From his 1st days at Staples High School, Jahari Dodd was a force of nature.
The very tall, very striking A Better Chance scholar took his new school by storm. He danced like a tornado — that was his role — in Players’ production of “The Wiz.” He befriended everyone, and smiled constantly. But he also spoke up and out, about social justice issues. Race and sexuality were particularly important to him.
He continued his activism at Tufts University. Jahari (now called Jay) majored in sociology, minored in English, and — starting sophomore year — blogged about college life.
Gradually, his writing became more political. This winter he wrote a cultural critique of feminism, in defense of Beyoncé.
Reposted on feminist and other blogs, it went viral. Almost immediately, a Huffington Post editor called. He asked Dodd to contribute to the site’s “College” pages.
Dodd wrote one story. But, he realized, Huffington contributors can write for any of the platforms. He branched out, covering race, gender, sexuality and politics.
Dodd’s most noteworthy piece so far was “Why I Will Never Want the ‘Same Love.'” Published under “Gay Voices” in January following the rapper’s Grammy Award, it examined how “whiteness” has come to represent “queerness.”
The scathing critique earned Dodd hate mail, death threats, and both notoriety and fame. His own music professor — who taught the history of African American music and queer pop — sent it to Dodd to read, not realizing who had written it.
Dodd has written about President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative for young black men (he thinks it is unhelpful), as well as gay black athletes Michael Sam and Jason Collins; the plight of liberal arts conservatives, and being a millennial.
He writes, he says, “whenever I see some ‘cultural moment’ that needs to be questioned, or pushed back.”
Though Dodd’s tone can be strident, he does not want to be perceived as angry.
“I’ve been blessed to have many educational advantages,” the Los Angeles native says. “I don’t want anyone to read me, and think I’m ungrateful. Westport has gotten me here in many ways. It had a big effect on me.”
His 4 years at Staples — and in the Westport community — were important. However, he notes, “I was not as aware of cultural institutions then as I am now.”
He adds, “I’ve learned to make room in my life for questions, for new information, for conversations. I am open to growth. I hope others are too.”
Writing for the Huffington Post is not his full-time job. After graduating this spring, he works as a “community engagement fellow” at a healthcare and non-profit in Cambridge. He focuses his attention on lower-income schools.
In that job — as with his writing — Dodd’s eyes are wide open. His mind is clear. And his voice is very, very strong.