“I was very obnoxious when I was younger,” Alexis Wilkinson cackled on the other end of the phone, as I prepared to interview her about the obvious–being the first Black president of Harvard’s Lampoon. I think I was more excited to be chatting with Wilkinson as she was to be in such a high position at the Harvard’s legendary 138-year-old humor publication. Within five minutes of our chat, we were gabbing away as if I was one of Wilkinson’s classmates at Harvard (yeah right).
Wilkinson has become the chief steward of a mostly White male publication and she says that she’s not here to be the “Malcolm X” of the Lampoon, to demand change, but just her mere presence at the publication is enough to catalyze at least a breath of fresh air. “The way staff is now–people are really open to new ideas while keeping Lampoon’s spirit alive,” Wilkinson said of offering change to Lampoon. She laughed and continued, “I mean, I grew up in Wisconsin, which is 95 % White, so I’m used to being the token and I know how to handle myself.”
After gushing over meeting Tina Fey and saying something surely “nonsensical,” Wilkinson and I connected on several topics, including, wanting to be the comedic Shonda Rhimes, the necessity of gender and racial diversity in comedy and what she plans on doing when she leaves Harvard.
HelloBeautiful: What does it mean for you to be the first Black woman president at Lampoon?
Alexis Wilkinson: To me, it’s more of a reflection of the way that Lampoon has changed. And that’s why, despite my hating to do interviews, I thought it was important for people to know how much this place has changed. A person like me–a person of color and a woman who does not come from an entertainment background at all and no connection to Harvard or the Lampoon before I got here, can get to this position.
HB: Do you feel like the token Black girl?
AW: [laughs] I’ve been a token all my life. I don’t feel like a token in the sense that I wasn’t elected because I was a Black woman. That wasn’t something I ran on or something anyone was thinking about. I was prepared to lose. I am the only Black woman at the Harvard Lampoon. I never felt like a total outsider because everyone works really hard to make me feel like I’m part of the gang.
HelloBeautiful: What was your first presidential duty at Lampoon?
AW: Besides answering emails [laughs]. One of the first things I had to takeover was the parody of The Crimson, our rivalry on campus. So, that’s one of the first things where I really felt like I’m a member on board. My decisions matter and people were saying, “Do you want to do this? Yay or nay?”
HB: What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned while working at Lampoon?
AW: Lampoon taught me a different way of writing, just ways of constructing a joke that are surprising. It’s not even the words that you say are funny, but it’s the way you put it together was hilarious. Whenever I can do things like that, that’s sort of my goal in making you think differently about jokes and what funny things are. Once you get off of staff, there is sort of a network there and people who are willing to give you a foot in the door that other people don’t have if they weren’t on staff. All you want as a writer is for someone to read your stuff. I’m just trying to take advantage of the huge opportunity I’ve been given. I know so many people who would kill for this opportunity.
HB: Do you think Lampoon is racist and sexist?
AW: I remember reading something someone tweeted at me and it said, ‘I don’t care if Lampoon has a Black woman president, they are still racist and sexist.’ That stung. Thank you for that constructive feedback. I will note that and write it down. It’s too big of a problem to put on one person. America is a historically racist and sexist organization. How are you supposed to fix it? Sitting around and talking about it doesn’t make it go away. Lampoon isn’t going away, unless I single-handedly destroy it. [laughs] The only way to stop it from being a potentially racist and sexist organization is to get in there, do the groundwork and not be afraid of confronting some of the ugly histories.
HB: What do you think about Jerry Seinfeld saying he doesn’t believe in gender diversity in comedy and why do you believe that there is diversity in comedy?
AW: I agree with the idea that you don’t owe anybody any race or gender on any platform that you stand on. I really think that because I’m a Black president, people felt like I had to let on every Black girl who came through the door. That’d be ridiculous. It’s one thing to say that you don’t have a personal responsibility, it’s another to say it’s not important. It is important and it’s not up to anybody else to bring every person of color on their personal program. There are White people who realize that media representation and diversity makes for better television and it makes it look like the real thing. I don’t walk around and see White guys all day, everyday. That’s just not how life looks. Ideally, I would want art to imitate life.
HB: What about Black female comedians and comedy writers? Who do you like in that space?
