Every month I will highlight a Black artist, form of entertainment, business, or social media personality to help to spread awareness of Black Excellence. Be sure to check here on the 2nd of every month!
The media we encounter is a driving force in how we see each other and ourselves. It was once said that "He who controls the media controls the mind". For this month's spotlight we will be looking at SHE who controls the media; to see what she says. Jerjuanna Fountain is a current Arkansas State University graduate student, a servant of her communities, and an overall media persona who uses her voice to lead others, especially young women, down a path of acceptance and love. Check out below to see what Ms. Fountain thinks of how her field is being used and where she sees herself fitting into it.
M Haynes: Hey godsis!! How are you?
Jerjuanna Fountain: Hello brother. I'm good.
MH: That's good. So how have you been?
JF: I'm tired. I be in so many meetings now; the only person I want to meet by now is Jesus (laughs). I feel so grown up; I can't even sleep late anymore.
Join the club. I can barely even sleep late on weekends. So what sort of meetings are you going to?
What meetings i don't go to. I have grad assistants meetings, Red Wolf Radio, Pretty Proverbs, I have the meetings for "My Life's Playbook", and I hope to get in Circle of Trust.
Goodness! I thought my schedule was crazy. What is all that?
Well Pretty Proverbs is a group designed to show women that it's alright to be fabulous with and for God. It's a new organization at A-State but it's popular. "My Life's Playbook" is a TV show that stars athletes at A-State and shows their lives on campus. I'm the media person for that; so I help them produce it and promote it on social media. Circle of Trust is a organization for successful African American women at A-State.
Wow that's a lot. It's amazing to think how active you are now. I remember...
...remember when I was quiet? Shy? Standoffish? (laughs) Some of that is still there.
What do you think helped you to get to where you are? To break out of your shell, in a way?
I blame Valley*. At Valley I had to stand out; people used to say "Oh Jerjuanna would be perfect for this" or "Let Jerjuanna pray; she can pray". So I wasn't able to stay to myself at Valley, then when I got here I realized I couldn't just sit in my apartment so I had to get involved. I knew I wanted to motivate and inspire people and I couldn't do that at home. So I blame Valley in a good way. It led me here.
Speaking of Valley; how did you get way from MVSU to ASU? A fake one** but still (laughs)
See I'm not bout to play with you (laughs). One of my mentors, Dr. Kishki Hall from Coahoma Community College got me here. See, she led me to Valley in the first place. When I was at Coahoma I wasn't focused; I didn't know what I was doing and it showed. I had a low GPA and no major so I just left. I refused to be at a community college for three years so I left. That's when Dr. Hall suggested I go to Valley. I listened, and when it was time for me to graduate she asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I wanted to do radio, and she told me that the department chair at Valley has connections to A-State. She basically told me that if I wanted to get into A-State she would make it happen, so when I applied and got her to write one of my letters, she did it.
Wow. That's great. So how did you get into radio? How did you know that that's what you wanted to do?
I have another mentor to thank for that. Dr. Hall got me to do Speech Communication, and then Barbara Baymon told me that I should be in radio. I told her "I can't talk" but she let me try. I got into the radio station and I just fell in love. I had already gone from Early Childhood Education to Journalism, but I changed it again so I could really work on my speech. So now here I'm getting a Masters in Mass Communications to keep working at that.
What do you love about radio so much?
I think of it like voice stripping. You know how a lot of strippers have a night life and then a day life? That's how the radio is for me; I have a regular life and a radio life. I'm still shy, I can still be quiet and not say things because I don't want to hurt people's feelings, but it's completely different on the radio. You can be anyone on the radio and leave the studio and be yourself; it's almost like living a double life. I love that.
Voice stripping? I will never listen to the radio the same again. So we've talked a lot about your major and education, but there's a lot of service you do as well. why do you do so much service, especially geared towards young women?
It all starts with self. I was once the self-conscious girl, the tomboy-ish girl and the one who was always embarrassed because my name was the same as a movie. I remember growing up and not really having someone my age to talk to, because I was sad. I was sad that I was being judged without people knowing me. They thought that because I was tomboy-ish I didn't enjoy stuff like shopping, and even that I was a lesbian. In reality I was just comfortable; my Mom taught me that because she's the same way. She is comfortable in herself and not in what society tells her she should be, so I was like that too.
So you want to help young women and girls like yourself to find themselves?
Yes. I didn't really open up to people until I met Mama Tawanna and Ms. Lisa***, so I want to give other people that person to open up to. Its funny because Ms. Lisa actually told me one day "We all hold the key to someone else's door". I think I can be the key to a couple people.
What do you hope to achieve being that key?
I hope to be able to help people avoid rough situations. Ms. Lisa used to tell me stories about her when she was younger and I remember just seeing that same stuff play out in front of me. TV showed it too; how women are portrayed on there helped me to see how situations would play out in real life and help people through or out of them.
Media and your service really seem to be two big parts of who you are. How do you marry the two?
As a Christian we are called to be Christ-like, and to spread the Good News to other people. I think being in the media helps to give me the platform to get that out. Without media I would be localized; none of my family in Mississippi or anywhere else would be able to engage. With it though, I'm highly publicized. It's like one gives the platform to do the other, and the other keeps the one grounded. Without my dedication to service I could get the bighead, and that's not what it's about. I don't want to get to heaven and instead of hearing "Well Done" I hear "Well...you got done".
