Black History Month Alumni Profile: Yvonne Lamb

Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb (ABJ ’75) graduated from Grady College with a bachelor’s degree in newspaper journalism. She spent 22 years working as an assignment editor on the local news desk, newsroom director of training and as obituary editor for The Washington Post before retiring in 2008. She then became an adjunct journalism professor at two different universities in Washington, D.C. before making her way back to Georgia. Now, she serves as president of The Earl T. Shinhoster Youth Leadership Institute in Savannah.

What has been your greatest accomplishment since graduating from Grady College?

I have been blessed to experience several professional and personal accomplishments since graduating from Grady College. I worked with some of the best journalists in Atlanta, Macon, Tampa, and in the nation’s capital at The Washington Post. I wrote or edited many first drafts of history, as former Post publisher Philip L. Graham called journalism. Throughout my career I was able to contribute to the history of numerous consequential events and people’s stories, including those that rendered more accurate portrayals of African Americans in newspapers.

When I moved from being a reporter to an editor in my career,  I gained a seat at decision-making tables and  advocated for truth and fairness in coverage. I did what I could to make sure that African Americans and other marginalized people were fairly and accurately depicted in the press.

For more than 30 years, journalism filled my life like a calling more than a career. My time on the obituary desk during my last years at the Post allowed me to return to writing and helped me filled a gnawing in my spirit for a more meaningful connection to the work I did. After leaving the Post, I  co-founded a blog network for and about black women and published two children’s books and a book on prayer. I was recognized as a journalism trailblazer in 2018 in my hometown. I also found my way to seminary. I graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in D.C. with a Master of Theological Studies, and in 2019 became an ordained Baptist minister. This for me is a major accomplishment, perhaps my greatest. Well, in addition to being married to a great guy, having two wonderful children, and being energized by three beautiful grand-girls.

What classes at Grady College did the most to prepare you for your career?

I will always remember two classes at the Grady College that helped to shape my career as a journalist. Dr. Beverly Bethune’s journalism course was one of them. I learned fundamentals that I applied and sharpened over the years. Dr. Bethune’s class prepared me to tackle my first newspaper internship, a stint on the campus newspaper The Red and Black, and the editorship of PAMAJO, the black student newspaper.

The other class that bolstered my writing skills and confidence was a magazine writing course that I took with Dr. John English. That course took me outside the campus and into the community. My writing, insights, and instincts about what makes an exceptional story improved with Dr. English’s instruction. Over the years, I reconnected with Dr. English at the Southern Regional Press Institute at Savannah State University where we shared our knowledge with new crops of potential newspaper and broadcast journalists. In 2016, Dr. English and I were both inducted into the press institute’s inaugural Hall of Fame. That was a full circle moment for me, first because I began attending the press institute in high school and because Dr. English was with me among the honorees.

Finally, I will never forget being in a session at the J-School with Robert Johnson, the editor of Jet Magazine. Jet and Ebony magazines were essential reading in African American homes in the 1970s. Johnson was speaking to journalism students, mostly African Americans as I recall. He urged us  to “tell our own stories.” To this day, I encourage individuals whose remarkable stories would go untold to do the same.

What does the recent movement to continue the fight for racial justice mean to you personally and professionally?

Our country and our world are at such a critical juncture right now. I am both heartened and sadden by the current fight for racial justice and democracy. I am encouraged that a new generation of young leaders from all sectors of society have taken up the fight in light of the resurgence of racial hostilities, deadly police aggression especially against black and brown people,  violence against Asians, and Reconstruction-era legislative policies of voter suppression. It is unfortunate that this fight is continuing after hard years of struggle, tears, and bloodshed by so many who dedicated their lives to the cause of justice and equality. It is my hope and my prayer that one day we will arrive at a point in this country where we can look at each other with an appreciation for the differences we all bring to the world. That we will seek and find common ground, and that the rudeness, incivility, and hatred that are so prevalent today will be silenced  by good people rising up and saying enough is enough.

As a former journalist, I am appalled by the misinformation, half-truths and lies that have coalesced to try to dismantle the fight for racial justice and basic human rights and decency. The need to continue the fight remains as strong as ever; the need for vigorous, fair, and accurate media is more important than ever. As a minister, I see this fight as a just one that calls us all to carry out the commandments Jesus gave us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbors as yourselves.

What advice do you have for today’s Grady College students?

I would give this advice to today’s Grady College students and young professionals. Research, report and write the truth. Sift critically through the political spins, false narratives, and cacophony of shill voices to bring light and heat to your reporting. Be careful not to become the story. Investigate the theories and stories that really do not make sense, that cause more harm than good, that drive us to become more ignorant than curious about each other. More than ever we need truth seekers, not sensation-provocateurs to help shore up our world for those of us here now and for generations to come.