AW: Issa Rae. She’s so great and talented. She’s doing her thing. Just as far as show-runners, I’m obsessed with Shonda Rhimes. Seriously, my goal is to be a comedy Shonda Rhimes. “Grey’s Anatomy,” Private Practice,” “Scandal…” like, who’s done that? Nobody is doing what Shonda Rhimes is doing and she’s amazing. So, if I can emulate any sort of Black woman on the television front, it would be her. I’m still trying to figure out what avenue I want to take with this opportunity with Lampoon.
HB: What do you have planned for your career?
AW: I’m working on a screenplay. I’m writing all of the time. Working on pilots, just figuring it all out. I love late night and SNL and all that stuff. Right now, I’m preparing for brand new opportunities that come my way. I just want a job. I’m still telling myself that it’s gonna be fine.
Check Out This Gallery Of Black Women In History You Should Know:
1. Where Would We Be Without These Black Women?
In honor of Black History Month, #TeamBeautiful remembers the the phenomenal women who paved the way for us to enjoy the lives we have today. They are the politicians and activists that fought for everyone's human rights, the educators who taught us our history and how to think bigger, the writers who captured our experiences, the style innovators and entertainers who shaped pop culture. We salute these leaders.
2. Alice Walker
Known primarily for her epic novel, "The Color Purple," Walker captivated audiences with other powerful novels, including "The Third Life of Grand Copeland," "Meridian" and "Possessing The Secret of Joy." Walker is also works to encourage awareness on international issues. In June 2013, she showed her support for Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of violating the Espionage Act, by appearing in a video.
3. Angela Davis
A nationally prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s, Davis wears many hats. She was a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. She was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s.
4. Anna Tibaijuka (United Nations)
Anna Tibaijuka is the highest ranked African female in the United Nations, heading the UN-HABITAT program. She is a Swedish-educated, Tanzanian-born leader who has fought for the rights of women living in slums or without homes. Since becoming the Executive of UN-HABITAT, she has greatly increased its budget and function in the United Nations.
5. Asha-Rose Migiro (United Nations)
Migiro is currently the 3rd Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Along with Anna Tibaijuka, she is one of the highest ranked black women in the UN. Migiro was born and educated in Tanzania.
6. Audre Lorde
Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer who chose to focus on fighting racism, sexism and homophobia through her words. As a woman who identified as bisexual, Lorde wanted to empower her readers work against racism in their personal lives. Many of her pivotal works include "From a Land Where Other People Live" and "The First Cities."
7. Ayana Mathis
Mathis was barely two years out of the Iowa Writers' Workshop when her debut novel, "Twelve Years of Hattie" made a splash in the literary world. Critics, and Oprah, who recommended it for her famous Book Club, lauded the effort as an "elegant" and "remarkable" work.
8. Ayanna Pressley
A former staff member of Congressman Kennedy and Political Director to Senator Kerry in Massachusetts, Pressley is currently a Boston City counselor. She is expected to reach higher positions in the next few years.
9. Barbara Smith
This woman played such a major role in building and maintaining Black feminism in America. As Black Nationalism emerged from the Civil Rights Movement, she became extremely put off by the sexism she experienced in male-dominated groups, and turned to Black feminist politics
10. Bebe Moore Campbell
Campbell, another Oprah Book Club favorite, wrote three New York Times bestselling books, "Brothers and Sisters," "Singing in the Comeback Choir" and "What You Owe Me." She also explored mental health throughout her work and wrote a children's book, "Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry," about a young girl being raised by a mother who was mentally ill.
11. bell hooks
bell hooks, also known as Gloria Jean Watkins, is a passionate writer focused on dissecting racism, sexism, gender, class and societal oppression in many of her writings. She has published more than 30 books, including "Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism" and "Feminism Is For Everybody." The writer says she chose to lowercase her name to keep the focus on only on "the substance of her work."
12. Bessie A. Buchanan
Bessie became the first African-American woman to hold a seat in the New York State Legislature when she was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1954.
13. Carol Moseley Braun
Carols boasts a ton of firsts. She's first and only African-American woman elected to the United States Senate, the first African-American U.S. Senator for the Democratic Party, the first woman to defeat an incumbent U.S. Senator in an election and the first and only female Senator from Illinois.
14. Cathy Hughes
Cathy Hughes, Founder and Chairperson of Radio One, Inc (parent company of Interactive One and HelloBeautiful.com), is a pioneer in business, media and entrepeneurship in America and the black community. In 1979, Hughes launched RadioOne, which since then has become the largest radio broadcast network in the United States with 69 stations in 22 cities.
