How NABJ Redefined Mentorship for Me
I can still vividly recall that day in December 1977, my senior year at the University of Washington in Seattle, when a colleague and I stumbled upon a flyer on the bulletin board. That flyer led me to discover the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) – a national organization dedicated to empowering Black journalists. Back then, NABJ was only two years old and had about 100 members.
Fast forward nearly 50 years and my journey with NABJ has been nothing short of transformative. (We will celebrate our 50th anniversary at a convention in Cleveland Ohio in 2025). I've been fortunate to mentor and guide hundreds of young, gifted Black journalists over the years, taking on leadership roles in both local chapters and on the national board of directors. Among my proudest accomplishments is the founding of the NABJ Multimedia Student Projects in 1990, a hands-on training initiative at the annual conference that's now marking 33 successful years. This year, I was honored to be inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.
Every year at NABJ, I leave invigorated after engaging with the upcoming generation of Black journalists – especially the students. While their workplace experiences, technology and systems are always changing, one truth remains constant ... fostering one exceptional, bright Black journalist – someone who will carry forward the narratives of our communities– takes a village. As experienced professionals, it's our duty to uplift the coming generation.
It’s hard to find a mentor that truly gets your experiences.
I keep going back to NABJ year after year because I did not have mentors who guided me at the beginning of my career. Once I landed my first professional reporting and producing positions in television news, I finally found a couple of mentors. I decided then it was my calling to do the same for the next generation. Back when I started my career in the late 1970s, most big news networks and the usual career advice didn't fit my situation. But when I found NABJ, everything changed.
I connected with my peers who understood what it's like to be Black in journalism. They showed me how to prepare for and pursue new opportunities. The best part was, they really understood my unique experiences as a Black journalist working in predominantly white newsrooms. NABJ was a special place where I belonged, where people got me and where I grew in ways I never thought I could.
It’s hard to ask for help.
It’s a common misconception that career success is solely based on individual effort. Asking for help requires admitting that you don't have all the answers or that you're facing difficulties. You don't want to appear incapable or unskilled. You might hesitate to ask for help because you don't want to burden others with your problems or concerns. This can all be uncomfortable, especially if you're used to being self-reliant.
NABJ opened my eyes that mentorship is built on a foundation of mutual respect and support. It's important to understand that mentors are often willing and eager to help, as they understand the value of paying it forward. Being open, honest and clear about what you need, as well as understanding that seeking guidance is a sign of strength rather than weakness, can help you overcome these barriers.
NABJ holds a special place in my heart, as it serves as a crucial bridge that brings the next generation of aspiring journalists together with established professionals that they may have never met otherwise. This organization offers a unique and invaluable platform for networking, fostering mentorship and exchanging experiences.
More than just a professional network, the NABJ creates safe spaces where Black voices are not only heard but celebrated. In a world where representation and inclusion matter deeply, it is important to have dedicated spaces like NABJ is, where individuals can find camaraderie, share their stories and gain the support needed to thrive.