The colors of “Amazing Georgia”

Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 10.19.41 PMAs I work at slowing my pace in retirement years, one of my passions now is coloring. No, not with crayons like I did as a child, but with pencils or gel pens. The whole new trend of adults turning back to coloring is something many people in my Boomer generation may want to try as a way of restful calming on hectic days or addressing the creative spirit in our lives.

“Creative,” you ask? “Aren’t the pictures already drawn?” Of course they are, but it is still creative to pick out the colors and, hopefully, color within the lines.

When I left my last full-time professional role, the team at Savannah State University gave me a basket full of coloring books and pencils. I have now colored all of those books and I have purchased several more.

When I read about the publication of “Amazing Georgia: A Coloring Book Journey Through Our 159 Counties,” I immediately recognized it as a coloring book that might be appealing to adults and children. Fortunately, the Savannah Morning News published the feature story I offered them with my reflections of “Amazing Georgia.”

Here’s a link to my feature story.


 

The unveiling of my memoir review copy

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Click this link:  https://youtu.be/qFDKkK0mC3w

The day I unsealed the small white box that held the galley copy of my memoir, I was thankful I had the foresight to ask my husband to capture the moment. “That’s a moment you can never get back,” an author friend told me when she saw the video posted on social media.

Now that my memoir, Coming Full Circle: From Jim Crow to Journalism is actually beginning to look like a book, the several years of hard work is about to emerge as a fully developed writing project. I am not new to writing. I was a journalist, a newspaper writer and editor at seven daily newspapers over a span of more than four decades.

Now many people are asking me about my non-fiction writing journey. I plan to share some of my journey to help others reach their writing goals. (See tips below.)

Some who know of my work before this memoir are themselves interested in telling their own stories, whether their story is recovering from a serious illness, grieving the loss of a loved one, overcoming some kind of life-altering tragedy or chronicling a fabulous career despite the obstacles thrown in their way. In my case, the obstacles came early in life. As an African American who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s during the era of Jim Crow laws, my family and I were among those victimized by the systematic restrictions of substandard education, restricted job opportunities, ghettoized neighborhoods and social segregation in every aspect of our lives.

Yet, despite my early legally restricted start in life and seeing no role models who looked like the people in my circles of family and friends, I dared to become a newspaperwoman, someone who would grow up to tell stories. It was a career that began for me in high school and college as the top editor of my student publications. By the time I was ready for my first professional newsroom, I was scarred by the vestiges of Jim Crow – shy, introverted, fearful of having conversations across racial lines, and always watching my back to be sure it was okay to go to certain public places like parks, movie theaters, libraries and restaurants.

When I retired from daily newspapers as executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama’s capital city in 2013, many people asked me to share some of my life and career stories. Over those decades I had become a top editor in several newsrooms, founded and edited magazines, taught courses on university campuses, launched a program to teach journalism at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and I was a sought-after public speaker on topics of journalism, diversity and leadership.

I reached out to my author friend, the one who admired the recording of my memoir galley unveiling. Tina McElroy Ansa, herself a noted author of five novels and a journalist, was my freshman year roommate at Spelman College in Atlanta. As I approached retirement, Tina encouraged me to write a memoir. No, she did more than encourage me. As I say in the acknowledgements of my memoir, “Along the way of this book, she held my heart in her hands and gently led me through the process of writing, and she didn’t give up on me when life got in the way.”

And life did get in the way. Immediately after I retired from the newsroom I was invited to become the academic chair of the mass communications program at Savannah State University in my hometown. That was a good thing. But as a “new” person in town, I took on way too many volunteer leadership opportunities, which left me little time to think about the path toward writing the memoir. I had to learn how to say “no” to requests of my time. My husband encountered a debilitating disability that required me to become loving a caretaker. And a couple of surgeries slowed my physical steps but not my desire to write.

Yet, I managed to plunge forward and complete the manuscript that is now about to be presented to the universe of readers of non-fiction. In early 2020 my memoir will be in bookstores, and with the publication I look forward to invitations to talk about Coming Full Circle and my journey toward becoming a memoir writer.

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Here are some tips for memoir success, gleaned from my own experience.

