The Atlanta Association of Black Journalists (AABJ) honored many of the organization’s trailblazing reporters, producers and editors Saturday, Feb. 11. The monthly chapter meeting was used to celebrate the careers and efforts of people who shattered stereotypes and broke barriers at radio and television stations and newspapers in Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, Valdosta and other Georgia markets.
The Black history program, which began in 2018, had stopped taking place for a few years, but was resuscitated through efforts by longtime and founding members like Stan Washington, who said of having the event back after a few years, “I wanted to make the connection from the present to the past.”
The panelists that were invited to tell their stories were as follows: George Bryant, Phil Gee, Harold Lamar, Greg Morrison, Angela Robinson and Gwen Sommers-Redwine. All spent the early parts of their careers during the 70’s and 80’s when Atlanta was a fast-growing city and media market dominated at that time by white journalists.
WSB-TV Community Affairs Director Condace Pressley, herself a groundbreaking journalist during her time on air as the news director at WSB Radio. She had a word of advice for the capacity crowd inside a conference room at WSB’s Midtown headquarters. “Before you leave today, please meet someone you do not know, because all of us stand on the shoulders of the people in this room.”
Some of those examples of Black journalistic excellence were also joined by contemporaries in the crowd, such as former Newsweek Atlanta Bureau Chief Vernon Smith, former Atlanta Daily World publisher Alexis Scott and filmmaker Monty Ross, to name a few.
The AABJ was founded in 1976 and from its inception has been a place for Black reporters, photographers, editors, cameramen and women and newscasters to decompress and fellowship.
“I am very proud of the chapter because we have gone through some ups and downs but we’re still here,” Lamar said as he looked around the room. Lamar’s long radio career includes time in Vietnam on the Armed Forces Radio and TV Network. When he was announced by Pressley a large cheer filled the room.
Bryant added, “AABJ was so very important to me because we had a place, a forum that we could go to.” Bryant was one of the first Black reporters at FOX 5 (then known as WAGA TV).
Gwen Sommers-Redwine, a native of Valdosta, broke color barriers and sexist stereotypes as an on-air radio personality in Commerce, before landing at WAOK-AM in Atlanta. Her stint as CNN Headline News’ first Black anchor is the stuff of legend.
Sommers-Redwine talked of getting a chance in Atlanta because Miriam Richmond, another Black trailblazing producer, gave her a shot. “She took a chance on me and hired me, a single mother who was really struggling,” said Sommers-Redwine.
After sharing their personal and career stories, the panelists answered questions from the crowd. One of those questions was what was the best piece of advice they had received during their careers?
Angela Robinson, the Director of Operations for the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), was one of the trailblazers being given their flowers Saturday afternoon. An Atlanta native, Robinson spent time as an anchor for Atlanta’s NBA affiliate and CBS affiliate. She remembered the advice that helped carry her over an award-winning career. “You need to know who you are and to whom you are,” she said.
“Know your audience,” added Sommers-Redwine.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” said Braynt.
Gee, a photographer that has traveled the world as a freelancer for all of the major television networks, was one of the first Black men to work behind the camera for both FOX5 (WAGA-TV5) and CBS’ Atlanta bureau. His piece of advice was simple: “As a journalist I think it’s important to learn the history of who and where you are covering.”