A collage of headshots showing seven members of the NJ Racial Equity Advisory Board, arranged from left to right: Carmen Graciela Díaz, Erin O’Hanlon, Natasha Ali, Taylor Jung, Simon Galperin, Liza Gross, and Penda Howell. They exhibit a diverse array of ages, ethnic backgrounds, and styles. The individuals display a range of expressions from smiles to neutral looks. Clothing includes professional attire and accessories like necklaces and scarves.
Left to right: Carmen Graciela Díaz, Erin O’Hanlon, Natasha Ali, Taylor Jung, Simon Galperin, Liza Gross, Penda Howell (Graphic: Joe Amditis).

Meet the new Racial Equity Advisory Board members for NJ newsrooms

Cassandra Etienne
9 min readMar 27, 2024


The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University is proud to announce the new members of its Racial Equity in New Jersey News Media advisory board. The group will help guide the Center’s work to promote diversity and racial equity within New Jersey’s local news ecosystem.

The Racial Equity in NJ News Media initiative is intended to advance our efforts to make news and information more accessible to New Jerseyans, while ensuring that newsrooms across the state are more equitable and representative of the communities they serve and cover.

This initiative is possible through the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Democracy Fund.

Among the focus areas we hope to address with guidance from this board:

  • Advocacy for improved quality of life for local journalists and media makers
  • Just and equitable compensation
  • Career advancement opportunities for journalists, especially journalists of color who are underrepresented in newsrooms and in leadership positions

Since 2012, the Center has engaged in efforts to grow and strengthen the New Jersey local news ecosystem. This work has taken different forms, including direct assistance and back-office support to members of the New Jersey News Commons, spearheading collaborative reporting projects among our partner outlets, hosting media summits and press conferences, and providing training and other resources in response to partner needs.

For the last four years, initiatives at the Center have been specifically driven by an equity focus. In recent years, we’ve built on this commitment so that, as our mission, vision, and values state, “our decisions are considered and implemented through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

In 2022, we developed a theory of change to help structure our efforts to counter historic oppression and gatekeeping in the news media toward the end goal of equitable distribution of power and information access.

Our theory of change reads, in part:

When industry-leading training is provided; collaboration is prioritized; timely research is shared; funding is put directly into the hands of the people who produce and distribute local news and information; and equity drives all decisions; it will result in more informed, engaged and strong communities.

As we engage these issues at a more profound level, we are thankful for the expertise and dedication of our board members, who we know will help to keep us accountable as well as advocate for newsroom hiring and retention practices that create a more diverse and representative press corps in our state.

After a comprehensive search and selection process, seven distinguished journalists have been chosen to form the advisory board. Each brings a wealth of experience, insight, and commitment to diversity and equity in journalism. The board reflects a broad spectrum of perspectives, including media professionals, advocates for equity, and community representatives from various racial, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds within New Jersey.

Please join us in welcoming this new advisory board!

Natasha Ali

Natasha Ali (she/her) is an accomplished media professional with a passion for storytelling. She is currently the COO and Co-Owner of 1st Gen Beauty Inc., which is the parent company of Deka Lash, a luxury eyelash extension and beauty franchise in Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prior to her entrepreneurial endeavors, Natasha excelled in the media industry for more than two decades.

Natasha’s extensive experience in television production also includes time at WBTS, WNBC, Fox Business Network, CNN/HLN, ABC News, NY1 News and WISC-TV in Madison, Wisconsin. Outside of her professional endeavors, Natasha is a proud member of the National Association of Black Journalists and Mocha Moms Inc. — “the premier organization for sisterhood, support and service for mothers of color.” She is also an alumna and volunteer for A Better Chance Inc., where she supports educational opportunities for historically marginalized youth. Natasha holds a Master’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Bachelor’s degree in African American History from the University of Maryland-College Park.

Carmen Graciela Díaz

Carmen Graciela Díaz (she/her) is a Puerto Rican journalist and author with more than 15 years of experience in writing and publishing in Spanish and English. With a decade of teaching experience, she is the Distinguished Lecturer/Director for the Bilingual Journalism Program at the City University of New York’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

Carmen is the author of Huele a Bomba: la paradójica esencia del periodismo de Avance, a book on groundbreaking Puerto Rican publication, Avance. Her storytelling centers on arts, culture, education, and Puerto Rican and Latino issues. She has worked with Univision News Digital, El Nuevo Día, and Primera Hora. Her writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, El País, The Miami Herald, Centro Journal, The Common, and Reasons to be Cheerful, among other publications. Her freelance work includes research for the biopic Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It and as a contributing writer for a book documenting the work and the story of ArtPlace America.

She holds master’s degrees from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in Arts and Culture Reporting and San Juan’s Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Cultural Studies.