  • Save everything! Devise your own system of filing away documents such as speeches, articles by you and about you, printed programs (even those from your early school years), report cards, family photographs, funeral programs, medical records, books about your writing topic, journals, awards and certificates, professional letters of commendation, military records and just about anything else that you can think of that might enhance your memory.
  • Save or download relevant online resources such as articles, videos, podcasts, etc., so you can review them later. Don’t expect that everything online will always be there or easy to find later.
  • The Internet can be a great tool for research, but remember to check every fact you find in at least three places to be sure your online sources are correct.
  • Join one of the several online ancestry sites so you can do research on your family’s history. Even if your memoir is only about you, it helps to learn more about your ancestral heritage to help you write about your own place in the world.
  • Read lots of books pertaining to your memoir’s topic. Also read well-received or popular memoirs to get the hang of the way others write their stories.
  • Use your public library to research articles that might have information and statistics to help put your own life and memoir topic into perspective.
  • Interview friends, family members, topic experts and others to get their perspectives about what happened on your journey. Sometimes what’s in your head might need help with developing a more accurate picture of your life experience.
  • Make an outline of your book, even though the outline may change later. This will help you focus on your topic and keep your memoir on target. Avoid the temptation to tell every single aspect of your life. Stay in the lane of your topic.
  • Find a safe zone for thinking and writing, a place where you will not only be productive but a space where you can safely store and reach for all of the documents you have saved.
  • If possible, join a group (face-to-face or by phone) of memoir writers, or just writers in general so you can bounce ideas and share resources and experiences.

 

‘If you ever get another newsroom, call me’

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Terry Manning

On August 9, 2019, the day I was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Hall of Fame, my friend and former colleague Terry Manning wrote perhaps the nicest and certainly the most extensive tribute about my career and our professional relationship. It is, of course, also a good piece of writing.

Terry is more than a colleague. He is a friend, someone who has supported me in several of my leadership roles, someone who took leaps of faith and accepted my invitation to work with me in three states, a news man who allowed me to stretch his skills and who never said no to the opportunities I put in his path. He has always had my back and, hopefully, I always had his.

On the morning of my NABJ induction, Terry posted this on Facebook. It is likely the longest Facebook post I have ever read, and it took me about three days to get through it (partly because I was busy at the NABJ conference and partly because his words were so emotional that each paragraph brought tears to my eyes).

If you ever have an opportunity to build a professional relationship like the one between Terry Manning and me, you will be one lucky person in life.

With his permission, here is Terry’s August 9, post:

“Soon after lunchtime today, the National Association of Black Journalists will welcome a special person into its Hall of Fame: Wanda S. Lloyd. She is a former boss of mine. A mentor. A counselor. My mother says she is my guardian angel (if so, she likely earned her wings putting up with my nonsense).

“I remember meeting Wanda in … wow, early 2000? She showed me around Greenville, South Carolina, while I was there interviewing for a job on the copy desk of their morning newspaper. I had already accepted a similar job at the Arizona Republic, but Gannett, the owner of the newspaper I worked for, ‘didn’t want to lose me’ (those were the days when newspapers actually said things like that.)

“Wanda took me out to dinner at a Thai place on Main Street. She was friendly, funny, smart — and she was black. Most of the ‘respectable’ black folks I had seen growing up were educators or preachers. Meeting Wanda was a revelation. She told me of working at USA Today and The Washington Post, but it was a while later before I learned she was at USA Today near the BEGINNING. That she was a pioneering black employee in the Washington Post newsroom. I’d worked for the Gannett paper in Pensacola, but I’d never had a black boss, and here was one right in front of me. I took the job.

“She was a good boss, easy to get along with and supportive of the careers of the paper’s black employees. She never coddled us, though. We had to produce. Newspapers don’t make themselves.

“When she announced a short while later that she was leaving, I walked into her office and said, ‘Well, Moses, what are your Israelite chilllun supposed to do NOW?’ But I couldn’t be upset with her. I’d seen the sideways glances exchanged between the other editors sometimes when she would ask questions during news meetings. There were times I struggled to keep from speaking in her defense, voicing my distaste at their smug superiority, even as she asked questions that others likely had but were afraid to voice. It irritated me. She never seemed to notice, but in time I learned that Wanda doesn’t miss much. Maybe that was just her grace in action, but that wasn’t why she was leaving.

“She was leaving because she had been offered a fantastic opportunity to lead the Diversity Institute at the Freedom Forum in Nashville, Tenn. The institute, on the campus of Vanderbilt University, was set up to help people of color on less-inspiring career paths transition into journalism jobs. When I visited once for a seminar, she gave me a private tour of the building, pointing out the training areas, the lecture rooms that would feature world-renowned experts, the multimedia technology she wanted to populate around the facility. It sounded like something out of The Jetsons, but it made clear to me that she was a person with a vision. A builder.

“Before I left I told her, ‘If you ever get another newsroom, call me.’ And she did.

“I worked for and with her in Montgomery. I learned a lot by watching her every day, handling penny-pinching bosses, irate readers, stubborn subordinates, and critics both internal and external. Everyone was given a fair hearing to express their views in her office. She seemed to embody the command, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ She was a real leader to the newsroom, and I watched her become a leader outside the newsroom as well.

