Chelsea Fuller (BSJ, 2011) founded the West Virginia University student chapters of the NAACP and the Association of Black Journalists, which are both still active today. Now, she’s the deputy communications director for Blackbird, a ‘high-impact, low-ego’ movement-building agency that supports campaigns like the Movement for Black Lives, #MeToo and others.
How did your path lead to WVU?
My mom took a position as the director of WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research, so our family moved to Morgantown. I grew up on the [Kent State] campus around faculty in the Pan-African Studies Department who were literally members of my family. So, leaving that community to come to a new place, a very white place, where we didn’t know anybody was really difficult. But we were welcomed with open arms, and I was able to make friends and acclimate quickly in the work that I was doing in student leadership. The fact that folks were so welcoming of my mom in her position was a sign that they were ready for a real culture shift.
Student leadership certainly shaped your undergraduate career, so can you speak to the importance of working outside of the classroom, particularly for underrepresented students and groups on campus?
For students of color and those who identify as a member of a marginalized group, community can be really critical to whether or not you’re able to navigate your college experience in a fulfilling way. When you have safe spaces in the form of student organizations, especially organizations that are supported by faculty and staff, students can see that the issues that are important to them are also important to other people. There's space for them to engage in critical discussion, and to brainstorm and dream about what the campus community could and should look like.
You’ve held a variety of positions since graduating from WVU. What has been one of your career-defining moments?
Right out of college, I took a job as a reporter with the Dominion Post in Morgantown. My editor, Geri Ferrara, gave me the freedom and encouragement to cover diverse stories. She also sat with me and ripped my stories apart. She taught me how to be a good writer, how to be critical, how to be thoughtful and how to be a good steward of other people's stories. I couldn't just launch off and tell these beautiful stories about the Black heroes of West Virginia if I didn't know how to report. I was at a smaller paper in a mostly white, rural state, and my stories centered on Black people were showing up on the front page. That career moment that was pivotal for me. When you're thinking about writing your story or creating whatever piece, you also have to be thinking about how people are going to receive it, what it's going to take for them to be able to retain it, share it and especially do something about it after.
You are no longer a reporter, but storytelling is still a large part of your work in community organizing. What was the most important lesson you learned while working as a reporter?
That professional experience and opportunity showed me that there are allies in unsuspecting places that you can lean on and that will help get you where you want to go. I learned not to shut down opportunities because of what appears on the surface. Take a risk and be trusting.
What do you think about the current social justice landscape and the role journalism and communications plays in it?
I think we are seeing this moment play out because of several factors. The main ones are this reorienting, this shifting consciousness within the industry around how identity plays out in reporting and what value people's identities actually bring into the office or newsroom, but also the movement has forced people to tell stories about injustice in a different way. There are people around this country organizing and building power and running for office and writing policies to make it so that a moment like this is possible. So with Blackbird, the majority of my work every day looks like supporting those people.