Like many things in this country that are created out of a sense of repression, Black-owned media companies are just one avenue that has allowed us to take up space and tell our own stories authentically.
There’s media conglomerates like Umber Publishing who are giving birth to a new narrative for Black media and keeping the seemingly lost art of print alive and well.
Umber Publishing — an independent publishing house based in Oakland, CA — was founded by visual artist and designer Mike Nicholls as a means to provide a platform for Black and people of color to share their worldly and creative perspectives about their own lived experiences.
What was originally founded as a single publication back in 2017 has grown to become a full-blown publishing company that’s amplifying the stories of marginalized voices in a way that gives power back to Black media who wish to control their own narratives.
“One thing that these white-owned outlets have, for lack of a better word, is legacy and that they’ve been around for awhile,” founder Nicholls tells AfroTech in regards to how Black-owned publications compare to their white counterparts. “We as Black folks know that there’s a [type of] validation there. There’s really not a lot of [publications] that are actually Black-owned anymore, so you don’t really see a lot of print media being done.”
View this post on Instagram
Contrary to popular belief, print media has never gone out of style. However, according to Nicholls, it is a form of media that’s become scarce due to the exhaustive amount of time, effort and resources needed to actually make it happen.
Nicholls, who grew up loving print magazines like Ebony, Jet and ESSENCE, always knew that he would work in print media in some form or fashion. And that passion is what fueled his creative career path to stake a claim in print.
“I love holding things and I think when you print something there’s a commitment to that thought,” he says. “It’s a commitment to the idea because it doesn’t go away, right? It’s permanent.”
That pure appreciation is what birthed the idea behind Umber Publishing. Not only does the publishing company strive to honor the legacy of its predecessors in print, it’s also working to redefine the meaning of visual language through its nuanced approach to the art of storytelling.
The purpose behind Umber Publishing is to also fill a void in the media landscape where Black and brown people are not given the opportunity to tell our stories the way in which they need to be told.
By offering a new structured platform, Umber is able to disrupt this notion and introduce a new medium that underrepresented communities can feel seen and heard in.
“When we tell our stories from our perspective, it’s straight from the source and it’s done by the people who look like us. It’s more authentic that way versus other people highlighting us in a way that doesn’t paint the full picture,” Nicholls says. “So I really think the problem is [us] wanting to get validated by these places, but then we’re losing an opportunity to support people who were doing the work before it became a trend for these other companies to start highlighting us.”
As we’ve seen in different scenarios, people have this general idea that large, white-owned publications provide more exposure and visibility compared to Black-owned outlets. This belief is what puts our publications at a disadvantage and feeling like an afterthought when it comes to not having a seat at the table the way we should.
Instead of pulling up a seat, Umber is providing the table, the chairs, the plate setting and utensils for Black and brown creatives, as well as our cultural subjects, to have a chance to eat and serve our communities.
Just as other mainstream outlets have displayed, Umber wishes to utilize its platform to hold a megaphone up to speak on topics like wealth, ownership and more to create a new narrative around Black-owned media companies — one that delivers an empowering message.
“These topics are not really being talked about across a lot of platforms, so with [Umber Publishing] I’m really hoping to give people a more expansive scope of our lived experiences that doesn’t always have to be tied to trauma,” Nicholls shares. “[Umber] is here to create a whole new vision of how [people] engage with a particular thing. So we’re less about [creating] a body of texts and more so about visually [depicting] how we represent [any one] thing.”
To help support Umber’s expansion plans this year, the publishing company recently announced the launch of two new print publications — TONE and SLUMBER — that offer a place for the forward-thinking Black man and an uninhibited outlet that explores sensuality and desire from the Black and Brown perspective, respectively.
Additionally, a crowdfunding campaign called “Succeeding Against the Odds” was also launched to support its future efforts, in addition to pre-orders that the company is currently taking. Moreover, BBP Digest — a cousin publication to Umber’s Graphic Journal — will also be shipping out next month.
Looking ahead, Nicholls shares that Umber will be looking to launch other niche publications and publish books under its publishing umbrella. But one thing that will never change is the flagship company’s unique creative experience for both its readers and creators.
For more information about Umber Publishing, visit its website.
Editorial Note: This piece has been edited to include BBP Digest.