Photography by Jamison Mosley
Fellow Arkansans – neighbors, colleagues and friends – are sharing a light of peace, kindness and generosity that makes The Natural State a little brighter. Inviting Arkansas and Methodist Family Health celebrate individuals who illuminate our community with goodness. Nominate someone today for a future feature that SHINES.
Adena White admits, she has never felt very “southern”, despite spending her childhood in rural Conway County. “Being Southern is something that is obviously part of my cultural identity by virtue of where I grew up but labeling myself as such did not feel consistent with how people generally used the word.”
After the 2016 election, Adena felt compelled to “shine a spotlight on Black Southerners who seemed to be missing from the larger narrative about Black America and the South.” With a background in speech communication and journalism as well as a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was equipped to begin this larger conversation. Adena describes, “In April 2017, I decided to launch a media company that would share the stories of Black Southerners from all walks of life, both rural and urban. The name would be called Blackbelt, inspired by the Black Belt region of the Southern U.S. – primarily in Alabama and Mississippi – where the soil was rich and dark and was fertile ground for growing crops.”
Originally envisioned as a blog, Blackbelt Voices ultimately became a podcast. “I wanted to use this platform to share more stories of Black folks beyond what we typically see in mainstream media,” Adena shares. “The medium changed, but the message remained the same – to tell stories from and about Black folks down South.”
Alongside her sister and brother-in-law, Katrina and Prentice Dupins Jr., as well as colleague + friend Kara Wilkins – this group was poised for production. Adena affirms, “Katrina and Prentice are editing wizards and help make the show sound great. While Kara’s wit, intellect and charming personality make her the perfect co-host. Her background in history/Africana studies also provides insight when diving into topics.” The first episode premiered in September 2019. They have published 38 episodes spanning three seasons with plans to release new episodes in the coming weeks.
Following its 2019 release, Blackbelt Voices was featured on Apple Podcasts’ New & Noteworthy section in January 2020, landing among the Top 100 on Apple Podcasts for that week. In June of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd led to worldwide protests about racial injustice, Blackbelt Voices was again highlighted on Apple Podcasts’ browse page. The promotion by Apple Podcasts led to some unexpected attention from national publications. In June 2020, Blackbelt Voices made an appearance on VanityFair.com in a weekly roundup of podcasts to “deepen your knowledge of Black history.” And in October 2020, the podcast was listed on OprahDaily.com (formerly O, The Oprah Magazine) in a curated collection of The 15 Best Educational Podcasts for you to Expand Your Mind. “We never imagined this podcast would attract the attention it has,” Kara reflects. “There is an appetite for this content, and we are delighted to be able to share these stories that center black Southerners with a large audience.”
Reflecting on the podcast’s success, Adena shares, “Shining a light on changemakers across the South who are making a difference in their communities has been rewarding. It has also been rewarding to build something that centers on Black Southerners while promoting equity and inclusion.” Katrina adds, “We have gotten so much encouragement locally from people who enjoy the podcast and tell us about even more great stories to share. There are so many inspiring people in this state and region, and it is a privilege to tell some of their stories.”
Sponsored by Methodist Family Health | Nominations accepted at Foundation@MethodistFamily.org
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