Race Relations in Wake of George Zimmerman’s Acquittal

Some days I wonder if I am the only person who recognizes ‘white privilege’ is more than real; it’s a burden I need to shed. I am a white male. That means I am already leaps and bounds ahead of others. In 2013 America, this breaks my heart.

White privilege comes with easier access to better education, higher paying jobs, better choices in housing. These sound like good things, right? I find it disgusting that because of something I have no control over — the color of my caucasian skin — I have more choices to better my life. I don’t want special treatment. I want to know my hard work is what got me to where I am, not because of something I had no control over. I want to walk in the rain wearing a hoodie (because, let’s face it, we all wear our hoods when it’s raining and we don’t have an umbrella) knowing I look just as suspicious as a black teenager.

Today, President Obama spoke about his experience as a black man. Experiences I have never had nor ever will have. Experiences like being followed while shopping in a department store, hearing car doors lock while walking by and seeing women clutch their purses when I enter an elevator.

I attended both a PWI (predominately white institution) and an HBCU (historically black college or university). It’s no doubt thanks to this experience I have arrived at the conclusions I have about race in America. And I’ll tell you, folks: we have a very long road ahead of us.

At this point I need to mention I am a Floridian, and I am currently ashamed of my state. Just days ago, a jury in Sanford, Fla. acquitted George Zimmerman, a 29-year-old hispanic man, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black adolescent.

A facebook post by a friend

Now, based on the evidence before the jury, I believe they came to the right conclusion, much like my friend John explained in his Facebook status here. Based on Florida’s wide-reaching and poorly written self-defense law, George Zimmerman was well within his right to defend himself with deadly force.

The problem is George Zimmerman never should have confronted Trayvon Martin.

After I tweeted this one, 127-character tweet, I got serious backlash from the twitter trolls. I call them twitter trolls because none of them followed me and all of their timelines were filled with falsely “correcting” people about the 911 call. The saddest part of these trolls? They were all white. All of them. Every single one. The people who retweeted my tweet were primarily black.

Now, did police tell Zimmerman to stay in his vehicle? No, and I admit I incorrectly said they did. But:

Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah.
Dispatcher: Okay, we don’t need you to do that.
Zimmerman: Okay.

A police dispatcher, who may not be a sworn police officer but still has some authority, told Zimmerman not to follow Martin. Had Zimmerman listened to that simple instruction, Trayvon Martin, who had nothing on him but a can of Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles, would have made it home to watch basketball. For almost 20 seconds, it sounds like Zimmerman continued to run after Martin.

When it comes to strict, racial definitions of the actors in this story, neither is “white,” so neither really enjoyed white privilege. Zimmerman is hispanic, but his name sounds white, which qualified him for society’s white privilege.

Were there racial undertones to this crime? Yes. According to Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, George Zimmerman tutored young, black kids in his past, suggesting Zimmerman was not racist. But, as was pointed out to me after the original posting of this blog, one act of tutoring black children is not enough to prove someone is not a racist. No matter how you look at this, Zimmerman called the police because he saw a black teenager in his neighborhood acting “suspicious.” Hell, his call to the Sanford Police had several racial undertones with statements like “these assholes, they always get away” and “f**king punks?” Some argue Zimmerman didn’t say “punks,” instead believing him to have said “coons,” a racial slur. The audio is not of a high enough quality for me to easily make that distinction, so I won’t guess which he said.

16 months passed from the time Trayvon Martin was shot until the day George Zimmerman was acquitted. That was plenty of time for the mainstream media to dig into the case, to decipher what was said on that 911 tape, but it seemed few media outlets wanted to spend the time digging until Zimmerman’s trial started. CNN experts say Zimmerman said punks, not coons. But in the time before the trial, why was no one examining and digitally enhancing the 911 call?

What I don’t understand is how someone can justify using a gun in a fist fight. When someone has a gun, fight or flight doesn’t enter into the equation any more. I know a gun can end any confrontation, so why would I choose to run? In 2005, Florida’s legislature expanded the Stand Your Ground law to include someone like Zimmerman — someone who pursued a fight. I’m not saying George Zimmerman chased Trayvon Martin with the intent to kill him, but an aggressor should have a much steeper climb to prove self defense. Was George Zimmerman beat up? Yes. Was he bruised and bloody? Yes. However, he never needed to fear for his life had he left justice to those sworn to uphold the law.

In President Obama’s address today, he raised the best question: “if Trayvon Martin were of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” That answer, I would hope a jury would find, is yes. What person in their right mind wouldn’t fear great bodily harm or death if someone they had never met before started running after them? I know I would. I was taught to defend myself; if someone starts a fight, you can bet your ass I’ll be the one to end it. In this case, I can’t see how Trayvon Martin could have been the one to start a confrontation. Zimmerman pursued him; it really is that simple. The fact is, the color of Trayvon Martin’s skin played a role in George Zimmerman’s call to the police.

