Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Writer and Activist, Jamia Wilson (GSAS ’09), Recipient of the 2018 GSAS Alumni Achievement Award

Jamia Wilson headshot
Photo credit: Aubrie Pick
Jamia Wilson (GSAS ’09) is the Executive Director and Publisher of Feminist Press at City University of New York. She is the youngest person and first woman of color to hold this position at the press. In the past, she has worked as an Executive Director for Women, Action, and the Media, as a TED Prize Storyteller, and as Vice President of Programs at The Women’s Media Center.  She is the author of Young, Gifted and Black and co-author of Road Map for Revolutionaries, and wrote the introduction and oral history to Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World. She has been a powerful force at the intersection of social justice movements and media for over a decade.

On Saturday, October 27, Dean Phillip Brian Harper will present Jamia Wilson with the 2018 GSAS Alumni Achievement Award at the GSAS Dean’s Lunch. To register for Alumni Weekend on October 26–27 and the GSAS Dean’s Lunch, visit this link:

What's your favorite memory of NYU?

My favorite memory of NYU happened when I walked into Dr. Heather Luke's class about gender and exceptionalism and discovered two former colleagues from my past work at Planned Parenthood. Both of these brilliant women worked in different offices in different states, and we found each other again in a classroom near Washington Square.

Jamia Wilson: her story continues

You are a leading voice on feminism and women’s rights issues. Can you share the origins of your involvement in the movement? 

Thank you. I have always been a feminist in my bones because I have been raised to believe in my inherent worth, dignity, and equality, even if society and culture tell me otherwise. I first started calling myself a feminist by name when I watched the Anita Hill hearings and their aftermath as a pre-teen. I was forever changed. I thought of my feminist click moment a lot this week when I watched Dr. Blasey Ford bravely speak truth to power. I felt the same familiar fire stirring within me to be a part of the transformation our country and the world needs for us all to be equal and free.

Can you speak about your past work as Executive Director of Women, Action, and the Media?

I joined Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) as Executive Director after being a long time member of the direct action network. WAM! was there for me when I moved to New York and I wanted to take my media activism to the next level. It was an honor to serve the WAM! community and to champion the importance of gender justice in the media and specifically combat online harassment and abuse by impacting policy change at major tech platforms.

You are the Executive Director and Publisher of Feminist Press at City University of New York. What does your job entail?

I'm honored to be the youngest and first woman of color director in the history of the Feminist Press. I’ve spent the last year and three months leading an organization that serves as the vanguard of feminist publishing, as it has for nearly five decades. Feminist Press represents the past, present, and future of intersectional feminist creativity and thought leadership.

The readers, writers, educators, and allies who make up our community know that books build bridges, not walls. At Feminist Press, we publish the texts our culture needs right now: stories that inspire people to listen and learn from one another, to resist injustice in all its forms, and to take action. We are changing the face of publishing, bringing new voices into the conversation at all levels of our organization and work, and activating storytelling as a powerful tool for social justice and education.

You have contributed to numerous publications, including “I Still Believe Anita Hill,” which is extremely timely today. How do you keep from getting discouraged when many of the women’s rights issues that early feminists grappled with continue to be contested today?

I'm distraught that we have not learned from history. History will continue to repeat itself until we address systemic inequality head-on. We're in the midst of the beginning of a new wave of organizing, and a surge of next-generation, intersectional, and intergenerational organizing. I have faith in the movement for justice. I always keep Dr. Martin Luther King in mind and focus on the fact that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." It's important to be intentional and deliberate in the short-term and remember to play the long game.

You grew up in South Carolina. How did your upbringing impact your future career path?

My southern roots impacted me because I grew up learning about the Civil Rights movement and how my family played a direct role in fighting for my rights and freedom. I have two parents who attended segregated schools. My late grandfather attended graduate school at NYU because of segregation in his own state. Although I was born in SC, I moved to Saudi Arabia when I was 5-years-old. When I witnessed gender segregation there, I had somewhat of an understanding of what my parents described in the past. Those formative years shaped my perspective and made me an activist and a storyteller.

What advice do you have for NYU students who admire your work as an activist and are unsure of how to get involved?

I say these two truths I have learned to myself every day: Define yourself or somebody else will. Don't wait to be affirmed or included, pave new ground.

Who are your role models?

My parents are my ultimate role models because they taught me that intellectual inquiry and rigor are beautiful, important, and a privilege that shouldn't be taken for granted. Their resilience and steadfast dedication to excellence rubbed off on me and so many others. My other role models include the writers who inspired me growing up including Alice Walker, Judy Blume, Anne Frank, bell hooks, and Maya Angelou.

You were a staff writer for Rookie and your writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and New York Magazine. Can you speak about the piece you have written that you were the most impacted by?

I'm most impacted by “Black Girl Lessons,” the piece I wrote for Rookie about how racism (fueled by misogyny) is a tragically inevitable rite of passage that all young black girls and women go through. The response to this piece was both bone-chilling to me in the sense that it resonated with so many young women and girls, and cathartic for my own inner 13-year-old who needed an article like that but didn't have one to read.

What is next for you?

Two books I worked on in 2016 were launched this year, Young, Gifted, and Black (Quarto), and Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Advocacy, and Activism for All (Penguin/Ten Speed Press). I'm thrilled to have them out in the world and also excited to share that the first book I edited for Feminist Press (Training School for Negro Girls) is now out into the world.

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