BIRMINGHAM, AL. — See you in Chicago. That is where next year’s National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) convention will be in 2024. This year’s convention, which wrapped up Sunday morning with the annual Gospel Brunch and NABJ Board of Directors Meeting, took place in the heart of Birmingham, Alabama and the result is I was wrong again.
I once thought that NABJ conventions were for everyone but me. I didn’t need to attend a convention with a massive job fair full of national organizations, hundreds of panels featuring professionals from all over the country, and in some cases the world, or be in the same place with thousands of Black journalists that look like me. My career started at Black newspapers in Atlanta — The Atlanta Voice and The Atlanta Daily World — in 2007 and I came up from reporting from the streets and the bleachers of BT Harvey Stadium and CAU Stadium in the Atlanta University Center. I covered the Atlanta Hawks for the past decade and Super Bowls, College Football National Championship games, NBA playoffs and major political campaigns. I didn’t need to attend NABJ.
Year after year I would find an excuse to not pay for a trip to Boston, Miami, Washington, D.C., and most recently Las Vegas. Even after my career advanced to the point where I worked for newspapers that could afford to send to conventions I didn’t see why I needed to go. Some of the advertising for conventions seemed to market towards student journalists looking to impress editors, publishers and recruiters. There were also dinners and award ceremonies and that surely isn’t my scene. I didn’t need to attend NABJ.
I was wrong. Keyword: WAS. I did need to attend NABJ and I plan to attend the convention every year going forward.
Upon arriving Friday morning I immediately ran into Kari Cobham who I had known for years, but primarily through Twitter. We hugged like old friends and that set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Time after time I would see people or be seen by people that I am associated with in some fashion and it was all love. There is no place on Earth that I would see these people at one time, in one room. Journalists like John Dorman, Marq Burnett, and Carron Phillips. We all have spoken by phone and been connected via social media for years, but in the case of Burnett and Dorman, have never met in person. Longtime friends like Crystal Edmonson and Eric Stirgus, both Atlanta-based journalists, were there too and it was great to see them. I hadn’t seen either of them in months.
Over the next two days I attended panels on education justice hosted by the National Education Association (NEA), SWAC football in the post-Deion Sanders era, local reporting that serves your community, and politics of reporting in war zones and natural disasters. The latter had two of my favorite reporters, Sara Sidner and Shaquille Brewster, talking about how they do what they do under extreme pressure. That panel also introduced me to Elvina Nawaguna, the special projects editor at Punchbowl News, an online news outlet. Nawaguna’s insights on covering breaking news, particularly regarding climate change, were brilliant. On making climate change stories more appealing to our readers, Nawaguna said, “Try to connect with where they are. Focus on the impact, focus on the community.” Sidner added, among many other things, “Try to engage on a human level,” while Brewster, who has reported from hurricanes in Florida and the midwest and seen everything that people own tossed away in violent manners, said, “Put yourself in their shoes.”
I believe I will be most impacted by the final panel I attended this weekend, “Recognizing the Elephant in the Room: Black Men in PR.” The panel took place at 1:30 p.m. (CT) on a Saturday afternoon and still managed to be packed. It was a pleasure to hear Ron Carter, CEO of The Carter Agency and Neil Foote, president and CEO of Foote Communications and associate dean at the University of North Texas. Both men shared so many stories of their personal journeys, and in the case of Foote, a longtime newspaper reporter at The Miami Herald, Washington Post and Dallas Morning News, inspired me to keep going as I work towards being a better editor. The drive from Atlanta would have been worth it just to attend that panel. There were so many gems mixed in the stories these men told.
On being a Black man in the public relations field, Carter said, “You have to love pr to be a part of it because you’re the first person to show up and the last to leave.”
Foote left me with a simple yet powerful note about the amount of effort put into being a journalist when he said, “Time is our treasure.”
I was wrong about NABJ and I will admit that. I needed to be in Birmingham this weekend. I needed to be around my fellow Black journalists, pr professionals, students, and the like. I’m glad I decided to attend.
See you in Chicago.