My Black History: A seat at the table

My Black History: A seat at the table

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“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. 

“I saw you on TV the other day, Sister Lloyd.” Sister is the title we use in the Baptist church to denote that we are all family in the eyes of God.

“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 and running the meeting 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 adorned with the newspaper’s last few days of front pages. He wanted me to know what he observed, perhaps to be convincing that he was really watching.

“Sister Lloyd,” he said, “you were in charge.”

I was Senior Editor/Days and Administration at the time. The innocuous title, not one of my choosing, nevertheless 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, then as a managing editor, and more than a decade of editing roles at The Washington Post and three other newspapers before that.

The  “Days” part of my title 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 gives one power and prestige, and a great deal of satisfaction comes to those who want that kind of responsibility. Here, briefly, are some of my own rules and responsibilities for those who sit at the table:

A mandate to speak up and speak out:  Sometimes young professionals — especially women — are shy about speaking up. But for those who have made it to the table, after years of hard work and recognition there must be some validity to the fact that they have much to contribute.

Research and  homework: When I joined the USA Today staff, I had to learn how to prepare for meetings, how to do thorough research so I was confident and prepared every time I walked into a meeting. Every mistake was a lesson and I was determined never to repeat bad actions.

Building a pipeline: Having a seat at the table gives one a platform to speak up on areas of coverage that are important to editors. It doesn’t mean editors ram certain stories into the newspaper, but, in my case, it gave me a chance to reinforce our editorial mandate that   stories and images should reflect our readership, taking us beyond covering stories of interest to white or male readers, but all readers no matter their race, gender, age, geographic location, topics of interest or political leanings.

On that Sunday morning in the hallway at Mt. Zion Church, it was as if the deacon was saying “Well-done, sister. You have a seat at the table. Now use it to do some good.”

Next: Diversity decisions


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