Why I disappeared from WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi.
I pray that by sharing my experience, it helps news corporations understand our responsibility to America.
The facts about race and TV news
Many news stations were created in the 50’s and 60’s when America was segregated. At that time, the news stations did not seek to uplift and educate Black people but hold us back. Even in 2019 news stations are still working to desegregate.
Why I filed a complaint with Nexstar.
Under the direction of my mentor, I filed a complaint with the HR department at WJTV the CBS station in Jackson, Mississippi. I stood up for myself because I knew WJTV was working to build a case against me and I wanted to protect my family. I also wanted our parent company Nexstar to be aware of the problems I faced as a young black mother while collecting their paycheck.
WJTV knew my accolades, that’s why they hired me.
I have almost a decade of professional news experience on morning teams across the south and midwest. I also have a Masters in Television specializing in research and I graduated from Alcorn State University located about an hour from the capital city. I have resolutions from both the State of Missouri and the City of St. Louis honoring my work as a reporter. I was named best reporter by the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis Magazine. Delux Magazine named me as someone who inspires and I am the 2015 NABJ Emerging Journalist.
I was terminated while using my own sick time to care for my dying grandfather. I believe this is because I filed an EEOC complaint the month before. After an 8-month long job search, I still can’t find a full-time news job. Thankfully I have my peace of mind, and I hope in sharing my story — it opens the hearts and minds of readers to affect change.
Reporting on race in the newsroom.
I was hired at WJTV after breaking one of the biggest stories of the decade. The officer involved shooting death of a teen named Mike Brown in my Ferguson, Missouri neighborhood. His death sparked change and helped ignite the “Black Lives Matter” movement that we know today.
However, when I pitched stories about race in Mississippi, I was told the stories “are not for all people.” My boss constantly complained about the “types” of stories I pitched and shared on my personal social media accounts. He explained over and over that he didn’t want my brand to grow and denied me the basic necessities to properly anchor “WJTV This Morning,” such as access to review scripts on the desk before I was forced to read them on air.
Why I could not wear my hair in its natural state on TV.
After having my son, I asked my news director if I could stop straightening my hair. A month after giving me the green light I was pulled back into his office. I was told “My natural hair is unprofessional and the equivalent to him throwing on a baseball cap to go to the grocery store. He said “Mississippi viewers needed to see a beauty queen.” He even asked, “why my hair doesn’t lay flat.” When I asked him how I should address the change on social media he told me to write “I was told to change my hair back to the way it was because that’s what looks best.”
WJTV is still stuck in 1953.
WJTV brands themselves by their “Original Reporting.” Like many news stations that popped up during the civil rights movement, they did not allow black journalists to report when they first began going live. Even today, WJTV does not allow two black reporters to anchor the news together. At the time of my first complaint, 7 of the 12 on-air staff members were black. That means station management goes out of their way when scheduling holiday and vacation requests to keep up us from sitting next to each other on the desk. That became clear to me when President Donald Trump stopped in the city for the grand opening of the Civil Rights Museum when my boss emailed me that I would not be needed for coverage and instead chose a beautiful blonde weekend anchor who has less experience than me.
I can not count how many meteorologists I have worked with on our morning show. The station has formed an ally with Mississippi State University creating a pipeline for inexperienced white meteorologists. One day a new meteorologist joined us on the weekday morning show. He had just graduated from college. He came to me about 20 minutes before the show looking for an earpiece, a device you should be fitted for in advance. My new coworker admitted he had never been on the wall and never even practiced at WJTV, before joining our weekday news teams.
Reporting in the Confederacy.
WJTV stopped at nothing to remind us of their “Original Reporting.” One of our evening producers was allowed to display a picture on her desk with a Confederate emblem drawn on her arm. In a story that I investigated for a black history special, I interviewed the pastor of the oldest black Baptist church in the state. He said “In 1890 Mississippi passed a constitution not ratified, not voted on by the people. It basically stripped the rights that black people gained at the end of the civil war called the civil war amendments. 1890 you had a really backwards racist constitution, you see the rise of the Confederate flag. That becomes a banner and symbol of the Confederacy.”
We constantly cover stories about the Confederate emblem in the Mississippi flag. People against the emblem say it’s racist. Supporters say the emblem represents “southern pride.” On Friday’s, WJTV played a theme song saying “everywhere we go the south is in our souls.”
Jackson is about 80 percent black, but we were not allowed to have a black Santa on TV because “we couldn’t rock the boat.” News stories involving black greek organizations were given little consideration in news meetings because they were just “sororities and fraternities” despite their continuous work to improve the community.
Even before my pregnancy, I had problems. One day during the show I promoted a Caring for MS event at the Jackson Country Club. I sent our then community outreach person an email asking if I could have tickets to the event. She told me they didn’t have tickets left but she would see what she could do. I told her if she could only offer one ticket not to worry because I would be bringing my then husband. She gave me two tickets, but only half of our table was filled that night at the country club. I noticed just one black couple at the event. I feel that I am often discriminated against when looking for a “face” to represent the station because I do not reflect their targeted demographic and advertisers.
