When I think about how I got to where I am now at 23 and the opportunities my fellow 20-somethings may have missed, I think of how the National Association of Black Journalists pushed me to the front of the line. Then I finally got my break last December when I signed a contract to report, anchor and produce in Alpena, MI. And I graduated from Wayne State University that same month. What a blessing! I am still doing what I love six months later.
The flip side is that I have friends waiting for their first day on the job to swing open. Before my doors opened up I had to find the key.
I found that key at the 2017 NABJ Convention in New Orleans. Look, we already know what’s up. NABJ is not cheap. I was broke, paying rent out of state for an internship, and trying to get some professional experience. It was too late for me to get the discount rate for the convention or apply for scholarships. I either had to pay in full or stay home.
Those who had been to an NABJ Convention never stopped talking about how it changed their lives. I heard “you need to be there,” “That’s how I got a job,” “You’ll make life-long connections.” “The workshops teach you so much.” Well then, I’m going.
I called my mentor and told her my situation. She offered to pay for my registration, and I had to figure out where I’d stay and how I’d get there. And that’s where my generation fails. We’re afraid to make sacrifices.
NABJ showed me that my first college demo reel sucked. The news directors I met at the convention, from local TV stations to the network level, provided constructive feedback on my delivery, storytelling and videography. The workshops? Every panel discussion was worth every minute. I felt as if I were reconnecting with old friends talking about our struggles, successes and dreams. If anyone understood the hope I needed to get my foot in the door, it was the 3,000-plus storytellers at the convention who inspired me.
NABJ unlocked my confidence and filled me with resources I would not have otherwise. No professional organization compares to the week I re-live every day in my mind.
We cannot be afraid to make a sacrifice. I am scraping pennies heading into the 2018 NABJ Convention in Detroit. That’s my home! So I’m going regardless, knowing I and many others will be steered in the right directions. I took all the feedback I received in New Orleans and made a new demo reel. Look at me now. Off the record, NABJ is littttttttttttt!
If learning and hanging out is not enough to travel to the Motor City this summer, OK. Keep the key in your hands and stare at the lock.
Elijah Baker is a news anchor and reporter at WBKB-TV in Alpena, MI.