February 3, 2014 | By wonkum |
Congratulations to our February 2014 IMPACT Leader of the Month, Zerlina Maxwell!
Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and contributing writer for The New York Daily News, Feministing.com, theGrio.com, BET.com, and EBONY.com. She writes about national politics, candidates, and specific policy and culture issues including domestic violence, sexual assault, victim blaming and gender inequality. She has consulted with the United States Department of State to promote the use of social media by students in the West Bank. She’s also been featured in the New York Times as a political twitter voice to follow during the last election season.
Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, JET Magazine, on CNN.com and other mainstream media outlets. She is also a weekly guest and fill in host for Make It Plain with Mark Thompson on Sirius XM Progress and democratic commentator on Fox News and MSNBC. She has a J.D. from Rutgers Law School – Newark and a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University.
INTERVIEW | Getting to Know Zerlina Maxwell
Tell us a day in the life of Zerlina.
I wake up and check my Twitter and feedly for breaking news. Then I get organized and prep for any upcoming television or radio appearances. Recently, my days have been quite busy with segments at MSNBC or Fox News; therefore, I work around these segments to get my writing done. I’m a regular contributor to a bevy of sites, so I usually have at least one article to submit and post everyday. As a freelance writer and contributor, every day is different for me. A few times a month, I’m on the road doing speaking engagements on rape culture and feminism at colleges and universities. At times it can be hectic, but I feel incredibly grateful to make a living in politics. Honestly, I would be obsessively following it even if it wasn’t my daily job!
What inspired you to become a feminist?
I think that I’ve always been a feminist. However, I didn’t claim the label until my 20’s. My mother is very outspoken and I grew up with a father who encouraged me to be assertive and to speak my mind. Throughout high school and most of college, I thought feminism was a theory mainly for white women. It really wasn’t until I started paying attention and educating myself more, that I realized that it was for me too. Sometimes, I think that my progressive politics was just inherent. I joke all the time about debating my father in 1988, when I was 7 years old, insisting that he vote for Michael Dukakis instead of George H. W. Bush. No one told me that Dukakis was better but I was adamant. I think that feminist values or progressive values was always in my genes.
What is the key to balancing your professional, philanthropic and social commitments?
A to-do list. A few years ago, I was juggling a full time job and law school, in which I was completely overwhelmed. I made my personal development, a priority and read about how to overcome procrastination and how to plan out my goals. Learning to plan out my goals weekly, monthly, and annually allowed me to do more in every area. I think the only way to stay balanced, is to stay organized.
What is the biggest mistake young professionals make, especially when pursuing a new professional venture?
In my opinion, too many people avoid networking and working their networks. And I don’t necessarily mean going to receptions or happy hours. Those things are helpful but conferences, panels, book release parties, political fundraisers, etc. are all great alternatives depending on what one wants to do. It’s about coming into contact with people frequently and building those relationships over time. I also think that people overlook social media as a networking tool. I’m a journalist and when I first began writing on a professional level, one of my main strategies online was to organize my feed into lists of writers and editors of influence. Soon after interacting with these people for a while, they started asking me to write for them. Social networking is such an integral part of communication these days. I’m always surprised when I meet someone who isn’t on Twitter and/or Facebook. And truth be told, Instagram is actually the fastest growing network right now and is amazing for professional and personal branding.
What advice would you give other young professionals who desire to become involved with issues such as feminism, journalism, law, and politics?
Step 1: Join twitter. Twitter gets a bad rap as a waste of time but it’s so easy to use as a tool to break into any field. Online feminism is a decade old and many of the most important conversations in progressive politics and gender that are happening right now, are on twitter.
What’s been the best experience of your career thus far (or the most rewarding)?
It’s always rewarding when I give a talk about rape culture – framed around engaging men in the rape prevention conversation – and a student comes up to me afterwards to say that they never thought about the issue in this way and that my presentation was clear and straightforward. I am a firm believer in meeting people where they are and I know an issue like rape culture is difficult to talk about. I’m really grateful for the platform to talk about such an important issue. An issue that has impacted me personally, in order to hopefully make the world just a little bit safer.
What’s next for you in your career?
I’m going to continue writing, speaking, doing political consultant work, as well as working in television. I’m really having a good time and feel really lucky to have made politics my job; since I live and breath it
Lastly, give me three words to sum up Zerlina Maxwell.
Driven, Honest, Fearless
What is your Twitter handle?