Phyllis Coley: A Durham Native Highlighting the Achievements of Black People
The founder of Spectacular Magazine created a platform to uplift her community.
Posted By Natalie Minott on Jun 03, 2022
When Vice President Kamala Harris took office, she broke a glass ceiling to become the first Black woman and the first South Asian woman vice president. In her acceptance speech, she spoke of her hero Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. About eighteen months later, a combination of pride, excitement, and joy washed over the Black community as they heard that finally — after 233 years and 115 prior appointments — a Black woman would sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. After her confirmation, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson also spoke of how Motley inspired her. It’s no coincidence that both women point to someone who looked like them to explain their motivations for public service. It’s also a much-needed reminder that representation has the power to amplify potential.
Phyllis Coley, the founder of the Durham-based Spectacular Magazine, is fueled by and understands the value of representation. She learned early on that more representation was necessary to reduce negative stereotypes and devoted her career to highlighting the achievements of Black people.
“If a Black person did anything negative, it made the front page. If they did something great and got an award, it was on the last page,” said Phyllis.
After working in the entertainment field for several years, she decided to do something about the void she saw in the media coverage of Black people.
“If all the information you are fed about your skin color is negative, you can’t help but develop a negative attitude towards yourself,” Phyllis said.
With support from her family and storytelling tools from her professors at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Phyllis set out to create a platform to uplift her community.
Founded in 2004, Spectacular Magazine is an online source for culture, sports, events, and entertainment news that impacts people of color. Together with her son Lawrence Davis III, the magazine's president and marketing director, and a talented team, Phyllis focuses on telling positive stories often overlooked by the media. The Black-centered magazine also hosts annual events to honor and commemorate the achievements of African Americans.
“Spectacular Magazine allows me to share positive information, which aligns with my passions,” said Phyllis. “Passions that include enlightening folks through the dissemination of fact-based information, empowering people through encouragement, and entertaining the masses with community events."
In addition to her role as CEO of Spectacular Magazine, she also serves as N.C. State Juneteenth director under the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, Inc. (NJOF). NJOF is recognized by the 400 Year Commission of African American History and the Library of Congress, and was instrumental in the passage of Juneteenth Independence Day legislation.
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and 19, marks the day enslaved people in Texas learned that they were legally free – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation (declaring that all enslaved Black people were free) was signed. While it has been celebrated by many African Americans for years, it’s a day for all Americans to learn, reflect, and grow from this nation’s history. Juneteenth became nationally recognized when President Biden declared it a federal holiday in 2021.
Phyllis always aspired to raise more awareness about Juneteenth, well before the rest of the nation had committed to do so. In 2004, the same year the publication was founded, Spectacular Magazine rallied people together and held the first Durham Juneteenth Celebration at McDougald-McClendon Arena on the campus of NCCU. A few years later, Dr. Ronald Myers, the founder of the NJOF, invited Spectacular Magazine to come under his organization. Dr. Myers then presented at the Durham City Council meeting to recognize the festival as the Official NC Juneteenth Celebration, sanctioned by NJOF.
Over the years, as she moved forward with planning Juneteenth celebrations, Phyllis realized the general population’s dearth of knowledge about Juneteenth. In 2009, she lobbied the N.C. General Assembly to make Juneteenth a day of observance. While the bill, sponsored by Rep. Larry Womble (D-Forsyth), eventually passed, there was still work to be done for more widespread, accurate understanding of the holiday.
Under Spectacular Magazine, the official 2022 North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration will take place on June 18 and 19. It’s a two-day celebration with national recording artists, local performers, food and merch, a health fair, a kids’ zone, a fashion show, and more. The celebration kicks off at Golden Belt Campus on Saturday with a drum and dance processional, followed by presentations on the origin and significance of Juneteenth. Things heat up in downtown Durham on Sunday with a barbecue cook-off and more fun and games. The cook-off winner will represent North Carolina in the national Juneteenth cookoff in Galveston, Texas later this year. To learn more about Juneteenth’s history and discover other unique ways to celebrate, check out our Celebrate Juneteenth in Durham blog post.
“People can support by attending, engaging, and educating themselves on the history and importance of Juneteenth,” Phyllis said.
It’s evident that Phyllis loves her Durham community – a “community that includes but is not limited to African Americans, women, LBGTQ+, HBCUs, and young people, as well as public school education, and Durham.”
When asked what makes Durham beautiful, Phyllis said, “The people make Durham beautiful. The long-time residents and the newcomers – a beautiful blend. I need this village.”
In the same way that Vice President Kamala Harris and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had a hero that looked like them, we know a whole generation of Black children need to see themselves in the stories shared by Spectacular Magazine and be inspired by annual events like the Juneteenth commemoration. It’s why Phyllis does what she does.