Artists of Color: Mia Brabham
[Photo in featured image taken by Jordan Jones]
A few weeks ago, I protested racial police brutality and prejudice with James Madison University’s NAACP chapter in Arlington, Virginia. It was a separate, smaller protest for students and alumni who couldn’t protest at the university in Harrisonburg. Participants marched and then shared their experiences with the group, most of which focused on the lack of diversity at JMU. During freshmen orientation, JMU declared they have diversity in thought, arguing it’s more important than diversity in race, ethnicity, and identity. Some people believe them. Like many universities, JMU is a predominantly white institution (PWI); with a 75% white student body and an 85% white faculty.
Author Mia Brabham was one of the alumni who pointed out JMU’s hypocrisy. I learned that not only did we share similar experiences, but a similar passion as well: writing. Having worked with big names like NBC and E!, Brabham is a successful writer, TV hostess, content creator, and digital personality. She’s only 25. She graduated from JMU in 2016 with a degree in Media Arts & Design and a minor in Creative Writing.
We excitedly exchanged numbers, and I found out she’s even cooler than I thought. Just a few days ago, Brabham self-published her first book, Note to Self! I knew I had to interview her. Mia tells me about Note to Self, her evolution as a writer, and more!
Check out the interview below:
First and foremost, I’d be remiss to gloss over how we met. Black people in America have been bleeding for centuries now, and unfortunate recent events have brought these wounds to light in modern times. I ask this for those still in the dark or otherwise complacent: why do you protest? What do you want?
Mia Brabham: Gosh, it’s so layered. It’s understandable why all of us — especially the people who are just now waking up — are overwhelmed. Where does one start? Racism is so embedded in our society that it’s bled into every aspect of our country, economy, neighborhoods, and many people’s beliefs. I think it’s important to note that right now, we’re fighting for two things: justice and equality. To start, I want justice for Breonna [Taylor]. Why are [some of] her killers still cops? Why are they not under arrest? I want to go back down the list of every [person] we have who has been murdered and get justice for them.
I’ll say it like this: I want the waiting room empty. And then I want to work towards real equality. I want to see more Black people in boardrooms, in businesses, on the radio, winning Oscars, everything. I protest to raise awareness, to say we are here and we matter. I protest because I’m proud of who I am and who we are as a people. I protest because what happens to these Black men, women, and trans people across America is wrong, and we need people to hear our cries for justice. I protest to learn from those raising their voices; I believe everyone has a story and we can all take away something new from [them].
Is there any advice you would give to anybody willing and able to join these protests?
Brabham: Thank you for putting yourself out there; you’re important in this. Black folk, feel free to engage as much as you feel comfortable with. Know that you and your voice are valuable at this time and always, but you are not obligated to speak up and tell your stories; it can be traumatic for some and cathartic for others. Whatever you choose to do is okay.
Non-Black folk, we need your body next to —and in front of, if it comes down to it— Black people at these events. We need your mind, too. Educate yourself on our history and how to participate in a protest beforehand, but still go in listening and ready to learn. You won’t always know what to say, but even if you’re uncomfortable, speaking up is important. Your privilege is also in your voice.
Like many others with a platform, Geeks of Color believes one of the many ways we can help the cause is to amplify Black voices. How would you describe your Black voice? Where did it come from, and how did it come to writing?
Brabham: It’s been a long road, as it has been for so many other Black girls like me who grew up in a predominantly white area. I was often one of two or three black people in my classes. We automatically gravitated towards one another because we understood the pressure to always be on and “be good.” I really loved my neighborhood, my school, my friends. But of course, I didn’t learn anything about myself until much later on, outside of middle and high school, and even outside of JMU. I was often the token black—both in academics and in my friend circles. I would get so much sh*t for “acting white,” but when I embraced my Blackness, for “being too Black.” The thing is, I always felt like I wasn’t being anyone but myself in every situation, and I’m proud of myself for sticking to that no matter what anyone said.
At college, when I started going to diversity talks and events, this was the first time I really found a community where we intentionally and openly talked about experiences pertaining to the color of our skin with peers who looked like me and had been through the same things. I learned how to form the language around these feelings and conversations. And this was only the beginning because I had so much more to learn. My writing is all about my life experiences, so naturally, it seeps into every part of my work even if it’s not what I’m writing about.
How, if at all, has going to a PWI affected this Black voice?
