Photo of Sharanda Jones via CNN
 By Nikki Igbo

If you’ve ever signed an online petition then you probably receive at least two invitations a week to sign another one to stop, combat, protest, prevent, derail, support, fund, defund, rescue, remove, rebuild, renew and/or cancel one thing or another. You’ve also most likely forwarded an online petition. You may have even created an online petition. Why? Because we’re living in the age of internet activism, you’re woke, and woke people in the age of internet activism have to do SOMETHING. In the midst of all of this digital signing, you’ve probably wondered if these online petitions actually make a difference. The answer is yes. In fact, here are five examples of countless online petitions that have made a significant impact and will inspire you to keep signing, forwarding and creating.

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Sharanda Jones 
*The single mom sentenced to life in prison for a first-time, non-violent offense. In 1999, Sharanda Jones became one of thousands of individuals who was sentenced to mandatory life in prison with no possibility of parole for a non-violent, first-time, drug-related offense under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Jones’ daughter, Clenesha Garland, was just eight years old when her mother went to prison. Fifteen long years had already passed when Garland started an online petition to request clemency for her mother from President Barack Obama. Just under 280,000 people threw their support behind Jones and Garland and their request did not fall on deaf ears. Two years later, Jones was indeed granted clemency on December 17, 2015.

*The “boys-only” elementary school STEM night. A Floridian elementary school in Orlando said they planned a mother-son, boys-only STEM night because they wanted to create a boys’ activity to complement the successful father-daughter dance they’d held the previous year. As a woman who works in tech, Helena Zubkow was furious at the thought of any event having to do with science, technology, engineering or math excluding females—especially when those fields have historically excluded women in general. Her online petition drew just 775 signatures, but that was more than enough to get Audubon Park Elementary to change their tune and open the event to all students.

*The national massage chain that would not address its sexual assault problem. When Danielle Dick of Richmond, VA was the victim of sexual assault at Massage Envy, the horror she experienced was further amplified by Massage Envy’s tepid response and failure to properly address and prevent sexual assault from occurring on their premises. After enduring an equally frightening and demoralizing trial which did result in Dick’s attacker’s conviction, Dick learned that she was not alone in her Massage Envy experience. She launched an online petition in October to make sure the company put proper measures in place to prevent and correctly handle sexual assault at their locations. Garnering 62,000 signatures, the petition triggered the announcement this month that the massage chain would comprehensively and transparently work with Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to fix the problem once and for all.

*The issue with media using the terms “child prostitute” and “child prostitution.” Words matter. Especially when it comes to child abuse and child rape. That’s exactly why the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls) petitioned the Associated Press to cease using the phrases “child prostitute” and “child prostitution.” Because “prostitute” and “prostitution” suggest consent, Rights4Girls rightfully took umbrage with these terms being used to describe what was happening to children forced into sex slavery. More than 150,000 petition signers agreed. The Associated Press got the message loud and clear and announced they would cease using those terms.

*Girls around the world lack resources to complete secondary education. There are more than 60 million girls and young women who are either not given the opportunity to be educated or are forced to drop out of school early. Thus Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai started an online petition urging the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to expand their funding effort for free, quality education for girls from 9 years to 12 years so that girls would be given an opportunity to complete both primary and secondary education. More than 1 million signatures later and the GPE expanded their funding accordingly.

As stated earlier, it is a good thing to keep signing, forwarding and creating these online petitions. They bring so much awareness to underreported or otherwise unreported issues happening within our communities. One such petition is for Cyntoia Brown, a teen sex trafficking victim who at the age of 16 admitted to killing Johnny Mitchell Allen---a 43-year-old man who solicited her for sex. She killed this would-be rapist out of fear for her own safety and was convicted to a life sentence in 2004 because of it. Brown is now 29 years old. According to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, mandatory life sentencing without parole for juveniles is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But because Brown would be eligible for parole at the age of 69, her life sentence stands. Her petition can be accessed and signed here.

Do you sign online petitions?
Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70's era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.