The saddest part is knowing the Martin family will never see Trayvon go to college, get married or start a family. Their baby boy will always be 17 years old. They will always deal with the scar of a family ripped apart senselessly. Trayvon Martin, if it is up to me, your death was not in vain. We will fix this country one day, and I pray it happens soon.

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So Long, and Thanks for the Memories

It is time for a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has made this past year every bit as amazing as it has been. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism — thank you! We made it. We are the centennial class, and we are ending an era at Columbia Journalism; next year’s students will have an entirely different curriculum than we did. Onwards and upwards!

When I arrived in New York City in late July 2012, I never imagined in one short year I would learn so much and make so many meaningful friends. The past year has been stressful, I lost a lot of sleep (and found some in times I probably shouldn’t have) and I produced work of a quality I never imagined I could. In the fall semester we all had RW1, the four-pack essentials and our elective. Relatively speaking, those few months were the same for most of us — with small differences between the concentrations (another thing going away with the class of 2014). Those months were stressful, they were crazy and they were fun. Yeah, that’s hard to believe, but amid all the stress of producing videos, print stories and squeezing in some learning, we had some fun. We made friends, and we learned how to play as hard as we worked.

We learned things we never thought we could — like how to navigate this city’s massive underground layer. The subway map ingrained itself in our minds, and we used Google Maps only to figure out when the next train was scheduled to show up. We whined and moaned when all the J School parties were held in the Lower East Side; well, we whined until we realized that would be the only time we would get away from Morningside Heights or our beats. Then we whined about how long it took to get there.

Then the spring semester came and hit us all like a ton of bricks. Now we had three courses — a seminar, a workshop and an elective — to keep up with, and each course expected us to treat them like a 40-hour a week fulltime job. That was 120 hours a week, and we all managed to survive it and come out on the other side. Each class expected completely different things, and each class expected all of our time. Oh, did I mention the master’s projects? That sustained reporting piece we all had to do. Yeah, that was another fulltime, but sort of on the side, project.

But we made friends and helped each other because we all were going through the same stress. The friendships we’ve all made this year will only continue to grow and flourish. I mean, we put in sweat, blood and tears with these people. At late hours. On weekends. All year long. I know I met some people who have inspired more than any major figure could. It’s awe inspiring — to say the least — to see someone pull out an amazing story when the only thing they want to do is curl in a ball and hide.

The best comparison I can come up with for this year is that we were all like sponges. We soaked up as much new knowledge as we could, but there was never any way we could retain all of it, so it started dripping out and we missed some. That’s where the breaks (wait, what breaks?) came in. Over Thanksgiving, Winter and Spring break, when we weren’t stressing about our master’s projects, we were able to relax (somewhat) and refocus on what we were here to do. We let other students’ progress and determination push us to do better for ourselves. I know I was inspired by dozens of my classmates. CUJ13 is a family, and graduation is far from the end of our relationships.

We networked, we produced, we recorded, we voiced over, but – most importantly – we grew. The year was one hell of a ride. I hated it at times, and it made me mad, but in retrospect it all was worth the growth. So, to the Centennial Class of 2013 from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, THANK YOU.

duPont Jury Meeting

NEW YORK—In the World Room of the Columbia University, the jurors for the duPont-Columbia Award meet for the weekend to decide which submissions are worthy of this award—the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Award.

I have to admit, I am in awe of the brains here right now. There were more than 550 submissions for this award, and the jurors must choose around 14 that deserve awards. The conversation has been riveting and unforgiving.

“This is great, but I don’t know if it’s duPont worthy.”

duPont-Columbia Awards

What makes something deserve a duPont is different for each juror. There are nine jurors, and they all come from distinct backgrounds. Bill Wheatley is the chair of the jury; he is the former executive vice president for NBC News. A’Lelia Bundles worked at ABC News as a producer and an executive. Callie Crossley is the host of her own show, the “Callie Crossley Show,” on WGBH in Boston. June Cross is the director of the documentary program here at Columbia Journalism; she was the executive producer of “This Far by Faith,” a six-part PBS series on the African-American religious experience that broadcast in 2003. Mark Jurkowitz is a press critic who works at the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Marcy McGinnis is the associate dean at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Michael Skoler is an executive at Public Radio International. Al Tompkins is a senior faculty member of the Poynter Institute. Dick Wald is another professor at J School here at Columbia who has worked for the Herald Tribune, NBC News, ABC News, the Washington Post and the L.A. Times.

