of The Undefeated contacted me because they wanted to publish a series of artists profiles focused on how artists across the country were emerging from the pandemic. I made a list of 10 artists whose careers I’d been following in the South and beyond. I was specifically interested in artists who seemed to have “gone dark” during the pandemic. The result is what I believe is the best profile I’ve ever written– an interview with painter Michi Meko about his journey from surviving to thriving.

“I get pissed off when people post about self-help on Instagram, because mine didn’t look like getting a facial or going for ice cream,” Meko said. “It was a lot of crying and throwing s—.”

Actress Aunjanue Ellis photographed in McComb,. Miss. by Imani Khayyam
Actress Aunjanue Ellis photographed in McComb,. Miss. by Imani Khayyam


Asians Under Attack: A Theatremakers’ Round Table (American Theatre) – On March 16, a white man drove through Atlanta to two massage parlors and killed eight people and injured a dozen others. This was one of the most heinous in a string of attacks on Asians across the U.S. I know artists speak to our times, so I wanted to check in with the Asian theatre artists who were struggling to offer light to their communities in bleak times. Some I knew prior to the interviews, others were recommended by friends and editors in the industry for me to talk to. I asked them each a series of questions about how they believe theatre should respond in the face of hate and their insights were brilliant.

“It’s sad to me that it took a shooting to make people see that anti-Asian hate crimes exist. As storytellers in the theatre, we have a responsibility to combat harmful stereotypes.”

The Disarming Eye of Imani Khayyam (Bitter Southerner) – I first met Jackson, Mississippi based photographer, Imani Khayyam, when he took photos of Aunjanue Ellis for the profile I wrote of her in fall 2020. I was struck by the way he contrasted people and their environments and knew I wanted to work with him again in some capacity. He left an impression on the editors of Bitter Southerner as well, and they asked me to interview him for the inaugural print issue of the digital publication. Khayyam’s gentle spirit really comes through in the piece and you only need to see a couple of his photos to see why his eye is so special.

“I’m always trying to get what’s inside of you and let that speak,” Khayyam said. “It’s not about the clothes. You can have on the dopest outfit, but it has to have some kind of soul.”

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