Passion + knowledge = change: Kent State alumna jumps into creating information platform

Arkayla Tenney-Howard graduated from Kent State last May with a degree in public relations. Now, she’s using her skills and passion to create a platform that provides access to accurate stories about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. 

Tenney-Howard reached out to Kevin Dilley, director of student media at Kent State, seeking guidance on what is needed during this revolutionary time of the BLM movement from a communication standpoint. 

Through conversations with Dilley and other white allies, Tenney-Howard learned one reason why many people were not being moved to act was because they were not seeing the right stories in the news. 

So Tenney-Howard is setting out to change that. 

Her goal is to give people access to a source of information, in the form of a website, that shows the groundwork being laid to create justice and racial equity. By providing people with this information, Tenney-Howard hopes to engage more people to get involved with BLM. 

“The impact is going to be getting people from that middle ground of, ‘I support Black Lives Matter, but I don’t know what to do,’ to suddenly being out and protesting, sharing their stories, making a big impact and getting into the movement,” she said. 

Dilley, who knew Tenney-Howard for about three years when she was a student, reconnected shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as Tenney-Howard was planning to attend a protest in St. Louis. Dilley listened to how she was feeling, discussed being safe at rallies and extended his hand for support if she needed it. 

From there, conversations about race, white silence and activism came up between the two. 

When Tenney-Howard told him about her idea to create a website to represent underrepresented voices, Dilley said he encouraged her to move forward, providing some advice, moral support and actual support if she needed it. 

“When Arkayla came to me with this idea, I knew it was the right thing at the right time being led by the right person,” Dilley said. “Arkayla brings an excellent foundation of training in communication through her program at Kent State. She’s welding that to her obvious care and love for her community and a desire to share voices that aren’t being heard to a larger audience.”

Tenney-Howard said the phrase “white silence is violence” is circulating now as the BLM movement continues to take shape. She said what she’s really trying to do is combat silence with education, because once people are educated, they can speak out. And the best way to educate people is through effective, passionate communication. 

“That is why I’m tapping into my networks, especially my Kent State networks, to talk to storytellers and reporters because I know they are trained in accurate reporting,” she said. “I trust Kent State graduates to deliver a story that motivates people, because that is what we learned from our professors and our mentors throughout the university. We learned about impact of intention. And my project is very intentional. Everything I do is intentional. I want people to understand that I’m using my voice to elevate their voices.”

Tenney-Howard said this isn’t just about her, but about the change she hopes to create collectively. Right now, the project is in its planning phase, as she continues to reach out to her networks via Kent State and other journalism programs she was a part of to see who is interested. Then, she will create a list of participants and storytellers and begin to divide and conquer, curating resources, doing a bit of writing and preparing to launch the website. 

“I can’t change the world by myself,” she said. “I need my support system. I need my family. I need my friends. I need my white allies. I need — just everyone. I need them. We need them. The justice system needs them. It’s all about what we can accomplish together.”

Curating resources and stories to educate the masses and spread word about the BLM movement will be crucial to Tenney-Howard’s efforts. But she’ll use social media platforms as a tool to share information as well. 

Tenney-Howard said she was initially afraid to post anything about the BLM movement on her social media pages because it might harm her career. Public relations and journalism professionals often remain publicly neutral on issues so they don’t appear to be biased. 

But then, George Floyd was killed. 

“Everyone has a point where they’re just sick and tired of being sick and tired, and George Floyd was that for me,” she said. “Now, I encourage people to use their social media to express their emotions. I use mine very much to express my emotions, but I also do so carefully. I know the power of social media, the power of my voice. So I make sure I’m sharing accurate sources. I make sure I’m sharing things that aid our movement, not detract from it.”

Tenney-Howard said it is important to call people out on social media, as she thinks it’s one of the best ways to use social media tools. 

“When you see a post that says, ‘all lives matter,’ explain why Black Lives Matter,” she said. “For those of us who are educated and for those of us who are passionate about this movement, I do feel it is our duty to educate and to inspire others.”

It’s crucial to reflect on sources and determine who is trustworthy; Tenney-Howard’s project could provide a solution for this issue. 

“Reflection is key here as we prepare for something bigger than us. I just want everyone to know that change is coming,” she said. “I think that big change is coming. I genuinely do. I can think that because I have devoted myself to this change. My mind, my body, my spirit, it is all in this fight for equity.”

Tenney-Howard wants people to know they don’t have to go to a protest to be a part of the change. Social media posts, sharing resources, donating and telling friends and family to support BLM are all equally effective ways to be active in the movement. 

As Tenney-Howard continues to work around the clock as a young professional and an activist, and as she continues preparing her project to be available to the public, she said allies can help the cause by gathering and sharing accurate and passionate stories and starting conversations they wouldn’t normally have. 

“Tell your mom and dad to support Black Lives Matter because it matters to you and because it matters to democracy, and because you want to be on the right side of history,” Tenney-Howard said. “I feel like I will be on the right side of history. I am black history in the making. And that is an exciting position to be in.”

Contact Maria McGinnis at [email protected].