To say being here, listening to this discussion, is amazing would be an understatement. The quality of the conversations is beyond educational, so I am trying to soak every drop of it up. The conversation’s quality is amazing, and the submissions are astounding too. That certainly helps push the discussion forward. As a student, I’m learning what makes good journalism, what makes good story-telling, what makes a story important and what makes something award quality.

I am so lucky to be here! This weekend, and the awards ceremony to come, are (and will be) the experiences of a lifetime.

Alfred duPont Award Center Fellowship

I just learned that I have been offered a research assistant fellowship in the Alfred I. duPont Center for Broadcast and Digital Journalism! Here, one might expect a writer (particularly bloggers, whose sole platform is “look at me, read what I write!”) to gloat or to expect or solicit praise. That’s not what I’m about. It’s here that I turn back to my summers spent with my grandfather. I remember vividly what he has told me many times. “You’ve got to have humility,” he says.

Humility is a funny thing. It’s an interesting mixture of self-pride and appreciation for those who have helped you accomplish. I know I have accomplished a lot, and know that I’m proud of myself. But, I also know that there have been a lot of profound influences on my life. I have been paid for, as Maya Angelou says. “Never be modest,” she told me backstage. “Be humble. Know that you’ve been paid for. Modesty is telling people ‘oh, I didn’t do that.’ Take credit for what you have done, but know that you didn’t do it alone.”

Our president recently said, controversially, “if you are successful, somebody along the line, gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.” Without getting into politics, I have to agree wholeheartedly with this one sentence of that speech. (I’ll make no comments about the others or the recent controversy surrounding them.) I have had several teachers who I can point out and say have drastically changed who I am, who I strive to be and what I aim to do. I have been paid for.

I have been paid for. That’s such an extraordinary thing to understand and internalize. While I have been paid for, that doesn’t mean I stop being and doing. I am paying for the next in line. I am paying for the next generation. Their future rests on my shoulders, and I fully intend to pass this world on to them much better than it was when it was passed on to me. It’s up to me to take full advantage of every opportunity placed in front of me. I was able to go to journalist conferences last year. I spent a weekend at an NABJ Multimedia Short Course, with influential black journalists from around the country coming to teach the up-and-coming journalists at Florida A&M University.I was taught, for that weekend, by CNN employees, a television anchor in Tampa and another reporter from Sacramento. During undergrad I learned from Ben Davis, a man who has done so much brilliant journalism it’s hard to mention his name without mentioning his stellar list of work. I have had so many teachers who have molded me. Some did nothing, showing me what not to do with others, but some did so much it’s nearly unbelievable. I have a family who believes in me, pushes me and constantly makes me better. I have parents who never slighted my dreams, who only pushed me closer toward it. As Beyoncé sang this year at the United Nations, “let the hearts that I’ve touched be the proof that I leave that I made a difference, and this world will see I was here. I lived, I loved. I was here. I did, I’ve done everything that I wanted, and it was more than I thought it would be. I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here.”

That’s the goal of everything I do. I only want to make one difference for one person. If I can do that, I’ll have accomplished my goals. Mother Teresa says, “if you can’t feed one hundred people then just feed one.” If I can make a difference for more than one person, that’s amazing. But I live my life hoping to make a difference—a real difference, not a banal, never-talked-to-you, disconnected difference—for just one person. Each person is one difference at a time. That is how I am paying for the next generation. If I can make a difference for one person, maybe—just maybe—they’ll be empowered to make a difference for someone else. Then someone else. Then again. And again. Then, suddenly, differences—even the little ones—are everywhere.

Here’s the caveat to paying for the next generation though: once you’ve made one difference, make another one. Keep making differences in the lives of others. I know I’ve made differences for others. That doesn’t stop me; it can’t stop me. It only inspires me. That’s why I do what I do. Journalism is a constant inspiration. Everyone has a story. Everyone has troubles, and sometimes people only need to know others have been in similar situations to know they’ll make it through. There is tremendous power in words. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I’ll never believe that phrase. I think the best way I’ve heard words summed up is by Ms. Angelou through her Master Class on Oprah Winfrey’s network. “Words are things, I’m convinced,” she says. “You must be careful about the words you use or allow to be used in your house. In the old testament we are told in Genesis, that in the beginning there was the word. And the word was God, and the word was with God. That’s in Genesis. Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names—using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls; they get in your wallpapers. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes, and finally into you.”

I have learned so much in the past month at this university. Growing up in a public school system, with all its pitfalls, faults and the increasingly rare silver lining, coming to a private institution is a welcome, albeit interesting, change. There are no more “grades.” I’m not getting As or Bs on my assignments; I’m not getting graded in the traditional sense. I am getting graded, but in a system much more beneficial for journalistic students: critique. My instructors come from making news. For a class of 18 students, there are three instructors—two professors and one adjunct. All of them are equally well-respected in their own accomplishments. Betsy West worked as the vice president for CBS News for seven years. Edward Schumacher-Matos works as the ombudsman for NPR. My adjunct, Merrill Perlman, worked at the New York Times for 25 years.