Black History Month Alumni Profile: Angelique Jackson

Angelique Jackson (ABJ ’12) is a senior entertainment writer for Variety. She previously worked at Entertainment Tonight, where she was awarded two Daytime Emmy Awards as a segment producer. During her time at Grady College, Jackson was a reporter and anchor for Grady Newsource, a member of the Student Alumni Council and a participant in the Cannes Film Festival Study Abroad Program.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

This month is a celebration of all we’ve achieved as Black people, but it shouldn’t be the only celebration. In some ways, I feel like this month serves as a reset – a chance to check in as a community to focus on the future and what hurdles we can overcome next. It’s a moment to take inspiration from those past accomplishments and to use those lessons to build something new.  

Explain a challenge that you had to overcome in your professional career.

The greatest challenge I’ve had to endure in my career was learning to advocate for myself. In school, when you make good grades or put forth a lot of effort, you’re likely rewarded without having to ask. But in real life – and especially in journalism – it’s imperative to promote your work so that your effort cuts above the noise. While your good work will build your professional reputation, there is something to say for engaging with your audience and with your bosses to make sure that people know the effort that you’re putting in.

What classes at Grady College did the most to prepare you for your career?

Newsource was the best preparation any journalist could ask for. I’m always surprised to learn that other journalists in my orbit didn’t have the experience of performing every newsroom duty while still in college. From the first time I transcribed an interview to the moment I stepped onto a red carpet or produced a news segment (live or otherwise), I’ve used the skills that I was taught in those classes about reporting, writing stories, editing, anchoring and more. 

What clubs and activities did you participate in at UGA and Grady that were instrumental to your success as a career professional?

During my tenure at UGA, I was a board member for the Student Alumni Council. That experience taught me so much about the University itself, but it also provided great networking training. As an SAC member, we established relationships with people of all ages and from all sectors of industry. As journalists, relationships are everything and networking is key to that success. Getting the best interviews requires publicists and subjects to trust you and your reporting, and a big part of building that rapport comes from being in the right rooms and knowing how to get there. You never know who you’ll meet that will help you land that next job or bag that exclusive interview!

How has your field of study changed since you were a Grady student?

Broadcast journalism is no longer solely about TV. With the rise of multimedia platforms and social media as a journalism tool, plus the public’s ability to use it and serve as citizen journalists, the definition of “news” and how to get it has expanded — for better or worse. I like to think it’s for the better, not only because it broadens access to the field, but it also stretches the journalists’ imaginations, urging us to think outside of the TV box when it comes to best reaching their audience.

What does the recent movement to continue the fight for racial justice mean to you personally and professionally?

Personally, every day since June 2020 has been trying – but, if I’m honest, living as a Black person in America is trying most days. But we find joy each day, despite it all. Professionally, the recent movement has allowed me to find a way to use my work to fight for racial justice. As a writer and reporter, I’m able to frame the narrative about us as Black people with an emphasis on our humanity and a broader view on what makes our culture distinct, unique and not monolithic. This is a moment when we have the microphone and it’s imperative that we not waste it. 

What advice would you give to young students of color who will soon enter the workforce?

Embrace everything that makes you, you. Embrace your culture, your heritage, your hair, the color of your skin and bring them to your work. Those elements of your personal history and the experiences that you’ve had because you’re a person of color — both positive and challenging — will prove valuable in your reporting because they inform your point of view. Don’t suppress those parts of yourself or allow others to persuade you to do so. We as a journalism community need your voice, but the public that you’re serving needs your perspective even more. Use your lens to tell our stories. 

 

Black History Month alumni profile: Toyin Adon-Abel Jr.

Toyin Adon-Abel Jr. (ABJ ’05) knew from a young age he wanted to work in marketing, but equally important to him was directing campaigns as a way to understand people and tell their stories.

With these goals in mind, he pursued a degree in journalism with a minor in sociology. 

“I thought by majoring in journalism, I would be a more well-rounded communicator and that it was a better route for my skill set,” Adon-Abel said. “I wanted my marketing to be based in truth and community and understanding people. I thought if I really, really understood people and their motivations and how their environments dictate what they buy and how they interact with brands, I would be a better marketer.”

Today, Adon-Abel is the vice president of marketing operations for Greenwood, an online financial services company that caters specifically to Black and Latino customers around the country. In the evenings, he works on providing marketing services to clients through his marketing agency, Meddling Minds, which he founded in 2020.

Adon-Abel started Meddling Minds as a way to lead what he terms conscious marketing — marketing that has a positive impact on communities. 

“My grandmother always told me I was here for a greater purpose,” Adon-Abel explains. “She said because we spend so much of our lives working, that work needs to be impactful.”

Greenwood was a client of Meddling Minds, so it was a natural transition to oversee marketing operations for the bank. 

Adon-Abel believes in the mission of Greenwood, which provides banking services to underserved communities. He explains that the recirculation of money in Black neighborhoods is negligible because there are few Black-owned businesses, even in Atlanta, a city that is known for welcoming Black people. Adon-Abel said that Black spending power is at an all-time high, but Black wealth is declining and minority populations are continuously exposed to unfair financial practices. 

“That’s where I wanted to spend my time — helping companies that I know are going to help other people,” said Adon-Abel of Greenwood and their service of providing grants to Black-owned businesses and support of HBCUs.

