Before the long hours of unpaid work, before the 7 a.m. meetings over Google Hangouts and before there was a team of 12 dedicated women skilled in photography, videography, writing and web design, Majesty Digital co-founders Yasi Milani and Srushti Kamat simply had an idea. It was one that drew from internal inspiration and a desire to connect the shared experiences of women of color from around the world.
Majesty Digital is an online publication that was founded by University of Oregon students for the sole purpose of creating a platform for women of color to share their experiences. Every issue will follow a general theme. The first issue, released on May 25, focused on the arts, with extended interviews from a number of successful women, such as graphic artist Zoya Rahim and figurative artist Shyama Golden, who is known for her extensive experience in oil painting and design.
Blue Chalk, a Portland-based, award-winning production and media strategy company known for their nonfiction visual storytelling, recently hired Kamat, requiring her to move to Portland while continuing her education online at UO.
Milani and Kamat are often able to finish each other’s sentences in the way two best friends might after having known each other for many years. This unspoken bond is emblematic of what Majesty Digital aims to do on a global scale: bring women of color together who are able to understand one another and share common experiences.
“We were both really tired of it being 2018 and this platform not existing,” Milani said. “The idea was there — we just had to decide how to implement it.”
Kamat agreed, adding that a special mix of timing and dedication helped make the first few months possible.
“I had an idea and she had an idea and we both met at the right time. It was kind of a brain wave, serendipity moment of like, ‘Okay, let’s do this this. Let’s put in our blood, sweat and tears,’” Kamat said.
While initially conceived on the UO campus with all team members enrolled in classes, Kamat, who was born in Mumbai and raised in Singapore, was clear that this isn’t a student organization. There are no faculty advisors, and there isn’t funding from the university.
“From the very beginning, Yasi and I both wanted this to go global, and we still do. I’m an international student who’s here on scholarship, but a lot of the things Yasi and I bonded over in regards to the immigrant experience transcended borders. It had nothing to do with our nationalites. It had to do with our experiences,” Kamat said.
Almost one year ago today, at the end of Spring term in 2017, Milani approached Kamat with the idea for Majesty Digital. By the end of the year, they had posted the first episode of an ongoing web series that features interviews with different women of color.
To date, Majesty Digital has released ten short episodes from a series that highlights women of color discussing a wide-range of topics, such as self-expression, undocumentation and sexual assault, among others. The interviewees often use personal stories to underscore the vulnerability it takes to discuss these kinds of topics. You can tell that the style of the interviews helps participants feel comfortable, as the stories often switch from light-hearted banter to gut-wrenching sadness in a matter of minutes.
“The launch of the first video was a key moment,” Milani said. “That’s when we started to get applications. That’s when we started to get responses.”
UO students Cassidy Kusumoto and Robyn Wright were some of the first applicants in the initial hiring process. Kusumoto, who currently acts as the main videographer and video editor for Majesty Digital, knew right away that she wanted to be involved.
“I didn’t have a concrete idea of what Majesty was, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Kusumoto said. “It wasn’t until after the meetings when I started talking to everyone in the group that I became more passionate about it.”
Wright, also expressing an early sense of confusion as to what the team would look like, became a copy editor. She remembers finding out about her addition to the team in between terms, and although she didn’t quite know what she’d be doing, she celebrated nonetheless.
“I remember opening the email on break, and even though I didn’t know exactly what it was, I celebrated like it was my dream job,” Wright said. “When I finally came out of the first meeting, I was so overwhelmed and honored to be a part of the stories that are being told here.”
This kind of excitement has been echoed throughout the community, both on and off campus, with thousands of people tuning in to watch the monthly episodes uploaded to Facebook and Instagram. Since December, the team has grown to include more women, and although they go without pay, there’s no shortage of passion.
“We have a 12-member team and nobody is paid to do this. The fact that we have team members who are willing to be a part of this process and be a part of this dream is amazing,” Milani said. “We’re motivated because what we’re doing is so much bigger than us. It’s not about us. We’re using our platform to give women who have been silenced a voice.”
While there’s no tentative date for the release of the next issue, Majesty Digital will still be producing content for their Instagram and Facebook feeds. The rarity of a UO-bred group aiming for something more than a student-based readership is a testament to Kamat and Milani’s original idea: to connect women of color from all around the globe and create something that didn’t exist.
“We’re both the type of people that if something doesn’t exist, then we’ll create it ourselves,” Milani said.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done.