They know they’ve accomplished. But that boils back down to humility. They know what they’ve done. That’s the most important thing: for you to know what you’ve done. What have YOU done today to make YOU feel proud? Whether someone else is proud of you makes no difference. The true emotion is when you feel proud of yourself and your own accomplishments. The only thing you have to give others is your word. Use it wisely.

Indian Independence

Just an hour ago, August 15 ended. On August 15, 1947, the nation of India emerged from years of British rule as its own sovereign nation. 65 years later, a young, 22-year-old from South Alabama was celebrating a foreign nation’s independence in his own living room with several classmates from India.

Easily, the most emotional part of the evening when all of the Indian nationals broke out in their national anthem. There was so much emotion there. Every one of them was so proud to be Indian, so proud of their rich cultural heritage. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Fourth of July party where people explicitly stopped what they were doing just to sing the Star Spangled Banner.

“The sun never set on the British Empire, until August 15, 1947,” one of my friends said last night.

I’ve been living in New York City for just a few weeks, and I’ve got a great group of classmates and colleagues. I learn so much from them. Being here, at this school and in this program, is truly inspiring. Mingling in my living room with my classmates, I realized how amazing our group of classmates really is. The same friend who said the sun finally set on the British Empire asked me if I was intimidated by our class. I think I am slightly intimidated. Don’t get me wrong—I know I’ve done a lot of work, and I know I’m a hard worker, but comparing my interpersonal interactions from undergrad to here, it seemed so many people were amazed by how much I did in undergrad. Quite frankly, I didn’t do all that much. I discovered what I wanted to do, and I pursued it with every fiber of my being. Isn’t that what college is for?

I realized tonight that, while at undergrad, all of my travels—I’ve been to six countries and nearly half of the U.S. states—and experiences seemed ‘amazing’ to my classmates. Here, in my grad program, I’m realizing that I have a lot in common with the folks around me. Many times I’m finding I’ve done barely anything compared to my classmates. It’s amazing to me. It bothers me that so many people in my undergrad admired me like they did just because I worked. They should have been working just like I was. It amazes me how many students couldn’t figure out that that was how they would make something of themselves—hard work.

I’m slightly intimidated here, but at the same time, dammit, I know I deserve to be here. I mean, I’m beyond intrigued to know where everyone else has been, what they’ve done and what they’ve learned. I feel like we all bring something to the table. No. We all bring a lot to the table. That’s what intimidates me. I know I have a lot to contribute. At the same time though, I know everyone else does. And I’ve never had that experience before. It’s exciting; it’s thrilling, and it’s intimidating.

I always love learning about other people and cultures, and I feel like tonight was one of the richest experiences I’ve ever had. I nearly cried when my living room was filled with the Indian national anthem. It’s easy to say I’m a cultural sponge. I absolutely love meeting and getting to know those from cultures different from my own. I can’t wait to visit all of my new friends and soon-to-be colleagues in their home countries.

Before I end this blog post, I want to apologize for the distinct lack of postings. Moving to New York City was a fiasco—to say the very least. I promise once things begin to settle back down into a semi-regular routine, I’ll post regularly again. Cheers!

New York, New York

All day today I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to get all of my stuff up to NYC for this coming year. I never knew moving to the Big Apple could become such a nightmare so quickly. Thankfully, I’ve found a roommate that I know I get along with, but that doesn’t make the apartment hunt any easier.

In New York you can’t begin apartment hunting until the month before you want to move in—and some might even tell you that’s too early. For an August 1 move-in, I’m STILL being told I’m looking too early. I wanted to have an apartment solidified for this year back in May… C’est la vie, I guess, but it’s beyond stressful. I should just let it go and know I’ll find something when I get up there, but that’s hard to do because of how plan-oriented I am. I want to know where I’m staying, what day I’m moving in, how I’m going to furnish it and what it’s going to cost. I can’t even pretend to know any of that now. As much as I love the city, I am rapidly starting to hate its real estate system.

I have been on Craigslist, PadMapper, Rent.com and any other apartment searching website there is, but that doesn’t really help because they are all looking for the same thing—someone to sign a lease today and move in tomorrow. Clearly, I can’t do that.

You know what the worst part is? According to every piece of documentation I’ve come across, the Graduate PLUS loan will help pay for rent and living expenses while you’re in school, but here’s the trouble: Columbia needs to know I’m an enrolled and registered student before they can disburse that money to me. That means I won’t see it until August 6, which is more than a week after I need to move in because orientation starts on August 2. That means I’ll have to figure out some way to put a deposit down on an apartment, feed myself, get a MetroCard and find some kind of furniture all without loan assistance. Huzzah.

