My Black History: An opportunity to do some good

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’

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.

Women in Media
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’

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?

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

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

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

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