109. An Open Letter to Elaine Welteroth

One of the absolute highlights of my weekend at SXSW was attending the Teen Vogue panel at Space 24 Twenty. Teaming up with Urban Outfitters, the Teen Vogue panel held a purposeful conversation focusing on the intersection of art and activism. 

Teen Vogue teams up with Urban Outfitters for a panel at Space 24 Twenty in Austin, TX. 3.12.17

Teen Vogue teams up with Urban Outfitters for a panel at Space 24 Twenty in Austin, TX. 3.12.17

Since I'll be analyzing the conversation in the next post, I decided to take some time to address a special someone -- Elaine Welteroth, editor of Teen Vogue.

Dear Elaine Welteroth,

Thank you. I didn't get a chance to meet you like I'd hoped because I had to get back to a warmer Houston, TX. And, even though I left with one of those free Teen Vogue Magazines without getting your signature on the editor's page, you did leave a mark somewhere far more permanent. 

photo credit: APP Photography The editor's page of the magazine I received at the Teen Vogue panel. 

photo credit: APP Photography

The editor's page of the magazine I received at the Teen Vogue panel. 

Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I didn't have many magazines that reflected my image. Sure, there was the staple in every Black family's home: Essence, Ebony, Jet. But, when it came to a magazine dedicated to young people that promoted intelligence, STEM, nerd culture, politics, activism, quirkiness, and an overall acceptance of young people who looked like me, well, I don't even think that existed. 

Even when I had the experience of working with a popular youth-oriented magazine (some would say is a big "competitor" of Teen Vogue), I didn't necessarily feel like that space was particularly welcoming to me. Maybe it was my perception, my socially awkwardness, or the various articles on beauty, style, and social issues that I felt didn't reflect me, but I knew there was something missing. I look back into my old journals and remember the times I wanted to create my own magazine that showcased young folks, girls and boys, who could relate to things mainstream media simply ignored. 

My journal, written in 2005 at the age of 18. I wrote: "My plan...binding all stereotypes about Black women not doing so well in her studies while being politically and socially conscious." Interesting, right?

My journal, written in 2005 at the age of 18. I wrote: "My plan...binding all stereotypes about Black women not doing so well in her studies while being politically and socially conscious." Interesting, right?

Then some way, some how, of all the media outlets in the world that showed up during our time of crisis, our time of anger, our time of confusion, our time of sadness, we saw, heard, and felt the words of a TEEN magazine, that changed our entire perception about the way we see stories shaped in this world. 

Yes, young people have big voices. Yes, we care about what goes on around us, and yes we want to leave our own unique thumbprint in this world. We are the change we want to see, and we'll see more change agents because of positive influences like you and Teen Vogue. 

Thank you for using your platform to educate, inspire, empower, and love on all of us in ways that we may not see in our every day lives. And, this open letter is not just for me, but all the young girls and boys growing up who need encouragement, representation, and someone to care for them. This is the reason I write, the reason why I create. 

Sincerely,

Ashley Denefield Jones