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As early as elementary school, Florida Atlantic University student Kennedy McKinney said she had to learn how to walk alone and break barriers. For years at her school in Jacksonville, she was the only Black student in her class, and her school had 5% Black students overall. For a decade, she said she wanted more cultural representation in schools.
“I felt like I dealt with discrimination from faculty, staff and students,” she said. “So when I came back to Boca for FAU, I wanted my experiences to be different and I used my experiences from Jacksonville as an inspiration for The Paradigm Press.”
As FAU’s first Black newspaper, The Paradigm Press covers on-campus student life, sports and Black-owned businesses in and around the campus. Since March 1, 2020, the newspaper has also covered entertainment, opinion features and issues going on in the FAU community as the staff of college students advocates for change.
McKinney was born in Boca Raton but moved to Jacksonville when she was 3. Since starting college, the 20-year-old has returned to her hometown where she pursued finding more friends, reaching out to classmates, finding cultural acceptance on the college campus, and majoring in journalism, she found her way to becoming the founder and editor-in-chief of The Paradigm Press.
“When I got to FAU, I loved the diversity immediately, especially amongst the Black community, and I felt like I was home,” McKinney said. “But I noticed there wasn’t anyone highlighting certain stories with diversity and that matched the campus life.”
Beginning in 2013, McKinney’s interest in journalism started when she built a website as a personal blog. For several years, she published news, opinions, interviews, videos, and articles on fashion, beauty, and pop culture.
Once a college student, McKinney said she was anxious to contribute to FAU’s student-run newspaper, the University Press. She wrote a sports story, and for two months during her freshman year, she worked as a contributing writer and staff member.
But for two months, McKinney said she felt disappointed in the lack of cultural coverage.
“I wasn’t getting the vibe that they were covering the minority population to the best of their abilities,” she said. “I felt like stories weren’t stories that needed to be covered. I felt like I could be the person to help start highlighting that.”
One day while sitting in her dorm, she called her parents to share the idea of leaving the traditional student-run paper to start her own.
When McKinney first registered The Paradigm Press as another newspaper for the school it was originally denied. But she started discussing the idea with her friends and classmates within her journalism classes and in the fall of 2019, she started planning to get The Paradigm Press independently started.
“It was a chance for Black students to highlight their issues with the school and accomplishments with the school’s clubs, organizations, and the community,” McKinney said.
She spread awareness about The Paradigm Press by setting up tables and passing out flyers to students walking throughout The Breezeway, the main thoroughfare on campus. She discussed with students what the online newspaper platform would offer and received positive feedback from them.
“The campus immediately loved it and faculty has been supportive as well,” McKinney said. “But we did get some pushback from the University Press.”
She said those issues were resolved after a new staff came in.
FAU student Imani Lauryn also contributes to student media with her involvement with FAU’s OwlTV, and she said she believes The Paradigm Press came at the perfect time last year with social unrest throughout the country.
“…Fast forward to now, The Paradigm Press is saying enough, we want our stories to be out there, our fashion trends, our voice, and I think that’s a really powerful response,” she said.
In its first year, The Paradigm Press had a total of 27,477 website views and 700 Instagram followers. Some stories that received the most responses, clicks and engagements were “A Tale of Two Troupes,” which put the focus on an FAU fashion organization showing more diversity and urban fashion choices, and an FAU student who repeatedly used racial slurs on social media without receiving any penalty.
Ashley Walker, the newspaper’s marketing director, wrote a popular story about the distribution of drugs on the campus.
“It dealt with those who use drugs on campus and sell them, and it was controversial,” she said.
But Walker said she believes it’s a chance for the school to become more aware and fix these problems.
“When I first came here [The Paradigm Press], I knew it was something that would change my life,” she said. “A chance for us to not point a finger at FAU and just say do better. It’s literally to improve the college experience and build momentum for all students and staff when we put these things out there regardless of obstacles and what’s happening.”
One unexpected obstacle was the pandemic. Like many other organizations and campus activities, McKinney and her staff had to find a way to remain active. All of their scheduled in-person events became Zoom meetings.
“It was an adjustment,” said McKinney, who will be a junior in the fall. “But we still found ways to keep it going and find new ways for students to be involved and get new experience.”
She also used the time to make The Paradigm Press a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization to provide multiple scholarships for incoming freshmen at FAU who want to pursue a career in journalism. McKinney has also partnered with the Society of Professional Journalists Florida to start paying writers, which has brought The Paradigm Press more staff and student contribution.
“Now students can get real-world experience while still being in college,” she said.
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She’s also part of the community organization The National Council of Negro Women that donates food, coordinates beach cleanups and puts a focus on sisterhood in the Boca Raton community.
McKinney plans to go to law school and wants to use her journalism degree to be a political correspondent for a major news source.
Even after McKinney and the rest of The Paradigm Press staff members have graduated, McKinney said she said hopes The Paradigm Press will go on to inspire the next generation of leaders to break barriers for cultural recognition.
“Doing all of this gave me a voice,” she said. “It gave other students a voice to be heard and not feel alone like I did at one point. Regardless of where and when, a voice is the chance to be heard and help bring change to the community and the world.”