‘By Design’ Magazine: Leading ‘The Good Fight’ for Black Creatives

Justin Ikerionwu, co-founder and editor-in-chief (photo by Jaydee Park)

The current issue of “By Design” magazine is entitled “The Good Fight,” but it didn’t start out that way.

“By Design,” which was launched in 2018, showcases Black creatives. Issue #005, which came out in December, originally was going to be called “The Blueprint.”

“We were going to dive a little bit deeper into what it takes for folks to do what they do,” said Justin Ikerionwu, co-founder and editor-in-chief. “Once COVID hit, and after everything that’s been happening with civil unrest after the George Floyd situation, we thought it would be appropriate for us to change the focus of the issue and talk about the fight our community has had, and our creative community especially.”

To put it another way, the introductory page of the current issue states that “With the COVID-19 world pandemic and increased racial unrest, ‘By Design’ has dealt with our own setbacks. Issue #005 represents a form of resiliency that likens itself to our story and the story of our people. We have already normalized the idea that Black creative people are the norm, but now we continue to dive deeper into exploring the many intersections of blackness, from identity, to industry, to most importantly, the creative person that exists in every facet of life. We are the heartbeat to society. We are culture, the mirror to community, an image too vivid to be denied. We are fighting for our existence every day; therefore we explore the many people fighting the good fight.”

Besides the fact that it fits these times, the title of Issue #005 draws inspiration from a 2015 album of the same name by rap artist Oddisee.

In addition, one of the articles in the issue features Oddisee discussing the art of storytelling.

“Hip hop lyricism is one of the most important forms of American literature in the history of this country,” Oddisee said. “That’s one of the only means of effective communication we’ve been granted in the states, and we can do it right under their noses. They own half the labels, publishing houses and distribution, yet they still allow a small fraction of people like myself to tell these stories. Obviously, we don’t get the biggest deals or the most attention; that would be counterproductive for our own oppression, but there’s still an avenue to make a living doing it. Thus ‘The Good Fight.’”

The digital edition of the magazine may be viewed at www.bydesignmag.com, and the print edition comes out twice a year.

Ikerionwu said “By Design” is aimed at “young Black creatives, professionals, entrepreneurs, and people who appreciate the stories and aesthetics and the really dope things we try to dive into, whether it’s fashion or music or design.”

The other co-founders of “By Design” are Muenfua Lewis, creative director, and Tony Henry, who leads art direction and design.

Lewis said the impetus for the magazine came from Black creatives “being excluded in many spaces, lack of resources and opportunities, a lack of stories, a lack of representation. But it also came from the desire to create something dope, and something hopefully powerful enough to inspire others to get up and create something.”

Issue #005 of “By Design,” a magazine devoted to Black creatives launched in 2018, was released in December. (“By Design”)

Portrait artist Anita Easterwood, who has been featured in “By Design” twice, said she loves the magazine’s mission. “This is more than just a Kansas City magazine. It’s not tied to location. It’s simply tied to Black creatives and every aspect, from street art to designing to fine art. You’ll find an array of things that are covered in the magazine. That’s what I appreciate. There’s nothing monolithic about the Black community.”

As an artist, Easterwood said, she understands the hurdles to getting published and exposed. “For them to allow opportunities for artists to be featured and share their story, when that may not have been possible before, that’s a big deal. This is a resume builder for the people who are featured here.”

Such exposure is even more important amid the pandemic, Easterwood said, “because everything is online. That’s something I have to adapt to. There are gallery showings, but a lot of them went virtual. They make it easier for people to get more exposure.”

The introductory content on the magazine’s website includes a succinct declaration that says “Human Over Hype.” Ikerionwu said Human Over Hype signifies “focusing on the human aspect of who you are. We want to focus on why people do things. Authenticity is key, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. We want people to share their stories, so that those stories will affect others positively and give them inspiration to push forward. At the end of the day, it’s less about the attention you garner and more about the way you affect your community.”

The current issue also features Velma Rosai-Makhandia, a Kenyan-born artist. She said her stories are “discussions about the complexities of artistry explorations as an African woman (gender, body politics, colorism, space inclusion) in a landscape that fetishes both Black and African women. Placing myself in front of the camera is an intentional reclamation of self and an invocation to expand conversations of Black womanhood on both a personal and societal level.”

“By Design” has waged its own “Good Fight” to keep going amid the pandemic, as COVID has taken a toll on finances. For example, the magazine was forced to stop holding events that used to generate revenue.

“With COVID, the financial side of things has gotten a little bit more stringent,” said Ikerionwu, who also is the business development officer at AltCap, a Kansas City-based community development financial institution. “Just like a lot of other small businesses throughout the country and the world, we went through our ups and downs, and more downs than ups.”

On the upside, Ikerionwu said “By Design” has found “partners throughout the community who want to work with us on a campaign to get the word out, or work with us to build connectiveness between Black organizations in the city. We’re really thankful for the partnerships we’ve been able to garner.”

Local entities that have partnered with “By Design” include Kansas City-based Lead Bank. Melissa Beltrame, chief marketing officer and senior vice president, said the bank supports endeavors that “bring imagination, inspiration and importance to our personal and professional lives. Consequently, we are delighted to support ‘By Design’ — a newer publication which highlights the incredible aesthetic work that people of color are doing.” She added, “I feel it’s very important for us to recognize and celebrate all types of art and perspectives so that we have a more holistic view of the world — and our communities.”

As the pandemic continued to wreak havoc at the dawn of the New Year, Ikerionwu said the current print issue is “something we are proud of. It’s a testament to the fight within ourselves, within the Black community, and all the creatives we have worked with.”

Looking toward the future, Ikerionwu said, “Our mission now is to continue to push forward and find different ways to put out content that will resonate with the community, while we also find ways to be a bridge to resources for folks who haven’t had the means on their own creative journeys. We’re really encouraged by the way the community has embraced us.”

Julius Karash

Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person. He formerly was a business reporter for the Kansas City Star and executive editor of KC Business magazine. He devours business and economic news, and is keenly interested in the relationship between arts and economic development in the Kansas City area.

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