When he’s not making international pop stars write and sing songs about him over his assessments of their cultural appropriation, Ernest Owens is speaking truth to power in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Clearly Justin Timberlake did some quaking too. The tune “Say Something,” from the former NSYNC singer’s 2018 album “Man in the Woods,” was written in response to Owens’ blistering Twitter posts from two years prior, which apparently gave him pause. While it was in the news last week that Timberlake apologized to his ex-girlfriend Brittney Spears and also to his Super Bowl XXXVIII co-performer Janet Jackson, the boy band icon has stayed mum where Owens is concerned.
Owens, an award-winning writer, who is currently serving as the youngest president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, is CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. He also serves as Editor-at-Large at Philadelphia Magazine. As a proud Black and gay man, Owens says he stands on the shoulders of the warriors who came before him.
“Gay people have been fighting for all our survival and all our right to survive,” he explained. “Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes and the great James Baldwin. These are people who are and were part of the community who fought for all Black people. And now I'm one of those queer Black people who fight for us all.”
Owens has genuinely owned the space of being a reporter who wants to find and do away with oppression in every place he finds it. No matter if it is a police chief, a politician or anyone else who should be on the side of justice. He says he finds it incredibly hurtful when he finds himself at odds with other Black people who don’t reciprocate that support to LGBTQ family.
“Although we have seen changes and advancements in general, Black LGBTQ folks face discrimination in the larger society as well,” Owens said. “This is why cis hetero Black brothers and sisters absolutely must continue to be our allies in our fight against issues of white oppression. It’s not a straight or gay issue, it's a human rights issue -- especially when we recognize that we experience the discrimination that our larger black community does -- no matter the sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Sadly, Owens knows more than a little something about what it means to fight to exorcise the rights that others take for granted. In 2017, he was interrogated by the Philadelphia Police counterterrorism unit over a social media post that there would be a “reckoning” when it came to gay Philadelphians patronizing a nightclub whose owner was recorded making negative remarks against Black people. While police officials say they did nothing wrong when they questioned Owens, journalists and even Owens’ superiors went on the record to decry such treatment.
Owens remains committed to his journalism. “This isn't about clout and fame and YAAASSS! My life depends upon this. Speaking truth to power is fighting for the right to live. The truth sets us free and as marginalized people this is the path that will lead ultimately to all our liberation.”
Photo Credit: Ronald Gray