Rainbows in the Clouds

An old African song says “When it looks like the sun wasn’t going to shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.”

Tonight was the “An Evening with Maya Angelou” event—the headlining event for FSU’s 50 year anniversary after the racial integration of our student body. I had a very rare student opportunity; I was backstage for the event and had a conversation with Dr. Angelou in her “meet and greet” room. Only nine students were there, and we were allowed to take photos with Dr. Angelou.

Maya Angelou talks about FSU’s Integration

I knew she speaks six languages, but I never thought I’d have a conversation with her IN SPANISH!

I can’t emphasize enough how much her writing, her speaking and my interactions with this extremely knowledgeable and awe-inspiring poet have changed me as an individual. There was a time I was modest. “Be careful of modesty,” she says. “Don’t be modest; be humble. Humility is saying ‘yes, I’ve done these things, but somebody else has already paid for me.”

Maya Angelou is my Mrs. Flowers. She has harassed me before, but only in a way that would make me a better person and a better reporter. Tonight, being backstage, I was asked several times “are you going to interview her?” I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I respect her too much. Yes, I’m a reporter, but I’m also a human being. I recognize that “backstage” is a safe space for her, and it would be horrible of me to bring a camera there and stick a microphone in her face. I’d have to just enjoy being able to meet her and talk to her again. She knows what she’s done for people, and she’s proud of it—she has every right to be.

“Know that you are already paid for,” she said. That means someone has already come along and paved the way for you to do the things you can do. Someone has already made sacrifices for your life, and you have to appreciate that.
I admit that I talk about Maya a lot, and I have so many more rainbows in my life than just her. I could not have gotten to where I am today without the help, support and love from my parents. They have been the brightest and longest-lasting rainbows in my clouds. Through thick and thin, black and white—they’ve been there. It didn’t matter what struggle or what circumstance occurred—whenever life made me break and call it uncle, I can call my parents and they will talk me through it.

The same goes for my sister, Rachel. “I smile because you’re my sister; I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it.” There is so much truth in that phrase. Rachel and I grew up together, and we have been there for each other through it all. I don’t say we liked each other all that much from time to time, but we loved each other, and I knew she would always be there.

While I am admittedly much closer to my younger sister (probably because of how close we are in age), I still am thankful for my older sister Auburn.

At Florida State University, since June of 2008, I have made and lost several friends and close friends. I don’t even know if I could pick one “best” friend at FSU. I’ve had so many who have meant so much to me at different times in our relationships. All I can say is the past four years would not have been nearly as memorable or as amazing without the group of Seminoles I’ve gotten to know and love.

At Florida A&M University since 2010, I have also made several friends. There were twists and curves, and “white boy this,” and “white boy, that,” and it taught me there is still a serious problem with racism in our country—including racism against “white folks.” Now, I don’t identify as “white,” although my skin appears to be of Caucasian origin. I don’t identify as “black” either. I identify as “human” because that is all that really keeps us holding on as a society—the fact we’re all truly the same, just with slightly differences that make us unique. Don’t ever be modest about your uniqueness or your quirks. Be humble about that—acknowledge them and let them shine. It’s that kind of humility that will take you far in life.

Inspiration

“You can only become great at that which you are willing to sacrifice for.” Truer words could never be spoken. I have had the pleasure—no; the honor of being shaped (at least in part) by Marguerite “Maya” Angelou.

Very few people have the ability to say they’ve been shaped by such a powerful person as Maya Angelou, but I have. She has taught me more than I think even she knows. After reading I know why the caged bird sings , I couldn’t help but feel connected to her. Then I heard the audiobook version. Do you know anyone with a voice as powerful as that? I don’t. Inspiration can come in very small things, like the stanza of a poem. I’m not big in poetry, but I’ll be damned if “I Rise” hasn’t become the motto of my life. I once wrote in my private journal that Maya Angelou has a “glowing, deep and serious voice [which] has a way of making words seem infinitely more powerful than their creators ever dreamed them to be.” I have never written anything I more firmly believe.

“You can shoot me with your words,
you can cut me with your lies,
you can kill me with your hatefulness,
but just like life—I’ll rise.”

