Come Thru! Come Thru!Sunday, June 28, 2020
Sometimes, friendships are where you find your voice, especially if you've been raised to believe that women should be seen but not heard.
I met Zara Harding in first form and ever since, she has been a guide, not only in pushing me to follow my dreams, but encouraging me that they were, in fact, possible. I remember telling Zara that I wanted to be a journalist, but at 14 years old, that didn't seem within my reach. With her encouragement I applied to a Zip 103 internship programme that was actually for older students, and thankfully, I got in. My time working in Jamaican media was phenomenal! Jamaica is a world-leading hub of culture, and we are always innovating the ways in which we tell our stories. From Zip , I went on to Hype TV , covering events like Sumfest, and travelling around Jamaica with KidzHub, a platform with a special interest in seeing Jamaicans thrive. There came a point, however, not just professionally but personally, when I became frustrated at seeing women silenced in so many areas of their lives. I saw women going through gender-biased criticism and discrimination in the entertainment industry, and in their personal lives. It hit me that no one was talking about it.
That was the beginning of my journey in creating The Unplug Collective. We focus on stories about women's mental and physical health as well as relatable everyday experiences. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Today, we have over 32,000 Instagram followers and, with recent events, that number is likely to grow. This month, we were featured by Teen Vogue, Shape, and THEM, and also endorsed on Instagram by both Tracee Ellis Ross and Kylie Jenner. It is amazing to think that a conversation with Zara led me to pursue so many opportunities!
The project started out of a need to have an outlet for women to speak out without restriction. I voiced my frustrations with my long-time confidante and now vice-president Zara, who had just moved to Connecticut to finish high school. At that time she was a part of a club called “The Body Project”, which was about women feeling confident and empowered. She suggested that I apply to her school as a way to explore my opportunities. As usual, God had another plan and I ended up at a school in New York City, which exposed me to so many amazing Jamaicans and black women pursuing their dreams. I saw first-hand how young creatives and established platforms were changing the world in profound ways. Zara and I would visit each other frequently, and to our surprise we ended up in college together at Columbia University.
Being a Jamaican woman at an Ivy League university is seen as a great achievement, but a lot of the time I felt powerless. I realised quickly, even in high school in NYC, that we push ourselves to go to these high-performance institutions, but when we get there, you can quickly see how these schools aren't made to amplify our voices, not only as Jamaicans, and as black people, but also as women. Going through a struggle like that can have a negative effect; however, I believe that Jamaican history teaches us to rise during challenging times. I believe this is why we see so many Jamaicans going on to do big things; in the fight for a voice we find what we are most passionate about.
I truly found my voice in January 2019, when I started The Unplug Collective to give black women a platform to share the stories that they were never allowed to tell. I wanted people to be able to send in personal stories, whether anonymously or to be published with their names. We work to keep it a safe space and I wanted there to be no barriers in their freedom to express these experiences.
Soon after posting about my new platform on social media, I had enough content to post for over a year, and the stories confirmed everything I had been feeling since I was in high school. I realised I was not alone. Not only did these women create a support network but Zara, my own motivator, became my first team member in September 2019 and has been my support system in accompanying me to mentorship programmes, planning our Instagram content, and now managing our team of six women. We intend to continue to hire women, and to uplift women's voices with digital opportunities. Our stories of black women should, and now can, be accessible to people around the globe.
The Unplug Collective is essentially online group therapy at your fingertips. We use Instagram to create a community along with our publication, where the comments section of the website is almost like a healing circle. The publication doesn't remove the writing process from the reaction process: Titles of stories are very to-the-point, and we encourage writers to submit a photo along with their work. Our whole mission revolves around the idea that everyone is a storyteller, everyone is a writer, and everyone has influence. On our platform, people can respond to someone's story immediately. It is truly a blessing to see so much positive feedback. We get messages every day saying “I feel so seen by your platform” or “I thought I was the only one dealing with this! Thank you.”
This movement, I feel, is just the start of what I think will be an incredible journey of empowerment for women like myself, and for those who continue to share their deeply moving personal experiences. I am grateful for my Jamaican upbringing, the Jamaican media houses that exposed me to this work, and the people in my life who have supported the mission of The Unplug Collective.
— Amanda Taylor, founder of The Unplug Collective, featuring Zara Harding, vice-president
Learn more about online therapy at your fingertips by registering for the Jamaica Observer's Webinar on Tuesday, June 30.
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