“To my eyes, the black community in Montgomery seemed a little wary of her at first. Was she a token black editor sent to appease concerns about representation in that Southern city? Or was she ‘down?’? Was she a ‘REAL’ black woman who could appreciate the lives they lived and the challenges they faced? Did she know Montgomery’s conflicted history and was she respectful of it? Was she one of ‘them’ or was she one of ‘US?’ I can’t speak for Montgomery’s collective black community, but under her leadership the newspaper produced amazing coverage of the anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the death of Rosa Parks. She gave voice to local leadership in ways I’m not sure they had enjoyed previously. The ‘Voices of the Boycott’ package the newspaper created is still the best thing I ever worked on.

“But a few years later she left the newspaper business again; she was ‘retiring.’ I use quotes because I’m not sure I ever bought into the idea of someone so driven and productive as Wanda being able to retire completely, and because shortly thereafter she proved my skepticism was justified by announcing she had taken a position as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at Savannah State University. She called and asked if I wanted a job in the department, and I accepted.

“I got to see her do her thing in an entirely different realm. Academia is as strange and misunderstood to people who’ve never worked in it as I’m sure journalism would seem to most people. But Wanda Lloyd was still Wanda Lloyd. And she was a great chair. Inspirational, even.

“I know what Wanda has meant to me since I’ve known her, and I have learned she means that much and more to a lot of people who were or are still in journalism and even people outside the field: A champion of diversity of all types. An advocate for excellence in all things. A standard setter. A role model.

“To me, she is a friend.

“And I couldn’t be happier as today my friend is being inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.”

 

 

 

Justice, redemption: My letter to the editor

Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 11.55.49 AMAfter all the years of being “the editor” of a local newspaper, it is a thrill to have one of my letters published by my local newspaper, the Savannah Morning News. Here’s the link.

 

https://www.savannahnow.com/opinion/20190716/letters-to-editor-wednesday-justice-redemption-for-local-lynching-victims

 

My Women’s History: ‘How did you get here?’

This is my final weekly blog post related to Women’s History Month. The posts have been  about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

At the Providence (RI) Evening Bulletin, in my first newsroom job there were two professional women journalists — the religion reporter and me, a copy editor. There were women in what we called the dictation pool, a group of fast-typing ladies who worked on manual typewriters with telephone receivers that had shoulder rests attached to reduce neck strain leaning to the left or to the right to take calls. 

Even the pool of what we called back then “copy boys” had no women in the mix. Copy boys were young, mostly under the age of 21. They were there to “rip” copy off the wire machines, run stories from one news desk to another, and frankly, a couple of times a day they would walk through the newsroom to  take orders and our money for coffee and snacks. 

Having women working in the newsroom in Providence must have been an afterthought because a ladies restroom was retrofitted from a closet in the newsroom’s “morgue” or library down the hall on the floor where we worked. On my first day working in Providence, I was handed a key to the ladies room. It was a space so small that we kept the door locked for privacy when someone was in there.

One day one of the dictationists used her key and came in as I was standing at the sink washing my hands. She struck up a conversation.

“How did you get here?” she asked me.

I was puzzled and looked at the door, not wanting to believe she wondered if I came through the same single restroom door she had just entered.

She asked again. “Where did you come from before you came to the newspaper?”

She explained to me that the ladies in the dictation pool were discussing the oddity of this young black and female copy editor, something they had never imagined for the newspaper’s staff. Remember, this was 1970. We had just emerged from the tumultuous decade of the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement. Almost every newsroom in the nation was staffed  just like Providence, mostly white and male. The women’s movement had not yet come to newsrooms.

“Oh, you want to know how I got this job,” I responded.

“I am an intern,” I told her, going on to explain that I was a college student taking journalism classes, that I had studied journalism since I was in high school, was editor of my high school newspaper, had worked on my college newspaper and would be returning to be the editor of the Spelman Spotlight at Spelman College at the end of the summer.

“An organization (the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund) chose me for this internship,” I told her. “They sent me to Temple University in Philadelphia for a crash course in copy editing for three weeks this summer, and they assigned me here to work for the rest of the summer.”

“Oh, you are in college,” was her response.

During our quick conversation I learned that she, nor any of the ladies in the dictation pool, had gone to college. They had not fathomed that a person who is black and female would have the opportunity to get a college education. She actually told me that. That may have been the first time I realized what a unique opportunity I had to become a journalist at the beginning of the 1970s decade.

 

My Women’s History: ‘Time passes, but will you?’

In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

Our black teachers in segregated schools gave us life lessons with no apologies. Their instruction went way beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. They went beyond what we learned in books as they grounded us in culture and moral values, and sometimes they steeled us for challenges we might have as young African Americans in an era when, referred to as Negroes and colored, we were clearly considered to be second-class citizens outside the protection of our own schools or homes.

remington standard typewriter in greyscale photography

At Alfred Ely Beach High School female teachers would pull girls aside as they observed our changing bodies and let us know that “respectable” young ladies must wear the right kind of undergarments, so as to reduce the jiggles that might entice certain reactions from boys. I’m certain boys got life lessons from male teachers.

