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, 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.