Brabham: My parents grew up in the projects in New York and New Jersey, and one of the earliest things I can remember them telling my brothers and me is that they wanted us to “grow up around grass.” I know it sounds silly at face value, but what they meant is that they wanted a better life for their kids. So they worked hard and moved to Virginia Beach to raise a family. I’ve been in predominantly white spaces for as long as I can remember; college was no different. I don’t think I ever had a Black professor. It really messed with my brain, because they had me thinking for a minute diversity in thought is diversity. But I know now that diversity in thought doesn’t replace diversity in people and should never be promoted as such. I feel like so much of what I thought at the time was survival. It was me in survival mode so I didn’t fall apart at the seams. It’s so clear now that what a lot of PWIs promote is unfair and simply untrue. Our educational institutions should be the first to change.
You told me your debut book, Note to Self, is a collection of one-liners, thoughts, and quotes you came up with. Why did you write it, and why stylize it this way in the first place? What are the major themes it touches on?
Brabham: Yes! Oh my gosh, this book is so near and dear to my heart. It’s essentially a flash journal that’s been years in the making, but I had no idea it would become a book until earlier this year. [Because I’m] a writer, thoughts will randomly come to my head and I’ll scramble to capture them. At one point I had so many separate notes in my phone that I was like, “Enough is enough.” So I condensed the quips into one note titled “Note to Self” and kept adding to it throughout the years, about seven years to be exact. When the pandemic started I lost pretty much all of my gigs—I’m a freelancer now—I was like, “Hmm. I’ve always wanted to write a book. And I really want to give back. How can I do that?” Then I started gathering everything up and curated what would become my book!
I thought about including doodles, but I kind of like that the focus is just on the words. I ordered all the quotes and sections intentionally, as well. It touches on dreams, people, love, life, and the self. The lessons are all there and there’s a common thread for sure; I’ll leave the readers to the threading.
From conception to self-publication, what was the hardest part in the process? The easiest?
Brabham: Oh man, each part has been so much more work than I thought it’d be—especially for it being a book consisting of words that were pre-existing. I didn’t have to think anything up; I just had to sew it all together. The hardest part was probably the editing and formatting, only because I didn’t expect it to be as much of a task as it was. I had to make some semblance of flow, so I decided to divide them into chapters and arrange them in a way that felt right. I rearranged so many times. Then I designed my own cover and had to decide little tiny things, like whether the text would be center-aligned or left-aligned, whether it’d be this font or that font, and whether the header would go here or there. Never ask a Libra to make this many decisions in one stretch, haha. It was tough!
The easiest was marketing. Marketing is so creative, and that’s my bread and butter. I also had an amazing team to help me out—thank you, Shay, Maddy, Megan, Brooke, Natalie, and Madison. I walked into it knowing the exact sentiment I wanted to create around the book. I did an essay series, made stickers, and used my book’s platform to raise money for Campaign Zero—we raised over $500!—and ask people to pull up as allies to the Black Lives Matter movement. No one can ever tell me words aren’t powerful!
You’ve dedicated 100% of the first week’s profits from Amazon to the nonprofit Girls for a Change. What does that nonprofit mean to you and other girls that look like you?
Brabham: I wanted to use this book to make an impact during the pandemic. I was originally looking at national charities and nonprofits that were COVID-19 related but saw that they were well taken care of by other large fundraisers and people all across the country. I thought, what about our local orgs? They need love too! I knew immediately I wanted to help a nonprofit that lifted up Black individuals. When my team and I found Girls for a Change, I fell in love. I looked at the work they did for Black girls and girls of color and thought about how much I would have loved that type of community growing up. There is something really special and comforting about being around people who understand and go up against the same obstacles you face and also share in the same joy. I have a passion for working with youthI— would love to be a writing teacher someday—and support all they do. This book is for everybody, but more than anything, I want it to be for the young girls who look like me, so they know that they can feel all the feelings and they can grow up to be creative and successful, too.
My favorite thing about writing is that it has so many different mediums, whether it be songwriting, news reports, or manuals. You’ve already tackled writing articles and books, what’s next for you? Which medium are you most comfortable in?
Brabham: Yes, same here! You can truly catch me bopping between every medium. I studied film and digital video in school and worked in entertainment for three years; I still have a soft spot for visual storytelling and will probably work in it again someday. For now, I’m focused on writing personally and professionally. Next, I hope to make my second podcast… stay tuned!
Anything else you’d like to say with your Black voice?
Brabham: Thank you to every single person speaking up and out right now. We need you. I say it in my book and I’ll say it here: “When we’re fighting for ourselves, we’re alone. When we’re fighting for something bigger, suddenly, we belong.”
Note to Self is now available for purchase. There will also be a virtual launch party and Q&A this Sunday June 28 at 5:00p.m. (ET). To find out more about both, be sure to check her website. You can follow Mia on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with her future endeavors.
Nothing but love.