Black History Month and Illumination

Adon-Abel admits he is frustrated by Black History Month because he feels it is not a genuine effort, but instead a “pacifier.” He cites businesses and organizations that get behind the effort for a short time, but don’t do much the rest of the year. He noted that Black History Month is during the shortest month of the year and he doesn’t feel a lot of pride. 

Adon-Abel said: “I think it’s just window-dressing because the country is not interested in admitting its history, learning from it and fixing the issues that still plague Black people in America.”

He believes, however, that the past few years with the racial reckoning have been positive and illuminating. 

“I really believe that the great pause when everyone was at home helped white people understand these things from a Black person’s perspective,” he continued. “Awareness has been raised. I also think the last couple of years have illuminated the way different groups are treated.”

He cites the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol as an example. 

Adon-Abel continued: “I guarantee you that most Black people who were watching were saying ‘if they looked like us, this would have been a very different outcome.’ It illuminated the clear difference between how Black and white people are treated.”

Adon-Abel remains positive and thinks that Black students graduating today need to focus on being valued. He notes this especially when he hears professionals advise young people not to leave their first job too soon because it might look bad on their resume. 

“I get nervous that people compromise themselves because they think they need to stay longer,” he said.  “It’s important for people to know their worth, their value, and understand they have power and control over their careers and take more risks.” 

UGA Impact
Toyin Adon-Abel and his wife, Priyanka Adon-Abel who is a graduate of the UGA College of Public Health.

Adon-Abel said when he started at UGA in 2001, less than 1% of campus were Black men and a majority of those students were athletes. Already in a minority group, Adon-Abel was even more in the minority since he was raised in London and spoke with a British accent. He connected with several Black students who he met at orientation and they suggested he get involved with the Visitor’s Center.

Adon-Abel values the time he spent at UGA, especially working with Eric Johnson (ABJ ’86), director of the UGA Visitor’s Center. 

“The person who had the biggest impact on my time at UGA was Eric Johnson,” Adon-Abel said. “Eric is really big on authenticity and tapping into that. When I was struggling with not fitting in, he allowed me to be myself.”

After all these years, Adon-Abel still credits Johnson with being a mentor on campus. “It’s not always the classes that affect you the most, but the extracurricular activities and the relationships with faculty and staff who really try to help you grow.”

 

 

 


Editor’s Note: Shortly after this interview, Adon-Abel reached out upon hearing about Valerie Boyd’s death. He shared the following:
“I’d like to give a special call-out and pay respect to Professor Valerie Boyd. I heard she passed away a couple of days ago. She and I kept in touch via email and Linkedin since my graduation. She was very proud of my career accomplishments and congratulated me on a recent newspaper article that mentioned my work with the Civic Walls Project. She had a long-standing wish to create murals in rural Mississippi. She and I had multiple meetings in 2020 so I could provide advice for her project. I reached out to her last summer to see if the mural had been completed. Below is a picture she shared with me in August 2021. Prof. Valerie had an impact on me during my education at UGA and afterwards. I’m glad that I was able to help her in some kind of way before she passed away. “

Black History Month Alumni Spotlight: Christine Sperow (ABJ ’98)

Editor’s Note: This is the final post in a series of spotlights highlighting the work of some of our alumni in celebration of Black History Month.

Christine Sperow (ABJ ’98) currently works as a news anchor for Fox 5 Atlanta. Before arriving at Fox 5, she was an anchor at WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, KLTV in Tyler, Texas and WABG in Greenville, Mississippi. She graduated from Grady College in 1998 with a degree in journalism and was a member of the UGA women’s volleyball team. She is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and National Association of Black Journalists. Her work at WBTV earned numerous Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards, RTDNAC Awards and NABJ Awards.

Explain a challenge that you had to overcome in your professional career.

One challenge I faced before my career even started, was not being able to break into the news business upon graduation. I had it all planned out in my head: finish up my final Grady requirement completing the Communication Law course, walk the stage, get my ABJ degree, then I would land an on-air job by summer! Everything happened… except the latter. I labeled and mailed resume tapes (I’m dating myself – yes, I literally mean VHS tapes) to stations all over the country and didn’t even get a call back. Reality set in and I quickly learned this was going to be a grind. I decided to take a job at one of the local radio stations in Atlanta. I never imagined starting my career in radio but committed to learning about the industry – not only the on-air side but also the business side, working as an assistant to the sales manager. After three years of working my way up the ladder, I decided to give it another try finding a job as a reporter. At this point I was three years removed from graduation and didn’t have “fresh” material to send to news directors. So I recorded myself reading news copy in one of the radio station’s audio booths, I taped a black and white photo of myself on each CD (so the hiring manager would know what I look like) and prayed someone would be inclined to give me a chance. I later received a call from a news director in Greenville, Mississippi. I was so excited to get a call back! I drove 420 miles to the interview, accepted the job offer and left the big city of Atlanta for market 186 to become a bureau reporter for WABG-TV. The rest, as they say, is history! December 31 of this year will mark 20 consecutive years in the business for me.

You can watch Christine at 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Fox 5.
What clubs and activities did you participate in at UGA and Grady that were instrumental to your success as a career professional?