We were taught that those who sat closest to the front of the classroom had the best opportunity to learn. Today when I attend meetings or professional workshops, I still make it a habit to find a seat near the front of the room, or close to the leader of the meeting so I can see and hear well and be recognized first when I have suggestions or questions. We were also taught to be patient, to sit still and take in the entire lesson each day, instead of fidgeting or packing up 45 minutes into a one-hour class.

Stella Reeves, who taught social studies, was one of the strictest teachers in our school. I unsuccessfully tried to avoid taking her classes, because I saw her as too demanding. She kept a sign posted under the analog school clock (you know, the ones millennials and children don’t know how to read because they’re  all about digital). The sign read: “Time passes, but will you?” It was a reminder that watching the clock was not the best habit for those of us who expected good grades.

Being a good learner means being an engaged learner. In my older years, I find myself quoting Mrs. Reeves’ clock message as I counsel young people who don’t seem to value time the way we were taught.

Next week: “How did you get here?”

My Women’s History: Meeting a higher standard

In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

Saturday afternoon shopping during the 1950s and 1960s with my grandmother on Broughton Street, Savannah’s main downtown thoroughfare, was always a treat for me. Oper Lee Walker was a study in sartorial excellence. She was an outstanding seamstress and she made all of her dress-up clothes. She made most of my clothes, too.

“When we go downtown you have to look your best,” she would tell me. “We don’t want the white folks to think the Walkers don’t know how to carry ourselves.”

Her “carry ourselves” comment was a broad term for how to dress, act, smell, speak and any other behavior that she thought white people might find offensive. I sometimes challenged my grandmother, asking how she knew how white people think, but I would come to know that she was a student of behavior on both sides — white and black. She was protecting me from potential hurt, and all I had to do was look, listen and learn from her.  

She reminded me that as a black woman, I would have to always “be better” — that is, make better grades in school, look better, think better, jump higher, wear good-looking clothes, and sit up or walk straighter than other people.

“Bring attention to yourself for good reasons,” she would tell me.

The expectation from my village to be better never left me when I left home for college, and then went into the work world. It took me a long time to know exactly what “better” meant as compared to white people, but I always knew I  had to strive to meet a higher standard.

Next week: “Time passes, but will you?”

My Women’s History: Eye contact and firm handshakes

In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

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My mother, Gloria Walker, in her retirement years.

 

My mother, Gloria Walker, began her career working in retail sales at Camp Stewart (later Fort Stewart), a Georgia military base about an hour from Savannah. Camp Stewart was established in 1940 as an anti-aircraft artillery training center. 

Somehow she must have survived what must have been a mass layoff of employees after the war. She  transferred to Fort Dix in New Jersey. I was left behind with my grandmother in Savannah.

Gloria’s professional story is one of a meteoric rise through the ranks of retail sales and merchandising. After Fort Dix, her next step was to New York City to work in the headquarters of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). With the ultimate  title of senior executive buyer, she was one of very few African American women executives in AAFES. 

Gloria’s categories of buying ranged from automobile parts and accessories, women’s apparel, luggage to watches. But the area she most enjoyed was as a toy buyer. She often regaled  me with stories of traveling  on buying trips to toy company headquarters and factories. One year she flew me to New York and managed to slip me onto the toy fair floor with her credentials. She wanted me to see how she worked such a large and important event with thousands of people buying and selling toys, going from station to station introducing herself, shaking hands, asking questions and making appointments for future discussions with those companies that had products she would ultimately consider for her PX buys.

These were lessons I would carry with me throughout my work life as I made my own way through professional and personal relationships. Firm handshakes, looking people in the eye, doing enough homework in advance to ask the right questions. My mother never had to tell me how to do these things. Yet she constantly showed me how she did them.

Next week: Meeting a higher standard

My Black History: Lady Bird Johnson and my grandmother’s mirror

Throughout February 2019, I posted brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.” This is my final post for the month.

My membership in the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and my advocacy for media diversity opened a lot of doors for me. Working on committees and networking with other top editors led to me serve as a juror for the Pulitzer Prize four times, membership on the Accrediting Committee of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), appearing a few times on CNN’s Reliable Sources and co-editing  a book on women in journalism.

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My grandmother’s silver mirror

I was elected to the board of ASNE, which afforded me the opportunity to travel to places like Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sarasota, Florida,  Portland, Oregon, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, for board meetings.

A trip to Austin in 2000 was one of my favorite because ASNE President Rich Oppel, then editor of the Austin-American Statesman, took the board members, committee chairs, our spouses and guests on a bus to the LBJ Ranch, the national historic park in Stonewall, Texas. The ranch was where President Lyndon B. Johnson was born, lived, died and is buried. The president and Lady Bird Johnson donated their private home to the National Park Service but retained lifetime rights to use the home. After President Johnson’s death in 1973, Mrs. Johnson continued to live on the ranch until her death in 2007, when  the property was prepared for public use.

