It was an accident, a misdirection of sorts, that landed me in this position of editor-in-chief. Lord knows that when I came to college I stood aloof wondering how I would ever find myself or my people at this university, with more students enrolled than the total population of my hometown. I joined Charcoal the summer of my sophomore year when the publication’s co-founder and former editor-in-chief, Remy Usman, approached me about a position on the team to assist with their public relations efforts. I assumed I was qualified for this position as I had just spent a year “studying” the communications practice, and I marveled at the opportunity to have a stake in a publication revolutionizing our very definition of art and artists. So, I accepted Remy’s offer enthusiastically.
That summer, I worked with Remy to conjure creative ideas to engage our audience and bring new people into the Charcoal community. I enjoyed the work and the chance to work alongside Remy, who to this day, is among the most talented creatives and warmest people I’ve encountered. But throughout my sophomore year, something changed. The young, ambitious Archelle found herself exhausted and experiencing the beginning stages of burnout. I was struggling to enjoy my work with Charcoal. Not only was I working with Charcoal, I was also serving as our student government’s director of communications, co-hosting a radio show, working not one, but two part-time jobs, developing a new program for the Howard Thurman Center and running another concurrently. My cup had runneth over, with every drop of obligation added to the pool causing me to drown. By the end of my sophomore year, I was so overwhelmed and enamored by the requests for my time that come the end of the year, I made a deliberate decision about what I could, should and wanted to continue. Sadly, Charcoal was among the activities requiring my departure.
That summer, I took my decision a step further and decided to break from all things BU-related and to spend the Fall semester abroad in London. Three days before I was to depart to Boston to leave for London Heathrow, I got a call from a Posse member with news that would shape every decision I’ve made since. It was around 3:00 a.m. when I got the call. My alarm was set for 4:30 a.m. as I had a flight to catch at 6 a.m. to make it to New York for an interview. I had left my phone’s ringer on. I never leave my ringer on.
“Hey, Archelle. Erin is missing.”
“She was supposed to fly to Boston today, but she never came.
“There’s been a shooting in her neighborhood, and the cops are there.”
“It’s not confirmed that she’s there, but we’re waiting.”
My gut knew before I did, and my mind refused to deny the facts: Erin had passed away in a fatal shooting.
A day later in New York, I had to make the most difficult choice in my life: go to London or stay in Boston. The choice felt impossible, nearly. On one hand, grief passes with time and everyone would go on to accommodate life’s new circumstances. But on the other, I had never dealt with death in such close proximity and feared that an abrupt departure would do a number on my mental health, so I chose to stay. I chose to confront reality head on, whatever that entailed.
A part of that new reality presented when Charcoal was left without an acting editor-in-chief as my late sister-friend and Possemate, Erin Victoria Edwards, was slated to take the helm that Fall. Yes, we had one, brief conversation about the future of Charcoal over the summer, but it was understood that she would lead Charcoal, at least during that semester while I was abroad. I had not thought so far into the future to know what I would do after I returned from London. But in September 2019, I moved back to Boston, unknowing of what was to come with a newly grief-stricken community of people learning to cope with the gravity of the moment.
Full transparency: I had no idea what I was doing. From my perspective, Remy, Adia and Eva were magicians who constructed the beautiful printed issues while I simply wrote press releases about their work. I can’t count how many times I had to Google “What does an editor-in-chief do?” or “What is a cover story?” or “What the f*ck is a creative director?” As the time passed, the number of questions grew as did the Charcoal staff. Suddenly, the tight-knit team of seven working to produce this magazine multiplied to 20, and I still had no idea how to run a publication. There was no manual from the previous team about “how to Charcoal” as Charcoal itself was so novel. Of course I looked to other student publications on-campus and off for inspiration, but no one was doing what Charcoal was: cultivating a community for artists of color while producing a unique product.
So that fall, like a child finding its legs, we stumbled to create Charcoal’s first digital issue, echo. Since this is the “tell-all,” I can say this: echo and the following issue believe of Charcoal Magazine were deeply depressing. I’ve come to know this now, but a publication is a reflection of its leadership, and the truth is, Charcoal’s leadership was down terrible. How could we not have been? We had just suffered a loss of great magnitude, just a few months before a global pandemic shut down the world as we knew it, and I, not understanding the permanence of tone, let all the stories run. Rookie mistake, but for it, I and Charcoal are better today.
I spare some details about Charcoal’s mishaps as sometimes it’s better to avoid learning how the sausage gets made, but when I reflect on where we were and where we are now – seven issues published, five printed, two digital – I am damn proud. I’ve witnessed firsthand how an idea transforms into a material product to be disseminated to a community yearning to see people who look like them creating art of such caliber. I’ve been able to work with driven, compassionate and down-right inspiring people who continue to shape today’s conversations about identity and personhood. Though it’s a misdirection that landed me here, I have no regrets. Charcoal and establishing its legacy are among my greatest accomplishments, not just in college, but in life. I’m a better person after these past few years. I’ve grown in my ability to understand people and the value of community, and I owe so much of that to Charcoal.
As I conclude my tenure as editor-in-chief, I say this: the world can be a cruel, unrelenting beast throwing the most formidable circumstances at you, but if among the chaos and madness you find something that brings you joy and makes you better, cherish it for as long as you can. Charcoal was and is that joy for me. Life is an exercise in learning, and the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that it’s the misdirections that make us who we are. So, cheers to Charcoal. Cheers to you all. Thank you for a beautiful ride.
With utmost gratitude,
Charcoal Magazine Editor-in-Chief, 2019-2021