Later this week we’ll be celebrating the work we’ve done, and in a way, the work we have yet to do.
As part of that merry making, we’re celebrating our newest hire: Brittany Brown, who’ll primarily cover labor and workers.
Brittany was born in Illinois but has lived most of her life in and around Jackson, Mississippi. She grew up with grandparents who regularly watched the news, read the newspaper and subscribed to all manner of magazines; they’d routinely swap articles and discuss them.
Still, she was thinking about a career in law or as an author until her high school English teacher, whose daughter was studying journalism at the University of Mississippi, told Brittany she, too, should consider the field.
She did, got hooked, earned an undergraduate journalism degree and now is finishing off a master’s in Southern studies to add, she says, “breadth, depth and nuance” to her work. That work includes not just writing, but audio and documentary video too.
The pandemic has shaken up the world of labor and workers and so I asked Brittany how she was thinking now about those issues in her own life. She told me when the pandemic hit, she was a graduate student working at a restaurant to pay her rent while in school. She was laid off.
“Thankfully, I had family and friends so that assistance came through,” she says. “I was able to do school virtually and I was thinking about those who couldn’t.”
Journalists, she knows, can shift to a hybrid model, can do much of the work we do from nearly anywhere. But of course, someone who works at a McDonald’s can’t.
“The pandemic changed the idea of what I hope to see implemented in a workplace,” Brittany says. “It changed my idea of working from Monday through Friday, nine to five. Why do we have a five-day week? Why do we have a 40-hour week? I started thinking about so many things I took for granted. This system is not working for everyone. What can we do to make it more equitable across the board?”
As I listened, I realized I had a similar reframing around work and labor in 2008, during the recession, when newspaper jobs shed with the abundance and regularity of cat hair. But as Brittany pointed out, she never got to experience the so-called golden age of newspapers. “On any day on Twitter, you can see tweets about layoffs,” she said. “I’ve only known journalism in tumult.”
Yet that’s what led her to want to join MLK50. “People and outlets are thinking critically about the role of journalism through the prism of race. Journalism has played a part in upholding some of those racist systems. So that’s the driving factor of an openness to different forms and practices of journalism. We’re seeing newsrooms shut down and a reprocessing of what journalism is.”
Brittany brings all those thoughts and experiences to her new beat. “What really interests me is the fact that everyone is a worker, in some shape, form or fashion. That opens the storytelling potential to so many things.”
She wants to look at the ways workers—through, among other things, movements like the unionization efforts at Amazon and Starbucks—have become more aware of their power and leverage. And she wants to look at those workers who fall through the cracks. “I think what most excites me is the labor history. Learning about it in a city like Memphis where that history is rich and tangible will help me think about what it means to be a worker. I love that I’ll be learning and exploring and bringing all that to the forefront.”
That desire to learn and explore also applies to Memphis. She’s been here before; while in school in Oxford, Mississippi, she and her friends would drive to Memphis for its music, for its Black culture. She knows something about rappers Key Glock, Young Dolph and Yo Gotti. “Memphis feels like a place I want to be,” she says. “It’s everything I want in a city. There’s so much potential and growth happening here. I’m excited to eat my way through this city. I’m excited to find my community here.”
We’re excited for you to see all Brittany can bring to MLK50 as we begin our next five years.
Feel free to welcome her and send her tips and story ideas (and restaurant recommendations) at email@example.com or on Twitter @isthatbritt.
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.