On the day we visited, the first lady’s staff hosted the ASNE group and our guests with a tour of the ranch house and grounds. Then we went for a cookout on the property on the banks of the Pedernales River, where LBJ spent a lot of his boyhood time. My husband and I were seated next to Mrs. Johnson, by that time sight impaired but still with a very sharp mind and a keen memory of her past.

On our tour inside the Johnsons’ house, something most visitors to the ranch don’t get to do, we were able to see that nothing much had changed. It was a modest home with dated furnishings. I even got to see a rotary dial red phone,  the one presidents allegedly use for only the most important and secure calls. I had learned about these red phones in school and I was pleased to know the phones are actually red. 

But it was in Mrs. Johnson’s bedroom that something really caught my eye. I spotted a sterling silver hand mirror on first lady’s dressing table.

“What’s the story with this mirror?” I asked our guide. The embellished heavy silver mirror was exactly like the one my grandmother used every day of her life. I used to watch her as she styled her hair and then she would hold up the mirror and turn around in front of her own dresser mirror to check the back of her head. 

“I’m not sure,” the guide said. “But if you leave your business card with me I can find out and let you know more about the mirror.”

When our group finally went outside and I had a chance to talk to Mrs. Johnson,  I asked her about the silver mirror.

“Oh, I remember where I got it,” she said. “It was a gift from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek,” wife of the former president of the Republic of China.

She sent it to me as a gift” after a visit.

Finally, I had some perspective on my grandmother’s mirror, which I still use to this day.

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Wanda Lloyd standing in the shade over Lady Bird Johnson, seated with white hair, on the day editors visited the LBJ Ranch.

My Black History: Social probation

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

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Back in the day, Morehouse Hall had two entrances, with steps from both porches. Morehouse North, my dorm, was the left side of the building.

In Savannah my Spelman College village influence drove some of the rules for me at home. Wearing a dress or skirt, never pants, was de rigueur, required because at the time, Spelman women never wore pants or super casual clothes away from home. Spelman women were good writers, appreciative of the arts and culture, spoke in a gentle southern voice, but learned to effectively communicate to show how well-prepared they were to become leaders.  These were traits that governed my childhood, and prepared me to become a Spelman woman.

“We had to dress up with hats and gloves, stockings and leather shoes every time we left the campus,” Aunt Catherine, who graduated from Spelman in 1936  would tell me, even for a shopping trip to Rich’s downtown on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street. It was as if Spelman women were in uniform, wearing modestly fitting dresses and perfectly prepped for suitable off-campus presentation.  When I enrolled at Spelman in 1967, we could not wear pants until after 7:00 pm, and they were only to be worn on campus, never at the all-male Morehouse or co-ed Clark colleges across the street. At night when we could “take company” with a young man in the dormitory lounge, we could not wear pants in my freshman year.

Our 10:30 pm weekday/11:30 pm weekend curfews were strict. Violation of curfew resulted in punishment of social probation, a verdict meted out by women we called dorm mothers. 

As freshmen we were not allowed to ride in cars except with close family members, unless our parents placed a letter on file giving a family friend permission to fetch us for dinner or some social event. Our normal mode of transportation was walking  or public buses.

One day some high school friends from Savannah drove to Atlanta because our high school basketball team was playing in the state AAA championship game. I had the audacity to walk off campus and meet friends who were in a car. No permission from home, I just got in and went to the arena. Our team won the game. But on the way back to campus we had some kind of car breakdown and I missed curfew. I was placed on social probation for two weeks.

Next: Lady Bird Johnson and my grandmother’s mirror

My Black History: An opportunity to do some good

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

On the day the deacon stopped me in the hallway at Mt. Zion Church, I could see the pride in his eyes, which made me think about what he had just described. It warmed my heart that he was proud for me. No matter how much I hear from colleagues and friends of other races who praise me for my accomplishments, it means so much more to get that kind of validation from one of my own people, the kind of validation this deacon was offering up to me that Sunday morning. I appreciate validation from people who may have walked my journey, lived a life similar to mine, suffered oppression and the indignities of civil wrongs — and overcame.

On that day at Mt. Zion, I represented members of my extended family who pushed me beyond the expected reality for a black girl who grew up during the era of Jim Crow, the teachers in my segregated high school in Savannah who challenged me beyond the resources we had been given, members of Second African Baptist Church who taught me Bible stories in Sunday School and expected me to memorize and flawlessly recite Easter speeches as my first lessons in public speaking.

