July 23, 2021
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Hi, stacy-marie ishmael here. I’ll be writing and hosting raceAhead for about the next month, while Ellen McGirt is working on an upcoming project. As part of my mini-takeover, I’ll be swapping out Ellen’s excellent week-in-haiku with a new Friday feature I’m calling “3 Questions With…” My goal for this miniseries is to reintroduce you to some of the industry leaders I most respect, people who are breaking down barriers and lifting others up alongside them.
Please do send me your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions for the newsletter — I welcome a good note (or even a usefully cranky one).
On with the show.
To describe Veronica Chambers as a writer and editor would be both true and a considerable understatement. She’s written and co-authored more books than seems possible for someone who’s also holding down a full-time job as editor of Narrative Projects at the New York Times.
Veronica’s most recent book, Call and Response: the Story of Black Lives Matter, is for younger readers.
Veronica is also a world-class gift-giver and host. Her answers to 3 Questions With…are just as I expected: a total gift at the end of a long week.
What would you do if you had more power?
Veronica Chambers: In the ’90’s, after the riots in LA, the Korea Society had a program in New York where a group of African-American kids and Korean-American kids spent a year meeting after school and studying language. Then in the spring, they took a trip to Seoul together—all paid for by grants.
Race in America is stubbornly binary. I’d like to fund programs like the Korea Society one where kids of color could study a language and culture, then travel together. My time in places like Tokyo and studying languages including Spanish (my family’s from Panama), Japanese, Russian and French have been transformative.
It helps to add a third base to a persistently binary system. I’m not a mathematician, but I think of it — creatively— like a triangle or a pyramid. Adding another point of reference is stabilizing and expansive.
I believe language and travel are critical means of leveling up for young people and they remain a luxury. I’d like to be involved in changing that.
Courtesy of Veronica Chambers
What do you find yourself recommending to everyone right now?
VC: We listened, as a family, to American Spy by Lauren Wilkerson. We all love spy novels and Wilkerson’s story of an African-American FBI agent ricochets between Harlem, Martinique, and Burkina Faso. It’s so satisfying to see a woman of color pick up the John Le Carre mantle in such an entertaining, thoughtful way.
Who’s someone whose work more people should know about?
VC: I’m obsessed with the work of Martha Jones, a historian who wrote a ground-breaking book on women and voting rights called Vanguard. I first met Martha when I led the team covering the suffrage centennial at the Times.
A good aperitif to her work is an essay she wrote for us on how black women use names to invoke power. That she has the same name as the Dr. Who character is just the universe reminding us that Martha, like so many black historians, is also a futurist – her work not only excavates our past, it helps us shape and imagine the future.