By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Like many of her peers, for Ila Wilborn, the best part of the General Motors’ and National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) Discover the Unexpected (DTU) Program was the opportunity to gain genuine experience while working in a professional news organization.
Wilburn is currently a graduating broadcast journalism student at Florida A&M University and an anchor for the award-winning FAMU-TV. However, she spent the summer of 2018 as a DTU Fellow at the New Journal and Guide in Norfolk, Va., an NNPA member media company.
“I was able to work closely with media professionals and see their daily steps to success,” said Wilborn, who drove a white 2018 Chevrolet Equinox as part of the fellowship.
“I was placed in uncomfortable situations, which forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and grow as a journalist,” she said.
“I believe that myself and the other fellows were benefitted because our work has been published online and in newspapers across the country and I can now search my name on Google and see the work that I’ve created or contributed to,” Wilborn said.
Each year since 2016, General Motors’ Chevrolet brand has partnered with the NNPA, a trade association that represents more than 200 African American-owned media companies across the country. The Discover the Unexpected Journalism Fellowship provides a $10,000 scholarship, $7,500 stipend and the road trip of a lifetime to between six and eight students selected for the honor.
This year the trip will take place in the all-new Chevy Blazer.
In addition to the cash and access to an amazing car, selected full-time sophomores, juniors and seniors attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who are at least 18-years old, will also experience exciting challenges while discovering and documenting inspirational stories about the African American community.
Using NNPA’s professional resources and traveling in the latest Chevrolet — fully loaded with features and innovative technology, DTU Fellows have shared stories, shattered perceptions and jump-started journalism careers. The alumni from DTU’s 2016, 2017 and 2018 Fellowships have proven an encouragement for all to Discover the Unexpected.
Alexa Imani Spencer, who founded the first student-chapter of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting at Howard University, drove an all-new Chevrolet Equinox for one month as a 2017 DTU Fellow working with the Washington Informer in Washington, DC.
Spencer said she was honored to work for the historic black newspaper and benefitted greatly from the experience.
“In the same objective as the ancient scribal practice of writing on walls in Ancient Egypt, or Kemet, we ensured that the African experience in America would be chronicled precisely as it was lived,” Spencer said.
“As Fellows, we had not worry about transportation, funds for housing, food and other living expenses. We were well taken care of and the program took full consideration of our needs in a way that other programs that do not acknowledge the disparities of African-American students may not,” she said.
The DTU Fellowship was an unforgettable experience and like no other, Spencer continued.
“To have such an immersive learning experience with media professionals is something that I will forever be grateful for.
“I learned photography, videography, editing and on-camera interview skills from this fellowship and have been able to master my craft,” she said, adding that it’s her belief that the experience will help her in the future in part because of the lifetime connections she’s made with media and corporate professionals.
As one of the first Fellows in the program in 2016, Briahnna Brown drove a 2016 Chevy Malibu during her assignments with the Chicago Defender.
A Howard University Graduate and current staff writer at GW Today, Brown also said she enjoyed her experience in which she experienced live-reporting through social media both in Chicago and in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention.
“I think it helped me to get social media reporting experience,” Brown said.
“I also loved traveling with the program because it exposed me to new experiences such as covering a NASCAR initiative in Indianapolis.”
A senior at Howard University who’s majoring in Media, Journalism, and Film Communications with a concentration in journalism and a minor in Spanish, and a budding communications professional and strategist, 2018 DTU Fellow Daja Henry said she enjoyed both driving the supplied 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and working at the Atlanta Voice and The New Journal and Guide.
“I had a lot of autonomy in choosing and writing stories,” Henry said, noting that she covered various stories in places like Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and Norfolk, Va.
During her fellowship, Henry also gained other experience including serving as a director and producer on a documentary.
“DTU was an amazing experience for me because it solidified my beliefs in the importance of the Black Press and self-determination,” Henry said.
