April Reign is an attorney, equity advocate, media maven and creator of the #OscarsSoWhite social media movement. As she watched the 2015 Academy Awards and was stunned to see the lack of people of color being recognized, she felt compelled to tweet with the hashtag. #OscarsSoWhite sparked entertainment industry discussions and change around diversity and inclusion that continue today. Her latest project, Ensemble, is a digital content studio that supports opportunities for media professionals of color in front of and behind the camera.
This is the fifth part of a series where civil rights leaders, cultural influencers, advocates and critical thinkers explain race relations, societal change, community protest and the political awakening happening in the United States following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans. The group, including NAACP President Derrick Johnson and #OscarsSoWhite Creator April Reign, pose their thoughts on race relations during the summer of 2020 and how America may move forward less divided. Join the conversation on social media using #PassTheMic.
April Reign, Creator, #OscarsSoWhite
Q: How would you describe the civic unrest occurring in America right now?
A: The civic unrest occurring right now is both evolutionary and revolutionary. It’s not like anything that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and it is resulting in dismantled systems. The peaceful protests in the streets, coupled with petitions, online activism, and lobbying of public officials has led to change that I am happily surprised to see. What is encouraging is that these changes appear more permanent. The Mississippi flag will never again have a confederate emblem on it, for example. Once police units are defunded with no increase in crime, there will be no reason to increase funding at previous levels.
Q: Is this a fleeting moment or have we reached an inflection point where lasting change is possible?
A: The death of George Floyd was a moment that has turned into a movement. While the media should be covering it more, people are still marching in the streets every day, protesting police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. People are still affirming that Black Trans Lives Matter and calling for the arrest of the cops who killed Breonna Taylor. We have seen a significant increase in support for political candidates with progressive ideals about how to make this country safer and better for all Americans. The laws and policy changes that are occurring throughout the country can have long-lasting implications.
Q: Is there another moment in history that relates to the moment we are living through now?
A: All movements learn from and build on previous movements. What feels different this time is that everything seems to be on the table. Confederate flags and statues are disappearing. Police departments are being defunded. Organizations are taking a harder look at their internal structures and hiring practices. Corporate entities are committing resources toward anti-racist
causes. Student and professional athletes are withholding performance as leverage to make change within sports organizations. I’m not sure that we’ve ever had so many different but related issues being addressed simultaneously, and that’s what makes this period in time exciting.
Q: What specifically needs to happen for Black lives to matter in the United States?
A: Black Lives DO matter. For Black lives to matter to everyone, we have to dismantle the systems of oppression that were created with the premise that they do not. There is systemic racism in every system and industry in this country: education, healthcare, housing, the prison industrial complex, the environment, and so on. It is not enough to encourage new flowers to grow when the roots are diseased. However, we cannot call on the oppressed to fix the systems that were built to oppress them. The gatekeepers resisting change must reassess their values, or be removed from positions of power.
Q: What does social justice mean to you personally and why should others care?
A: Social justice means equity. In a perfect world, everyone should be interested in equity in all things for everyone. We don’t live in that world. It is a struggle to get others to care about social justice and equity with respect to one issue: the environment, or mass incarceration, or housing. That is why it is so encouraging that we have Black leaders who are focused on one or more of these issues. Whatever issue(s) a person chooses to focus on, there is someone in that area doing the work, who would benefit from additional support and resources.
Q: What solutions will heal racial divisions and disparities?
A: Healing cannot begin until there is an acknowledgment of the pain caused. There are still people who don’t believe that systemic racism exists, believing instead that there are hundreds of similar incidents that can each be explained away individually. A wound requires oxygen and light and time to heal. Far too often, those who inflict the wounds of racial division are unwilling to bring issues into the light, use their oxygen to discuss them, and sit over time with why their preconceived notions and behaviors are racist or at least discriminatory. Without that, there can be no healing.
Q: How do you feel about the future?
A: I am a mother of a Black son and Black daughter, so I have to be cautiously optimistic. I have to believe that the changes that are slowly and finally occurring will make moving through the world a little easier for the generation coming behind us. This has always been the way: We don’t seek results for ourselves, but for those we leave behind. So many strong, powerful activists and advocates haven’t yet finished college, yet they are taking on the world. That gives me hope in the future as we continue to do our part.