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Interview with Dr. Margena A. Christian


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/05/01


An interview with Dr. Margena A. Christian. She discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic family background; influence on development; influences and pivotal moments in early life; founding and owning DocM.A.C. write Consulting; building and maintaining a client base; being a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago; the dissertation and original interest in it; being a senior editor and senior writer for EBONY and other publications and initiatives; abilities, knowledge, and skills developed from the experience; interest in education, fashion, finance, health, medicine, parenting, relationships, religion, and spirituality; covering the death of Michael Jackson; advice for journalists; advice for girls; advice for women in general; advice for African-American women; advice for professional women; greatest emotional struggle in personal life; greatest emotional struggle in professional life; nicest thing someone’s ever done for you; meanest thing someone’s ever done to you; source of drive; upcoming collaborative projects; upcoming solo projects; and final feelings or thoughts.

Keywords: African-American, consulting, editor, lecturer, Margena A. Christian, University of Illinois at Chicago, woman.

Interview with Dr. Margena A. Christian: Distinguished Lecturer, University of Illinois at Chicago; Founder and Owner, DocM.A.C. write Consulting[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your familial background reside?

Dr. Margena A. Christian: I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Appropriately so, I made my entrance into the world at Christian Hospital on the city’s north side, where I resided until I relocated to Chicago in 1995 when hired by Johnson Publishing Company. My mother’s side of the faily was African American and Cherokee Indian. They were from Arkansas. My father’s side of the family was African American and German. I don’t know much about them except that his grandmother was, as my mom often said, “full-blooded German” and that a great portion of his family distanced themselves from the others after deciding to “pass” as White. I grew up in what I considered a pretty traditional African-American, working-class family. My mom was a librarian and media specialist; my dad was an inspector at General Motors.

2. Jacobsen: How did this influence development?

Christian: Growing up in St. Louis was an interesting experience. There is much division there between African Americans and Whites. I lived on the city’s north side, which is predominantly Black. I attended a Catholic grade school, Most Holy Rosary, and a Catholic high school, Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory, with people who looked like me. When I went to St. Louis University(SLU), a Jesuit institution, it was a major adjustment. During this time there were few people that attended who looked like me. I can still recall often being in classes where I was the only African American. Going from being around my own 24/7 and then moving into a world where I was suddenly the only “one,” took some getting used to. I can say that I had a pleasant time as a Billiken at SLU. I worked hard and made stellar grades so I stood out for more reasons than one. And, needless to say, I hardly ever missed class because the professor always seemed to notice.

3. Jacobsen: What about influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of life such as kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, undergraduate studies (college/university), and graduate studies?

Christian: As previously mentioned, my mom was a teacher. When I attended kindergarten, it was at the same school where she taught. For some reason I didn’t feel the need to work as hard because mom was there. In some ways I felt privileged over the other students. From that experience, my mom learned that it wasn’t such a good thing to work at the same school with your kid. I was headed to the third grade when my parents decided to take me out of the St. Louis Public School System and have me attend an Archdiocesan school. She didn’t feel that my siblings and I were getting the best education, so she convinced our dad to allow us to transfer to Catholic schools.

I attended a co-ed high school that was considered one of the best private, Catholic schools in an urban area. That’s where my life changed after taking a leadership class with Sister Barbara. She knew how much I loved to write and told me about the Minority Journalism Workshop, sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists. The program was designed for juniors and seniors in high school and early college students. I was a sophomore when I applied and got accepted. Renowned journalists George E. Curry and Gerald Boyd were founders of this pioneering workshop, which would become the blueprint for other minority journalism workshops throughout the country.

Training with professional journalists at such a young age helped to hone my craft and solidify my desire to do this for a living. I won scholarships two years in a row and had my first article published. Nothing beats hands-on experience. I didn’t write for the school paper at SLU, because I didn’t feel comfortable as “the only one.” Instead, I returned to my roots and did an internship at the city’s top African-American publication, the St. Louis American Newspaper. Later I wrote for a newsmagazine called Take Five. Building one’s clips is critical. I had an attractive portfolio with a range of stories to show.

However, coming from a family of educators, I did what most people who aspire to become a journalist do. I played it safe and got a job as an English teacher at a Catholic grade school, Bishop Healy. So, essentially, I taught by day and wrote by night. Healy was in the city and practiced the Nguzo Saba value system. When I reflect on my life, I see that I was being prepared. Concepts in my dissertation were the Nguzo Saba to show pioneering publisher John H. Johnson’s commitment to his race when documenting our history in magazines.

4. Jacobsen: You founded and own DocM.A.C. write Consulting. It provides a number of services including editing, professional development, proofreading, writing services, and so on. What is the importance of these services to the clientele?

