Black Mother Answers the Call for Change. Meet Tanya Parker, Founder of Unity in Action Magazine.
By, Zulema Herrera, Journalism Student University of Illinois
The uproar of resistance and protests against police violence on Black people has continued and has been fueled by the death of victims like George Floyd—whose last words were cries to his mother. Meet Tanya Parker, a Black mother, Math Teacher, Researcher, and Social Entrepreneur.
"I refuse to let my children grow up in a society that treats them any less or allows oppression to stand in the way of them reaching their dreams," says Parker. In 2020, Parker relaunched Unity in Action Magazine whose mission is to use the power of media to help communities work together to address social and economic issues that affect communities.
"2020 pushed a 'now or never' spirit in me to do everything I can to move our society beyond just talking about the problems and toward the solution. I never gave up on my project, I knew I was going to come back” said Parker, “I just wanted to come back bigger and better.”
Unity in Action Magazine, originally called Habari Connections, was established in 2005. Parker, a native from Champaign-Urbana, was born and raised in the Garden Hills neighborhood. "As a child, I was very observant and involved in my community," said Parker "I witnessed the negative impact of media on my community, so I understood the power of the media and the importance of representation."
“We often would watch mainstream TV and not be able to identify with the people on TV and things that were happening, which is still a problem that we see today,” said Parker.
Unity in Action Magazine print issue 2013.
A graduate in Economics at the University of Illinois (UIUC), Parker said she learned the power of media on mindset and the need to have positive images of Black people apart from the common stereotypes.
She credits her grandmother for connecting her with the community and instilling the values of being an active member—an attribute she says is lacking. “I have seen a decline in the area, people were not as involved in the community, they weren't helping out their neighbors enough,” said Parker, “I remember my grandmother knowing everyone's first and last name and their entire family. Those opportunities to understand the value of the community at a young age is what helped to inform and motivate me to know it's definitely possible.”
During the early years of the publication, Unity in Action Magazine offered community programs like Club Freestyle Youth Media program, Cheetah Cheer Squad girls dance team, Career Training Program for youth at Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, and the Summer Construction Program; which helped uplift the youth in the area with education and the arts.
Her contributions were recognized by the community and she received many accolades including the 2010 Social Entrepreneurship Innovation award, the 2010 History Maker Award, and the C-U Day Community Volunteer Award.
“Throughout these years, I realized looking back that I was able to make a strong impact in my community,” said Parker, “if it wasn't because I did it directly, it was because I planted the original seeds of thought. The power of my message motivated others to take action.”
After betrayal from community partners added to the grieving of the loss of her grandmother, Parker decided to take a break from the magazine in 2014. “Many people don't know that I was paying out of my own pocket and sacrificing my family's financial security for years to support this community development project, because the need was so great. I didn't know how to get grants and how to position my business in community partnerships, so people that I asked for advice from, took advantage of me. I had to step away. I needed to build my foundation stronger financially, spiritually, and educated to be able to launch nationwide,” said Parker.
Poster of the Art Competition by Unity in Action Magazine in collaboration with UIUC.
By 2020, Unity in Action Magazine relaunched with more collaborations and future plans underway. This year, of many, will be the debut of the 2021 Art Science and Democracy Festival on June 18, 19, and 20th in collaboration with the Boneyard Arts Festival; and the 2021 Art for Health & Unity Competition with UIUC. UAMAG Youth Media Program and more to start registration this summer.
In addition, Parker has garnered support from over 20 community partners including the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, local churches, the University of Illinois, the STEM Illinois Nobel Project, and C-U Public Health. She says that despite her struggles, this is only the beginning and encourages people, social services, and businesses to find their place with the magazine.
"We are all in this together. We must work together to improve ourselves, families, communities, and nations. Regardless of your race or where you are from, we all just want our kids to be safe, healthy, and have the chance to be their best," says Parker.
Video location of questions: Who is Tanya Parker? (0:09) What inspired you to create the magazine? (0:41) Why a magazine? (1:47), What challenges have you faced running a business as a Black woman? (2:57), What advice do you have for aspiring business owners? (4:26), How have you impacted the community since you first launched? ( 5:26), What are some of your goals for the magazine? (7:04), What are some of your future plans? (9:22), How can people get involved? (10:56).