Jessica Nelson has always sought to speak up and take action when witnessing injustices. As she was finishing up her master’s degree in Public Relations at Boston University’s College of Communication this summer, the New York native and her partner Virginia Polik launched Amplify Library, a project that centers around showcasing the work of BIPOC authors.
Sofia Fabrega: In July you started at Amplify Library. How did you become involved with the project?
Jessica Nelson: It started as a call-to-action for me, following the passing of George Floyd, and looking for more ways to get involved than I already was. The thing about Amplify Library that made me think, “Okay, this is a project that I want to join,” was that it was centered around BIPOC authors and gave users a tool to spark conversation. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but often, as a black woman, when I’m googling various topics, I have to write for “black people.” Or when I’m googling book suggestions, or black mental health resources, I see that they’re all from white authors, so I have to write “for black individuals.” So that’s what made Amplify Library stick out for me. Trying to just find diverse resources in one spot is something that I’ve struggled with my whole life. That’s why I got involved.
We are really making sure that what differentiates us is that we’re using resources primarily from BIPOC communities. For example, we don’t accept donations from Amazon. We really want people to support local businesses, local BIPOC-owned bookstores, and just anything related to BIPOC authors.
SF: What has been your role in Amplify Library, and how has your experience having studied PR in COM contributed to your role in the project?
JN: It has contributed a lot. I’m, I guess what you would call, head of communications for Amplify Library, so I handle all of our communications. If we get inquiries, I sort through those and help prep for interviews, develop pitches and communicate with reporters. I do a lot of coordinating, and I will be pitching to news outlets soon. Honestly, everything that I have learned in COM has helped, especially media relations. And there’s little things too that I was like “Oh, I never thought I’d be doing that.” Most of the tasks that I get to do for Amplify Library I don’t get to do in my actual job yet. Since there are only two of us we get to control and navigate new situations which is fun.
SF: What are your goals for this project? How do you envision it evolving in the future?
JN: I really want Amplify Library to be just as big or bigger than other free little libraries. And I think that it would be great to have one literally everywhere – these spaces for BIPOC authors – because they aren’t celebrated as much. Even when we were looking at antiracist reading lists, many of the authors were white. And that’s okay, but when you want to learn about another perspective, it’s probably more beneficial to hear from someone who has lived through those experiences. I would love to help as many people as I can to be motivated to spark change with this project, that’s my goal.
Another rewarding part about my involvement with Amplify Library is going into bookstores and seeing all these new books that have little black boys, little black girls, gender non-conforming or queer black people, or any BIPOC, and seeing that represented in a book, because I didn’t see that as much when I was a kid.
SF: What advice do you have for COM students who want to use their degrees to create a lasting impact in society?
JN: I think that BU is a perfect place to find out if you have a passion for something. I feel like everyone should leave graduate school at least knowing what they want to do with their passions or where they see themselves doing it. I have friends that knew right away that they cared about health disparities, and they want to use their COM degrees to address that and change that, which I admire.
I think that where I excelled most, and what I loved learning about the most was Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work, which is what I plan to do later in my career. COM definitely gave me the skills to know how to do that, and know what the best practices are. I think that if you have that passion for something – if it’s healthcare, racial justice – whatever that passion is, you can use your degree to help you with that.
SF: What about students who want to spark change?
JN: Don’t be afraid to speak out for what you believe in and don’t be afraid to be that singular voice in the room. For example, I recently had an issue with BU and COM. I was really upset about how our university wasn’t communicating about George Floyd and what was going on in our cultural climate. My soul, my spirit, and my heart were just so down, and I was just like, “If we matter, why aren’t these organizations communicating about it?” So I took it upon myself to do something about it, and created a formal presentation and meeting. When I was emailing the dean and the assistant dean, of course I was scared, but I just felt like if I graduated and didn’t say anything, I would have regretted it. That was probably one of the most rewarding things I did before leaving BU. I set up a meeting, invited fellow BU students, and created action items of things that I thought BU should do to enhance relations with the BIPOC community, especially in COM. I was happy to say that on Friday (October 2) Dean DiChristina had a follow up meeting, which showed that they were taking my suggestions seriously, even as an alum.
One of my mottos is to “leave a place better than how you found it.” It sounds cliché, but that’s really why I take on these types of challenges. It’s important to leave your mark and hope to inspire someone to continue the work. These changes that COM will hopefully enact aren’t really for me. I felt like it was too late for me, but there are so many students at COM specifically who would benefit from the things I asked them to address, that’s who I did it for.
I feel like if you want to make change, you need to put yourself in a vulnerable position. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you, you will never regret speaking up about something you feel strongly about. You will always feel rewarded knowing that you did something that can help someone else.
Sofia Fabrega, Writer
Sofia Fabrega is a sophomore at Boston University pursuing a dual degree in advertising and psychology. Currently in Panama, the country she grew up in, Sofia is taking advantage of BU’s Learn from Anywhere format and is studying remotely. When she is not exploring her writing interests, Sofia volunteers at the BU Brain and Early Experiences Lab. Some of her hobbies include reading, photography, and playing the piano.