15. Madame CJ Walker
Orphaned at the age of 7, Madam C.J. Walker, who's real name was Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker, overcame all adversity to become America’s first black self-made millionaire. She achieved her wealth by developing a range of haircare products that led her across the country and abroad.
16. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda was a big deal way before a Beyonce shout-out. The prolific writer already had a few top selling books under her name -- "Half of a Yellow Sun," "Purple Hibiscus" and "The Thing Around Your Neck" -- before 2013's "Americanah." Adichie is also the recipient of MacArthur Fellowship in 2008.
17. Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice is no woman to mess with. As the first black woman to hold the position of Secretary of State. During her term, Rice was a well known figure of the Bush administration both nationally and abroad. But in addition to her political experience, she is also a published scholar, concert pianist and academic. She is currently working at Stanford University.
18. Coretta Scott King
Eight years have passed since the death of the Civil Rights pioneer, Coretta Scott King, but her legacy lives on. After the death of her husband, the great Martin Luther King Jr., King became a prominent figure in the Civil Rights and Womens’ Rights Movement, advising the nation’s leadership and pursuing the causes of her late husband.
19. Cynthia McKinney
This Democrat has served 12 years in the House of Representatives and was the first African-American woman to represent Georgia in the House. McKinney always steps up to be the voice of the people. She ran for president in 2008 under the Green party. She was even stranded in international waters and rescued by the Lebanese Navy after attempting to help the people of Gaza during military attack.
20. Dame Eugenia Charles (Dominica)
Eugenia Charles was the Prime Minister of Dominica for 15 years until 1995. She was the first female head of state in the Americas and is currently the longest serving female prime minister recorded in world history.
21. Fannie Lou Hamer
Hamer was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was also the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights.
22. Gwendolyn Brooks
The poet, who was named the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985, was the first African American to win a Pultizer Prize in Poetry for " Annie Allen," her second collection of poems.
23. Donna Edwards
Currently serving as Congresswoman for Maryland’s 4th district, Donna Edwards is the first black woman to represent Maryland in the House of Representatives. She defeated her Republican rival in 2008 with an amazing 85 percent of the vote. She currently sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Science and Technology Committee.
24. Dr. Dorothy Height
In 2010 the world lost one of its best, with the death of civil rights activist, Dorothy Height. Among many of Ms. Height’s colleagues were Dr Martin Luther-King Jr and Rosa Parks. While her passing evoked sadness, many celebrated her life in recognition of her ardent selflessness.
25. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia)
Her country, Liberia, was named in recognition of its intriguing connection to African slavery and, as its President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made leaps and bounds in improving the role of women in aspects of Liberian society. She was elected in 2006 but had no family connection in politics to allow for an easy rise to power. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first black woman to win a presidential election in Africa.
26. Gloria Naylor
New York-born writer, Gloria Naylor quickly received national attention after the publication of her first novel "The Women of Brewster Place" in 1972. The book spawned a popular TV series of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey, Lynn Whitfield, Jackee Harry, Lonette McKee and Robin Givhans. "Brewster Place" was a pivotal work about seven Black women in one neighborhood who struggled with racism, sexism and rape.
27. Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry following the release of her second book. She went on to publish over twenty texts and became well known in her home state of Illinois, and across the country for her outstanding contribution to American literature.
28. Harriet Tubman
As one of American history’s most prominent figures, Harriet Tubman was responsible for rescuing around 300 former slaves from the South and escorting them to freedom via the underground railroads that led to Maryland. At one point, a $40,000 reward was being offered for her arrest. Tubman was also a spy during her life. She died in New York in 1913.
29. Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was a pioneer in the media and communication industries during the early 20th century. She is most remembered for her role in documenting the practice of lynching.
30. Kamala Harris
Harris is currently the Attorney General of California. Previous to her victory in the 2010 State Elections, Harris served in a number of State offices.
31. Karen Bass
Karen Bass is currently the U.S. Representative for California’s 33rd congressional district. She is also the first black woman to hold the role of Speaker in any state Assembly. In California, Bass has focused on improving education facilities, health care and the foster care system. Bass served as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, which seeks to better understand California’s black population and their needs.
32. Lorraine Hansberry
Hansberry was a famous playwright, primarily for becoming the first Black woman to have a play -- "A Raisin In The Sun" -- performed on Broadway. The title of the play was taken from Langston Hughes' poem, "Harlem" and the play itself inspired Nina Simone to write "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."
