I remember The American Girl books being popular while I was growing up. Each series depicted a variety of girls each with a unique background story living in different time periods. I suppose the goal was to appeal to a variety of young readers; however, connection was difficult for me because none of the protagonists quite had my story. For a time I settled on Samantha Parkington, an orphan living with her rich grandmother at the turn of the 20th century. The oldest of four, I definitely wasn’t an orphan and I had no rich relatives, but I was a brunette like her. That would have to be enough.
It wasn’t until I was 11 that the franchise debuted Meet Josefina, a book focused on a Mexican girl growing up on a rancho near Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1824. Suddenly I saw myself. I was so drawn to the brown-skinned girl on the cover who had a long dark braid like my own that I purchased the book — most likely from the Scholastic Book Fair at my elementary school — for my own collection.
This was a brief moment on a random day roughly 25 years ago, but that feeling has stayed with me. Something as simple as seeing someone who looks like you or reading about someone with a similar story can have a major impact on a person’s life. Having the ability to share the stories of communities of color — stories that often don’t comprise the majority of content in traditional media — on a daily basis is one of the things I’ve loved about working at Arkansas Soul. There’s been so much conversation around how to increase diversity and equity in our nation, and it’s been an honor to put that into practice.
I’ve cherished every conversation I’ve had with all the people I’ve met from every corner of the state. As much as I’ve learned and shared, there are still so many amazing stories out there to be told. Sharing the voices of marginalized communities is such a valuable service, but there has to be support for these types of platforms in order for them to endure and grow. I’ve enjoyed pursuing that goal for the last two years, but unfortunately my time at Arkansas Soul has come to an end. Layoffs are always a possibility when you work in journalism or for nonprofits — both of which often have slim margins for error — but it’s a bittersweet ending all the same.
I have no idea what comes next, but I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned. One of the most important things I’ve learned is just how much people appreciate someone listening to them. I thoroughly enjoy hearing people’s life stories and am happy to continue listening in my capacity as an everyday citizen. One of the best parts of my job as a journalist has been the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of people and I hope to continue making those connections no matter where life takes me.
If you’d like me to lend an ear or if you just want to stay in touch, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com or follow me on LinkedIn. I’ll welcome the conversation in the coming weeks when I plan to take a breath and maybe catch up on my reading. Whenever I pick up a new book, I have a habit of flipping to the back for the final page count. I want to know how much time I’ll have with these characters so I can savor every moment. I have indeed savored these moments with you, dear readers.
While scanning those final pages, I never read them because I don’t want to spoil the ending. The journey is the point, both in literature and life. Whatever comes next, I’m going to enjoy the ride. Thank you for being a part of this chapter and hopefully we’ll see each other on the next adventure.
— Antoinette Grajeda
Your former Editor-in-Chief