Remy Usman (CFA’19), Editor-in-Chief, Charcoal Magazine
During her freshman year, Remy Usman (CFA’19) was inspired to create a tight-knit community for student artists of color. By 2017, that inspiration grew into Charcoal Magazine, a completely student-run art publication. With the second issue launching soon, Remy shares how she’s learning to delegate, grow her team, and wear the hat of both artist and Editor-in-Chief.
Tell us a little about your venture, Charcoal Magazine:
Entirely student-run, Charcoal Magazine celebrates young creatives of color and explores the intersections of identity and art. A biannual print publication based in Boston, MA, Charcoal features exclusive photography, writing, and illustrated content created by student artists of color.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be innovative?
To be innovative means to generate creative solutions to fix or improve a problem. Innovators are always thinking and imagining. They pay close attention to overlooked people and details. By applying new ideas to old contexts, innovators brainstorm novel ways to revolutionize not only how tasks are accomplished, but also how people live.
Tell us your story. How did it all start?
I first had the idea for Charcoal during freshman year while I was a part of the Black Artists Alliance, a student group aiming to bring together black artists across campus to collaborate and establish a community. As a graphic design major in the College of Fine Arts I felt isolated from other artists of color on campus and felt really drawn to the tight-knit art communities I saw on other campuses. I wanted that community—to feel seen and understood—so during my sophomore year, I decided to put in the work to establish Charcoal Magazine.
Charcoal came together slowly, as I reached out to close friends over several semesters to ask for their help in building the publication. Once a group of us was formed, we then were able to connect with BU’s Howard Thurman Center and the BU Arts Initiative to ask for support in establishing ourselves as an entity and raising funds to produce our first issue. Now, we’re focused on growing our team and diversifying our content.
What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you had to overcome? How did you do it? What did you learn from the experience?
Our team is passionate about advocating for artists of color and sharing their stories, but none of us joined with any previous experience in publishing or editorial management. As a result, we’re all kind of figuring out what we’re doing as we’re doing it—fortunately, this challenge is part of the fun in creating something new and unique.
Personally, as someone who prefers individual work, I have struggled with learning how to delegate tasks so that they are accomplished more efficiently and so that they use each team member’s best skills. Since our initial team was comprised of only four members I grew accustomed to wearing several hats—from editor-in-chief, to photographer, to copy editor—simultaneously.
It quickly became apparent, however, that as we set more goals for ourselves this structure would no longer work well, if at all. We needed to expand our team, and that required smart delegation. Spending the summer in the Innovate@BU Accelerator program presented the perfect opportunity to establish these new communication practices since each team member spent the summer out-of-state or abroad. With the help and advice of my mentors through the BUild Lab I’ve begun to get a better grasp on establishing roles and delegating within my team.
Overall, my experience in founding and building Charcoal Magazine has taught me the value of working in a team with various experiences and who voice different perspectives that ultimately come together to create a better publication. Working on the magazine has been one long learning curve, and I appreciate that with each challenge I acquire new skills, meet new people, and grow as a person and as a leader.
Is there one major accomplishment you’re most proud of? What’s your next big goal?
We launched the first issue of Charcoal Magazine last January (2018) and have received such amazing responses that all the sweat and hard work was worth it 10 times over. Since then I have been fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the Innovate@BU IDEA Conference this past April about the magazine, as well as to participate in the Summer Accelerator program!
Having approached Charcoal Magazine from a completely creative standpoint, the Accelerator was a singular experience that taught me about the business side to leadership and development. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside other like-minded young founders and innovators, plus the mentors I otherwise would not have met. I’m incredibly proud of the progress Charcoal has made to date, and we look forward to sharing our latest issue, Sweet, with the BU and Boston community this fall!
What advice would you give to someone starting their own innovation journey right now?
Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s inevitable and, ultimately, beneficial. I believe you learn more from your failures than from your successes, and they should not be a source of shame but of motivation. Plus, take advantage of the resources—on campus, in the city, from your peers—now while they’re still available to you. Wait too long, and they might disappear.
Keep up with Charcoal Magazine on Instagram.