33. Margaret Sloan-Hunter
Hunter started her activism at 14 year-old by joining Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a group that worked on poverty and urban issues on behalf of the African-American community in Chicago. 3 years later, she she founded the Junior Catholic Inter-Racial Council, a mix of suburban and inner-city students who talked about and worked on racial problems. She even worked with MLK for the SCLC and Open Housing Marches.
34. Mary Church Terrell
As the daughter of former slaves, Mary was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree in 1884! Now that's impressive! She became an activist who led several important associations, including the National Association of Colored Women and formed the Federation of Afro-American Women. Mary also worked tirelessly for Civil Rights and suffrage.
35. Mary Fair Burks
In 1946, the late Mary Fair Burks was one of the founders of the Women's Political Council, an organization that promoted civic involvement, helped increase voter registration and lobbied city officials to address racist policies. The WPC was the 1st group to officially call for a boycott of the bus system during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, beginning in December 1955.
36. Mary McLeod Bethune
In 1904, Mary McLeod Bethune did something that was almost unheard of in American society at that time. She began a school for young African American girls in Daytona, Florida. That school would eventually flourish and merge with a boys’ school to become Bethune-Cookman University. Mary McLeod Bethune is also remembered for her innovative work in Civil Rights.
37. Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is a celebrated poet, author, activist and educator. Her work in literature has won her critical acclaim both here and abroad. Meanwhile, Angelou has remained at the forefront of politics and racial empowerment by appearing at inaugurations, rallies and sharing tales of discrimination and struggle with the world.
38. Michaëlle Jean (Canada)
Michaëlle Jean is an extraordinary example of overcoming adversity to rise to the top. She currently serves as the Governor General of Canada, the state role that links the British Monarch with the Canadian government. Jean was born in Haiti but fled the country during the dictatorship of François Duvalier, the man responsible for separating her father from his family for close to 30 years. She worked as a journalist
39. Michelle Obama
Mother, wife, First Lady and public servant, Michelle Obama wears many hats flawlessly. She's a fashion icon, role model for women and an advocate for poverty awareness, LGBT rights, women's rights, nutrition, and healthy eating. In 2008, she immersed (reducing her professional workload by 80%) herself in then Senator Obama's campaign and has ever since both his presidential wins.
40. Nikki Giovanni
Known primarily for her stance against violence, Giovanni's most famous poetry collections deal with the matter of injustice against both men and women. "Love Poems," a books of poems, was written as a tribute to Tupac. In 2004, "The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection" album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
41. Ntozake Shange
Shange's work deals primarily with Black women's issues, including racism, sexism and domestic violence, and her most famous work, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf," deals with all of those topics in a mind blowing, poignant drama.
42. Octavia Butler
For sci-fi fiction fans, especially those of color, Octavia is a pioneer for many who liked the genre. As the first science writer who received the MacArthur Award, she wrote the highly-popular "Kindred," along with "Fledgling" and "Parable of the Sower." Her work dealt primarily with fantasy and the future, but had an undertone of commentary on race and gender politics.
43. Pearl Cleage
Cleage identifies as a feminist writer who writes about the intersection of racism and sexism. Writing critically acclaimed books, including "What Crazy Looks Like On An Ordinary Day" and "I Wish I Had A Red Dress," Cleage is also active in spreading awareness on the AIDS epidemic.
44. Phillis Wheatley
You may not see Wheatley's books at a Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com, but this writer paved the way for every other one on this list. As the second published African-American poet and first published African-American woman to make a living from her passion, Wheatley's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" garnered international attention in England and America when it was published in 1773.
45. Robin Kelly
Robin Kelly is an accomplished force to be reckoned with in Illinois state politics and ran for the role of State Treasurer. Robin was the first African American woman to serve as the head of staff of a constitutional officer.
46. Rosa Parks
As the ‘Mother of Freedom’ and a figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks is almost unmatched in recognition and respect. One seemingly simple act of bravery in 1955 on a Montgomery bus eventually led Parks to the forefront of national attention, giving way to a number of improvements in the lives of ordinary African Americans. She died in 2005 at the extraordinary age of 92.
47. Ruth Simmons
In 2001 Ruth Simmons became the first African-American to take the office of president of an Ivy League university. She is currently the president of Brown University, the first woman and first Texan in that position. Simmons has improved Brown’s budget and its reputation abroad, and has also been recognized on a number of occasions for her work in education.