Simon Galperin

Simon Galperin (he/him) is a journalist, technologist, and organizer living in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He is the Executive Editor of The Jersey Bee and CEO of Community Info Coop. At The Jersey Bee, Simon leads the development of the award-winning public service newsroom in Essex County. At Community Info Coop, he collaborates with partners to advance journalism that meets the needs of BIPOC and working-class people.

Simon worked in business development and engagement roles at ProPublica and Opinary and was at GroundSource when launched the Community Info Coop in 2018. He received his M.A. in Engagement Journalism from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in 2016. He was a 2019 Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow at the University of Missouri and a 2022 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.

Liza Gross

Liza Gross (she/her) is a consultant and senior advisor who specializes in building news collaboratives to strengthen local media ecosystems by transforming information flows to make them more participatory and inclusive.

Gross has worked for over three decades as a journalist and media executive of news organizations and nonprofits, focusing on the transition of traditional media outlets to a multimedia model and in the development and execution of innovative communications strategies for nonprofit organizations. She has held leadership positions at Solutions Journalism Network, the International Women’s Media Foundation, The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Día in Puerto Rico, and Exito, the Spanish-language newspaper of the Chicago Tribune.

A native of Argentina, Gross was also a lecturer at Columbia University and instructor for the Latin American Journalism Program of Florida International University in Miami, Managing Editor of HISPANIC magazine and Executive Editor of Times of the Americas, a publication specializing in the coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Erin O’Hanlon

Erin O’Hanlon (she/her) is a teaching specialist focusing on community engaged journalism and community storytelling at Stockton University. There she coordinates social justice community organizing and works on capacity-building projects around gender equity, youth activism, and economic justice. Erin was the inaugural Activist in Residence at Stockton and supported students in gender equality activism on campus. Prior to her work in the Stockton Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning as the coordinator of service-learning, she was part of a local community partnership for 16 years.

An alum of Stockton, she holds a Master's Degree in Instructional Technology and is currently working on her Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership. Her dissertation is titled “Storytelling Networks and Democracy: Civic Participation Among the Audience of Hyperlocal, Participatory Digital Media.” Erin lives in New Jersey with her partner, Charlie Keys, and their four sons. Her areas of research include assessing civic and community engagement, experiential learning methodologies and liberatory education.

Her personal research includes studying civic engagement, hyperlocal media and race in the media through the lens of narrative justice.

Penda C. Howell

Penda C. Howell (he/him) is a seasoned media executive with over twenty-nine years of experience in Executive Leadership, Media Sales, Sales Management, Revenue Design, Strategic Revenue Initiatives, Media Sales Training, and the production and operations of print and digital media. As the Co-Founder, Publisher, and CEO of New Jersey Urban News, Penda leads with a vision to amplify diverse voices and foster community engagement through insightful journalism and strategic partnerships. Penda is also an American Journalism Project, (AJP) Chief Revenue Officer Fellow.

Before his role at New Jersey Urban News, he served as the Chief Revenue Officer for NPR affiliate WFAE, where he honed his expertise in revenue generation, Corporate Development, and Strategic Planning. He’s also held the position of Strategic Advisor / Revenue Coach for LION Publishers, where he established the one one-on-one coaching environment/infrastructure for its member publications.

Howell has also worked as Senior Vice President and Head of Sales, Advertising, Marketing, and Strategic Partnerships for the renowned New York Amsterdam News, where he played a pivotal role in establishing its digital infrastructure managing all revenue-generating initiatives, establishing new revenue-generating initiatives and pioneering the Branded Content concept model that was used as the template that a few media trade organizations and independent media org’s nationally use today.

Taylor Jung

Taylor Jung (she/they) is a multimedia reporter on the social justice beat at NJ Spotlight News. She focuses on issues and topics related to people of color, LGTBQIA+ communities, and people with disabilities. Aside from covering New Jersey, she has a particular interest in reporting on gentrification in NYC’s Chinatown and the history of Japanese American incarceration during WWII.

Her family’s immigration stories are what inspired her to pursue social justice journalism. She is a proud member of the Asian American Journalists Association and received her master’s at Columbia Journalism School.

Next steps

We met with the board for its inaugural meeting earlier this month, and we had a productive conversation about strategic approaches to enhancing diversity and representation in our local newsrooms.

With the advisory board now in place and actively engaged, the Center is poised to advance its vision for a more equitable and representative news media in our state.

If you have ideas for us or our board or want to be involved as we work on initiatives, let us know by emailing etiennec@montclair.edu.

Cassandra Etienne is the assistant director of membership and programming at the Center for Cooperative Media. Contact her at etiennec@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism and support an informed society in New Jersey and beyond. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, the Independence Public Media Foundation, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For more information, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.