I’m reminded of one of my first blog posts—you’re free to check it out here.

Now, with that being said, I don’t think I’d trade this craziness for a moment. And I know it will get ten times crazier once I move up there and really start my courses. I know this is the opportunity of a lifetime—my big break, my window of opportunity, and I don’t intend to squander it. I’m convinced that students get out of education only what they are willing to put into it. While I’m in the city I plan to go above and beyond in my academics. Some people have said, “in New York you can finally start dating!” or, “you’re going to have so much fun going out with friends at night!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’ll do a little bit of those, but I fully plan to invest myself into my education; my degree is my number one priority. No slacking allowed.

So, Columbia Lions, are you prepared for your centennial class of j-school? I sure hope so because if open house was any indication, you’ve never seen anything like what we’re all bringing.

Roar Lions.

From senior to alumnus

I started to write about my senior year a while ago, but I never got around to it. I graduated, and I wanted to make sure I was emotionally ready to write this part of my story. My senior year at Florida State University was a time of extreme changes in my life—both intrapersonal and interpersonal. I can sense the biggest change of my personality ever has occurred since taking several key leadership roles.

So, let’s start with the summer of 2011.

Summer 2011:

This semester started off quite strangely. I finished the spring of the previous year, and I had registered for my summer classes. Here was the problem with that; I had interviewed to become the next news editor for the FSView. I got the job, and I would start in the summer. They wanted me to start at the beginning of the summer, but I couldn’t. Because I was an RA, I only had housing set up for the second half of the summer. I didn’t have time to really figure out something for the first half of the summer—mainly because I wouldn’t have the income to sustain paying rent for an apartment. I told them I couldn’t start that early, so they had to find someone to manage the news section until I got back. Thankfully one of the assistant editors, Becky Rodriguez, was able to fill in for me before she moved off to Tuscaloosa for graduate school.

I spent the first half of the summer helping my parents fix up their new place; now that all of the kids moved out of their house, they didn’t need a six-bedroom house anymore. They decided to move into a single-wide trailer on a canal in Bonita Springs, Fla. They’ll probably be the subject of a book I’ll write one day; I already have a title for it: “High Class Trailer Trash.” It captures my family in four words: southern folks who drink wine and smoke fancy cigars on their dock out front of their single-wide. I’m not sure if that’ll be a comedy or just a standard novel; I’m pretty sure it’ll be funny either way.

Anyway, once I got back to Tallahassee in June, I had to learn all of the nuances of editing a newspaper section. I had used Adobe InDesign before, but I’d never even heard of InCopy. It’s a pretty nifty software, and I had no idea how useful it would be. The FSView‘s office, although seemingly archaic in decoration and style, is very modern. It uses several servers that all of the computers are hooked up to. All of the computers were able to work on the same newspaper at the same time by “checking out” whichever text box or image that person was working on. When I had an article “checked out” no one else could alter it until I “checked it back in.” On top of that, InCopy helps to copyfit things. It tells you if words spill outside of their allotted column inches, and it tells you by how many lines so you know how much you need to cut to make it fit. I started this before I even started classes; I had barely moved into Landis Hall or started CARE training before I was needed at the newspaper office.

CARE’s Summer Bridge program was in Landis Hall; I was an RA there for this summer semester. The bridge program is an “alternative admission” program designed to “help ease students’ adjustment to college life and build a foundation for academic success.” For every 10 or 15 students there was a CARE Counselor. These counselors were paid to make sure they got their classwork done, take them to events and get to know them on a one-on-one basis. That wasn’t me. I was a CARE RA. I was the “bad guy,” in all practicality. I was the one who told them to quiet down during quiet hours, helped mediate conflicts and keep some kind of order in the building. We were severely understaffed; there were four RAs for nearly 350 students. A good friend of mine, Angela Boone, worked with me in CARE too. We were the only “second year” RAs in the program, so we both got the short end of the stick. She had nearly 190 residents (she tended to the first and second floors), and I had nearly 120. That’s ok, though, because I knew I was going to be busy with other things. I was enrolled in six credit hours; my editorship at the newspaper counted as a three hour internship.

The other three hours was TV News at FAMU. I had finally taken all of the prerequisites to enroll in my first journalism class targeting “TV News.” Professor Kenneth Jones taught it, and I’m so glad I took it during the summer. In the summer semesters each student is assigned their own FAMU camera to keep for the entire semester. The course is in such demand in the fall and spring semesters that students have to share cameras. Keeping it for the summer allowed me to really get to know the ins and outs of it, which was definitely needed. I’d never really worked with a camera before. I learned about framing shots, getting good interviews and how to script a package. Prof. Jones is known in J-School as one of the harshest graders; a lot of students have to retake his class because they failed. I got a B in his class, but it wasn’t for lack of work.

