Teen Publisher Jamaica Ponder Insists on a Direct Approach to Tough Issues
By Channing Russell
The great black leaders in this country’s history have often been seen as polarizing, certainly controversial and usually, eventually, universally revered. But they’re generally not teenagers. At 18, Princeton’s Jamaica Ponder has already begun to follow in those footsteps.
Ponder is the inquisitive mastermind behind Multi Magazine, an online magazine she launched in 2015 at the beginning of her junior year of high school. Today, Ponder and the website she launched, have earned national media attention.
The reason for that attention: edgy, eye-opening takes on different issues impacting teens, including issues happening in Princeton.
One of the most popular, and arguably the most controversial, of the stories was posted earlier this year: “The N—– in the Yearbook.” Ponder, of course, used the real n-word.
During a lively Q&A with students from the Boyd Journalism Workshop, Ponder talked about the controversy. According to Ponder, her father’s artwork, which included half of the n-word, was visible in her senior photo collage; humorous collages are a yearbook tradition at Ponder’s school. Though that appearance was an accident, Ponder was suspended. But, Ponder said, white students who had photo shopped their faces onto Nazi soldiers in that same yearbook, went unpunished.
Ponder went toe-to-toe with her school and sued. The story was picked up by national news outlets including CNN and the Associated Press. The ACLU offered to assist Ponder with her case against the school.
Long story short, the suspension was quickly revoked after the national media attention.
Ponder said she started writing in 6th grade, where she composed vignettes about her friends. Ponder was described as very talkative and unafraid to voice her opinion by her peers. The idea for her own platform arose during the fall of her junior year of high school. Her field hockey teammates convinced Ponder to create her own blog.
The first months of her blog consisted of gossip surrounding the events and people at her school because, as Ponder says, “gossip sells”. Her posts became highly popular as her classmates started to read her stories regular in order to find the scoop on Princeton High. Through her personal blog, she gained a relatively large platform in a matter of months.
Despite the success of her blog, Ponder sought to use her platform to not only send a more substantive message but also allow others to voice their opinions as well. Ponder said she “always wanted the magazine to involve other people.”
The ‘About Us’ page on the site says Multi Mag, “exists to provide young creatives with a platform in which they can fearlessly display their artful lives. We aim to embody and explore the multifarious reality of the teenage diaspora. Through experience, expression and reckless abandon, Multi Mag takes the inescapable adolescent experience and exemplifies how truly enchanting it is.”
Ponder and her team have used the website to address issues from sexism to racism and colorism. She has also used the website to expose bigotry in her school including a story where a white classmate falsely accused a black classmate of selling him pot brownies.
Ponder employs a full staff including writers, editors, and photographers for the website.
The site has a unique approach to funding (for a media company).
Yes, they accept traditional advertising like other media entities.
But, Ponder shared, another revenue source.
“We throw a lot of parties,” she said.
Yes, you read that correctly. Parties. Loyal followers of the website will often offer to throw house parties in the name of Multi Magazine for which they charge an entry fee. One thing Ponder used that money for was to purchase the rights to her website. Now, every time one clicks on the website, the site makes money.
Ponder has gotten her fair share of backlash from her articles. She explained that Princeton High students would often harass her in the hallways, but that’s why she has a strong friend base. Ponder puts it rather candidly- “You’re gonna get shit for it…like a lot of it, but if you’re not upsetting anyone what are you doing?”
Ponder is continuing her education at Northwestern University’s esteemed Medill School of Journalism.
Jamaica says she has become “more of an idea than a person”. An idea of strength, an idea of justice, an idea of truth. The U.S Census reports that only 6% of Princeton is black, yet a young black women has the most powerful voice- remarkable.