I understand racism exists. My family is still trying to pull ourselves up from our ugly past which can be traced back to slavery. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. My grandparents were sharecroppers and my mom even lived on the land. But, but it was the way I was treated as a mother at WJTV which forced me to stand up for myself.
Why mothers deserve a place to pump milk.
After announcing that I was pregnant, I was no longer asked to participate in commercials. I felt the need to starve myself to fit in. I now weigh 108 pounds. I did eat while carrying my son and postpartum, but I noticed my events were given to a white reporter. I was finally allowed to use a storage closet to pump milk for my son 6 hours after my shift began. This came after filing a corporate complaint and a two-month long investigation.
To be fair I didn’t feel comfortable asking my news director for a place to pump. I would need privacy every 2 to 3 hours and I was responsible for anchoring from 430 am -9 am. This allowed no time for a break. I was 34 weeks pregnant when my boss told me in a private conversation that I wasn’t a mother yet. The next week I went into labor during the show, likely because of stress. My son was born 5 weeks premature. His lungs hadn’t formed completely, he was rushed straight into the NICU and I wasn’t allowed to hold him when he was born. Within the last month, my baby finally stopped getting breathing treatments 2 times a day, but he does need an inhaler three times a day. I believe my breast milk could have helped him but that’s something I will always blame myself for.
Before filing my complaint, I would have called our HR director a friend. We lived in the same town, our kids attended the same daycare and we both are Christians. She encouraged me to file a complaint with Nexstar. Maybe she had no idea the real problems in the newsroom, but from that day on the harassment never stopped.
The results of my complaint.
In my second and final complaint to the company, I ended it by saying “I will not be surprised if Nexstar finds no problem with my multiple complaints. However, I hope to write a book about TV news. This is not to create a war in the community or tarnish the reputation of WJTV. I want to help people better understand local TV news. Viewers deserve to know the “untold stories” of Mississippi. The country is crying out for real news- not fake news and that is exactly what we are doing at WJTV and in the Nexstar company. We poorly staff the newsrooms to cover the stories in our cities and we continually work to promote white faces with straight hair.”
I followed up with Nexstar’s corporate HR department to make sure they received my complaint. The response said: “Yes, I have logged your complaint in our records. If you have any questions or need any additional information please let me know.”
I continued as the face of WJTV anchoring 5.5 hours a day. I delivered the news with a smile because I know representation matters. I thought about the little black girls watching before school. I still hoped to be a small ray of hope in Jackson.
When the state stepped in.
The internal harassment got so bad that I made several trips to the EEOC department begging for help. They finally took my case but warned me I would get fired. I was living month to month at my apartment and renting a car. I never told my co-anchor what was going on. In fact, he kept asking me what happened to my car and why I had a rental but I never let him in on my secret. I know he has a family to feed.
My investigator filed his own lawsuit against the EEOC.
The EEOC has been investigating my case since April. I began working with Antonio Jones their federal investigator. He would ask questions like “how many white employees have to wear wigs in order to do their jobs?” Suddenly I got an email that Jones would be gone for 2 months.
It has come to my attention that my federal investigator had to file his own lawsuit against the EEOC. His case documents allege he made “formal complaints regarding the district director and local director. Both of these directors improperly and illegally closed cases to help out certain employers whereas this reflected receiving kickbacks.” I turned in everything I had to the state hoping they would fight for me. To think the state could actually be working with the corporations and not for the people is beyond disheartening. I would reach out to the EEOC for more information but they are closed due to the government shutdown. It is my understanding that my investigator has been protesting himself. He is an army veteran who was injured in Iraq. While on sick leave- due to his disability- his cases including mine were taken away and he was reassigned to another state.
America deserves to hear the “untold stories.”
I hope my story resonates with someone. America needs to take care of our journalists, especially journalists of color. We are crucial to democracy.
The next post in my series of Reporting on Race in America, I will detail the investigations I was forced to shut down in Mississippi including the hanging death of Willie Jones Jr, Governor Bryant’s possible connection to the Bryant family responsible for the death of Emmett Till, the lack of state support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a sit down interview with the previous Mayor in Jackson detailing the problems his administration faced, the questions we could have asked about the only legal marijuana farm in the United States allowed grow the drug for research.
How you can support me.
For the first time in my life, I collected unemployment but the money has run out. Despite my love for journalism, I’ve been working outside of my field to make ends meet. You can find me on social media- a like and a follow is absolutely free and it goes a long way. If you would like to support me financially and my goal to report stories about people of color on a national level, check out my website www.thenoblejournalist.com and preorder your #blackjournalistsmatter shirts. Your money will support me and the Young Black Journalists of the National Association of Black Journalists. We will be holding our annual Millennial Media Summit in New York City March 2nd at Columbia University. We hope to see you there. I also have a Gofundme account https://www.gofundme.com/5lca534?fbclid=IwAR3rjC6vhjYFxKAbwfIgqUYkRTGFwgmUIV9fwBhrD4zPHznDyHI0XaIZ4JE