I have fond memories of working the production side of the Newsource student broadcasts at Grady College. The hands-on experience was so valuable because we all got the opportunity to play different behind-the-scenes roles. I was technical director, camera operator, audio operator, production manager. Back then b-roll was edited on tape. I remember loading and cueing up the tapes, waiting for my cue from the director over headsets to play the video. I could remember larger-than-life David Hazinski supervising the whole process of marrying the responsibilities of the broadcast journalism majors and telecom majors to put on an error free newscast (or as close to error free as possible). It was very rewarding to see a newscast come to life from start to finish. At UGA, I was also juggling being a student athlete as a member of the women’s volleyball team. I learned a lot of life lessons through athletics: work ethic, overcoming obstacles, humility, having the right attitude, achieving goals. Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) was also time I would look forward to on Sunday nights. Growing up in the church and having this outlet to fellowship with other believers was truly a blessing. College could be a confusing time as you’re navigating through your walk with Christ, expectations of the world and what your future will be after college. FCA was a great opportunity to be around college-aged peers who are going through similar experiences while being reminded God is in control. 

What does the recent movement to continue the fight for racial justice mean to you personally and professionally?

Personally, we are forever indebted to those who came before us. Those who bravely and, in many cases, risked or lost their lives to speak out against injustices and inequality. I don’t take lightly the fact that I stand on the giant shoulders of civil rights leaders and those who caused “good trouble” to speak to the conscience of our society. My station recently highlighted the work of one woman who didn’t sit back quietly but spoke up back in the 1960s about the lack of Black journalists on air at the very station I work for today in Atlanta. Xernona Clayton’s words opened the eyes of the news executives back then to make a change. In 1967 that change would begin with executives giving Ms. Clayton her very own television show. Today, black women including myself anchor several of the high profile newscasts here at Fox 5 Atlanta. Dr. King rightly said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Seeing the recent movement and reckoning here in America, the diverse faces of people marching peacefully on behalf of Black and Brown lives was so inspiring. Change is going to take all of us. No matter our backgrounds we must all speak up. 

How has your field of study changed since you were a Grady student?

The internet and social media! No question. When I graduated from Georgia in 1998 the new trend gaining hype was this thing called Hotmail. You can send someone a message electronically and they would receive it almost immediately! (So what was I supposed to do with my pager?) Fast forward to today, my, oh my, how things have changed with the advancement of the internet and social media. Today people aren’t just getting their news from the television. The first place we go to now to get information is the internet, and we’re likely picking up our cell phone to search online — not the remote control.  It was in the 2010s when television stations really started incorporating the social media and internet element into the news business. As reporters and anchors, we had to learn a new skill set to reach a digital audience.

Black History Month Alumni Spotlight: Christopher A. Daniel (MA ’07)

Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of spotlights highlighting the work of some of our alumni in celebration of Black History Month. Please watch for more profiles in the weeks to come.

Christopher Daniel works as a journalist and instructor of multimedia and digital journalism in the Department of Mass Media Arts at Clark Atlanta University. He enjoys writing about popular music and culture, civil rights and education. He has freelanced for publications including HuffPost, The Hip Hop Enquirer, Atlanta Magazine and CBS News, and his work has been recognized by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and NABJ.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month gives the country and even the world an opportunity to really celebrate the contributions and the blood and the sweat that Black people have given to this nation, and to the world at large. It’s a moment for us to really look into all the different areas and genres in which Black people have made certain strides, whether it’s in the arts or in the sciences or in education or entertainment. So I think it is an interesting time for us to be able to celebrate our history, but it’s also just a moment for us to dig deep and try to find those narratives that we haven’t heard before and those moments that can enlighten us and shine a really bright light on things that improve our human condition. Black History Month is a combination of us celebrating the contributions to our nation and just our culture, but also really digging deep to find the stories that we haven’t heard.

Explain a challenge that you had to overcome in your professional career.

I think one of the biggest challenges that I’ve overcome specifically as a Black journalist is getting editors to understand certain things culturally that need to be articulated in writing. Especially over the last few years, now we’re getting to a point where things have to be a little bit more transparent and things have to be a little bit more reflective of the communities that we serve. A great deal of what I’ve spent a lot of my career doing is educating people and educating editors on the ways in which Black communities live. Why does a certain song make sense, or if we go to the barber shop, what sort of resonance does the barber shop have on Black men and us being able to relate to one another? I’ve written about our culinary traditions and our literary canons and what they mean to the larger conversations about uplifting humanity or raising awareness. 

One of the biggest gifts that I’ve been given — because I don’t really look at it as a challenge, I look at it as a gift — is being able to expose people to the ways in which they need to understand humanity better and to really do their jobs better. When we tell stories about underserved or marginalized groups, I bring in a strong sense of pride and humanity to those narratives and really show people that the way in which they perceive Black people and Brown people is not the way the nation sees it. And it’s been a lot of fun doing those stories and really being the voice for my community.

What classes at Grady College did the most to prepare you for your career?

