Juleyka Lantigua-Williams: “Podcasting Called To Me”

October 10, 2017—Editor’s note: Juleyka Lantigua-Williams started Lantigua Williams & Co. this year after an illustrious career in print and digital media. Most recently, Lantigua-Williams was the former lead editor/producer of NPR’s Code Switch and is also a former staff writer at The Atlantic. AIR is excited to share her vision for a more inclusive media and podcasting landscape as her company gets airborne.

By Juleyka Lantigua-Williams

In June, I walked away after 17 years in an intense, challenging, and fulfilling relationship with traditional print and digital media. It was among the most difficult and consequential professional decisions I have made so far. What can I say? I fell in love with podcasts.

I chose to go into podcasting for many reasons. First, I truly love the genre. As a listener, I have been enthralled, angered, tickled, and enriched by podcasts, so I came into the space as a fan. Second, after leading such a beloved podcast as Code Switch, and having so many fun-filled times working long days behind the scenes, the adrenaline junkie in me found a new natural high.

What’s more, podcasting as a format and an art form is liberating and empowering in ways that traditional print and online media I believe, no longer have the ability to be. This results from several factors: the good ol’ pyramid structure still in place and the drive for clicks and virality.

Most importantly, it’s time for the ascending majority to take a stronger foothold in media. People of color have to move, en masse, from in front of the mic to behind the recorder and in front of the control boards. Podcasting offers a real opportunity for this to happen because it is a more accessible and democratic medium, with far fewer gatekeepers and no such thing as “traditional” practices. We’re making it up as we go, and it’s working.

In recent years, I’ve been so inspired by women like Maria Hinojosa, Soledad O’Brien, Ava DuVernay, and Shonda Rhimes that I decided to take the ultimate leap of faith and opt out of corporate media to launch my own production company—Lantigua Williams & Co. I’ve been so fortunate to receive so much guidance and mentorship as a print journalist covering life for hyphenated Americans, but the medium no longer fits the message and continually alienates the messengers. It’s been a long time coming, and I know I would not have been as prepared at any other time in my career.

I happily see more talented people of color thriving, creating, and expanding as storytellers because they finally have tools that match their strengths and fit their budgets.

This is especially true of women of color and Latinos.

For too long, Latinos have followed a very traditional path to success, the original formula for the American Dream: go to school, get a job, and wait to be promoted. That formula is outdated and outmoded. Billenials (as bilingual Latino millennials have been dubbed) can leapfrog the usual gatekeepers by using their natural high tech-adoption rates, advanced social media skills, and cross-cultural knowledge to tell rich and necessary stories beyond the fight at the border and the divide over DACA.

For many women of color, their entrepreneurial skills derive from the leadership drilled into them as older sisters, responsible for siblings and the house while immigrant parents worked second jobs or owned bodegas, fruit stands, or nail salons. A study by The Immigrant Learning Center concluded: “Adult children of immigrant entrepreneurs feel a deep-seated desire to give back to their communities. This is reflected in their research fields (e.g., urban planning), choice of degrees (public health, education), extra-curricular activities (foreign languages), and choice of work (social work).” Daughters of immigrants learn early on to support parents who are “significantly disadvantaged in the labor market,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—as a 2000 New York Times piece observed, children of immigrants often take on adult-level leadership roles in their families.

Fortunately, women of color have been deepening their ranks as entrepreneurs for several decades. The National Women’s Business Council reports that there are 1.4 million Latina-owned businesses in the U.S., totaling about 35 percent of all Latino firms. Between 2007 and 2012, Asian women-owned businesses grew by over 43 percent, reaching 750,000 and generating $135 billion in receipts. There are 1.5 million black women-owned businesses in the U.S., a 67 percent increase from 2007 to 2012. Of these, 97 percent are wholly owned by a woman.

As a Latina who has spent two decades analyzing the emergence of Latinos as economic drivers in the U.S., I felt it was time to take it to the next level. A Nielsen report this month provided further evidence of our role in the economy: “… Latinas are also achieving higher educational attainment, experiencing growth in entrepreneurship, and emerging as some of the most powerful and influential consumers in the U.S.”

For my part, after the initial steep learning curve of going into business for myself, the plan is to use the tenets of good journalism I honed to support creators who want to make people of color protagonists in their own stories and masters of their own fates—in their lives and in their stories.

Among the projects I’m working on is Protégé Podcast, which provides behind-the-scenes access to corporate and entrepreneurial titans whose stories are inspirational and instructive. Aside from growing the audience, I’m looking at how the podcast can branch out into other platforms, like live events. I’ve been developing advertising for The Beat DC, which is a must-read daily tipsheet and weekly podcast for people of color in the Beltway and beyond. I’m also creating new podcasts about criminal justice reform and social drinking culture with folks who know a lot about these things and deserve a good platform. There’s also a TV and a film project I’m a producer on: “Barry & Joe,” an animated series about Barack Obama and Joe Biden traveling back in time to save us from ourselves, and “August Sun,” a beautiful short film being shot in Argentina this month about the trials of adult children caring for aging parents.

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer so far. But I can’t wait to look back on this first year and see how much I will have grown, learned, and experienced.