My first class assignment at Stanford was simple: Find a nice, quiet place to yell — at the top of my lungs — and journal the experience. It was a seemingly unusual start to my year as a John S. Knight (JSK) Journalism Fellow. Voice Workshop was exactly the course I needed to break free of a debilitating habit of not speaking up. I figured there’s no better time than during my fellowship year to work on communicating effectively.
Yelling is something I just don’t do. Yelling alone was slightly unsettling. I logged interesting realizations in my journal. The first was that I could be loud, and how much our bodies really are instruments for communicating. Feeling my vocal chords, throat and lungs working like an engine to produce a great big sound was like hitting a light switch. The best part: I found comfort in hearing my actual voice.
It’s a shame to have forgotten my unique sound. Having it back feels absolutely golden. If you haven’t really heard yourself in a while, you should try it.
Coming to Stanford, I made a calculated decision to sharpen my public speaking abilities. Where Vocal Workshop reestablished my connection to voice and body, Strategic Communication, a course offered in the Graduate School of Business, helped me overcome my fear of public speaking. Taught by professor JD Schramm and mentors Allison Kluger and Burt Alper, I learned numerous techniques for speaking effectively, putting them to the test in a series of three-minute speeches, an eight-minute PowerPoint presentation, and on-the-spot extemporaneous speaking.
I’m now comfortable and confident taking on speaking engagements, and did a couple outside of the class last quarter. The first was a presentation on “The Future of News” at Santa Monica College. The other was an ONA San Jose: Digital Storytelling Workshop titled, “Apps and Tools for Digital Storytelling.” I’m headed to Grambling State University (my alma mater) this March to speak at the 20th Annual Mass Communication Conference.
With my newfound voice, I’m exploring my journalism challenge: “How might we create the conditions for journalists of color to produce digital storytelling?” Here are a few things that happened during last quarter’s exploration that had a huge impact on my current state of mind.
Not long ago my daily routine was tough. I rose at 5:30 a.m. and commuted by car, train, and bus for an hour and a half to San Francisco. At 5:30 p.m., I retraced my steps, but faced an even longer commute at that hour, arriving home at 8.30.
In contrast, 15 minutes of biking to Stanford now jump-starts my day. In addition to my “commute” being a lot less stressful, the fact that I have gained nearly six hours of my life back every day is incredible.
Being here also led me to a gentleman named Titus Plattner, also a JSK Fellow, who is Swiss. His time management skills are impeccable. (Yes, it’s true; just like the famous Swiss clocks, the Swiss are always on time or even a little bit early). He’s a great time management coach. He also asked if I’d be interested in working with his team on a project about personalized news; it’s the updated version of his journalism project that took form in the Exploring Computational Journalism class he was in at Stanford Fall quarter.
Embracing serendipity, I joined his team. We pitched the idea of personalized news as a contender for the Lean LaunchPad course led by Steve Blank, Jeff Epstein, George John and Steve Weinstein, and were accepted. Looks like my time management skills will be improving 10-fold as Titus and I will be spending a lot of time together. Ten short weeks seem too tight to build a startup, but I’m sure we’ll maximize every bit of time we have.
On taking a knee
After finding my voice, and a newfound respect for time, I decided it was time to make a bold move in my personal happiness.
On bended knee, in view of Stanford’s iconic Hoover Tower, I proposed marriage to my sweetheart Manafoh Moiwa — and she said yes! Soon after, my fellowship cohort celebrated our engagement by raising a glass to our happiness. That proposal marks the beginning of the life we have been eager to begin together.
Manafoh is enjoying her time here, too, as she crafts her own Stanford experience. She took a course on photography. She took a swimming class — for the first time. And she completed a study of pregnant teens and teenage mothers in rural Sierra Leone that’s turning into a larger project. We’ve coached each other to be our best selves ever since we arrived together at Stanford.
While “taking a knee” has a social justice meaning today, it also signals slowing down the game to get on the same page. For me and Manafoh, we are pleased to be taking a meaningful pause as we focus on our passion projects as we’ve never had the chance to do before.
I went to Grambling, a small state college in Louisiana without a lot of resources, and considered myself an underdog as I pursued my journalism career. Fortunately, some people recognized my potential if not my polish and took interest in me. That makes me pretty fortunate. I had people like the late Sun-Sentinel newspaper recruiter Kathy Pellegrino to thank for giving me a chance.
Many people like me are less fortunate. A rough financial patch, the lack of a mentor, or a negative experience in a newsroom could derail the career of those in more fragile circumstances. It is urgent that we find solutions to challenges faced by journalists of color, who offer a much-needed perspective but remain a minority in newsrooms in the U.S. These journalists, who are seeking careers in digital media, need support and the right skills to achieve success, both in newsrooms and in launching startups.
Recently, I took a trip to Far Rockaway, New York, as part of OpenNews’ first leadership convening. The session focused on inclusion and explored ways that newsrooms are failing to connect to marginalized communities. The trip confirmed the challenge faced by many journalists of color, especially those just starting out. I met with a group of aspiring journalists who produce a community magazine called the Rockaway Advocate, reporting on issues that often go unreported. It is produced by students and young adults who live in the community.
When asked what they need, what I heard is this: Mentoring. Money. Opportunities to shine. People to believe in them and see their potential.
Developing and empowering journalists at the Rockaway Advocate — and many journalists of color working in small news organizations just like them — would tap a huge unrealized potential, and could just possibly be one of journalism’s biggest opportunities.
The gift of repair
You would think being awarded a fellowship at Stanford, we’d leave our insecurities behind, but I brought mine. To be honest, they’ve been with me everywhere I go. Stanford was no exception.
Lucky for me, I have an incredibly supportive fellowship class, wonderful advisors, and amazing mentors. Add the sprawling Stanford campus complete with more resources than I can count, and it is crystal clear: This is a gift.
Mark Glaser, founder and executive director of MediaShift, spoke with our fellowship class recently. During his talk, he asked us each for a word to summarize how we were feeling. One by one, we went around the room, saying aloud a word that captured the moment for us. For me, the word that came to mind was “transformed.” While that’s true, I’ve found another word: restored.
Hearing myself saying it was especially good. It means I’m ready to tackle the next big thing.