The first time I had a 9000 level class, there were maybe four people, and I was the only Black student and I was the only master’s student in the class. We took this class in the Peabody office, so you look around and you see all these posters of “MTV Unplugged” and “The Simpsons” and “Roots.” When I was in that class, I did a presentation on “The Boondocks,” which was at the time a big show and it was one of my favorite shows on TV. Everyone in that class was a white Ph.D. student, and even the instructor, Horace Newcomb, had no clue what I was doing. I just remember getting all of these questions from Newcomb and I had no clue why I was getting interrogated like that. But literally, probably a week or two weeks after this presentation, I was on MySpace, and I will never forget this. Aaron McGruder, who created that show and the comic strip, was on his MySpace page and posted a quote that said “Hot damn, I just won a Peabody Award.” That showed me the power of the influence that I had and kind of what my voice was meant to do.

Daniel was inspired by Charlayne Hunter-Gault to attend Grady College for his master’s degree.

I had what I call the holy trinity in Grady. This was Dwight Brooks, Andy Kavoori and Nate Kohn; those three were my thesis committee members, and Brooks was my thesis chair. And of course, my thesis was on southern hip hop music through the prism of hip hop publications. Doing something at the time that really wasn’t heavy in higher education and now you’re seeing classes on hip hop, on Outkast or on southern hip hop music in general, and using autobiographies as textbooks now. So to be able to come, you know, maybe 13-14 years later and seeing how we’ve really advanced in terms of the sort of material that we’re using in the conversations that we have. That really lets me know that those two years that I spent at Grady College was a monumental time to really move that needle, and doing this 60 years after Charlayne Hunter-Gault integrated Grady and the University of Georgia, really to me, is a big deal, and that’s what makes me proud to talk about this. The one person that helped to integrate and desegregate that program is someone who inspired and motivated me to make the decision that I made to go to Grady.

What does the recent movement to continue the fight for racial justice mean to you personally and professionally?

I feel as though what has to happen going forward so it’s not performative, that it is genuine, is you have to make sure that students are having these conversations in the media courses that they take. And yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable, but imagine how uncomfortable it is being in the newsroom or going in the community and having to write when there is a protest or someone died or something crazy happened that made national news. Literally turning your classes into incubators and making those spaces where you can have conversations about race and have conversations about sexism, so that once there is a moment where they are assigned to do those stories in the future, they know best practices and how to approach those topics so they’re not uncomfortable with it. I think we have to really do a better job at turning our educational spaces into practices, and optimizing opportunities so that when these larger issues come up in the future because those editors and those writers who are having these problems now, they were students too at some point. We just have to do a better job at really having those hard dialogues and creating tough love out of that so that things can be better.

It’s going to take a village for us to really do those sorts of things voluntarily so that we can make the necessary change that has to happen. But if you want to be a journalist especially, it does start with doing the homework. I would like to think that people that want to do those stories and win Pulitzers and win Peabodys and more awards down the line, that they are taking upon themselves the initiative to do the legwork on the ground as students so that they can morph and matriculate into those spaces where they are the productive citizens doing the necessary work. Even when things are quiet, you still have to be very vocal about what needs improvement because things won’t change if you won’t voice it and put it in people’s faces. You’re doing something that helps the larger community change the nature of what’s going on. 

How has your field of study changed since you were a Grady student?

When we were in school, Facebook was the new thing. And that’s the platform that everybody was using to promote events on campus. If people had potlucks on the weekend, that’s what they used; somebody had a birthday party, that’s what they used. I honestly don’t think people figured out at the time that you can literally use that to disseminate news. Now when you go online, Twitter is the number one way that a lot of young people get their news. You know people have breaking news on TikTok, they’re breaking news on Clubhouse and panels and things of that nature, so the way that social media and digital media have really become virtual news hubs. Now social media is the wire service. 

Another way the industry has changed is we have more spaces where we’re getting opportunities. In those days, internships created pipelines for how students would get their way into ESPN, Bloomberg, and the PR agencies and CNN.  A number of opportunities that I’ve received as a journalist have been because someone sees a tweet. It’s totally leveling the playing field so that we don’t have to look to the more arcane old school ways. It’s actually keeping things a little bit cooler and making things a little bit more laid back to where we don’t have to be so formal all the time, which I think is really a good deal. You’re allowing people who really have good voices and have the education to not necessarily be so uptight about getting their voice out to the world. It’s allowing us to be who we are, and I think that’s probably the biggest blessing that’s changed in time since I’ve been in school. We just have to be very diligent about making sure that when we get students in those moments where they can sell themselves on those platforms, they know that the stuff that they’re putting out there needs to have a certain look to it so they can get the moment in the sun that they’re looking for.

Black History Month Alumni Spotlight: Tamara Best (ABJ ’09)

Editor’s Note:  This is one in a series of spotlights highlighting the work of some of our alumni in celebration of Black History Month. Please watch for more profiles in the weeks to come.

Tamara Best works as a culture writer, editor and creative. She was recently named as a 2021 Nieman visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Best will conduct research on centralized social media hubs that can be used to create outlets for civic engagement among underrepresented communities.

What does Black History Month mean to you? 