Christian: People always seek those who can fine tune and polish their writing, editing and proofreading. Educators need to remain current with pedagogical strategies so professional development is one way to achieve this. I also do dissertation coaching. Thus far I’ve helped two people complete their dissertation. The coursework is the easy part; the hard part is crossing the finish line by submitting the dissertation! There’s a great deal of folks who are ABD (all but dissertation) who need the right push to move along. That’s what I do.

5. Jacobsen: How does one build and maintain a client base?

Christian: Building and maintaining a client base, for me, comes from word of mouth and networking. Most of my clients were referred by other clients and/or people who know my work.

6. Jacobsen: You are a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. What tasks and responsibilities come with this position?

Christian: I teach an Academic Writing I course, considered freshman composition, in English. Recently UIC started a professional writing concentration as a minor. I was hired to help build the program. Thus far I developed and designed two courses: Writing for Digital and New Media and Advanced Professional Writing. One thing I enjoy most about being a lecturer is that the focus is on teaching and not so much research. If I choose to conduct more or to write journal articles, it is optional and not mandatory. Each semester I teach three different courses so my prep time is far reaching. Thanks to my organizational skills, I make it work effortlessly.

7. Jacobsen: Your dissertation was titled John H. Johnson: A Historical Study on the Re-Education of African Americans in Adult Education Through the Selfethnic Liberatory Nature of Magazines. What was the original interest in this subject matter?

Christian: I didn’t simply read about how John H. Johnson helped to make history. I helped him to write it. I was hired by the man himself in 1995, when I started as an assistant editor for the weekly publication Jet magazine. When Mr. Johnson, as we lovingly called him, died in 2005, I saw how things changed the following year with new people in place to run the iconic publications. Let’s just say that I knew that one day the magazine and the company as I once knew it would be no more. It hit me that there would come a time when people won’t remember or know anything about a man who lived named John H. Johnson. It struck me that one day people won’t know about his iconic publications. It hit me that the house that he once built at 820 S. Michigan Avenue would no longer exist. I realized I was the bridge between the old and the new. I was the last editor hired by Mr. Johnson and worked along his side who remained at the company before my position was eliminated in 2014. My position ended the same week that Jet magazine ended. History was being rewritten and it was bittersweet. For instance, a man named Simeon Booker led the ground-breaking coverage for the tragic 1955 Emmett Till story. I did the modern-day, follow-up coverage, beginning in 2004, when the body was exhumed and the case reopened. It was an honor to have Booker hand me the baton and for Mr. Johnson to have approved it. After a series of stories that I penned for a few years, I concluded that chapter in my life and the magazine’s annals by purchasing a beautiful oil painting of Till (shown in image) that was done by a fellow JPC employee, Raymond A. Thomas.

8. Jacobsen: What was the main research question? What were the main findings of the doctoral research?

Christian: The main research question was how did John H. Johnson use his magazines in adult education to combat intellectual racism. The main findings were that not only did he educate his own race but he educated all races, all over the world.

9. Jacobsen: You were a Senior Editor and Senior Writer for EBONY, editor of Elevate, Features Editor for Jet, and assisted in the inauguration of EBONY Retrospective. What were these initiatives?

Christian: Features editor was a position where I was charged with pitching, writing and editing human interest stories. I also assisted with selecting and securing high-profile figures for cover subjects. Elevate was a section in EBONY that focused on health, wellness and spirituality. EBONY’s Retrospective was an opportunity for me to marry my love of entertainment with my interest in historical data by examining pivotal cultural moments in music, movies and TV that shaped my race.

10. Jacobsen: What abilities, knowledge, and skills were developed from them?

Christian: In addition to building an amazing list of contacts, I mastered the art of multi-tasking and learned the importance of having steady relationships. It’s not about who you know but who knows you and returns your call. On the flip side, in terms of production, Jet magazine was a weekly publication so I had less than a week to meet a deadline. This included tracking down sources, doing research, conducting interviews, writing stories and editing. Early on I handled images for both EBONY and Jet by operating the Associated Press photo machine, including breaking it down and cleaning what was called the oven. Moving to EBONY in 2009 offered me a bit more time to work on lengthy features. The Retrospective pieces were supposed to only be 1,500 words, but I would gather such wonderful information that I would force their hand at close to 3,000 words!

11. Jacobsen: You write on education, fashion, finance, health, medicine, parenting, relationships, religion, and spirituality. What is the source of interest in these topics?