I represented the neighbor ladies who told stories on the front porch of my grandmother’s house while swatting flies,  fanning the summer heat and drinking freshly squeezed, ice-cold lemonade out of Mason Jars, who encouraged me to make good grades and who scrutinized my report cards. I represented the legacy of Spelman College in Atlanta, an institution that gave leadership opportunities to generations of African American women, including two generations of women in my own family before me.

“You’ll be great, baby,” they would tell me, building my confidence along the way. That was my validation then, and on that Sunday in the church hallway in Arlington, it was as if the deacon was saying “Well-done. You have a seat at the table. Now use it to do some good.”

Next: Social Probation

My Black History: ‘Negro girls don’t work for newspapers’

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

I remember the day I told my family I wanted to become a journalist. I was in the 11th grade, living in a city not necessarily known for outstanding accomplishments in journalism at the time — in the mid 1960s. As an African American growing up in the segregated South, I don’t recall the name of a single woman who worked for our local daily newspapers or television stations.

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Lecturing “Women in Media” class at Savannah State University

One may assume women were working behind the scenes, but none, as I recall had bylines or on-air television news presence in Savannah. I’m sure there were no African Americans until my friend, Harold Jackson, a student at Savannah State College, landed an internship at the Savannah Morning News and later became the newspaper’s first full-time African American reporter.

So there I was, standing in the family kitchen announcing to my grandmother and anybody else who would listen that I wanted to work for a daily newspaper. My grandmother, a professional woman who ran her own business, asked me how I thought I would accomplish this goal, because, she said, “Negro girls don’t work for newspapers.”

Good point, but I was either too naive or too obstinate to think I could not overcome those odds.

My grandmother’s advice was this.

“Just take some education classes so you’ll have something to fall back on. Then you can always get a job as a teacher,” like the noble career of other women in our family.

I rejected my grandmother’s suggestion. I was determined to head down a different path. My path took me to newspaper journalism, but with a few detours as an educator along the way. In the long run, I guess my grandmother knew best.

Next: An opportunity to do some good

My Black History: ‘Sister Lloyd, you were IN charge’

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

“Ooooh-ooo-wee, Sister Lloyd!” a deacon said one Sunday morning as we were passing each other in the hallway near the office at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia. My husband and I had joined Mt. Zion a few years after we were married in 1975 and I moved to the Washington, DC, area where he was living, and where he had lots of family around.

“I saw you on TV the other day, Sister Lloyd.”

“Good morning, Deacon, what do you mean?” I slowed my walk through the hallway that was crowded with laughter, hugging and children racing about between Sunday School and the 11 am worship service.

“I saw you on C-SPAN sitting at the head of that big table at USA Today with aaaall those white folks around you.

The deacon went on to describe the conference room where the editors were working, an expansive table with seats for about 20 people, a wall of TV sets running different channels and another wall with newspaper front pages. He wanted me to know what he observed, perhaps to be convincing that he was really watching.

“Sister Lloyd, you were in charge.”

I was Senior Editor/Days and Administration at the time. The innocuous title, not one of my choosing, was nevertheless one that put me in a seat of influence at the newspaper, where I had rapidly shot up the newsroom ladder after joining the staff in 1986 as a deputy managing editor, and after many years in editing roles at The Washington Post and three other newspapers before that.

The “administration” part of my title gave me responsibility for oversight of the newsroom training and performance improvement, financial budgets, staff and internship recruiting, relationships with readers and journalism associations and just about anything else that came along as a short- or long-term project. The “days” part of my job meant I was in charge of planning each day’s newspaper from morning until evening, when other editors would take over the duties of what we call “getting the paper out the door.” I led two of the three daily news meetings and made sure potential Page One stories and photographs were well into the planning process for the coming days’ editions.

Occupying a seat at the table at USA Today gives editors the responsibility of sharing story ideas that might make it to the next day’s front page, or the front of other sections in the newspaper. There is no greater position for a newspaper reporter than to have his or her stories appear on page one.

The timing of the Sunday morning encounter with the deacon was in the early 1990s, when very few people of color — and certainly almost no women of color — were in positions of influence in mainstream media newsrooms,  not at newspapers and not in television news. Very few of us had seats at the table.

Next: “Negro girls don’t work for newspapers”

 

My Black History: Could life get any better?

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

In 2013, just as I was about to retire from Gannett and daily journalism, a call came from Crystal Williams Chancellor, director of communications for the Women’s Media Center based in Washington, DC. 

Here I was, just about at the end of my career in daily newspapers, thinking my professional life couldn’t get much better.