Black History Month is both an opportunity to pause for deeper reflection and also an extension of what it means to live with a sense of purpose. It’s a mindfulness of history, both the individual and communal senses that have shaped my lived reality. In concert they are also a reminder of the obligations I have to plant seeds of progress for the future. So often narratives and discussions around Black history are centered on liberation movements. It goes without saying those are important, particularly given the omissions within the educational system. But equally as important are explorations — historical and present day — of Black excellence, joy and the cultivation and preservation of community. 

What clubs and activities did you participate in at UGA and Grady that were instrumental to your success as a career professional?
Tamara Best has moderated discussions for Spotify, Showtime, Third Horizon Film Festival, The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art and more.

Being a Grady Ambassador and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists have been instrumental in my success thus far as a professional. 

The ambassador program really provides students with the unique opportunity to engage with the college on a deeper level, both in the participatory sense of events but also in serving as a front-facing leader on behalf of Grady. That experience helped me understand the intersections between broader organizational strategy and priorities and how those things are manifested in a leadership role.

Of all my experiences, NABJ played a singular role in my post-Grady career. From the collaborative work done within the organization and across UGA, it really provided a chance to create meaningful work. Perhaps more important than that, it was a second family for me at UGA. It was one of the first instances where I saw real value and the necessity of cultivating a professional home in an industry where few people looked like me. Over the last decade, it has been the second homes I have cultivated that have nourished and sustained me in the midst of success, disappointment and difficult news days.

What does the recent movement to continue the fight for racial justice mean to you personally and professionally?

Well, I would say the fight isn’t recent but rather a different iteration in an ongoing fight that has been happening in this country since 1619. However, the last year has been a reminder that the professional is personal and the personal is professional. As a Black woman in America there is no leaving my identity at the door in whatever space I enter. I have been reminded, professionally in particular, of how well-intentioned and yet misguided people can be in their desire to be allies. And in those moments, and on weeks when the news is particularly difficult, I am reminded that I can choose me without explanation. That I can, and have to for my well-being, unplug from the cacophony of social media, headlines and the education of others. Instead, I can retreat to the safety of my loved ones or the spaces that nourish my spirit. We all have a part to play in a more just and equal society, and I’m reminded that how and when I choose to engage personally and professionally is for me to determine. Like a sea, it ebbs and flows and has different iterations; all are needed and all are valuable.

What skills, values or circumstances do you attribute to your success?

Flexibility has been a critical skill that has attributed to my success thus far. When I graduated, the country was in the depths of a recession and jobs were scant. While I had ideas and ideals about what I wanted to do, I had a list of skills I wanted to learn. At every juncture and opportunity I would start with the end in mind. “When I move onto the next role, what skills will I want to take with me, that will serve me well regardless of what I end up doing?” Having that POV has enabled me to be nimble and take chances in ways that I am not sure I would have otherwise.

For me, I have been always very clear around the values of why I became a journalist. It is different for everyone but I think having a clear sense of your core why allows you to navigate your career with a clear sense of purpose and integrity. As a result you evaluate opportunities and challenges not just in terms of how they serve you and your goals but how they fulfill the sense of higher calling on your career. The singular circumstance that has defined my career was an internship at The New York Times. That opportunity led to full-time employment there shortly after graduation and with it a whole host of opportunities that have shaped my life personally and professionally. It was my first real professional home and for that I will always be grateful.

Black History Month Alumni Spotlight: Simone Banna (ABJ ’14)

Editor’s Note:  This is one in a series of spotlights highlighting the work of some of our alumni in celebration of Black History Month. Please watch for more profiles in the weeks to come.

Simone Banna works as a strategic partnerships manager in sports for Twitch, a live streaming platform for gaming and sports. Before joining Twitch, Banna worked for five years with the National Basketball Association, where she focused on digital strategy and content partnership. Banna graduated magna cum laude from Grady College in 2014 with a degree in public relations.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

To me, Black History Month is the acknowledgment of the rich, nuanced history of Black people in the United States. More importantly, Black History Month is a celebration of Black people and Black culture. In recent years, the latter has become even more critical. Beyond the sometimes painful history of Black people in the United States, there are incredible moments, traditions and trends by Black people that deserve to be celebrated. 

What clubs and activities did you participate in at UGA and Grady that were instrumental to your success as a career professional?

The on-campus organization that I credit with jump-starting my career was Creative Consultants. Creative Consultants was Grady College’s student-run PR agency that connected ambitious PR students with businesses and nonprofits in the greater Athens community.

While internships and on-campus jobs provide great experience, the average college student rarely gets an opportunity to grow a business. Through Creative Consultants, I was an account executive for an Athens-based yoga company. Our team provided sophisticated PR, marketing and digital services that had a measurable impact on the business. That was incredible experience to speak to in interviews, especially as a college sophomore. 

I recall my interview for my internship at the NBA, and the hiring manager basically asked, “Do you have any non-yoga related examples?” Although I had several internships at the time, the experience I got through Creative Consultants was the most translatable to the “real world.” 

What does the recent movement to continue the fight for racial justice mean to you personally and professionally?

