Adena White has been named the editor of Conway Publications for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce.
White has served as the Chamber’s director of communications since 2011 and will be carrying over some of those responsibilities into her new position, which will be part-time.
In her new role, White will oversee the production of the Chamber’s publications, which includes the North Metro Business Journal, a monthly update on the local business community, and Conway+, an annual, comprehensive guide to the Conway area that provides information and updates on the local economy, education, health care, real estate, arts and culture, annual events, outreach and more.
White said that her new job will include focusing more heavily on the Chamber’s publications and growing them, along with introducing new publications, including one that will focus on “underrepresented communities [and] communities of color in Conway.”
“We don’t have a name for it yet, but that’s where we will be doing a little more to show other represented communities here,” White said. “There are people who may be interested in moving to Conway who are Black or Hispanic, or other people of color, and there are questions they may want to know that they don’t know how to ask. So we want to talk to people here and show [prospective residents] that we do have a diverse population here.”
The new publication’s focus is born from a new partnership, formed as part of White’s new role, between the Chamber and Blackbelt Media, a company created by White to highlight the stories and rich culture of Black southerners.
White first had the idea to start Blackbelt Media after the 2016 election.
“A lot of people were very critical of the south for electing Donald Trump, and they blamed southern voters for his presidency, but a lot of times when they talked about southern voters, they wouldn’t really consider Black southerners,” White said. “I was getting frustrated because Black southerners and [rural Black people] were often left out of the conversation, so I wanted to do more to tell those stories.”
Part of her inspiration came from a quote in an article she’d read that said “The south is wherever black people are.”
“I thought that was beautiful because that’s where a lot of our origin story is. When our ancestors were brought here, we were brought to the south,” White said.
Since its inception in 2017, Blackbelt Media has established a successful blog and nationally recognized podcast, Blackbelt Voices, that focuses on topics like census canvassing, Jim Crow and current racial tensions in the U.S.
White said the idea to add a podcast came from her first interview for the blog, where she was talking to a woman who became very emotional while telling her story.
“When she was talking, I was thinking that this would be great audio, because how could I really capture the emotion she’s showing? And the article was going to be lengthy,” White said. “I knew a podcast was the best way to tell these stories.”
They launched their first episode in September 2019 and the following January, the podcast was featured on Apple Podcast’s New and Noteworthy category, a coveted space for new podcasts.
In her new part-time role, White will spend her time outside of the Chamber continuing to grow and market Blackbelt Media as a tool to help other businesses and organizations tell the stories of community leaders who are people of color.
“[The Chamber] knew about my passion and they knew I wanted to pursue it more and have more time for it,” White said. “Everyone gave the same advice — make your current employer your first client, and that was the best way to make it happen, and I never approached it.”
Until one day, it did come up, when Chamber Executive Vice President Jamie Gates got word of White’s ideas.
“He mentioned it and I was like, that would be an ideal situation for me, and he helped make it happen, not knowing that’s what I was afraid to ask,” White said.
During her time as director of communications, White learned the Chamber took their publications in-house rather than outsourcing them in order to bring in more revenue and control the editorial outlet a little better. One of White’s goals for Blackbelt Media is to help other cause groups and organizations grow and own their media presence like the Chamber has done with theirs.
“For companies that are working for social equity, social justice — [Blackbelt Media] can help them tell these stories and use the podcast as a platform for them, if they want to do advertising or something like that and it’s also me providing PR/Communications for them,” White said. “They don’t have to have printed publications, it’s just a way to get their stories out there.”
For Conway and the Chamber specifically, White knows the value that this platform can provide. In the Chamber’s press release, she says:
“Part of the role of nonprofits like the Chamber is to communicate for the good of the community and racial equity has to be a part of that,” she said. “We began that process last year with our #ListenConway campaign, by using the phrase #BlackLivesMatter, and by sharing the experiences of Black community members in Conway. That was our first step.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion was identified in a community survey as one of 14 priorities to address in the Chamber’s Conway2035 strategic plan. This makes it the right time, White said, for organizations like the Chamber to focus more on these issues to move Conway forward.
“A lot of times, the big, social changes happen at home and, right now, there are so many opportunities to tell stories and make a difference in the community,” White said. “In the decade I have spent at the Chamber, I have always seen the potential we have to uplift and empower these communities that play such a vital role in a city like Conway.”