The front room — the only room — at the Madame CJ Walker Boutique Museum just east of downtown Atlanta is filled with vinyl: a few thousand records scavenged from the old WERD Studio that sat hidden since 1968, now comprising the essence of curator Ricci de Forest’s collection. “Race records,” he calls them, Black music that presaged what people would eventually dub “rock and roll” by decades, listened to at house parties and through underground radio stations and anywhere else they were allowed. Back in the day, race records could get you in trouble.

De Forest keeps them here in the former salon of one Madame CJ Walker, who became the first self-made female millionaire in the history of the United States in the early 1900s, making and selling cosmetics and hair care for Black women and maintaining a salon in this room east of downtown.

I’m here, with portraits of James Brown, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Sly Stone, Otis Redding and other luminaries of the form staring down at me, with the newest cohort of New Media Ventures’ Voices for Democracy program, of which we are fortunate enough to be a part.

It’s an impressive cohort: 14 media and advocacy groups in seven battleground states, 78 percent BIPOC-owned, all of us bringing the light of truth to our communities. And I can barely describe how honored we are to be among them.

We gathered that weekend in downtown Atlanta for community-building, feedback and a toast to the year to come, and I’ve already learned a few ways in which NMV’s support will strengthen Triad City Beat’s coverage in service to our readers.

I also keep coming back de Forest’s museum, Madame Walker’s antiquated hairstyling tools laid out on an antique vanity, sitting on the velvet couch in this shrine to Black beauty, Black artistry and Black joy — those currents that have shaped American culture from the very beginning — listening to old, fuzzy records, thinking about the past and the future, and the work that is to come.

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