By Nikki Igbo

On my mother’s side of the family tree, we can trace certain roots back to the 16th century. The lineage leads to a collection of nobles and landed gentry who had the power and resources to literally own people. Other than the discovery that Barack Obama and I share a common ancestor, I can’t say I’m thrilled with these revelations. As if anyone cares how these people relate to me. As if anyone would classify me as White or European because of it.

I wanted to know about the people who gave me my Black identity so I decided to test my DNA.

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When I first learned of Black celebs like Danny Glover and Forest Whitaker being able to trace their lineage back to their specific African origins, I wanted to learn my truth as well but I thought I’d have to get rich first and/or rob a bank. Luckily DNA testing has advanced considerably in capability and affordability. Taking advantage of today’s brave new world, I recently received my results.

Turns out that my African ancestry accounts for 85% of my heritage. I’m 53% Nigerian and 13% Senegalese with some Bantu, Beninese and Togolese ties. Learning this about myself left me with some great emotional highs but also a few misgivings. After chatting with a fellow friend and writer, Afropunk editorialist Erin White, I found I wasn’t alone.

PRO: Pride and joy in knowing.

“The results made me want to purchase all sorts of things with the Cameroonian flag on it,” Erin said of her initial reaction to her 30% Cameroonian, 19% Beninese/Togolese, 17% Ivorian/Ghanaian heritage. I knew exactly what she was saying. I felt as if I’d gained entrance to an exclusive, elite membership—as if I’d learned I was heir to a great kingdom. And still that doesn’t quite describe my happiness. I am connected to Nigeria in marriage, motherhood and within my own blood. To think that the life I’ve built indicates that I somehow already knew brings me to tears every time I think about it.

PRO: Seeing myself with new eyes.

I am Nigerian. That feeling I got after I read 'Things Fall Apart' in third grade. My infatuation with egusi soup and jollof rice. My deep appreciation for language and storytelling. My obsession with entrepreneurship. The way strong family and community means everything to me. The way my rare periaucular sinuses match my husband, my in-laws and a whole lot of people in Afikpo. Yeah, that’s straight up Naija. My husband always told me to say “I’m Nigerian” whenever anyone asked my background. Until the test, I always felt the need to explain why I claimed to be Nigerian. “I’m from California, I’m African-American married to a Nigerian man, yadda.” I felt like I was perpetrating if I didn’t. These days I’m just waiting for the next person to ask me. I wonder how it will feel to say it then.

PRO: The question mark ends with me. 

I know. My sons will know and the rest of the world will know. My book is already in the works.

***

CON: The adjustment of owning a newly-discovered heritage.

“I felt a slight uneasiness over the implication of the presence of Whiteness in my DNA," Erin confided. “It’s still not totally clear to me what context these White people were ‘involved’ with my family, outside of being from two of my great grand-parents. Were these consensual interracial relationships near the turn of the 20th century? Doubtful.”

That troubled me somewhat as well. 

CON: The need to know more.

I put off taking the test for a pretty lengthy amount of time because I wondered if I would be satisfied with simply knowing my ethnic makeup only. Before the test, I wondered about the language and dialect my ancestors spoke, the clothing they wore, the songs they sang, the recipes they loved, the way they braided or wrapped their hair, the witty little sayings and proverbs they passed down to each other.

Erin noted, “Getting the results of your DNA test will likely lead to more questions, and that can be a lot of fun, but to get real answers, it can cost a lot of money, too.”

For now, it’s enough for me to know this puzzle piece. I have a strong identity in being African-American. Nigerian-American. I don’t know how long it will take for me to get used to saying it, to get comfortable inside this marriage of histories...what I’ve gained in the knowledge, and the baggage I’ve lost.

Have you gotten your DNA tested? If so, what were your feelings?
Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70's era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.

Luvvie Ajayi by Damon Dahlen via The Clarion-Ledger
By Nikki Igbo

Many of us of a certain age can easily recall growing up with the desire to see our own faces, stories, opinions, style and identities reflected in magazines, newspapers and on television. We understood that we had a unique perspective of the world—a valuable perspective—and we were eager for others to recognize, appreciate and uplift it. Today, we are happy to be able to name many black women in mass media who are shattering glass ceilings to have our voices acknowledged and applauded on a grand scale. Here are just a few of those luminaries making moves, voicing the true and unedited spectrum of beauty that is the Black woman. 



