On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, social media activist, April Reign, came to Grand Rapids Community College to talk about her use of social media to fight for racial equality and justice.
During her lecture, Reign discussed how the fight for racial justice has largely changed from protests and community conflicts to posting and fighting on social media.
Reign’s career as a social media activist started on Twitter in 2014, which was around the time that the rapper, DMX, was scheduled to fight, George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin. This was going to be a boxing match where the money that was made during it would be given away to charity.
“I thought that this was a bad idea for 50 different reasons,” Reign said. “And so, I started the hashtag, ‘#StopTheFight’ it was short, meaningful, and to the point. Then another black woman started a petition for ‘#StopTheFight’ and she got tens of thousands of people to sign up.”
The promoter of the fight called Reign, a former attorney who used her legal skills to prove to him that the fight was a bad idea.
“Then two or three days after that conversation, he stopped the fight,” Reign said. “So we were successful.”
Six months later, Reign came across a tweet of a picture of Mike Brown dead in the street with the caption, “Oh my goodness, I think they just killed somebody outside my apartment.” Reign continued to see more tweets about the shooting.
“There were actually over 1,000 tweets on Twitter before any news outlet picked up the news that an unarmed kid had been killed in Ferguson, Missouri,” Reign said.
Because she wasn’t able to travel down to Ferguson, Reign got back on Twitter to do what she could to help rally and connect people to those who were already on the ground in Ferguson. Reign and the community that was connected to what was happening were giving updates and when the police started using tear gas during riots, the community would advise those affected to use milk instead of water to stop the burning.
Reign was also able to use her platform to tell people where the riots and protests were taking place.
A few months later, Reign said she was getting ready while watching the Oscar nominations when her next hashtag was about to be born.
“Chris Hemsworth was doing to nominations, so Thor was in a suit and you know I just had to watch that you know,” Reign joked. “But nomination after nomination, I realized that all of the categories were incredibly homogeneous. They were 90 percent white and even in the mixed gender categories like best director, best cinematographer, they were all male or mostly male.”
She then took to Twitter and posted, “#OscarsSoWhite they ask to touch my hair.”
During her lunch, Reign checked her Twitter and found out that #OscarSoWhite was trending internationally. Users were tweeting things like, “#OscarsSoWhite they wear Birkenstocks in the winter time.” or “#OscarsSoWhite they have a perfect credit score.”
“It wasn’t until a couple of days later that the conversation changed to something more substantial about the lack of diversity and inclusion in Hollywood,” Reign said. “And that’s where we are today. What I know is that between the day that I tweeted #OscarsSoWhite and the day of the Oscars, the hashtag had been used over 700,000 times just because of one tweet. That’s the power that we have in social media.”
Since then the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has guaranteed to double the number of people of color and the number of women in the academy by 2020.
Later in her lecture, Reign gave advice to the audience members on how they can try to push an event or campaign along on social media. Making a relevant hashtag, scheduling tweets, and working hard at promoting the event are all ways that could help move it forward.
“I think social media is one tool of many in the arsenal in the race for justice,” Reign said. “But it’s not the only one, it’s very rare that you can create change without doing more than just social media.”
Reign also encouraged those in the audience to find their cause, or their “tribe” as she said, and commit to consistent service to that cause.
“If you are all about the environment, go do that, if you are all about the LGBT+ rights, then go do that, if you are all about diversity and inclusion in the entertainment community, go do that,” Reign said. “Because they all lead us on the path to justice, for all of us.”
MLK’s way was the opposite of Trayvon Martin’s & Mike Brown’s way, both of whom did receive lawful justice. No one has to put up with a thug, or being beaten.
[…] Reign gave a similar speech earlier that day in GRCC’s Applied Technology Center. Click here to read her […]