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Creating Platforms for Empowerment

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Courtney Wilkins, a 2016 Academy of Art University M.A. fashion journalism graduate. Photo courtesy of Courtney Wilkins.

It was a little strange to prep for an interview with Courtney Wilkins, a 2016 M.A. fashion journalism graduate from the Academy of Art University. After all, what does a journalist ask a fellow journalist?

For starters, there’s the writerly nature of holding multiple jobs at once. Wilkins specializes in celebrity interviews, fashion blogging and social media management, her byline stretching as far east as Atlanta, Georgia, for Kontrol Magazine and out west to Los Angeles for BASIC Magazine. Back in August, she earned her first Kontrol cover story, an interview with women’s wear entrepreneur Juliana Richards, after only three months of working for the digital and print outlet.

“It was amazing and a blessing all in one,” she said during our phone interview. During our conversation, she rallies off her other responsibilities: Social media marketing for BodyRocks Audio, web developer and content curator for TRC & Associates, founder and creative director of her own UPRISE Magazine, plus a part-time retail job.

She could be referred to as a super-freelancer, but she insisted on just being a “really big multi-tasker.”

“I used to be a student-athlete, so I’m not used to all this time on my hands since I’m not an athlete anymore,” she said. “I’m trying to fill it up with as much as I can, honestly, in terms of me wanting to stay constantly busy.”

Wilkins was a Division 1 swimmer as an undergraduate at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where she was enrolled as a fashion design and merchandising major. Going from designing to journalism was a natural transition, she said, after her studies led her abroad to Shanghai, China, as an assistant buyer for fabric wholesaler Helena Forbes. Part of her job included blogging and helping out with socials, initially peaking her interest in multimedia.

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Wilkins recently landed her first Kontrol cover story: An interview with Juliana Richards. Image courtesy of Courtney Wilkins.

“I was still having that styling aspect [within merchandising] and then with the event planning, it led more into the PR sect and that’s what kind of led me into the journalism,” she remembered. “Even when I was researching the Academy [and] seeing how I can integrate all those multimedia classes, shows how this all plays hand-in-hand.”

Journalism, especially in fashion, is about voice and taste. Stephan Rabimov, director of the School of Fashion Journalism, remembered Wilkins instantly standing out because of the definitive (Wilkins short-hands it as being “blunt”) stance and perspective she held in his classroom.

“She always had a different outlook on issues,” he said. “To me, that spells that she always had her own voice, wasn’t trying to say what was politically correct or expected of students. In many ways, she wasn’t a stereotypical student and that caught my attention."

A multi-tasker attitude and unapologetic voice projected her as a stand-out in her class. Wilkins was one among a small handful of her classmates to marry journalism with social media, under the guise of Rabimov’s Social Media Center classes, where he is the director.

Figuring out social media took a vastly different approach than writing blog posts: “[It’s about] trying to figure out what people are wanting to see, especially with Instagram,” Wilkins explained. “It’s learning about when to post, what content your target audience is looking for and figuring out what they want to see.”

But there’s still that need for voice. Wilkins, who has no issue with being straightforward and unabashedly herself, encourages her peers to speak without censoring on her lifestyle and fashion online publication, UPRISE Magazine.

Founded in 2015, UPRISE currently has two issues out and is looking to produce a documentary in 2018. The pub’s purpose is to allow Wilkins and her peers to be “blunt, straight attitude, letting everyone say their piece,” granting a platform to young millennials and creatives that doesn’t hinder or hush their thoughts on the world around them.

“I just want everyone around me to feel like – even if it’s word vomit – just say it. Don’t feel like you have to apologize. Be unapologetic with it,” Wilkins emphasized. But you don’t have to be a writer or a photographer or stylist or model to feel empowered by her project. Wilkins took on all production roles for the first issue, however, found sharing responsibilities with her peers was not only easier on her, but just as empowering.

“It can’t be just my work at the end of the day, it has to be all of ours” Wilkins stated.

For 2018, Wilkins expects more of the same: Celebrity interviews, writing about fashion and beauty, maintaining UPRISE and continuously learning. It’s clear Wilkins always had the charisma and personality to attract and hold an audience, but she said the Academy gave her the tools to turn those qualities into a lucrative career.

“[The] Academy really pushed me to be better and honestly, to not be afraid to ask for help. I already have thick skin, I thought, but [my instructors’] critiques helped me develop an even thicker skin,” she said. “It made me work harder and ever since then I’ve just been reaping the rewards because I pushed myself to be better every day.”