BET's Robin Thede

By Nikki Igbo 
Trust me; you know Robin Thede. Even if you never saw her on the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore or Key and Peele or Difficult People, you’ve heard her jokes and experienced her genius writing. She’s written for the BET Awards for forever as well as the NAACP Image Awards, the BET Honors, the Queen Latifah Show and Real Husbands of Hollywood. Finally the Northwestern University graduate and Second City alumni has her own show featuring her signature in-your-face, unapologetically Black, and unapologetically feminine take on current events. Since its première on BET on October 12, the Rundown with Robin Thede has been such a necessary late night attraction. Just in case you haven’t set a reminder for yourself to tune in every week, here are seven reasons why you should.

Robin Thede & Larry Wilmore 
Because the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore went away too soon. It was a real shame the way so many folks slept on Larry Wilmore’s show. But after a year on the air and 259 episodes, the Nightly Show is gone. Robin Thede was the show’s head writer as well as a contributor for the cancelled show---and that show (hand clap) went (hand clap) in (hand clap) as you can see in an example here.

Because the Black female comedic political perspective needs and deserves more attention.
So far on late night, there are 27 late night shows offering political and social commentary throughout the week. While there are 19 White male hosts, there are a mere six Black male hosts, 2 Latina female hosts, 2 White female hosts and 1 Asian male host. Until Robin Thede’s show, there were zero shows hosted by a Black female in late night—a sad fact that doesn’t accurately reflect Black female involvement in political and social movements at all.

Questlove
Because Questlove created the show’s theme song. If you know, love and bump music by the Legendary Roots Crew, then you’re already aware of drummer Questlove’s musical genius—and therefore can surely guess that this theme song is both the bomb and the grenade.

Because of Robin Thede’s Twitter page. To get a better idea of who Robin Thede is and what drives her comedy, check out her Twitter page. She’s candid. She’s endearing. She’s observant. She’s witty. She’s woke. It’s no wonder she was the first Black woman to be the head writer for the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

President Barack Obama
Because of the Rundown’s Instagram page. If Thede’s Twitter page doesn’t sate your thirst for this down woman, her Instagram page will surely save the day. With its mix of videos, glamour selfies and pics with some of America’s favorite Black people (Michael K. Williams, Jussie Smollett, Issa Rae, Uzo Aduba), it’s hard not to develop a healthy amount of celebrity feels for the savvy social commentator.

Because of the Randown with Robin Thede podcast. Each week following the show, Thede continues the conversation on the late night show’s topics on this podcast with other Black luminaries. The first episode featured Roy Wood Jr. while the second episode featured Ashley Nicole Black and Amber Ruffin. The conversations are both hilarious and illuminating.


Because the Rundown with Robin Thede is just plain good. This might be the only show that actually commented about California using prison labor to fight the wildfires in Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Napa. Yes, that happened. She also gave CTE the attention it deserved. It’s these kind of stories that need to be discussed in a more detailed and nuanced manner but usually aren’t. Thede’s show gives us a broadened scope of the American experience because, as a Black woman, she sees what others don’t—and that is definitely worth watching.

The Rundown with Robin Thede airs Thursday nights on BET.

Have watched 'The Rundown With Robin Thede'yet?


Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70's era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.
Artist Miles Regis
By Nikki Igbo
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” French impressionist artist Edgar Degas once made this statement and it could not be truer when considering the contributions of visual artists throughout history. Visual artists, through their work, clarify, expose, underscore and inform in ways that transcend age, ethnicity, language and time. Think Jean Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, Romare Bearden and Elizabeth Catlett—all African-American artists whose work still speaks volumes and has great influence. The following 7 African-American artists are taking the baton from these artistic giants and running us all into a new age of beautiful and much-needed expression.

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