I firmly believe that one way to overcome racial inequality in the United States is to create opportunities for Black people. Recently, tech giant Apple announced a hub for historically Black colleges and universities in my hometown of Atlanta, a developer academy in Detroit and a venture capital fund for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. To me, this was an incredible example of a company creating opportunities for Black people. 

As a Black woman in sports, entertainment and tech/media, I recognize that Black people have been some of the biggest contributors to these spaces (e.g., #BlackTwitter). Professionally, it has become even more critical that I advocate for monetary investments that create opportunities for Black creators, Black athletes, Black musicians, etc.

What advice would you give to young students of color who will soon enter the workforce?

As a Black person, a woman and the daughter of an immigrant, I was programmed to believe that I would never have any power over my career. I’d often hear that I’d be rewarded if I kept my head down, worked hard and played the game. 

My advice for young students of color entering the workforce is to understand that you can control your career. In my six years since graduation, I’ve learned that being passive will stall career growth. Be active and take control of your career. That means – network, ask for that six-figure salary, pitch your idea to your company (or another company), move to another city, dump that job if you’re not developing. 

My other piece of somewhat-related advice is to figure out what you want in your career — and your life — early on. Don’t fall into the trap of only aspiring to be a VP with a corner office managing a team of 10. Figure out what would make you truly happy and chase that. 

What classes at Grady College did the most to prepare you for your career?

The two most impactful Grady College courses that I took were public relations administration with professor Lynne Sallot and public relations research with Professor Kaye Sweetser. 

PR administration trained me to think about PR as a complement to business strategy. The main project in PR administration was a comprehensive PR audit of a publicly-traded Fortune 500 company. That one major assignment laid the foundation for how I’ve leveraged my PR background in my career to focus on strategic partnerships and branding that helps companies and entities achieve real business goals. 

Professor Sweetser was ahead of her time with her PR research course curriculum. In 2013, I learned about data and analytics, social media, social media analytics, reporting, SPSS and marketing research in her class. The skill set that I formed in Professor Sweetser’s PR research class has been critical to my career growth.

Cylla Senii savors success on ‘Situationships’

Even though Cylla Senii (ABJ ’13) is known today as a writer, director, producer and actor, she uses her major from Grady College—advertising—every day.

Senii has found success early in her career as the woman-of-many-hats of a weekly show called “Situationships,” which can be found on all of the BET digital platforms. She credits her grassroots marketing efforts for helping the show be where it is today.

“My involvement at UGA set the ground work to understand what grassroots marketing is,” Senii said. “That foundation really helped me with launching a whole show.”

Senii used the most of her time at UGA to set herself up for a bright future. In addition to her campus activities including serving as a Grady Ambassador and Sigma Alpha Lambda, Senii also started planning for her time after college by working as a campus representative at CBS, interning at Huffington Post and working at the Career Center on campus, among other activities.

Senni’s best advice for current students is to explore. “College is the best time to create because there so many resources and equipment that you can get to that are so expensive after college. You can be creating this stuff right now.”

Senii, a New York native who grew up in Warner Robins, Georgia, stretched her creative muscles while at UGA and entered the world of advertising right out of school. It was while she was working during the day at jobs at NYC-based agencies like BBDO and internships at Saatchi & Saatchi, that she was working on her passion projects at night.

She began working on independent projects collaboratively in 2014, writing projects that Senii describes as web series inspired by the Issa Rae’s of the world. It was around that time that she and another collaborator started working on “Situationships,” a look at relationships among millennials struggling to connect in New York City.

“Situationships” can be viewed on most of the BET digital platforms.

In 2015, they put out a casting call for the show and had nearly 4,000 responses.

“So many people could relate to this or had a friend in those situations,” Senii explains about the connection of the show. “I could tell this topic was relevant to millennials.”

The show has grown from there, producing its first season in 2015. The show launched on YouTube in 2016 and was picked up by the digital platforms of BET in the summer of 2018. Since then, the show has earned an even stronger following through grassroots marketing including social media and competing in a series of New York film festivals. The dream by Senii, who owns practically every production credit of the show including playing the lead role of Melody, is to eventually grow from the digital platforms to linear television.

In the meantime, she is working on developing other projects including a show set in a college environment and a spin-off of “Situationships.”

Senii credits her laser focus and not being afraid to dream big with her success just six years out of college.

“Don’t be afraid to go for your dreams at a young age because it will set up for success when you get out of college,” Senii advises. “You need to be focused. Figure out what you want and once you know what you want, go for that. Start trying out different things until you find it.”

Senii’s show, “Situationships,” can be viewed every Wednesday in season on BET.com/situtationships, on YouTube or on BET Digital Originals on Facebook.

Monica Pearson previews themes for Holmes-Hunter Lecture, gives advice for young journalists

Editor’s note: this is the first in a series of Grady College alumni profiles celebrating Black History Month. Monica Pearson can be seen delivering the Holmes-Hunter Lecture on Feb. 7, 2019, at 2 p.m. at the UGA Chapel.

Her face, along with her voice, is one of the most recognized in Atlanta.