The first camera I was assigned had dirty heads. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew I couldn’t get my videos from the camera to the computer so I could edit them. It happened to the second camera I had; we determined it was a bad batch of DV Tapes I was using, so I get a new pack, and my third camera worked perfectly. But because of the trouble with the cameras eating up time, I ended up getting an “I” grade, or incomplete. I couldn’t finish all of my packages before the six-week semester ended. Thankfully I was still allowed to enroll in Advanced TV News.

Toward the end of this six weeks I auditioned for the Advanced TV News anchor position for the fall semester. There were four of us to audition during the summer, and several had auditioned back at the end of the spring semester. I didn’t know how many, so I didn’t know what my chances were to get the spot. All I knew was that I wanted it, and I knew I could do it well. I just had to convince Professor Jones, Professor Leonard Horton and Director of Journalism Dorothy Bland of that.

I went up to the anchor desk with a sense of confidence; I’m still not sure if it was false confidence or not, but it turned out to help me either way. They gave us a script, and a piece of paper that must remain face-down until we were told otherwise. “That’s breaking news,” they told us. “We need to see how you’ll react to breaking news on the show, so you can’t see it until we say so.” There was a small bump in the road, but I stayed calm. Well, I stayed as calm as I could.

Fall 2011:

I got the anchor position! I was so excited to really branch into television news. It was something I’d wanted to do for a while, and my opportunity was placed right in front of me waiting for me to take it. We started with simple “practice” newscasts for the first week of classes. Monday through Friday I had to be at the studio by 4 p.m. to prepare for our show. Mondays were my work day this semester; that meant I was at the studio (or working in the field) all day from 8 a.m. until the show ended around 6 p.m. Some work days consisted of getting stories from the field and putting them together for the show, but sometimes I also worked as an associate producer where I stayed in house and wrote scripts and produced video from our CNN video service.

I also enrolled in a heavy load of major-level courses. As an EWM (Editing, Writing & Media) major graduating the next spring, I still had a ton of coursework to complete. I had only declared EWM as my major a few semesters prior. All of my minor coursework was finished, so I enrolled in nine hours of major courses. It was stressful, but I pulled through. I actually managed to pull through with a 3.6 semester GPA. I really didn’t put very much effort into my other courses because I knew my work at TV20 would be the most important for my future. I went above and beyond as much as I could for News 20 at 5. There were several times that I produced a package or story on my days “off.”

The weekend of September 11 proved to be particularly important for me. I covered a story on a Saturday about a piece of steel from the World Trade Center in New York arriving in Tallahassee. The piece would be displayed at a Fire Department station in Tallahassee. The reason it was so important for me was because I met Greg Angel. Greg Angel is a reporter and weekend anchor for WTXL, the local ABC affiliate. He gave me his business card and we started talking about the FAMU-WTXL internship opportunity. He told me to send him a link to my video package after it was produced so he could take a look at it. After he looked at several packages I put together, he put me in touch with his news director, Bill Cummings. I asked Bill what it took to be considered for the internship position, and he told me about past interns. I showed him my portfolio of print works saying I could write for the web easily. I also showed him my newly created website (the one you’re reading now) with several video clips. He got me to fill out an application, so I did. I was selected a few months later for the spot, and I couldn’t wait to start.

The FSView was a great experience this semester too. Being news editor was rewarding beyond anything I could have imagined. I had writers who were at the top of their game, and I really implemented some changes that helped radically change the way the news section ran. Before me there were no writer meetings, beats or staggered deadlines. I think the writer meetings was the most important thing I did for that section because at each meeting we were able to brainstorm stories and deadlines together, as a group. When someone throws out a story idea in a meeting someone else can say, “I know this person you could talk to,” and the story can truly grow some roots.

Wednesdays and Sundays were production days at the paper, so I was there practically all day. I love the staff I worked with. Bailey, Emily, Scott, Eric and all of the production folks were great. In October, though, the entire structure of the FSView leadership began to change and not for the better. They changed our pay from being per issue to hourly. That was convoluted and complicated. Each time we came into the office we had to sign into a sheet of paper and sign out when we left. What happened to the work we did outside of the office? With the staggered deadlines they wanted for web publication, I couldn’t go into the office every day for hours at a time; I was a student with tons of other responsibilities. They said that was the only option, so I told them news wouldn’t be posted online daily if that was the case. They reconsidered. I convinced them to allow me to work from home on any non-production day that I didn’t have office hours. It seemed to work out well; I just documented whatever hours I worked at home and then transferred them to our official time sheets.