48. Septima Poinsette Clark
Known as "Queen Mother," Clark was an American educator and civil rights activist. She developed the literacy and citizenship workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting rights and civil rights for African Americans in the American Civil Rights Movement.
49. Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected to Congress, winning in New York in 1968 and retiring from office in 1983. She campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, but is best known for her work on several Congressional committees throughout her career.
50. Sojourner Truth
A preacher, gender and racial equality activist born into slavery, Sojourner Truth spread the word of God and equality throughout her lifetime. She is best known for her 1851 speech titled, ‘Ain’t I A Woman?'
51. Susan Rice
As the National Security Advisor, Rice has had quite the boastful resume. Politics is in her blood. Rice comes from a long line of politics. Her father was governor of the Federal Reserve System and her mother is education policy researcher & guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. Madeleine Albright was a recurring guest in her childhood home and helped shape her career as an adult.
52. Suzan Lori-Parks
This Pultizer Prize winning screenwriter made waves with her Broadway drama, "Topdog/Underdog" and even received the MacArthur Grant, known as "The Genius Grant," in 2001. Although many may not know Parks by name or face, this woman is responsible for penning Spike Lee's sexy joint "Girl 6."
53. Terri Sewell
A Democrat, Terri Sewell is the representative in Congress for Alabama’s 7th district. She is an accomplished attorney and was educated at Princeton, Harvard and Oxford University. Sewell was the first African-American woman elected to represent Alabama in Congress.
54. Toni Morrison
Chances are, if you're a writer or consider yourself even close to one, you've been inspired by Morrison. The Pulitzer Prize-winning storyteller is known for famous works, including "Beloved" and "The Bluest Eye," and is also a Nobel Prize recipient.
55. Terry McMillan
McMillan is known as much for her contemporary writing as for her feisty public persona. As the writer behind (arguably) one of the most popular novels of the '90s, "Waiting To Exhale," (which spawned a hit movie and killer soundtrack), is a book that many black women say they related to the most.
56. Sonia Sanchez
Sanchez is a poet known for her involvement in the Black Arts Movement, the artistic component of the Black Power movement during the '60s. A writer known for her play on mixing the Blues with haikus and other poetic forms, Sanchez has penned several poetry collections, including "We a Baddddd People," "Autumn Blues" and "Does Your House have Lions."
57. Wilma Rudolph
Rudolph is a true survivor and American sporting hero. Despite having suffered from polio and a range of other life-threatening sicknesses, she became a triple Olympic gold medal winner in track and field.
58. Margaret Walker
A poet and writer who was a part of the Black literary movement in Chicago, Walker wrote "Jubilee," a novel about a slave family, and the award-winning poetry collection, "For My People," which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition in 1942. She sued author Alex Haley in 1988, claiming that parts of "Roots" were originally from "Jubilee." The case was ultimately dismissed from court.
59. Rebecca Walker
Rebecca may have a legendary last name, but that doesn't mean Alice's daughter hasn't made her mark. The New York Times Bestselling writer who has written memoirs, including "Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence" and "One Big Happy Family," also has a non-profit called "The Thirdwave Foundation" and was named one of the 50 Future Leaders of America by Time Magazine.
60. Unita Blackwell
Unita is an American civil rights activist who was the first African-American woman, and the tenth African American, to be elected mayor in the U.S. state of Mississippi. Blackwell was a project director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and helped organize voter drives for African Americans across Mississippi.
61. J. California Cooper
A prolific writer who's written 17 plays and several books of short stories, J. California was only encouraged to pursue fiction writing after her good friend Alice Walker noticed her talent of storytelling. The award-winning writer penned popular reads, including "Family," "Homemade Love" and "A Piece of Mine."
Best known for her erotic book "Addicted," Zane made waves as a pioneering erotic fiction writer. No matter what your stance is on her books (or the genre itself), it's safe to say that Zane is one of the top Black erotic fiction writers in the market. "Addicted" is getting the film treatment and will be released in theaters Sept. 2014. Boris Kodjoe is reportedly co-starring in the adaptation.
63. Zora Neale Hurston
An acclaimed author and folklorist, Zora Neale Hurston contributed greatly to what was known in the world of literature as the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a pioneer for black involvement in the Republican party, a staunch conservative and Republican party favorite.