When Monica Pearson (MA ’14) retired in 2012, she had been on the air on WSB-TV for 37 years and had been a trailblazer for journalism…for female journalists…and, for African-American journalists, serving as the first African-American female to anchor the evening news in Atlanta.

This award-winning journalist who has been an inspiration to countless students and one of the most trusted journalists in Atlanta, is about to add another honor to her resumé—that of keynote speaker for the University of Georgia’s Holmes-Hunter Lecture.

“This is profound,” Pearson said about the invitation to deliver the lecture named after her family friend Hamilton Holmes and fellow Grady College alumna Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63).

In an interview two weeks prior to the lecture, Pearson admitted that the weight of delivering a message that reaches all ages and sends a clear, yet hopeful, message, is not lost on her.

“One of the messages I want to get across is to question how we still have racism front and center in everything we do and everything we see,” Pearson said citing examples of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and insensitive pictures young people take. “I am fascinated about why that hasn’t changed.”

Despite examples of continued racism, she remains positive about steps being made. For example, Pearson reflected on meeting three students recently who had won an essay competition on the subject of race relations. While two of the essay winners were African-Americans, the third was Caucasian. She was struck by the home experiences of all the winners, but especially the fact that the Caucasian student spoke of valuing people for who they are and not how they look.

“They see the humanity first. They see the sameness rather than the things that distinguish us as being different,” Pearson said, reflecting on another theme she plans to share during her talk.

Pearson continued with another theme she has considered talking about: “When you hear someone say ‘I don’t see color, I’m color blind,’ that’s an insult to me, because if you can’t see my color and you can’t begin to think of what I might have been through as a person of color, then you are denying me my right, my humanity. So, I want you to see me with my color and understand what I might have been through, or, at least ask, rather than assuming certain things about me. It’s simply a point of respect.”

Monica Pearson shares her key advice for young journalists.

She will have to make time to work on her talk because her schedule has not slowed down since her retirement. Pearson returned to school and earned her master’s degree in journalism from Grady College. She has maintained an aggressive schedule of public appearances, and she can still be heard on the airwaves through her weekly radio show on KISS 104.1, and seen on her newest show, “A Seat at the Table,” a Georgia Public Broadcast production.

Pearson’s passion for journalism continues to shine through and she is always happy to offer advice to journalists.

“Be inquisitive and read, read, read,” is the first piece of advice she offers young journalists. “And, don’t be afraid to ask the question that your mother told you never to ask,” Pearson said, further explaining that reporters are there to represent the viewer, the reader, the listener. She also advises young journalists to listen and not just go through the list of questions they prepared ahead of the interview. “If you are really listening, it can take you into a different realm and give you a much better story.”

Finally, she advises that journalists should focus on reporting, not just anchoring.

“Sure, the anchor is the face, but the reporting is the bread and butter. If you are a good storyteller…a good interviewer…you will have a job forever.”

In addition to her other responsibilities, this is the time of year that Pearson’s job as a member of the Board of Jurors for the Peabody Awards steps up with evaluating entries.

“Peabody has been the hardest job I have every loved,” Pearson said with a smile on her face. “I have seen some amazing reports. I’m talking about life-changing, world-changing reports.”

Each judge studies countless hours of programming of reporting series, and unlike other awards, Peabody judges come to a unanimous vote on the final winners.

“The unanimous vote is what makes the Peabody special, and the Peabody is the most prestigious award in journalism to me. When you see the quality of work that we have to review, it’s hard.”

The Peabody Media Center joins forces with FUSION and The Root to celebrate Black History Month

Series marking Media Center’s first industry programming partnership will bring together award-winning content and diverse voices to elevate important national issues

The Peabody Media Center, FUSION and The Root have launched a content partnership that will bring Peabody’s rich media archive together with FUSION’s diverse voices to explore issues of contemporary social importance. This endeavor marks the first industry collaboration for the Peabody Media Center, a scholarly outreach arm of the prestigious Peabody Awards based at the University of Georgia, since it was launched last November.

The first project produced under the Media Center’s new Peabody Spotlight programming banner, each episode in the Black History Month series revisits African-American history from several perspectives by drawing from the Peabody Archive, the third largest repository of audiovisual materials in the United States. Content from this and future Peabody Spotlight series, in keeping with the spirit of the Peabody Awards, will focus on significant societal issues as represented through the storytelling of Peabody winners and finalists, as well as 75 years of broadcasting’s best programming.

The series will be featured throughout February across the digital, social and OTT platforms of FUSION and The Root, the leading news and culture site for African-Americans, and will include contemporary Peabody-winning programming by some of the most creative storytellers working in television today.

The first installment, “Baltimore: Then & Now” uses archival content to show how the city has been a case study of race relations in America since the mid-1950s and how the city’s conversation about race has evolved over the years.

Future installments will look at the role of African-Americans from behind the lens, featuring conversations with documentarian Stanley Nelson and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the co-founder and chairman of The Root. Peabody continually recognizes stories and storytellers that address the issue of race in innovative, unexpected ways and will also examine a few examples of voices that are changing and continuing the conversation, including Key & Peele.


Baltimore: Then & Now from Peabody Awards on Vimeo.