No one wants that. And you do really well at combining the two. Can you give any examples of a specific project that combined the media and your service or interests?
I sure can. In a Broadcast Documentary class i took a semester ago I had to do a documentary on something that I found interesting. Being from an HBCU, a southern one at that, there was a major culture shock when I went to a southern PWI. The Greeks were different and treated differently, and this was a much larger school with a lot more people, but very little community.
Is that what you talk about in the documentary?
Yes. There are a lot of documentaries that talk about HBCU students visiting a PWI and vice versa, but not many talk about the actual experience of a grad student moving from an HBCU to a PWI. I wanted to talk about that and how the culture of what you're used to completely changes. It actually interested me so much that I want to keep working on it outside of class. There's a part two coming that explores the other side; the PWI students that want to move to HBCUs. I think it's so interesting that they say they want to go to one, but yet and still they continue to go to PWIs.
I personally I think the way HBCUs are portrayed has a lot to do with that. Do you have any other interests that drive your service and your media?
Yes! You notice I do a lot of work with young girls, it's because I have a fascination with how we are being portrayed on TV. Especially Black women. It's like we're given these roles of power but we still have to be really crazy to be understandable.
What do you mean?
Like look at "Scandal". Yes Olivia is powerful; but she gets a lot of that by sleeping with two white men. In "How to Get Away with Murder" Annalise is a good lawyer, but she's also a killer. In "Haves and Have Nots" yes we understand that Candace has had a rough life but she does A LOT. It's like they take things to the extremes of drama to give women these roles. There's nothing wrong with drama, it's entertaining, but when that's all you center the show around it gets to be ridiculous.
Why do you think they do shows like that? Can you give us any media insight to the reasoning?
It's money. Period. People talk about the crazy stuff that happened and get other people engaged and more people watched. That's what happened with "Empire". You have to sell this stuff because it brings money to the network, the producers and eventually the people in the show. It's even worse with reality TV because they have to script drama to keep it popular, so now not only are you focusing your show on drama but you're keeping the people themselves from doing anything that's not dramatic.
Is there any way to change this you think?
I think we have to support what we want to see. Like remember Bama State Style****? If the people who love band and the students and alumni of Alabama State had promoted that show it would probably still be on the air. We HAVE to support the change we want to see, and that means with money and with word of mouth. Like I LOVE the WNBA. I paid for the app and I watch it whenever I can, as well as tell other people to watch it. We can't say we want to see something and don't support it the rare time it comes around. At the same time though, advertisement plays a huge part too. The network didn't advertise the show, so the people couldn't promote something they didn't know about. It's insane because we have to be our own marketing, production, and advertisement teams in order for the programs we want to see to really thrive. We have to do so much, but it has to be done to get what we want.
You mentioned production. Could you see yourself making a show that does what you say?
Yes! I would make something like a remake, or update of "A Different World". That show had drama but it wasn't focused on it. That's how my show would be; we'd have the issues but we would learn and grow from them. I think I'd probably make it a Netflix show, but use Youtube and social media and other people to promote it. I'm also a writer so I think that with that and my background in media I could make it work.
Wow. You have so many amazing goals and plans. I feel like I'm not doing enough (laughs). What would you say is your endgoal?
Well my ULTIMATE endgoal is to get to heaven and hear "Well done good and faithful servant" (laughs). But my earthly endgoal is to just make Greenville better. Greenville is supposed to be the Heart of the Delta and it's just not right now; I want to change that. I want to give people there the opportunity to do things, I want to expose them to the outside world. So to do that, I want to open a performing arts school there. But not just singing or acting, but any talent people have. EVERYTHING is a performance, from music to athletics. I want to give kids the opportunity to hone their talents, and use them to help them make it in life. Like I'm dyslexic, so music helped me to feel comfortable in my writing and my reading. If I can give kids in the Delta the opportunity to bring that in, it would be amazing.
You let me know and I'll make sure I have you a nice donation. Is there anything you want to leave the readers with?
Two things: Everyone is a networking opportunity for you. I thank Valley for teaching me that. You can network at a corner store, because you never know who can help you and who can boost your dream. The second thing is something I heard at the Pretty Proverbs conference this summer: "It's okay not to know". When you walk around thinking you know everything you miss out on actually learning. I remember at Coahoma I felt lost, but it's okay. Everyone has that feeling at one point in time, use that to actually learn something. You need to not know, in order to know.
* = Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, MS. It is one of the three public HBCUs in Mississippi and one of two universities in the Mississippi Delta.
** = Valley is also a SWAC school like Alcorn State University, so Jeri and I have a ongoing "rivalry" between the two of us regarding our undergrads. This was a joke that any other ASU is a "fake" one and Alcorn is the only real ASU.
*** = Mama Tawanna is actually my mom, and Ms. Lisa is one of her best friends, my "aunt", and a dance instructor and community leader back in Greenville. As Jeri said, they were role models and women she looks up to at home. Even now, she is working with them to create a civic group in Greenville.
***** = Bama State Style was a short lived Lifetime reality series that chronicled the Alabama State University marching band as it's members balanced complex HBCU band life with normal college issues like family, classes, and social life. It was, in many people's opinions, the answer to the call for more positive reality programming featuring Black youth. However, Lifetime only aired the show at 11/10c on Friday nights and gave the show NO promotion, so despite efforts to promote the show through word of mouth and social media it was cancelled after only four episodes.