Christian: My professional career began at Jet magazine. The weekly newsmagazine required that all editors write about every subject. My specialty was entertainment. During my interview with Mr. Johnson and his daughter, Linda, in 1995, I expressed an interest in “writing about the stars” for EBONY. I recalled being told by Mr. Johnson that rank determined who would talk to the notables at EBONY, so he thought Jet would be a better fit since all editors had an equal chance of doing stories about celebs. Later, I was asked to write solely about health. I wasn’t excited about this notion but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I secretly began to enjoy writing about this subject. Now I’m at UIC, a top research institution that is renowned for its hospitals and clinics.

12. Jacobsen: You spearheaded on-the-ground coverage of the death of Michael Jackson (“King of Pop”). What was that experience like for you?

Christian: This was a difficult time for me but I had a job to do. This opportunity also came during an interesting time of transition at the company. I helped to document some history for this but not as much as I would have liked. Some people only wanted to hear salacious stories and could care less about him as a man more than him as an artist. That bothered me. Nonetheless, I was busy and exhausted. I spent three weeks in Los Angeles, spending time at the Jackson family’s Encino compound, camped outside with the hundred other reporters from around the world, and driving for hours to Los Olivos to visit Neverland. I met a man during a church prayer service named Steve Manning, who was one of his best friends who first ran the Jacksons fan club back in the day. We still keep in touch. A year after Michael’s death, Steve was at the Jackson’s home and allowed me to speak with Michael’s mom, Katherine. I didn’t quite know what to say because it was the weekend before Mother’s Day, her first without him. Janet once sent me a Christmas card, which I still have. The Jackson family grew up at Johnson Publishing Company and were close friends with Mr. Johnson. I felt honored when I was selected by the managing editor, Terry Glover, to document this important history. She knew what I brought to the table and that I would deliver.

13. Jacobsen: Any advice for journalists?

Christian: I would encourage them to read, to write, to read, to write. Find a mentor who can guide you and know that building relationships are critical in this profession.

14. Jacobsen: Any advice for girls?

Christian: The advice I have for girls is to discover your passion and then you’ll find your purpose. Ask yourself, “What would I do for the rest of my life even if I never got paid to do this?” That’s usually your answer.

15. Jacobsen: Any advice for women in general?

Christian: General advice I have for women is to follow that still, quiet voice from within whenever it comes to making any type of decision. Trust your instinct and be patient. You can’t miss what is meant for you.

16. Jacobsen: Any advice for African-American women?

Christian: The advice I have for African-American women is to never forget that you are a queen. Wear your crown with pride and know that you are wonderfully and divinely created.

17. Jacobsen: Any advice for professional women?

Christian: Always have multiple streams of income. Do not rely upon one job and remember that no one works harder for you than you can work for yourself.

18. Jacobsen: What seems like the greatest emotional struggle in personal life?

Christian: The greatest emotional struggle in personal life is realizing that people will disappoint because they are human.

19. Jacobsen: What seems like the greatest emotional struggle in professional life?

Christian: The greatest emotional struggle in professional life is being so passionate about making certain that my students learn and that my stories educate, enlighten and uplift.

20. Jacobsen: What’s the nicest thing someone’s ever done for you?

Christian: My sister and a few close friends gave me a surprise graduation party after I earned my doctorate. I don’t like surprises and I don’t get fooled easily, but they managed to do a splendid job of knocking me off my feet. I was very touched.

21. Jacobsen: What’s the meanest thing someone’s ever done to you?

Christian: People did things to be mean but now I look at those encounters as part of divine order. I always remember that rejection is God’s protection. I also know that what people intended for harm was designed to help and push me into my purpose. So, mean things weren’t done to me only things that were MEANt to grow me.

22. Jacobsen: What drives you?

Christian: Faith and passion drive me.

23. Jacobsen: Any upcoming collaborative projects?

Christian: No upcoming collaborative projects as of now.

24. Jacobsen: Any upcoming solo projects?

Christian: I am preparing to turn my dissertation into a book. One of the country’s larger and most distinguished university presses picked it up. I am beyond thrilled to take this story into the academy. This was a full-circle moment. We keep someone’s legacy alive by educating future generations.

25. Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Christian: Trust the process and always keep the faith. In the words of the Hon. Marcus Garvey, “Onward and upward.”

26. Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Dr. Christian.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Distinguished Lecturer, University of Illinois at Chicago; Senior Editor, Ebony Magazine; Founder and Owner, DocM.A.C. write Consulting; Assistant Director, First-Year Writing Program, University of Illinois at Chicago; Education Consultant; Adjunct Professor, English,

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at

[3]B.A., Mass Communications (Concentration Journalism), St. Louis University; Certificate, Creative and Professional Writing, St. Louis University; M.S., Interdisciplinary Studies (Curriculum and Instruction), National Louis University; Ph.D., Adult and Continuing Education, National Louis University.

[4] Image Credit: Margena A. Christian.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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