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Tent card designated my seat at the White House event

The Women’s Media Center was reviewing the report of a survey of the conditions of women in media, which “detailed persistent gender disparity in a range of media business(es) … that rank among the greatest influencers in society.” The Media Center’s goal was to provoke discussion and accountability for change, bringing more diverse options to media in content and staffing. According to the 2013 report, some of the key findings included:

  • It will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.
  • By a nearly 3 to 1 margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Men were also far more likely to be quoted than women. Ironically, that was also the case in typical women’s issues such as coverage of abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood and women’s rights.
  • On Sunday TV talk shows, only 25 percent of expert guests were female, leaving a dearth of voices and insight from women.

On the younger end of the gender media spectrum, the report cited that girls as young as age six are starting to see themselves as sex objects, based on a combination of media influence, a mother’s parenting and religion. Girls were already being objectified, making it difficult for women to overcome disparities in later years.

Crystal asked me to join a group of women who were leaders in media — newsrooms, film, advertising and public relations  — to attend the March 2013 forum of the White House Council on Women and Girls. This initiative was formed by an executive order of President Barack Obama in 2009 to establish a coordinated response to issues that impact the lives of women and girls and ensure that federal programs and policies address distinctive concerns for this population, including women of color and those with disabilities.

Crystal wanted to include me in this important discussion. The meeting would be led by Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama. 

Walking into the room I found the White House-branded tent card with my name and my seat at the table. (I still have that tent card, the only one I’ve ever saved.) I almost lost my breath when I saw who some of the other participants were.

 

My Black History: Learning to write well is first step to success

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

As a professor, many students I encountered were not good writers — not just journalistic writing but writing period. They had not benefited from the elementary and junior high school lessons we had on diagraming sentences, writing and orally presenting book reports, discussions that forced us to develop critical thinking skills or reading out loud in class.

remington standard typewriter in greyscale photography

 

The millennial generation seems to have gotten out of high school with poor reading and comprehension skills. And worst of all, they don’t seem to even care. Many of them don’t take notes in class lectures, they don’t read their textbooks — sometimes they don’t even buy the books — and they don’t care about missing homework or project deadlines.

Students who use the excuse of not having money to buy books must think we just stepped off a spaceship from Mars. I saw the wardrobes of $150 sneakers, the elaborate manicures and the expensive hairstyles they seem to pay for and change like the weather. The one or two times I encountered students who truly, I mean truly convinced me they could not afford to buy one of their textbooks,  I bought their books myself and let them use it on loan for the semester. If some of the students I encountered would put as much effort into being better students as they put into finding ways to avoid excelling, they would probably be on track to becoming millionaires — and offer me a job someday.

I hate seeing our young people not understand that learning how to write well, how to read obsessively and how to speak critically and with authority are the first steps toward success. I hate hearing students who are majoring in math or science say they don’t need to be well-read. Everybody needs to read, everybody needs to write well.

Next: Could life get any better?

My Black History: Diversity decisions

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.” In this post, I describe how our daughter, Shelby, reminded us that our lessons in diversity should apply to her when we moved our family to Greenville, SC.

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 Shelby was a standout basketball player at Mauldin High School

The years in Greenville, South Carolina, turned out to be the coming of age era for our daughter, Shelby. Unhappy with the lack of diversity at Christ Church Episcopal School, she asked and we agreed to let her transfer in 10th grade to the public Mauldin High School.

As a child who grew up in a family that valued the diversity around us, at first it was difficult for
Shelby to figure out where she belonged. Unlike at Brown Academy (in Alexandria,  Virginia), where the classes were homogeneous, and Christ Church, where she didn’t have a choice but to hang out with white students, at Mauldin she didn’t really fit in at first.

I grew up only going to school with black students in the Jim Crow era of segregation. But in the 1990s at Mauldin, Shelby discovered that for the most part, black kids hung out with black kids and white kids with whites. At lunch time she had to  consider which group to try and sit with every day. As a society, for every step forward, it seems were were taking two steps back.

Ultimately, school activities of varsity basketball, chorus and the opportunity to travel internationally with her French teacher, Mrs. Robert, helped Shelby find her own place at Mauldin. When it was time for her to consider college I listened to her rationale when she told me she would not uphold the family tradition and become the fourth generation of women in our family to enroll at Spelman College.

“You raised me in this diverse lifestyle,” she told me.

Going to an HBCU was not her desire and eventually I came to accept her decision. She  was accepted early decision at Winthrop University, a small, diverse state school in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a bedroom community about 20 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. To appease me, I’m sure, she successfully maintained a good GPA and kept a South Carolina  lottery-funded tuition scholarship all four years.

Like Kenny Rogers sang in the song “The Gambler,” “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em,  know when to fold ’em.  Know when to walk away.”

Winthrop was Shelby’s hold ‘em, fold ‘em decision. It was a good educational and social experience for her and as a state-funded university, a good financial outcome for her parents.

Next: Learning to write well is first step to success

My Black History: Losing ground with diversity

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.” This is part of a story about the discontent among black journalists at The Washington Post. 

