The following text is a part of an application for the Yale Publishing Course Innovative Leaders Scholarship. I almost didn’t apply.
I didn’t think a small town girl could compete with applicants from
ACROSS THE NATION.
But I decided to share my story anyway and was actually selected as one of the inaugural recipients of the scholarship (the only one in US for Magazine Media).
I feel that I owe it to others to continue to share my story.
Yes! Even the struggles…
I began to understand the power of telling your story as a junior at Lexington Senior High School when Joe Sink, then publisher of The Lexington Dispatch A New York Times Company, gave our newspaper staff a tour of the local newsroom. He began by giving us a lecture about the important role of a local newspaper. Joe proceeded to show our staff around the newsroom, and I was mesmerized. I became fascinated with the publishing process from start to finish.
That year I was editor of The Lexhipep, the official student newspaper of Lexington Senior High School. It provided me with a brief taste of what it was like to work in a newsroom. The buzz of stories, deadlines, reporters, designers and the press fascinated me. I worked alongside professionals in the newsroom utilizing their computers, asking questions of reporters and ever-so often getting a peak at their stories before they were published.
When I turned 16 my mom and I decided that I needed to find work to help with the family’s expenses. As a single mother, she could barely pay the bills on her wages. She initially wanted me to work as a waitress in the restaurant where she cooked but after watching her wake up each day at 3:00 am in order to go in and prepare biscuits, I wanted to believe that there was something else out there for me.
I made a pact with mom that I would put in applications at several places including The Dispatch and accept the position that paid most. She warned me not to get my hopes up when Joe granted me an interview. I still can’t believe that I walked into the publisher’s office bold and told him that I wanted to become a journalist — like Woodward and Bernstein. I went on about wanting to tell stories and record history in the noble way that he had inspired during the tour. His spiel made journalism sound sacred and heroic. But with mom earning less than $10,000 a year, I could not afford to take an unpaid position. I then took the risk of explaining why this was so important. At the time, my mother, who didn’t drive, was working down the street from the publication at Southern Lunch. We could save money by taking a taxi home together after work. My mom knew how much I enjoyed writing and had agreed that I could accept the opportunity, but I could not work for free.
I finished the interview by saying that I was willing to start by taking out trash and cleaning toilets as long as I could occasionally observe how the reporters covered the news. Joe told me to go upstairs to circulation where a job with a desk, telephone and a computer waited for me.
I learned to love the newsroom. I began writing for the youth page the following year and came home during summers and on holidays to take on, and eventually propose, story assignments. And I continued to write for newspapers throughout college until a well-known professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I absorbed the teaching of a college mentor, the late Chuck Stone teachings, through a number of resources including lectures and colleagues’ discussions on the couch in the offices of UNC’s student newspaper,The Daily Tar Heel.
READ MORE ABOUT MY UNC EXPERIENCE, THE BLACK INK & CHUCK STONE…
Stone knew how to tell the story, and he was an inspiration to wanna-be revolutionary journalists. His myriad of accomplishments included having two Pulitzer Prize nominations, being co-founder and first president of the National Association of Black Journalists, a former White House correspondent and the First African-American columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News. During his time as a columnist, he spoke out against injustice and brutality. He led the NABJ at a time when it could have cost him his job.
Although never securing a slot in Stone’s classes, I met him briefly while covering a reception for celebrity attorney Johnnie Cochran. At the time, some called me foolish for leaving the state and national desk at The Daily Tar Heel to run off and revive a student magazine called The Black Ink. I was asked by the president of the Black Student Movement to serve as editor of their magazine that started with an activist legacy in 1969. Stone was one of the many advisers who encouraged the student leaders to find our collective voice.
We began circulation of The Black Ink, after a five-year hiatus, using the 1969 mantra “dedicated to revolutionary media.” That role came with a number of incredible opportunities, including an exclusive interview with the late Cochran before a speech sponsored by the Black Student Movement. After the interview, I recall approaching Stone near the punch bowl, gushing as I explained how his words influenced my decision.
Later I was honored with the Ernest H. Abernathy Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in a Student Publication, and I received a note of congratulations from Stone’s office. Previously, the award had almost always gone to the editor of The Daily Tar Heel. A friend and editor at the DTH had won the Chancellor’s Award the year before and went on to co-anchor the news programs “World News Now” and “America This Morning.” My time at UNC nurtured my passion for journalism as well as my desire to help others. I began working with non-profit agencies that provide empowerment programs for impoverished youth and families. That led me to my current role as Executive Director of The Lexington Housing Community Development Corporation which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency that seeks to assist families in obtaining decent, safe and affordable homeownership opportunities. We provide economic literacy, credit counseling, development of affordable housing and home repairs for elderly and disabled individuals. I am extremely proud of our most recent program.
Our staff developed Empowerment Magazine as a free resource of knowledge and information for the citizens of Davidson County, according to a press release. The magazine will feature articles and briefs such as but not limited to housing, financial literacy, community development, revitalization, foreclosure, education, self-improvement, community champions and upcoming events by local writers. This was something that I felt had married two of my greatest passions. And as Vice Chairman of The North Carolina Housing Coalition, I have been asked to speak on the magazine and other advocacy tools across the state.
I am positive that with the reputation of the program that YPC has a number of worthy scholarship applicants. In some ways, I view this application for an Innovate Leaders Scholarship to the Yale School of Publishing Course as a reminder of the bold step that I took in my youth.
So here was the big announcement from YALE!!!