Charity Elder On Black Women and Dopeness.
January 4, 2023
Charity C. Elder is an award-winning journalist, media executive, and digital strategist with twenty-plus years working and leading in broadcast and digital newsrooms. An instructor at Fordham University’s Department of Communication and Media Studies, Elder published her first book, Power: The Rise Of Black Women in America (Skyhorse/Simon & Schuster) in October 2022.

In 2020, Elder served as a senior adviser to the Mike Bloomberg presidential campaign–– advising and strategizing ways to engage the Black community. Prior to joining the Bloomberg campaign, she was the Head of Video and Podcasts for Yahoo News leading an award-winning team of innovative producers redefining news in the era of immersive journalism. At Yahoo News, Elder developed the first podcast unit and studio, launched the first slate of OTT video series, and built the first XR unit, which employed virtual, augmented, and mixed realities to deepen audience engagement.

Having covered every presidential election since the ’04 cycle, Elder began her career as a news producer at Emmy award-winning morning shows at both NBC News and CBS News, where she covered breaking stories from Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech shooting to the highly publicized Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson trials.

A Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Trinity College and a Master of Arts in Mass Communication and Journalism from New York University, Elder serves as a Board of Fellows for Trinity College and on the Jeremiah Program’s National Governing Board of Directors, a non-profit that aims to break the cycle of poverty for single mothers and their children two generations at a time.

You just published, Power: The Rise of Black Women in America, can you tell us a bit about it?

The book’s title is a declarative grounded in data. It is not, as some may assume, an aspiration. I wrote Power to articulate my gaze, to share with Black women that I have done the research to confirm what many of us already know to be true: Black women are dopeness.

I partnered with the University of Minnesota and a senior scholar at the Committee on National Statistics to analyze 80 years (1940-2019) of U.S. census data and collaborated with the Marist Poll to conduct a nationally representative survey of Black women that asked questions about success and agency. The findings of the data (census and survey), paired with poignant interviews, ethnographic observation, and anecdotes gleaned from history, social media, pop culture, and my own lived experiences reveal the remarkable ascension of Black women.

I know you quit your job to write this book. Can you share more about why this subject and research is so important to you?

I want to edify and inspire Black women to keep going, to understand that they are winning.

Consider history. In colonial Virginia, the progeny of African women, regardless of paternity, was born enslaved. Dehumanization and commodification, in service to a lucrative enslavement economy was a social norm codified into law­. Four hundred years later, pejorative narratives and notions of inferiority used to justify barbarity and greed, linger in the soul of this nation.

Historical context is key, it not only illustrates what has been done to Black women, but what Black women have done for themselves to reframe narratives and defy oppression.

What are the top three takeaways you want readers to get from your book?

I wrote Power for my Black sisters. The three takeaways I want readers to get from the book are as follows:

  • Black women have power. And that power is supported by data.
  • Black women can wield their power to create lives of meaning and joy for themselves, their children, their communities, and the nation.
  • Black woman must take care of themselves by prioritizing health and well-being, slowing down enough to listen to their hearts, practicing vulnerability and gratitude and embodying the Nap Ministry’s ethos “rest is resistance.”

Now, let’s switch gears a bit. Before writing, you were a media executive. What encouraged you to switch paths?

During the summer of 2019, I signed on with a literary agent and I had been tasked to write a book proposal. At the time, I was the Head of Video and Podcast at Yahoo News, we were covering the republican and democratic presidential primaries, and I never found the time to focus and write. It soon became clear, if I wanted to get a book deal, if I wanted to share what I knew to be true about Black women, it wouldn’t happen if I was working full-time.

My decision to leave Yahoo News crystalized when I was offered an opportunity to work on the Mike Bloomberg presidential campaign as a senior adviser. As a journalist and producer, I’d covered every presidential election since the 2004 cycle, and I was intrigued and curious to get a peek behind the proverbial “campaign curtain.” Practically, because campaigns are finite, I knew it would help me transition to book writing.

You actually took a year off to write the book proposal. How did you plan and prep for that?

By nature, I am a dreamer, planner, and very goal oriented. But when it came to the book, the planning and prep was fluid and intuitive. I sensed that the opportunity to write the book had to happen when it did, or I would never get to it.

What did you struggle with during the writing process?

Beyond the very real and painful procrastination, negative voices in my head presented the greatest challenge. Whenever I heard “this is impossible” I would say something positive to silence my inner critic.

What advice would you have for others?

Beyond my faith in God and an amazing support network of family and friends, three things were essential to completing my first book: The Writer Files, a weekly podcast hosted by Kelton Reid; Several Short Sentences About Writing, a great book by Verlyn Klinkenborg, and a virtual women’s writing group, La Belle Vie Writing Program, founded by professor and author Dr. Kathryn Sophia Belle.

Who are women you are inspired by right now?

I remain awe-inspired by my paternal grandmother, Anna Jewel Barnette. Grannymama (as my sisters and I call her) has used her power to defy the odds and create a life of meaning and joy. At ninety-three, my grandmother has lived in the Deep South for nearly a century, worked in the cotton fields with her sharecropping father, endured the indignities of the Jim Crow era, was unable to vote until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, raised two Black boys while working full-time, and summed the courage to divorce an abusive husband. Irrespective of societal myths about Black women, Grannymama does not believe she is inferior to anyone, and she asserts her right to be seen and heard.

My grandmother, who continues to volunteer her time to help others, often declares: “Life is for the living.” My grandmother’s life is an illustration of power.

What is one product you cannot live without?

Coffee! I love a good strong cup early in the morning, and a few more throughout the day.

What’s the biggest trend you see coming in 2023?

The biggest trend I see coming in 2023 is the steady rise of Black women. In the words of a Black woman surveyed in the Marist Poll conducted for the book:

“It’s inevitable that the success, power, and influence of Black women in the US will rise in the twenty-first century.”



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