Throughout my childhood, seeing someone that looked like me in a magazine period was a very rare occurrence. Of the hundreds of magazines that we have to choose from on a stand in this country, very few brown faces smile back at you on the covers. When eight black women including Serena Williams, Beyonce Knowles, Misty Copeland, Willow Smith, Amandla Stenberg, and Ciara landed major covers in this year's September issues, it was a huge breakthrough moment, but there is still a ton of lost ground to cover.
With non-white minorities making up approximately 37 percent of the current population, the magazine industry as a whole does not reflect this in the slightest.
Qimmah Saafir hopes to change this fate with Hannah, a new bi-annual publication intended to celebrate black women all year round in everything from beauty and fashion to politics and technology. In addition to digital and print formats, Hannah will also pursue events and philanthropic endeavors.
"[Hannah]'s not about trying to be the end all for all black women," said Saafir. "It’s about helping to bring in more voices, and more perspectives, and more representations of us, and celebrating our diversity in how different and beautiful we all are in that diversity. That’s what Hannah is."
"We’ve been looking at everyone else to include us in their pages and why not just create our own? There are so many of us who are breaking records, busting through ceilings, changing the dynamics within all these different industries, really doing great and amazing things, but we’re constantly waiting for someone else to celebrate us."— Qimmah Saafir
Growing up with 10 other siblings, Saafir remembers the joy of flipping through issues of magazines like VIBE, Honey, Word Up!, and Right On! when she was a kid. "Back then, it was exciting to see young people who looked like us on these covers even if it was not a mainstream magazine," she said. "It was popular in the hood. It was popular in the urban communities, and I was always excited to get the next one and have my posters that I could unfold and pull out and put on my walls."
Historically black publications still exist today, but have dwindled down due to financial woes. Honey was popular after it launched in 1999, but stopped printing after it was revived by a different publisher and re-launched online in 2008. Since releasing its last print issue in June 2014, JET attempted to transition to a digital format as well. Saafir was quick to point out that the problem was not that these magazines weren't relating to the market, but that the finances might have been mishandled. This is part of the reason why she is handling Hannah by herself, through crowdfunding efforts. Funding the magazine on Kickstarter allows her to cut out waiting for publishing companies to come around, and pushing for financial support from the public is another way to enforce and encourage unity within the black community.
"We’ve been looking at everyone else to include us in their pages and why not just create our own? There are so many of us who are breaking records, busting through ceilings, changing the dynamics within all these different industries, really doing great and amazing things, but we’re constantly waiting for someone else to celebrate us."
For Saafir, this is a natural step after a long career in the magazine industry where she was exposed to some of the harsher realities of being a minority woman working in media. After Saafir earned her Bachelor's in English from Spelman College— a magical time soundtracked by The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—went on to work in editorial for 11 years as a freelance writer and editor for publications like Seventeen, Lucky, Marie Claire, and InStyle. In these environments, Saafir continued to notice that not only weren't there enough people like her within the printed pages, but there was barely any representation in the press working behind it as well. "I was very sensitive to one thing and that was that there were only a sprinkle of black women in any of these settings. And when I say a sprinkle, I mean like one or two," she said.
The gap in diversity hiring is a huge issue in itself, but Saafir says that the other problem is how people propose that women of color should be content with magazines like ESSENCE as their only go-to option. "A whole demographic, a whole race and gender of women and we’re supposed to be satisfied with this publication that is a very specific age and type of black woman? We’re not all the same. There are so many different representations of us," she added. "The problem is that a spectrum is not represented and so we end up having to put this weight of 'you have to represent our entire people in your creation, in your art' on those that do exist, and that’s just silly. It doesn’t even make sense."
"A whole demographic, a whole race and gender of women and we’re supposed to be satisfied with this publication that is a very specific age and type of black woman? We’re not all the same. There are so many different representations of us…"— Qimmah Saafir
After five years of planning it all out, Saafir and her five-person team are finally ready to self-publish Hannah if they meet their Kickstarter goal. For her, the magazine isn't about making a statement— it's about filling a gaping void that continues to be overlooked. She's creating a narrative that celebrates black excellence in all forms because its what they deserve.
"[Black women] care about so much and we read all these publications because we have all these other interests, but when it comes to us, for some reason when people create anything around us, they think all we care about is our skin and our hair," said Saafir. "And while these are parts of who we are, they’re only parts. A goal of mine is to see us as humans first and just have that be a thing. I don’t see that anywhere. I don’t see anyone speaking to black women just as humans. There should be so much more representation of us so all I can do is start with Hannah and hope that that inspires other people."
Hannah is still a work in progress, but Saafir intends to feature all types of women on the covers like the model on the mock up displayed on the Kickstarter. Personally, Saafir doesn't really believe that celebrities are the only people who deserve praise and thinks that the covers will draw people in because they simply display strong, beautiful black women.
"I know amazing women who are every day women who do amazing things that don’t get praise for it, don’t get the light for it, and I want to highlight those women more," she said. "I believe in presenting the every day woman a bit more. I think celebrities have enough coverage as is. It’s not going to be a prerequisite for you to be on a cover."