An Interview with Black Girls Magazine founder Annette Bazira-Okafor
By: Savannah Clarke
When I was around 10 years-old I used to collect magazines for fun. I loved the posters, quizzes, horoscopes and all the gossip. I use to love getting the free magazines from friends and different offices. The only thing was the majority of these magazines didn’t have many black folks in it. Aside from the obvious teen hip hop magazine like Word Up! The rest of the magazines I collected were just white.I would get annoyed but had to overlook this very large detail because “that’s how it was”. Even though I enjoyed collecting and later collaging because it was meditative, I had little images or stories that I could relate to. Many black teens have felt this frustration with not seeing themselves or hearing their stories in media especially in magazines, something that use to be synonymous with teenhood. While most of us accept this as fact and relish in the moments we do see ourselves, others create those moments for themselves. Founders and contributors of Black Girls Magazines is a perfect example.
BGM was created by a group of black middle school students within the GTA as a response to not seeing themselves in the magazines and apps that they used. BGM is a magazine that offers unique perspectives written by black girls for all girls. It aims to reflect the images, interests, and stories of black girls. I contacted Annette Bazira-Okafor founder and mother of one of the young contributors to learn more about BGM and how these young girls are creating the content they want to see.
Savannah Taylor: Can you let us know who you are and explain to us more about the Black Girls Magazine?
Annette: My name is Annette Bazira-Okafor. I am a doctoral student at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), University of Toronto. I am also the founder and editor of Black Girls Magazine.
Savannah Taylor: What was the moment that brought you to want to create Black Girls Magazine?
Annette: Part of my research at OISE has been on African youth and popular culture. I came across the work of Dr. Craig Watkins, and in his book he speaks about the fact the black girls are the most underserved and undiscernible demographic in popular culture. As a mother as well, I have always observed the lack of black representation in the online makeup and dressup apps that my daughter and her friends love.Creating Black Girls Magazine was a way for me to get them to create representations of themselves and write about their own interests and experiences as black girls.
Savannah Taylor: I know that the girls write the material in the magazine, what are some of those topics?
Annette: Some of the topics are stories about their hair like ‘weird things people ask about my hair’; movie reviews in our section called ‘Hollywood scoop’; recipes; sports, particularly basketball by one of the girls who is a basketball player; the girls’ travel experiences to different countries; and our last issue included a christmas section and a section on “people in black history” in anticipation of Black History month. We publish twice a year so we try to include diverse topics that cover both current and upcoming events, seasons or holidays.
Savannah Taylor: When I was younger I use to love collecting magazines, having access to this magazine would have been very refreshing for me to say the least, how do you feel like this magazine could be medicine or healing for other black girls to read?
Annette: I feel very grateful and overwhelmed that it turned out this way, because when I first started, I was simply doing this with a small group of girls, unaware of the interest that it would garner, not only in the black community but in mainstream media as well. I am so grateful that I have been a part of creating a platform for other black girls as well. In the magazine we request black girls to send us their stories, artwork or anything else they would love to see in the magazine, so we can have more diverse voices from black girls represented.
Savannah Taylor: So often marginalized youth don’t see themselves in magazines, tv shows, books, etc. how can teachers and youth workers play a role in supporting youth to create and access media that speaks to their experiences? Why do you think that is important?
Annette: Often books that represent black people and their cultures are very few or rare in schools, and often they are limited to non-fiction or slavery, basically history or social studies, and may be used only during black history month. I think teachers should include such cultural books as a daily part of student learning. Teachers should put in extra effort into making story books, magazines, and and many more reading resources that represent black people and culture a part of school curricula. Young children in schools regardless of race should have access to more picture books that represent black people and culture. Positive images and representations of black people should be normalized in mainstream institutions so as to dispose of stereotypes often perpetuated in media and schools. Youth workers and teachers create lasting impressions on the minds of black youth. Validating black youth by normalizing their cultures and representations go a long way into giving them confidence and guiding their journey to success.
Savannah Taylor: How has the journey of creating Black Girls Magazine changed yours or the girls perspective on what representation can look like?
Annette: Being able to create representations of themselves and write stories embedded in their cultures and experiences, I feel has given the girl’s confidence to speak about their stories and to boldly represent themselves through images that are normally invisible in popular culture.
Savannah: Do you or the girls have any big ideas for the future of Black Girls Magazine?
Annette: We hope to build the readership of the magazine and invite more black girls to contribute to it. We also hope to attract corporate sponsors who can help us move the project forward. I finance the project out of pocket, and foot the all printing costs and other costs associated with the magazine. Hopefully with sponsors, we can start publishing quarterly rather than twice a year.
Savannah Taylor: Where can people go to learn more and possibly get their own copy of Black Girl Magazine?
Annette: People can buy copies and subscribe by going to our website www.blackgirlsmagazine.ca
Annette Bazira-Okafor is a PhD candidate at OISE, University of Toronto, department of Social Justice Education. She is the founder and Editor of Black Girls Magazi
Savannah Clarke is a young performing artist. She has recently graduated with her undergraduate and is an alumni of the Watah Theatre. She is now currently growing her art form. Her art has always been attached to her identity as a black queer woman and she strongly believes that storytelling is essential for the movement of black liberation. While she continues to unearth what her artistry can look like, she stays committed to connecting and understanding the integrity of its roots.