But like everything, there was a catch. I traveled extensively this semester. In September I went to New Orleans for an SPJ conference, New York City in November for a Columbia press conference and I was supposed to have gone to Orlando in October for an AP Collegiate Press conference, but that didn’t happen. The FSView wouldn’t pay for me to attend, and I had no other investment in going but to bring back new knowledge for the paper’s other staff members. That traveling was enough to make me realize something had to go for the next semester.

During this semester—as if I wasn’t stressed enough already—I applied to graduate school. I had a list of seven schools I wanted to apply to, but I only applied to one. Columbia University in the City of New York. The most populated city in the nation; my favorite city on this side of the Atlantic. I’d never even thought about going to graduate school until late in the spring of 2011. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but Professor Bland started my journey to “higher” higher education. When I first started taking j-school classes at FAMU, I had to get her signature on my co-op form. On that very first meeting she gave me a booklet containing Columbia information. I set it aside—thinking I’d never go to graduate school. What possible use is a master’s degree to a journalist? But the wheels had already started turning. Slowly, but they were turning. Note that I didn’t throw the booklet away, but I set it aside for future reference. That tells me that something in the back of my mind told me to hold on to it.

I won’t expand too much on the application (you can just read all about it here…) because that’s another 1,000 words. I’ll just say the application process was the most reflective, whirlwind, stressful and overall amazing experiences I’ve ever put myself through.

Spring 2012:

The final countdown. I knew I had to cut something out of my insanely busy schedule. I couldn’t keep working for the paper, television, radio, housing and going to class. I had already left regularly working for V89. It was sad to leave, but I knew I had to because there was something “bigger and better” for me to tackle. I decided I needed to leave the other big requirement… the newspaper. I loved the FSView, I really did, but I knew two production days a week and daily required hours would be too much for my last semester. I had to travel to New York in April, work four days a week for WTXL and regroup my life as an RA. Leaving the paper was a heavy decision though because it was the only other thing I did that brought income to me. That income was sorely missed to say the least. I knew it would be, but I also knew I’d be much less stressed without my editorial requirements. I put in my two weeks just before winter break, and I left the paper.

The last semester of undergrad was kind of a blur. I only registered for nine credit hours; that was all I had left to satisfy all of my requirements. I took a two credit hour internship (WTXL, I’ll spend more time on this in a moment), a one hour tennis class and my last two major required courses. Those courses just blurred by; I couldn’t even tell you anything other than we read Dickens’s books and we looked at old pieces of texts. Oh yeah, and everything is a text while nothing is a text. That’s what I learned.

I worked at ABC27 as a newsroom intern. I had wanted to work for WCTV because they are the number one television station in our market, but, in retrospect, I’m very happy to have worked at WTXL instead. The people there helped me grow into a better reporter. One of our anchors—who later left to work at Bay News 9—taught me about different styles of on-air speech. She scripted things differently than anyone I’d ever seen, and it worked out in her favor (clearly! She’s at Bay News 9 now…). The news director who was instrumental in getting me there left just a few weeks into the internship. Bill went out to work in Yuma, Ariz. Kisha Wilkinson took over for him as “interim news director.” Hopefully she’ll get the position for good because she deserves it. She took me under her wing, and she taught me all about office politics and how to fight for your story. “You’ve always got to fight for your story to be the top story,” she said once. That means you have to always be prepared to take the top spot; you’ve got to give every story your all; you’ve got to know the answers before your sources can answer them.

The internship was my lightest course (aside from a one-credit hour tennis class—doesn’t count), but I put the biggest chunk of my energy into it. I was scheduled to work two days per week, but I showed up almost five. It quickly became a part- to almost full-time job. There were Saturdays I spend in the newsroom, and there were some times (few, but they existed) where I missed class to cover a story. I’ll always love WTXL. If that’s not already evident, I’ll tell you what happened just Wednesday. Two days ago—more than a full month after I graduated—I was in Tallahassee for a couple doctors appointments. I was pulling out of the restaurant after lunch when I saw several police cars flying down Pensacola Street. I was with a friend, who knew me and is a journalist too, and I asked her if it was ok to follow them to see what happened. She said yes. I don’t usually follow police cars to a scene, but when I see more than four or five I begin to question the severity of what’s happening. I saw a truck with a busted tire up on the curb—clearly not where it belonged; it’s front bumper was sticking out into the roadway. I got video, and I sent it to WTXL. That video helped them break the story.