I’ll admit—I’m absolutely terrified to begin graduate school. What if it’s not for me? How will I pay back that debt? What if I’m no good? But you know what? None of that matters. What matters is my drive, determination and passion. I once “checked in” at the Manhattan Bridge, and someone asked how I got to go to all of these cool places; the only thing I could think to reply with was “with drive and determination, mostly.” There is absolute truth in that. As Doc Emmett Brown once said, “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” So, Columbia University in the City of New York, bring it on! Hit me with your best shot because there’s nothing you can throw at me that I won’t take in stride. New York City—bring it on! I’ve never felt more comfortable in a big city than I do in the big apple.

I have all of these emotions coursing through my body right now. I’m 7 days away from graduation—I’m already done with my undergrad classes; all that is left is packing my room and waiting for Friday, April 27. At 7:p.m. But who’s counting? I’m amazed that I made it this far; I’m ecstatic that I’ve accomplished this; I’m proud—very proud of what all I’ve done; I’m excited to see what the future holds; I’m sad to see all of my friends and connections here fade into my past; I’m afraid of all of my future success; I’m angry it’s come this quickly; I’m astounded at the statistic that I’ve become a part of. Emotions galore, and they all rotate through my brain at (what seems like) a million miles per minute. I have to say that without my friends and my family, I’d be nowhere near where I am today. I have the greatest support system in the world. I may have been single for the past four years, but someone once told me “Turner, you just haven’t found someone who can keep up with you yet.” Oh, the truth behind that statement. I may have missed out on the “college promiscuity,” but I more than made up for it in making a name for myself. I guarantee you walk anywhere on Florida State’s campus OR Florida A&M’s campus and mention my name, someone around you will know who I am. I don’t promise you they have the best of things to say, but they know who I am and they know what I’m good at.

To come back to what I intended to write about—inspiration—I have to say that there is no inspiration like lyric-less music. There is a song I’ve known since I was very young, and it has no words. Banana Wind by Jimmy Buffett—on the album of the same name—has no words, but its meaning is limitless. Every time I have listened to it I have learned a new meaning to the song. It’s songs like this one that can let you escape into the creases in your own mind and just think. Get away from it all; escape into your own head. That brain—it has creases and folds that form a maze that you can never know what all it truly contains. Take a moment, turn the lights and music down low and just drift away. Drift into a stream of transient though, careening through creative alternatives and amaze in all your mind has to offer you.

One day I will come back to Florida State University, and I will give a commencement speech; I am sure of this. I don’t know how soon or how far away, but I know it will happen. I believe I have really made the most of my education here, and even though there were some serious downfalls, I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. I think my inspiration has been my previous success. No. That’s just a bonus. My inspiration has been everyone around me. I know it seems like I write and report “for me,” and it can seem like a selfish job that I’m doing—trust me when I say it’s not. I truly am just that engrossed and in love with what I do that I push myself to do even better. I know that my reporting can help people. I know that there are just some stories that need to be told and no one else will do the telling—that leaves it up to me to tell these stories. I must. It’s what I do. It’s what I live for. So, to come full circle—you can only become great at that which you are willing to sacrifice for. Would I sacrifice for journalism? It and family are the only two things I can ever see myself sacrificing for.

Maya Angelou interview

Here is the unedited version of today’s interview. I began the recording right after the first question, which was ‘Tell me about FSU’s celebrating of their 50 years of racial integration.”

Is this real life?

The past 24 hours I have been through a whirlwind of emotions. I got back to my room in Kellum Hall to start writing a web report about the stabbing that occurred on campus. No more than 15 minutes after I started writing did I get a little email notification on my desktop:

“Columbia University-Admission Decision Available”

My heart stopped for a moment. I wanted to desperately to click on the email, to go directly there to find out, but I couldn’t. I made a commitment to my news organization, and I had to finish writing my story for the web. Needless to say, I finished as quickly as possible. I picked up my phone and called home.

“Hello?” “Mom, get Dad on the phone, but don’t hang up.” “Alright, you’re on speaker phone.”

I clicked the email. It took me to the same page where three months ago I submitted my application. Below all of my documents, “Transcripts: received | Recommendations: received | Writing test: received” read the words “Decision status.” I hovered my mouse over that button for a moment, debating whether I really wanted to see what was on the other side of that HTML link. I had to click. I had to know. This had been eating at me for weeks; every time I got an email and heard my phone’s or computer’s email noise, I jumped.

I clicked.

