A beach town in Puerto Rico, a hiking trip in the Adirondacks, another hiking trip to Colorado, and soon-to-be working in South Africa for AFROPUNK’s global festival —catch Bridget Todd if you can. A frequent traveler and avid outdoors woman, Todd is always on the move wherever her work as a podcast host with AFROPUNK takes her.
You may recognize Todd from her previous work with Stuff My Mom Never Told You, MSNBC, and Moveon.org. Whether she’s outside or within an activist space, she doesn’t mind getting a little dirty as she tackles social change and centers the bodies, treatment, and voices of Black women in particular. Todd is passionate about the amplification of Black people and to hear her perspective listen to Afropunk’s Solutions Sessions podcast.
We spoke with Todd just before another flight and discussed her work fighting for marginalized voices, time spent at Howard University, and her happy place.
Her Agenda: Fill in the blank. I am Bridget Todd and you may not know that _______.
Bridget Todd: I am an avid outdoors woman. People like to say Black folks don’t do this or that. I’m very interested in shattering some of those stereotypes and one of the ways I like to do that is through camping, hiking, spending time outside and rock climbing. I like to be dirty, sweaty, outside. It’s kind of my happy place.
I am an avid outdoors woman. People like to say Black folks don’t do this or that. I’m very interested in shattering some of those stereotypes…
Her Agenda: At Her Agenda we focus and celebrate ambitious women. In your opinion, what makes an ambitious woman?
Bridget Todd: I think an ambitious woman is unafraid to do her; whatever that looks like for her. I have a love-hate relationship with my own ambition. It ebbs and flows. There are times that there’s not a project I won’t say no to. Then there are times I feel completely overwhelmed. For me ambition is listening to yourself and what you actually want, whether it’s to be that high octane, high achieving woman or be more still. Whatever that is for you, it’s about being able to lean into that fearlessly—and because you want to do it not because you’re satisfying some voice in your head that says you have to be a successful person, so you have to lean into ambition all the time.
Her Agenda: Give us a little background about your podcasting work and why you like podcasting.
Bridget Todd: I’ve been in the podcast space since 2011/2012. This was during the Wild West of podcasting. I was the producer of [the now defunct] Flaming Sword Of Justice. It was a podcast produced by the political organization Moveon.org. It was really about how we tell the story of social justice with all of the highs, lows and dramatics that a big Hollywood movie would get in order to inspire people to get involved. This was really the early days of podcasting. There weren’t that many podcasts out. We were really making it up as we went along. We were happy to be a ragtag group of people who had no real background in it, just sort of figuring it out. That role always seemed a little kooky for me, but when I think about it in college we had a radio station. In school, I was always involved in the newspaper and the lit magazine.
I was always interested in having a perspective and sharing that perspective. That was when I felt the most heard, when I was putting my perspective out in the world. Certainly, when I zoom back I can see why I ended up in podcasting.
From there, I held jobs in the progressive activism and organizing space[s]. My primary role was to show organizers and activists how they could utilize storytelling, specifically online, to generate social change–whether it was a compelling video or story to their would-be supporters. How can you use good storytelling and a good message online to move people to take action on social things? It’s not just telling a story but telling a story with a ‘so what?’ That ‘so what’ is [that] you should get involved, write your lawmaker, donate money. That has really been the crux of my work.
From there, I ended up as a cohost on Stuff Mom Never Told You, which was on the iHeartMedia network. That show was really about the stories of marginalized voices—women, women of color, Black women—how different issues ranging from popular culture to fashion to politics to activism—how they impact our lives and how we can be solutions-driven in how we talk about them.
How can you use good storytelling and a good message online to move people to take action on social things? It’s not just telling a story but telling a story with a ‘so what?’
From there, I ended up at AFROPUNK. I am one of the producers and hosts of the podcast AFROPUNK Solution Sessions. We want to talk about Blackness globally. What’s it’s like to be a Black, young person in Atlanta or Brooklyn or Johannesburg or Paris? How can we have a global conversation and pull out solutions for the problems that plague us globally?
Her Agenda: The media landscape is ever evolving. How do you as a professional keep up with everything?
Bridget Todd: It’s hard. This sounds kind of strange. I’ve kind of bounced back and forth through different media areas. I’ve been at various ins and outs of the media. Right now, as a creative professional, the way I deal with it is to stay away from it a little bit. I think that so much of the media that we consume can be questionable especially when we talk about how the media portrays marginalized folks, Black folks, women. If I consume too much media that does not portray marginalized voices like myself with the thoughtfulness and empathy or full 360 degree treatment, I don’t want that to get into my mind and impact how I think about our stories. I really have my media I can vouch [for] that is a space where I can get authentically told stories that matter to me. That’s the media that I exclusively consume.
I really feel like I found my voice at Howard. They have a really civically engaged student base.
Her Agenda: Describe your time at Howard University. What do you think of the state of HBCUs, in general or from a teacher’s perspective?
Bridget Todd: I always say Howard University is the best job I ever had. It’s the kind of job that if they didn’t pay me, I would have shown up anyway. I had a personalized license plate that said, Loved To Teach. I really feel like I found my voice at Howard. They have a really civically engaged student base. At the time, I had just dropped out of a PhD program in literature. I felt a bit disempowered because so much of that work is studying people that wrote 20, 50 years ago. There was so much happening around me then. It was really my students that inspired me to be a more vocal proponent of my activism, work, perspective sharing. They seemed so ambitious in getting involved in causes and speaking up. I learned so much about how to do that fearlessly even if you’re not sure what you are doing from my students.
I absolutely loved my time at Howard. In so many ways, it was my dream job.
I think right now, [HBCUs] are at a crossroads. Black folks, I think, we are often struggling to determine where to go. We have a great civil rights legacy. I’ve been so inspired to see student-led leadership [on those issues]. Spelman has a queer studies department and they are broadening their definition of who they will let in as a single sex university. I am really happy to see a lot of the leading voices, in terms of leading us forward on certain conversations, are young Black students on HBCU campuses.
Her Agenda: Would you ever consider going back to academia?
Bridget Todd: In a heartbeat. That’s my ultimate life goal, down the line if I could be making a living as a creative professional full-time but then also being able to have that financial support where I can return to the classroom, I would love to be teaching. It’s sort of a calling for me. It’s my ultimate goal to get back in the classroom.
It’s tough. It can be hard to make your way there from a nontraditional background. I never got my PhD. I could never be a tenured professor but I still have something to offer a classroom.
I wish I had learned how to make mistakes. Making a mistake wasn’t the end of the world. I wish had screwed up more.
Her Agenda: Who are your role models, professionally or personally, and why?
Bridget Todd: I have so many. The first [person] I would say is Shirley Chisholm. The idea of being able to be a Black woman running for President. No one would have given her permission to do that. She’s definitely one of them. [And I’d say] my mom. She’s a very inspiring woman. She came from nothing and worked her way up to become a successful doctor. Her story and legacy and fighting against odds definitely was a really big influence on me.
What did you wish someone told you in your 20s and 30s?
Bridget Todd: I would say when I was younger, in my 20s especially, I had this idea in my mind that you had to have it all figured it (the best grades, the best look). I wish someone had told me that none of that really mattered that much. I wish I had learned how to make mistakes. Making a mistake wasn’t the end of the world. I wish had screwed up more. I remember I dropped out of my PhD program. I was so sure my professional life was over. I thought I had one shot to be a successful person I ruined that shot by dropping out and that I would not get another one. I was very convinced that my ability to have an interesting career that I was passionate about had come and gone. That was so not the case. I wish I had been okay with things not going as I hoped or planned and not so quick to write that off as a failure.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]