Around March I started realizing that graduation really was going to happen. I needed to start tying up all of the loose ends I had. I started revisiting my old professors, I had lunch with Dr. Barron and I sent of several thank you notes. March was probably the most stressful month of the year. In the beginning of the month I didn’t know whether I’d been accepted to Columbia, I was really close to graduation, I had several projects to work on and I really didn’t want to say goodbye to everything FSU and FAMU had done for me. I love those schools so much that they really became a part of me. Then March took an enormous turn—I found out I got accepted to Columbia, so I had to start preparing for that. That came on top of everything else—those projects weren’t done yet… Housing was also getting pretty stressful.

One thing that was really cool about this semester was being able to cover one of the 7 Days of Opening Nights events. I got to cover the Soweto Gospel Choir; they let me come to their rehearsal at Ruby Diamond, and I got unprecedented access to their backstage areas. I interviewed their choir director, two members of the choir and I got over an hour of amazing footage. I need to upload all of that together as an “online exclusive/extra” type of video. That was one of my first produced packages of the semester, but WTXL didn’t want to air it (I was an intern, lest we forget). I found out a few hours before air, so I called Prof. Horton at FAMU to see if he wanted to air it. He told me he couldn’t air the same package that was on ABC, but once I told him it wouldn’t air he told me to get in there ASAP. I’ll write another post about how crucial Prof Horton was to my growth later. That package is still one of my favorites from this year.

As if the powers that be (whether it’s “God,” “the Universe,” Darwin looking down from an evolutionary pedestal or something else) weren’t clear enough in this semester, I came full circle. Remember Maya Angelou? Well I got to interview her AGAIN. Wait–it gets better. Not only did I interview her again, I got full “All Access” at her event. It still gets better. This happened just one week before graduation. What a whirlwind semester. That event was a part of a pretty significant event on campus. FSU was celebrating 50 years since racial integration. It was 1962 that FSU admitted its first black student, Maxwell Courtney. I knew this was an important event to cover, so I talked to Kisha about covering it for WTXL. I told her I set up an interview with Angelou, and I would love for something to air. I asked if I could do a live shot on campus the day of, but she told me I was just an intern—a payroll reporter should do it. I was upset, but I knew why she decided that. Doby and Fred Flowers were on campus, and I got exclusive interviews with them—it was a really cool experience. Now, don’t get me wrong, FAMU has been an institution in higher education since 1887—75 years before FSU admitted its first black student. That means there were 75 years where black students were only allowed at FAMU. While that’s better than no option for higher education at all, it’s still regrettable that FSU waited that long to admit a black student. I’m still glad FSU was one of the first schools to do so; we were before the Civil Rights act. It is still something to commemorate. Maya Angelou was the keynote speaker for this event, and I was amazed I’d have that opportunity again.

The world is so full of coincidences that I’ve stopped believing in coincidence. Two meetings with Dr. Angelou; I became friends (his words, not mine) with my university’s president—whose daughter just got accepted to Columbia’s medical program, joining the centennial J-School class during the same year the building is named after its founder, Joesph Pulitzer? There are too many things coinciding for it to be mere chance. But who am I if not a questioner? I have to question everything; it’s in my nature.

Then it came time to graduate. I’ll copy something I hand-wrote in my journal: “I think part of what made the ceremony so special was the nature of my relationship with so many of the people on the stage.” I worked for this moment. I put in four years of (sometimes) hard work; I got to know the administrators for my university. Dr. Barron had to shake every graduating student’s hand, which would have passed by me like any other standard graduation ceremony, but I knew he had cut his finger the day before and had a bandage on it. When my name was called I walked up to him, and I asked him how his hand was doing. That’s a comfortable relationship, if you ask me. After him was Dr. Coburn; she got out of her seat on stage, and we hugged. Then I walked off stage to get my photo taken. Once my photo was taken, there was AFrame, ready to hug me. If there is someone better at hugging than AFrame, I haven’t met them. We hugged for what seemed like hours, and she told me how proud of me she was. She was a journalism major in college before she took on student affairs and ResLife. I knew she meant what she said, and that made it even more special.

I was now officially a college graduate. Wait… what? I’m reminded of something in a song—I’m growing older but now up. I’ll always hold on to some of my childhood naivety and spirit. It’s part of who I am. I’m a happy-go-lucky, upbeat, generous person. I’ll grow older—there’s no way to stop that (yet), but I’ll never fully grow up. Will I mature? Sure. Will I learn and get wiser? Sure, but that doesn’t mean I have to lose all of my almost childish innocence. I’ll always believe there is innate good in everyone. If that makes me childish or naïve then so be it. I’d rather believe that than believe in true evil. From here, I’ll always fondly remember my time at The Florida State University and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

I’ll forever be a Seminole, from where sons and daughters stand faithful and true. I’ll always hail my alma mater, F. S. U.