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THANKSGRIEVING

“Black By God exponentially added to the role these mountains have in my heart. I am a better person for understanding Appalachia. I am a better storyteller because of the wide array of life I’ve had the privilege to experience in interviews.”

THANKSGRIEVING

I think about God most often in three contexts: recovery meetings, during my family’s habitual Irish Catholic grief proceedings and when BBG or Black By God is front of mind. “Recovery is all harm reduction,” Crystal the Founder/Publisher of BBG tells me often. I firmly believe that our practice of equitable storytelling is community-centered harm reduction. I’m eternally grateful for whatever cosmic/karmic/divine intervention took place to cross our paths. For me, Black By God is a godsend.

One week prior to joining the BBG team, a very close relative died in hospice. I called him Elmo-- he was a retired labor union president and constantly sang Irish pub tunes softly to himself. One month prior to joining the Black By God team, I was discharged from rehab after five long months in treatment.

BBG gives me a sense of direction, purpose and community when I had none. It gave me an outlet for the anger that consumed me since childhood when I had none. It filled me with optimism when I had none. I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to support the artists, activists and unapologetic voices behind Black By God every day. To our incredible community and network, thank you for having me. To our founder Crystal Good, thank you for showing me that there is a place in this industry for those who refuse to sustain information inequality and enable White-centered storytelling.

When I began my journalism studies at West Virginia University, I was intimidated and conflicted by the expectation to mold my work into something palatable for, and impartial to, both sides of the American political binary. For too long, I believed I was unfit for a career in media because of my own biases. So, I would like to take this opportunity to be transparent about what informs my work and to express my deep gratitude to those who encourage Black By God’s efforts.

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I started college the semester Obama left office and finished my degree the semester Trump followed suit. During my first year at Cleveland State University, I was still too young to vote, but vividly remember leaving American Government with a classmate who told me she voted for Trump because she couldn’t imagine a woman in the oval.

Jane: thank you for that electrical shock of a reminder that White people absolutely must urge one another to use some critical thought. I was too stunned to respond then but have started my career in prosocial communications to do better. By the next election, I was working with NPR contributing Gen-Z political commentary. 2024 is still TBD, but just think about what Black By God could do with your support leading up to (every) Election Day!

My family’s White, European and arguably illegal immigration story weighed heavily on me during the election cycle, too. My grandma Kathleen Joyce Flynn came to the U.S. from Ireland as a teenager in the 1940s— all she needed was either proof of a job or place to live, along with $500 savings secured. Rumor has it that families, neighbors and communities would combine resources, so once someone was safely overseas they would mail it back for the next person to leave home.

In 2016, I felt like I was circling the drain (for a few reasons, I’m sure), seeing just how blatantly candidates and platforms would reinforce skin color determining what level of inhumanity an immigrant is forced to endure.

My grandma died before I was born, but I’m her spitting image and took her name. I started writing under ‘Maura Flynn’ years earlier on the Daily Athenaeum’s opinion desk, where, for the first time, I felt like I had agency over the traumatic family system I grew up in. Changing my name changed who I was to myself, and who was behind my byline.

I’m not entirely sure exactly who I (Maura Kathleen) am named after-- my grandma Kathleen or her sister Mary; my mom Mary Kathleen or her sister Kathleen; or the handful of women I call Aunt Maureen. I love when Crystal tells the tale behind Black By God’s name, recounting Bricktop’s history and reinforcing how important a title is to our identity.

I don’t identify as Irish Catholic. I don’t even really identify as Irish American. Perhaps my best fit is ‘Irishmen in recovery from substance use disorders.’ I’m proud of that, though. We’re a resilient bunch. I definitely feel the spirit of Irish rebellion within me-- and I felt it the day I proudly changed my last name to Flynn in court.

I’m a proud Clevelander and Mountaineer. I wouldn’t trade those two influences for the world. West Virginia offered me a safe haven removed from the environment I was trying to heal from, and Black By God exponentially added to the role these mountains have in my heart.

I am a better person for understanding Appalachia. I am a better storyteller because of the wide array of life I’ve had the privilege to capture in interviews. And I am most certainly a better White ally for being taught Critical Race Theory in school.


Maura Kathleen Flynn is an award-winning writer, editor and community organizer.

After graduating from WVU’s College of Media, she returned home to work in Cleveland’s local arts scene while managing Black By God’s editorial and team operations. In her spare time, she’s a high school cheerleading coach and avid consumer of all things true crime. maura@blackbygod.org

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