I didn’t expect to see what I saw—a PDF-type document (written in HTML) showed up on my screen. It was typed like a real admissions letter, with the Columbia Journalism School masthead and my mailing address. The window happened to open up just enough to make me scroll down to see the text of the “letter.”

“On behalf of the Admission Committee, it gives me great pleasure…”

That’s as far as I got. I yelled. No, I didn’t yell. I screamed the loudest scream I’ve ever heard from my throat. My mom started bawling—she couldn’t speak for at least a half an hour. I had to read on.

“…it gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have been admitted as a member of our Centennial class to the Master of Science program in Journalism with a Broadcast specialization, beginning in August 2012.” Not only was I accepted but I was accepted into their “centennial class.” That’s truly something. Now, it is here in the letter they informed me I was not selected for the Tony Stabile Investigative Journalism specialization, but that didn’t concern me. I was more focused on getting accepted into their broadcast track, which I did!

I must admit, after I hung up with my parents—we were all speechless, so there was no reason staying on the phone—I went into a state of semi-shock. I wasn’t sure whether this was real. I pinched myself—OUCH—yeah, it was real. I posted it to Facebook. The immediate response was far more overwhelming than the acceptance itself. Within minutes I saw nothing but “you deserved this,” “they won’t know what hit ’em,” and “congratulations!” I know I already said this, but that was far more overwhelming than the acceptance.

I learned then and there I have a very strong support system beneath me. I have so many friends to whom I owe so much that I could never truly be able to repay. I have mentors who want nothing but the best for me (and I them!). I have a family who loves me. The outpouring of emotions was overwhelming. How was I accepted? Do I really deserve this? Is this real life?!

I have to give credit where credit is due, and very little of it lies with me. So much of this belongs to everyone who believes in me. I could never name everyone, so I won’t name anyone here. There was so much love shown to me yesterday that I had trouble comprehending it. My support system ranges from freshmen to university presidents. It ranges from news directors to camera operators. It goes from editors to writers to general managers. It goes from professional association members to high school ROTC instructors. I cannot thank everyone enough.

If there is one thing I’d wish y’all (I had to throw that in) could know, it would be this: I will not let you down. You believe in me, and that’s a feeling I can never replace. Thank you all so very much.

New York City

The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. Gotham. The center of the universe and the capital of the world. New York has so many names it’s hard to keep track of them all.

Traveling to the city as a “country boy” is always a fun experience. I’ve been to NYC a few times before. I’ve seen a Yankees game, I’ve been to NYU. Part of me becomes a part of New York when I go there. I’ve gotten very familiar with the Subway system, the buses and the traffic. I’m even pretty good at making my way to and from JFK and LaGuardia.

This time was different though. For the first time I saw the “Freedom Tower.” This tower is being built in the World Trade Center twin towers location in Lower Manhattan. The entire area just has an eery presence to it. There’s so much history, so much anguish and so much loss still felt there. So many innocent souls lost, and all of them have their names inscribed on a new memorial. Those names are now nothing more than a memory to those who loved them. The memorial is next to the freedom tower.

When I was young—just months following 9/11—I sent President George W. Bush a letter. I was 11 years old at the time. I told him if the United States—not the land owner or the city of New York—did not rebuild the towers then “the terrorists will have won.” That’s all I remember from that letter, but I got one back. I don’t remember what it said, but I remember it had a signed photo of GWB standing with his wife, Laura, and it was signed.

Ten years later, I was standing on that awful space, the very place I thought I had lost my father. He was supposed to fly a trip that day—he’s a pilot for American Airlines. I remembered the television in my middle school P.E. class being turned on frantically, the teacher saying, “we need to watch the news!” Ten years later, the voices of those lost souls screamed so loudly it was almost unbearable.

It’s still hard to imagine all that happened that day. The lives of so many innocent people taken—the husbands, the wives, the children, parents, grandparents, friends and lovers.

It reminded me why I do what I do, why I tell the stories of others. It’s what I do best. I know of no better way to contribute to society than by telling the stories of someone who is struggling, succeeding, giving back or hurting. In this moment, it was reliving the experiences shared by countless others.

People may walk by this place unknowing what it means to the world. Some may be so used to seeing it everyday it’s a mere inconvenience to walk around. But to me, and to those whose lives were truly affected, this place will forever be a place of silence. In years to come it may return to being a bustling place of international commerce—or “World Trade”—but it will always be known as the “World Trade Center site” or “Ground Zero.”