“The Program exposed me to so many new places and people, which in turn, expanded my mindset tremendously. The program allowed me to do exactly what the name says – Discover the Unexpected,” she said.
Perhaps speaking for each of the Fellows, Spencer said she believes it’s absolutely necessary that the younger generations are aware and engaged with the DTU program and the Black Press.
“We are next up,” she said.
“This is an extension of the call-to-action put forth by NNPA to today’s youth: I urge you to pay attention to the Black Press,” Spencer said.
“Learn the history and invest in preserving and contributing to it. In order to be self-determined, we must speak for ourselves,” she said.
IN MEMORIAM: Cheryl Hickmon: National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dies
NNPA NEWSWIRE — THE BURTON WIRE — Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s death which reads as follows, in part: “It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.
By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor
The nation is mourning the passing of Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority. Hickmon was elected president of the organization dedicated to sisterhood, scholarship and service November 21, 2021 at the 55th national convention held in Atlanta, GA.
Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s death which reads as follows:
“It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.
President Hickmon was a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, region, and national level before being elected National President. She is remembered not only for her role as a leader but for being a colleague, friend, and most of all, sister.
The entire sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of President Hickmon. During this difficult time, we ask that you respect her family’s privacy and keep them in your prayers.”
Hickmon’s bio reads, “Cheryl lives her life by the motto … ‘Don’t measure life by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away.’” She was 60.
Parents Raise the Alarm About Violence in Schools, Say Their Votes Depends on Improvement
NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
A new poll revealed that parents continue to express “legitimate concerns” about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources.
Alarmingly, the poll released by the National Parents Union found that 59 percent of parents are very or extremely concerned about how schools are teaching race and diversity.
“Many Black parents are worried that schools are being harsher on students of color compared to white students,” researchers noted in the poll.
The National Parents Union counts as a network of parent organizations and grassroots activists committed to improving the quality of life for children and families in the United States.
Conducted from November 19 to November 23, the survey included 1,233 parents who also count as registered voters.
Researchers found that 84 percent of parents are concerned about how schools address the threat of violence, and 59 percent identified increased bullying or violence in school as a significant issue.
About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.
“Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
“Now, it is incumbent on schools to do something about these issues, especially given the federal funds available. It’s not rocket science. Rather than repaint a football field, first, make sure that there are enough counselors to help students cope with mental health issues,” Rodrigues asserted.
The poll also asked the parents who responded that they were concerned about the threat of violence, which worries them the most.
The top three most pressing concerns remain:
- 44 percent: schools not having enough counselors, psychologists, or social workers to work with students
- 42 percent: schools not having resources to keep weapons out of schools
- 39 percent: schools not having school resource officers or police accessible on campus
- 59 percent of parents are extremely or very concerned about how schools are teaching about race and diversity; Among Black parents, 69 percent share this sentiment, which drops slightly to 67 percent among Hispanic parents.
Of the overall number of parents who are at least somewhat concerned (79 percent):
- 48 percent say what concerns them the most is schools are not teaching accurate information about the issue of race.
- 42 percent are most concerned about schools pushing a progressive agenda onto students
- 56 percent of GOP parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
- 32 percent are most concerned that schools aren’t focused on the issue enough
- 46 percent of Black parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
- 78 percent of parents are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues
- Nearly half (46 percent) of Black parents who said they are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues are worried that schools are harsher on students of color compared to white students
- 38 percent of parents trust Democrats to do a better job of handling education; 31 percent trust Republicans; 14 percent trust both equally; 11 percent trust neither
Among parents who identify as Independents, 28 percent trust Republicans and 20 percent trust Democrats.
“These findings underscore the importance of the very thing we have been imploring school leaders across the country to do – listen to the parents in your community,” Rodrigues stated.
“It also reinforces the need for those running for office to take the concerns of parents very seriously or risk losing elections.”
COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive
We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.
Let’s Talk Black Education
By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School
When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.
We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.
As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.
“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.
Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.
I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.
The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.
Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.
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