In a recent email sent to Deborah Siegel and Claudia Garcia-Rojas, Ava Thompson Greenwell recalls her participation in The OpEd Project’s “Write to Change the World” public seminar. She explains that the seminar was the “the accelerant that lit a fire under [her],” and that she “took the lessons not just to heart but to [her] keyboard.” Read about Greenwell’s journey from seminar participant to writing op-ed rockstar below.
One year ago I dragged myself to the downtown Chicago campus of Northwestern University,prepared tosit through a Sunday-long seminar on op-ed writing. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into, but as soon as the seminar co-leader Deborah Siegel rattled off the numbers–the paltry participation rate of women and people of color in what seemed like an exclusive club–I immediately understood the problem.
The truth is, as a woman of color I had often felt marginalized–on the job, at the PTA meeting and even at home. The exercise, “My name is and I’m an expert in blank, blank,” awakened something in me.
After nearly 20 years of teaching college journalism, I had influenced more than 500 students, some of whom now work as correspondents for various national and local news outlets. What’s more, I’m still a reporter at heart. I thrive on research and the discovery of something new. The OpEd Project provided a path for me to reach another level of self-worth and self-fulfillment.
Writing op-eds gave me a sense of resoluteness about my ideas. I could write about what was on my mind and provide my opinion — something highly discouraged in traditional “objective” journalism. To be sure, (remember that?) I would need to back up my argument with evidence. It was truly cathartic.
By the end of 2012, I had published five pieces!
To be sure, (there it is again) not all of the comments to my op-eds were nice. In fact, some were borderline threatening. Unfortunately, that is always the risk with publication. I’m trying to develop an even thicker skin. I learned that when you write about race some people just are not tolerant.
Yet, I think I’ve developed a new calling–to publicly provide the historical context for many of the current events of the day that involve African Americans. After all, writing about race should lead us to think about its social construction. Thinking could lead to talking. Conversation is the first step toward positive action. Action, after all, is what we all want our work to produce.
Ava Thompson Greenwell is an associate professor at the Medill School at Northwestern University and a PhD candidate in the African American Studies department. Her dissertation research involves the history of black women in television news management. She participated in the Op-ed Project in January 2012.