This place. This time. These lives. Our lives. This is what we live for. To love, to laugh, to enjoy. It’s unforeseeable what will happen to us in the future. Maybe we’ll die in a car accident, or a skydiving crash. Maybe we’ll go down “like heroes in that Pennsylvania field.” Maybe we’ll die in our homes of natural causes.

It’s important to recognize the people in our lives. It’s important to recognize what they mean to you and how you grow. Let this serve as a reminder that this is our time—our time to shine, live and love.

Sense of Place

The Society of Professional Journalists hosted the annual conference in New Orleans these past few days. It was a meeting of journalists of old, young, print, broadcast and online.
No one (who could pay the registration fee) was turned away. Students met and mingled with seasoned journalists; seasoned reporters learned new ideas from students.
The sessions were split up in near-hour increments.
Sunday was the first “super session.” Soledad O’Brien hosted with John Cochran. John, a seasoned ABC reporter, interviewed Soledad in front of everyone. It didn’t seem like a real interview as much as a forced conversation between two folks who didn’t really know each other.
The following night didn’t have any sessions other than the reception. Cocktails were served, and folks really mingled. After that, I left and walked up Bourbon Street with my sister. The next day (Monday for those keeping track) I went to my first “real” session: “Writing that works online.” Victoria Lim, a former WFLA reporter presented; she worked at WFLA with Rod Carter. Carter taught at the NABJ short course at FAMU.
Being in a convention center (the Sheraton on Canal Street) with other people who love journalism like I do really made me feel connected. I didn’t expect to be so well received.
Today’s sessions were also fantastic. It really was a great opportunity to meet and network with people from all over the country.

N’Ahleans

It’s hard to believe the New Orleans weekend is already here.
We’re on Interstate 10 just west of Mobile. We left about an hour ago. This little blue Volkswagen Jetta is running smoothly; trucking along I-10.
We’re staying at the JW Marriott on Canal Street. Canal Street is apparently the heart of New Orleans. We’re staying (literally) right next door from the hotel that is hosting the conference.
Oh yeah… Thats why I’m headed to NOLA It’s not a pleasure trip; well, it’s not intended to be. The Society of Professional Journalist and the RTDNA (Radio and Television Digital News Association) are co-hosting the 2011 Excellence in Journalism convention.
This could be the single most important thing I do this year. SPJ is THE organization for journalists, according to one of my professors from last semester. I can’t believe I’m going to a professional convention. Soledad O’Brien is hosting the opening “super session” tonight. This weekend will be the second time I have met her. Now I can even name-drop her friend Bina, whom I met while covering the Rick Scott inauguration. She works for CNN and CNN Español in Miami.
This convention could be my “big break.” We’ll see though; I don’t want to get my hopes too high and fall hard. If anything, this is my weekend away from school and away from all the stress that comes with anchoring, editing and managing three different media on campus.
Actually, I just texted Bina. She asked me to send Soledad her regards and tell her Bina is glad her knee is better.
I cannot believe I’m going to this convention. I really could not be happier with my life right now.
More updates to come from the convention.

The view from the anchor desk

The view most people see from their television set is vastly different from the view of their news anchor. Viewers see us; they see the product. We see the behind-the-scenes chaos that goes on in every show.

Picture this. I’m sitting behind a desk, in a light green desk chair. I have a microphone cable hidden under the front of my blazer and an earpiece wire snaking up my back—underneath my jacket as well. I look out into our studio, and I see three cameras, each with their own operator. I see a floor director; she gets cues from the producers in the control room and relays that message to us. There multiple people—all stressed out.

We go live in 30 minutes, which may seem like an eternity. In the news world 30 minutes is barely more than the blink of an eye. The floor director is frantically running back and forth between studio and control room.

I don’t have a complete script yet, but I’m all wired up. That makes it very difficult for me to leave my anchor chair and get a script. Sound board operator is asking for a mic check; producer is asking for story rearrangement, and I’m asking for minor script changes. By now we’re ten minutes from “taking control.” The final mic checks take place; we make sure our IFBs (earbuds work so the producer can talk to us directly) are set up properly. The director screams “one minute until we take control.”

The lights are on, the prompter cued. Floor director counts down, five four three (two one)—point to camera two.

We’re off to the races. I look up at the camera, the lights are one—shining on my made-up face. I wouldn’t trade any of the chaos for a moment.

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