Updated: Nov 9, 2022
Monday, December 13, 2021 Today, I want to talk about something a bit different than my usual topic. As a woman of Oklahoma, I am very honored to have been able to interview Kyli Hammond, whom founded The Oklahoma Women’s Journal. Here is the story of how she did just that. The year was 1999. Kyli Hammond, then in fourth grade, was watching the CNN coverage of Rachel Joy Scott’s funeral. If you don’t recall, Scott was one of the teens killed in Columbine. You can read her story here. Hammond’s mother bought Kyli all of Scott’s published journals. This was the moment that Hammond became mesmerized by the fact that Scott addressed all of her journals to God. Young Hammond wanted to do something very similar. So it began. “I would just write really thoughtful pieces about life, what it meant and what my life meant.” She still journals to this day. “I literally just write out life, if that makes sense,” she says with a laugh, her voice light and welcoming. Her journaling background is a piece of what led to the publication known as The Oklahoma Women’s Journal, though it’s not all of it. Back in 2019, twenty years after discovering her love of journaling, Hammond and her sister begun an Instagram platform for women to share their experiences about cannabis use called: @okcannagalz. The social media page led to a local cannabis magazine noticing Hammond and offering her the role of Chief Editor. "It felt like I landed my dream job", she recalls. She wanted to be just like Jennifer Garner’s character in 13 Going On 30, "Chief Editor for a magazine". But what she got was something quite different. The bosses happened to be very misogynistic males. “They were very flirtatious — touched me on my shoulders, poked me in my side and made sexual innuendos that I did not approve of. I resigned after a month.” She thought that everything she had dreamt was totally over. She went to Scissortail Park in Oklahoma City and met with a friend. Sobbing, she told her what had happened. It was October 2019, a few months before the COVID lockdown had begun in the States. This was the real Jennifer Garner moment. Her friend suggested the unthinkable — that Hammond begin her own publication. Of course, who wouldn’t want to do that? “My entire life I have been journaling. Sharing your story through writing has always been something I felt would be very healing for other women as it was for me— by journaling, you know? So ultimately, that is how I came up with this idea to create a women’s journal.” She realized the risk of such a thing. She had not completed college and recieved a degree in publishing or editing. She did not have any prior knowledge other than what she had done for her social media platform and her previous chief editing job. Nor did she have the funds to pay staff writers. However, once she had thought of the idea, she felt she had to follow through. It took her several months to get it going. Since she could not afford a staff, she made the magazine based on submissions from contributors. This is part of the magazine’s magic. The magazine is a place for Oklahoma women to impart their life experiences. The notion was that,“These women would write their stories, share their authenticity as a way to encourage and inspire other women. And in doing so, they would be healed and inspired through their vulnerability; there is bravery in that. It takes bravery to be vulnerable.” The women who contribute have inspired Hammond the most and are why she has persisted, she says. After the women share their pieces and the magazine publishes them, Hammond says the writers, “come back and thank us up and down, but ultimately, they are the ones who are so brave.” Hammond says she derives great joy out of watching these women heal. “I can’t tell you the countless women who have messaged us, thanking us and telling us how much it saved them by sharing their story.” She adds that readers have also been inspired to submit their own stories after reading what other women share, thus continuing the positive, healing momentum of the magazine. Hammond got to meet some of these women at the June 5th launch party for Issue #2 of The OWJ. Incredibly anxious and inexperienced at public speaking, she was very fearful. Yet, she was so moved by the 60–75 women who attended — who so much appreciated what she did, she felt led to give a speech. She spoke for about nine minutes. “I was so passionate about what I was doing, that I didn’t even need to write a speech, the words just flowed. It was empowering for me to know that I was able to do that,” she says happily. Beyond such wonderful events are the concerns about some of the content Hammond and her team publish and how it might affect readers. The latest issue, being the third, focused on violence against women. Hammond said it was probably a good thing that the lack of monetary necessity meant that this issue would not be distributed at no cost to various businesses, as they had been able to do for the previous issue. Some of the content can be quite emotional and hard to read. “It would be delivered to your door in a printed form, but that way it’s not just out in the open for people to freely pick up, then read and have their entire day emotionally wrecked because they were not prepared to read something so triggering.” Indeed, there are many things like such concerns that Hammond didn’t anticipate when she began The OWJ. “It’s been a learning curve, for sure, to have to teach myself all of this.” The workload alone is incredible — designing the logo, running the social media platform, creating and running the website, learning adobe indesign, choosing the aesthetic for the magazine, running the business side, creating contracts, choosing themes for each issue, then overseeing final edits and designs. And on top of it all, she still works her full time job in order to make ends meet. As someone who struggles with borderline personality disorder and, as she stated, is an “outgoing introverted individual,” Hammond has to set aside some alone time for herself. The sheer grind and the very emotional interactions with the women contributing to the journal can be very heavy. “That’s my favorite time of day — to come home and be by myself.” The journal began so quickly, and she hadn’t anticipated that. “It takes daily work to have the mental capacity and, you know, just the belief in myself to keep this going.” But she manages. “Just trying to hold space is the most important part, and giving myself grace in knowing that I can’t please everyone.” There are times when she really feels like giving up, but she maintains that self-love is a must. “I just take it day-by-day, and I will continue to do so.” So one might ask “Why the hell bother”? Even with creating such a place for expression, what is so vital about putting oneself through this for a magazine? Hammond makes it very clear why. In Oklahoma, there is a need beyond just a platform for sharing experiences. These exist on the web, obviously, as Hammond points out. However, having an actual, concrete magazine to showcase to friends and family brings more unity than something “on a screen,” which is “just not the same,” Hammond says. There is a need for safety — a need for security in knowing it’s a space for discussing things that someone might not feel safe talking about to just anyone in the heart of Bible country. This is something Hammond emphasizes. “I believe that Oklahoma needs authenticity. I believe that we need to have tough conversations, and we need to be a little bit more comfortable in doing so. We need to have the ability to talk about the tough shit. In Oklahoma, a lot of people save face. They don’t want to talk about depression, mental health, STDs, domestic abuse and domestic violence, sexism, racism — they do not want to talk about it. They would much rather stay to themselves, and being in the Bible belt, these types of conversations are not really outwardly spoken of.” It is such pretense that makes her most feel the necessity for the magazine. She says, “So many of us go through hard things in our lives and because no one talks about those hard things, or those hard situations, we feel alone but we need that shoulder to lean on. We need to know that someone else has or is going through something similar.” And, "In such a time as this", she says, "it is even more prevalent".
With the deadline for submissions for issue #4 past, The OWJ team is currently in the thick of reviewing submissions. The topic for this issue? Mental Health. A biggie. Hammond thought it only appropriate to go with such a theme, with the time frame of submissions falling into autumn and winter; it coincides, she says, with “seasonal depression,” (something that everyone is posting about right now). Lastly, it also gets to the heart of why she began the journal in the first place.
What’s next? Hammond emphasizes, “rawness and realness". She strongly states,“There is strength in sharing your story. Societal standards need to be crushed." And she cannot wait to do just that — “to inspire the younger generation”. Hammond has come full circle, stemming all the way from when she was inspired by Rachel Joy Scott in 1999. Truly, she’s paying it forward.
- Josee Vaughn | @collectcallsofficial