In conversation with Flintside's editor emeritus, Xandr Brown

FLINT, Michigan — A bold presence and directness exude from Flint native Xandr Brown, who presided over Flintside Magazine for eight months as its first African-American woman Managing Editor — a position inherited from Flintside’s founding editor, Marjory Raymer. Brown served as Project Editor of Flintside’s inaugural launch of its On The Ground series that covered the city’s historic Civic Park neighborhood.

She’s confident yet aware of her reputation as a photojournalist in Flint, having addressed systemic racism through gut-wrenching visual articles and managed a publication during a global pandemic. Even still, her tenure, she says, “was a challenge.”

As a graduate University of Rochester in New York state, Brown returned to Flint to begin her career as a journalist and photographer, initially with Flintbeat’s founder, Jiquanda Johnson, before writing for Flintside. Through all of these experiences, Brown tells of seeing “the skeleton from the inside out” regarding journalism in Flint.

Now, her journey has led her away from the urban storytelling of Flint into the rural areas of American life through reporting about indigenous peoples with the national publication, The Daily Yonder. Flintside caught up with its editor emeritus to talk about her time at the publication, rural experiences, and her heart’s work.

Flintside: You were the first African-American woman to hold the position of Managing Editor at Flintside and did it during the beginning of the pandemic. What was your experience like?

Xandr Brown:It was a challenge. It was hard. I was the editor after Marjory Raymer, and she gave me the opportunity. It felt like I was taking a baby that wasn’t mine. I wanted to do it justice, and then when 2020 came, it was like both my arms got chopped off. It was me sitting in my square room, in my aunt and uncle’s house, trying to cover the city of Flint without going outside and by myself. That was the most stress and imposter syndrome I’ve ever felt in my life. There were a lot of stories that I broke from my little square room out of desperation.” 

"I see the gaps filling in with my understanding of what America is like, what it truly is.” - Xandr Brown

Flintside: A piece of your passions was rooted in photography and journalism. Did the stress and feelings of imposter syndrome change them?

X. Brown: “I think my dreams were broken, but that wasn’t bad. I often think this to myself: you don’t know the true measure of your dream until you say no to it. Dreams need to be broken once in a while to hold strong against your and everybody else’s doubts. I think one of the things I was super proud of was cultivating a team of diverse writers with a deep drive to represent Flint as well as their communities and their identities. I enjoyed bringing out their true voice and giving them the experience to be journalists.” 

Flintside: Flint is growing in journalism but it’s still a news desert in many areas. What are your thoughts on that? 

X. Brown:I think Flint is a very special place but because it has deserts of many sorts, it’s very easy for people to have big fish in a small pond syndrome. It’s something that I saw a lot. I was an intern, a part of building, and freelancing for people opening newsrooms. I got to see the skeleton from the inside out. There should be a word of caution for anybody doing anything creative in Flint. Nobody should have a monopoly on anything important in this city. The need is so great. We are not big enough for people to have silos. Those boundaries need to be knocked down.” 

Flintside: And now you work for a publication called The Daily Yonder. What kind of work are you doing there?

X. Brown: “I’m a multimedia editor and producer. I will be going to the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Nevada to cover their native community. We’re producing a short documentary on their COVID response. Previously, I went to Arizona to the White Mountain Apache Tribe to do a production project. I also do a segment on a newscast called 'The Yonder Report.' I’m also on the forefront of a photo column called the Viewfinder. We’re doing a video essay about Cottagecore and what it has to do with rural gentrification. I’m having a good time.”

Flintside: What are the differences you see working?

X. Brown: “One of the differences is I don’t get to run into a lot of the subjects of the stories that I work on [as] Flintside is hyperlocal. The Daily Yonder is a national publication [and] the scope is rural. So, I see the gaps filling in with my understanding of what America is like, what it truly is, and the problems shared between people that people assume don’t exist. We’re all in this together, folks. That’s all I got to say.”

"I think I’m moving closer to, maybe not my life work, but my heart’s work to be." - Xandr Brown

Flintside: Do you feel photojournalism and documenting rural experiences is your purpose?

X. Brown: “I think I’m moving closer to, maybe not my life work, but my heart’s work to be. If you’re Black, your folks came from down south somewhere and transplanted themselves up north for a better opportunity. I’ve always wanted to know what that other side was. The fact that our people, though oppressed, were so self-sustaining in those environments, I do have a bit of fascination with rural spaces. I feel a responsibility to uplift not only Black people in rural spaces but also indigenous folks. There’s a lot of indigenous folks that need highlighting and coverage, not just nationally but in Michigan. I always like to dig deeper beyond the aestheticized diversity.” 

Flintside: Knowing that, do you feel you’re honoring the legacy of Black journalists?

X. Brown: “I think I honor it with my work. I’ve taken the pressure off of myself. I’m not going to be the next Ida B. Wells. I think I’m always looking at the gaps and where I can add support and nuance. It’s not about trying to do what somebody else has done [but] trying to find the do that only you can do. In that way, I think I am trying to add to the legacy of Black journalists, specifically Black American journalists. Being the Jill of all trades, if you’re on the forefront of what matters, you are the proper legacy for what you’re doing.”

Flintside: In this closing bit, what advice do you want to give up-and-coming journalists and creative artists.

X. Brown: “Number one, don’t wait for permission, and you need to get comfortable with that. Don’t make the solution be the claim to a person, an institution, or an idea to give you identity. Do the work and give yourself validation. Do the work, expect that you’re going to feel insecure, and keep going anyway. If it’s a bad situation, leave. If somebody is crossing your boundaries, if they’re personally disrespecting you, and you feel confused or isolated, don’t be afraid to leave, to quit. Don’t be afraid to say no to your dreams, and then trust that the universe will either bring it back to you or clarity as to where you’re supposed to be. And number three, when you are freelancing, you need to set aside money for taxes.”

Find Xandr Brown on Instagram and Twitter. To learn more about The Daily Yonder, visit: dailyyonder.com

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.