Why I Took The Job As A 30-Year-Old Intern At BuzzFeed

Workin' Girl

One of the biggest life lessons I've learned is it's never too late to try something new.

In June of 2017, I was in a funk. My seven-year work anniversary at the High Museum of Art had just passed, I was losing steam running my stationery company, Mae B, and I wasn't being called in for auditions. As you can see, I am a jack of all trades, and while that can be fun, when nothing feels like it's working, life seems like one big merry-go-round. I knew that my hometown of Atlanta was stifling my creative ambitions, but the thought of packing up and moving to a new city scared me. But when God is ready for you to move, you move.

I heard Him loud and clear when I received an email from BuzzFeed.

The subject line read: Would Like To Schedule In-Person Interview for Style Resident Position.

At the start of 2017, I spent all of my spare time applying for jobs. Any job. After over six interviews, no one wanted to hire me. I thought to myself, "What's wrong with me?" I realized that walking into corporate companies as a creative entrepreneurial running a business devoted to women of color didn't excite the hiring managers. I was running a niche business, that to be frank, many of the interviewers didn't see as relevant experience. Maybe the naysayers in my life were right —I needed to get a "real" job.

As I sat in a Chick-fil-a parking lot, I received an email. I stared at the subject line, and couldn't believe that nearly six months after applying BuzzFeed was reaching out to me. The girl that was rejected from every job she'd applied for over a six-month period. When I opened the email, it read, "After our phone interview, we'd like to invite you in for an interview for our Style Resident position."

Before I knew it, I had a confirmed interview date, but I had one pretty big dilemma: I didn't have the money to book the $275 one-way ticket to fly to Los Angeles for the interview. The first person I called was my little sister, Morgan. She squealed with excitement and told me I no choice but to see this opportunity through. "Look up the flights and tell me how much they are, you're going to this interview."

A couple of days later, I packed my bag and took a trip to Los Angeles for the interview. As I sat on the four-hour flight, there was a part of me that felt like an imposter. I knew that I was creative, but I was also carrying the rejection from all of the interview before this one. On top of that, I knew that I didn't have the technical skills the position called for, so, I started counting myself out before I'd even landed in Los Angeles.

Now, you're probably wondering what a "Style Resident" is. To put it simply, it is a three-month crash course internship that could lead to a full-time producer position with the company.

I was flying across the country to interview to be a thirty-year-old intern.

That still makes me laugh, but it always felt like an opportunity I couldn't pass up. After my interview, I was asked to complete an edit test. An edit test gives the hiring manager a chance to evaluate your writing skills and see what type of content you'd like to create. A week later, I got the call. I was offered the three-month residency, and they wanted me to start in two weeks. Without thinking, I accepted the internship. It came with no relocation help, health insurance, or guarantee of a job but I knew it was worth the risk.

On July 31, 2017, I stepped off of a plane and walked into my first day at BuzzFeed. It felt surreal. I was living in a new city, starting a new job at a prominent digital media company, and was there because they saw the value in my experience building a brand for women of color.

If you'd looked at my Instagram, you would have thought every day was bunnies and rainbows, but that was far from the truth. I was jet-lagged, homesick, and struggling to produce content. Walking into my residency with zero behind the camera experience proved to be harder than I'd imagined. I wondered, "Am I in over my head?" The answer to that was yes, but this was no different than starting a company from scratch.

So like I'd done many times before, I became my own advocate, teacher, and motivator. I didn't wait for anyone to tell me how to start a company, run it, and grow it. I googled, I listened to podcasts, and made a lot of mistakes. I wasn't going to let my lack of technical experience be the thing that took me out of the race then and I wasn't going to let it take me out of the race now. My success was up to me. So, I got busy.

I stayed late. Got to work early. I spent my weekends watching Premiere Pro YouTube tutorials to learn how to edit. I struggled. I wanted to quit, but as black women do, I persevered. It was pretty clear by month two of my residency, I wasn't going to be offered a full-time position, but I did walk away with a win. In the last week of my residency— a video I cast, shot, and edited Black Women React to 90s' Hair Products went viral, racking up 2.3 million views in three days. I came, I struggled, and I won.

When God moves you, don't ask questions.

If you truly believe your steps are ordered, you will be able to walk by faith and not by sight (which is always easier said than done). Had I let fear of stability, my lack of skill, or even my age play a role in my decision, I might still be in Atlanta looking back on this opportunity with regret. I recognize that packing up and moving cross country is a privilege. Without the support of my sister, my parents, my aunt, and my friends — my move would have been impossible.

There is great value in having people around you that genuinely support you. I'm not talking those that like your posts on social media or show up when you're winning. I'm talking about those that will help you buy a plane ticket, make sure you have your first months rent, let you crash on their couch, or listen to you cry because you're homesick. Those people will push you off the ledge when you're too scared to jump and will be waiting at the bottom to catch you.

I realize now that the goal isn't always to get or keep the opportunity you leaped for initially. God didn't move me just to get a job.

My experience gave me the opportunity to learn new skills but reminded me of what my real gift has been this entire time — advocating and creating a space for women of color, specifically, black women. As I've gotten older, I have become less of a risk taker, but even as we age, we owe it to ourselves to take calculated risks that guide us to the next steps of our purpose.

Now, that my residency is over, I am back to building Mae B, writing, and keeping my heart open for the next chance that I get to jump. I'm still working to find my purpose. The one thing I know for sure is that risks always reveal a reward.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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