Ryerson alum paving way forward for future Black and racialized journalists with Busy Mag

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By Mariyah Salhia

For Rosemary Akpan, starting her publication Busy—a digital magazine dedicated to amplifying stories from marginalized communities—is a way to use her voice to elevate others.

For the 2020 Ryerson journalism alumna, being in the competitive environment of journalism school meant it took a while for her to find her footing in the journalism industry. 

“You just look at your peers and you’re like, ‘I’m not doing as great as them,’” she says. As a  student, she remembers spending her earlier years wondering if she was in the right place. Especially during times when she would see her colleagues get published when she felt like she was underperforming in some of her journalism classes.  

But once she got to her final years of the program, she found her stride. “I started doing things I liked, like opinion writing and magazine writing and just certain things that were boosting my self-esteem being in the program.” 

Coming out of Ryerson, Akpan was committed to creating more diverse spaces in journalism, and for her, that meant starting her own magazine.

Travelling between Toronto and Houston, Texas, Akpan is a contributor at the Houston Chronicle, Exclaim! and ELLE Canada. Akpan’s journey through journalism is only beginning, but she says she’s getting ready to embark on the next chapter of her career.

“After the creation of Reporting on Race, I knew I wanted to do more within the industry as a whole”

After the death of George Floyd in 2020, Akpan and fellow classmates Tiffany Mongu, Breanna Xavier-Carter and Sara Jabakhanji launched a petition to start a class at the School of Journalism dedicated to teaching students about reporting on Black communities. The course, Reporting on Race: Black Canadians and the Media, is now an optional class for journalism students.

“In my head, I was like, ‘Why should we be helping?’” she says. “They should be old enough to know what to do.” 

But in speaking with administration, voicing disappointment about their initial response and addressing how to talk to students about anti-Black racism, the group realized that there was more work to be done. Akpan says it was then that Xavier-Carter started the petition and they all began working on demands for the school, including scholarships for Black students. 

Seeing the coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, it became clear to Akpan that there was a disparity in how marginalized communities were reported on. She says it’s important for the media to properly address how to tell stories from marginalized communities.

With more candid conversations about racism in the newsroom and increased opportunities for young journalists to expose inequities in coverage, Akpan hopes to see the next generation of journalists stand up for themselves more than in the past. 

“At the end of the day, just stay true to yourself,” she says. “Even if it’s a minor thing such as your name, how it’s pronounced or if they’re misspelling it, try to find even the smallest ways to stick up for yourself and speak out when necessary.”

Seeing her impact on her alma mater, Akpan started thinking about other ways she could create more diverse spaces in journalism. It was during her time advocating for better representation at j-school that she started reading more stories about the treatment of Black journalists in large newsrooms.

“I was exposed to how cruel the industry could be towards people of colour, especially Black individuals,” she says. She recalls media organizations putting out statements in 2020, condemning racism in their workplaces. “Even though the media was quick to pander to save face, it’s inevitable, regardless, when you enter those spaces you’re probably going to go through some type of mistreatment.” 

Even after the Reporting on Race class was put together, Akpan felt like there was still more that she could be doing for Black, Indigenous and racialized journalists. 

“After the creation of Reporting on Race, I knew I wanted to do more within the industry as a whole,” she says. “This platform that I’m curating is allowing me to do just that.”

Now, just two years later, Akpan is working hard on getting her new magazine, Busy, off the ground. 

Akpan says splitting her time between working as a freelancer and putting together an entire magazine has been hard work, but she’s excited for the payoff. Right now, she’s working solo to get Busy into production, but she’s looking forward to putting a team together. 

“The whole purpose behind Busy Magazine is to recognize and highlight individuals and stories that matter,” she says. 

The name Busy comes from the term ‘busybody,’ which Akpan describes as a person who is overly interested in the affairs of others. 

“Putting the negative connotation aside, Busy Mag is interested in amplifying what you do and what you have to say.”

For now, she’s working with writers and looking for artists to contribute to the upcoming first issue of Busy—the ‘Figure Issue,’ centres around telling stories that challenge the norms that shape society.

“Our upcoming Figure Issue will focus on stories surrounding growth, change and individuals who push themselves beyond societal norms to create something worth highlighting and sharing,” she says. “A lot of the imagery I’ve been using to promote the magazine has been of people, body, faces, which is a very intentional and vital part of this issue.”

Already, she’s started working on stories with prominent figures online and she says watching her work start to come together has been rewarding. “This is really cool, I can actually do this,” she says. “It surprises me every day. I just can’t wait to see the end product and how it’ll actually be received by my peers and other people who will end up reading it.”

Akpan says Busy is still in its early stages, but she’s hoping to have the magazine’s first issue out by the summer. 

“Overall, I really just hope readers feel represented and find a little sense of comfort while reading the magazine.”

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