Eventually some of us started to share our concerns with management, including with editor Ben Bradlee. He was never one to take criticism well but he listened politely. One person he listened to was Milton Coleman, an African American who was a Metro reporter, city editor and then a reporter on the national news staff. Coleman had Bradlee’s admiration — and his ear.

In 1985, my last full year at The Washington Post, as the newspaper finally began to listen to voices of discontent, Coleman was asked to conduct a survey of all journalists in the newsroom, to gauge attitudes about affirmative action. The survey was a snapshot of employee opinions on a broad range of subjects. The underlying mission was to ascertain how African American journalists were faring, and perhaps to see if there were solutions for retaining talent.

The survey, conversations and a 15-page report were completed and submitted in February 1986. The survey team included three African Americans — Coleman,  Jeanne Fox-Alston and Eugene Robinson, and three white males — Robert Signer, Barry Sussman and Tom Wilkinson. These six were probably there as much for their areas of expertise in the newsroom as much as their races. For example, Fox-Alston, an African American, was the newsroom’s recruiter at the time; Sussman designed and conducted surveys and opinion polls for the newspaper.

There were some key takeaways in the report entitled:

BLACKS IN THE NEWSROOM OF THE WASHINGTON POST  

Where We Are; Where We Should Be, and How Are We going to Get There

A Report to the Editors of The Washington Post

The report described the newsroom as a place full of favoritism, cronyism and snobbery, a place where “edicts” dropped from on high along the lines of “so-and-so is going to Tokyo” as a correspondent, or “so-and-so is moving to work on the national desk to work in Texas, or Chicago, or Los Angeles. Some who responded to the survey asked “how is it that such things are decided?”

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On the Metro staff,  20 out of 102 (19.6 percent) were people of color, but once there, it was difficult for minorities to move to other teams across the newsroom, giving Metro the negative moniker as the newsroom’s “ghetto” for black reporters. It was difficult for black reporters to move across the room to work in sections like business, sports, features or national. Thus, many black reporters were ripe for picking by other big newspapers and The Post lost ground with diversity.

Next: A seat at the table

 

My Black History: A clash of cultures

Sometimes having a seat at the table can be a clash of cultures for working women who are raising families. It could mean having to make choices in life, choices between having power at work, power at home or no power. In my case, the choice was to have it all.

As the number of women in newsrooms was rising in the 1970s – 1990s, as newsroom managers we were feeling intense pressure about work-life balance. Many women working in newsrooms saw the need to prove that we were cut from the same cloth as men who rarely, it seemed, had a tinge of guilt about not seeing their families news day after news day, especially when big stories were breaking. At USA Today, according to stories I heard first hand from colleagues at the newspaper when I started working there, women were hired, being promoted and valued.

Even in 1982, USA Today’s launch year, there was little difference between the schedules kept by the hard-working men and the hard-working women who were managers and editors. Not that there should be much difference, but I heard from some men that they ultimately wished they had cut back on their hours instead of being the overworked and overwhelmed role models for women.

Over time I have heard women express angst about spending time with their babies, but I don’t think males in the newsroom would have recognized at the time that they should have stepped away from work to take part in raising their own children. It would take years for them to recognize their family shortfalls, and the impact their drive may have had on other women in the workplace.

Next: Losing ground with diversity

My Black History: A Spelman student in the Movement

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

As a freshman in the late 1960s, our world was changing from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement.  Before we arrived, Spelman students had a history of being active in local civil rights activities, sitting in at lunch counters, marching, protesting, picketing with signs,  organizing in SNCC and some of them going to jail for their bold stand for equality.

One student in the movement was writer Alice Walker, who attended Spelman in 1961-1963 and in 1965 graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Walker demonstrated and was arrested for her protests while she was a student at Spelman.IMG_2050

Years later, as a senior editor at USA Today I encountered Walker, author of The Color Purple, the 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning book later adapted into a film and musical. I was in the conference room running a news meeting when I looked up and through the glass wall I saw Walker standing in front of the reception desk having a conversation with Dixie Vereen, who then was the photo director for USA Weekend, a sister magazine publication in our company. Dixie had taken the Weekend cover photo of Walker some years before that, and when Walker came to visit, Dixie brought her to our suite of offices to see the huge framed and mounted picture that hung there.

Of course, as soon as I saw the two of them I excused myself from the meeting to go and meet our guest, to let her know I was a Spelman graduate, and to make sure she knew that Stacy Brown, the young lady working at the reception desk was also a Spelman graduate, someone I  hired right out of school to give her a start in the business world.

Some time after that, Dixie Vereen came to my house for a party or a dinner and she brought with her a smaller framed copy of the same photo of Alice Walker, who in the picture has her legs stretched out on a beautifully painted bench in front of a well-lit bay window. Decades later  the picture still hangs in my home.

Next: A clash of cultures

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