By Vanessa Wright
From the moment I walked into my first journalism class three years ago, I knew journalism was a competitive and cutthroat industry that made the phrase “survival of the fittest” sound like child’s play.
As a sports fan, with plans to pursue a career in sports broadcasting, I’m constantly thinking about how my position as a Black woman in this world will affect my opportunities and experiences.
This realization held more weight when considering that there’s few Black female sports journalists in the industry.
I realized I wasn’t receiving fair and accurate advice about what to really expect in my journey into the industry. In my journalism classes, professors would try and get students excited for the future by bringing in alumni to tell stories about their seamless transition into the industry. But many of these alumni, who were mostly white, would brag about the relatively “easy” process that granted them their ticket to holding prestigious positions at award-winning publications. It would usually begin with an arbitrary connection they formed with an editor, producer or manager, then end with “they liked me, so I stayed.”
My Black classmate and I would always exchange a look in those moments because we knew that wasn’t the case for most Black students going into the industry. While we believed it’d take a connection or two to get a foot in the door, we knew it would take a lot more than that to make it inside the door.
We never subscribed to the idea that it was “easy.”
After all, Black students often find themselves being the exception to the rule, an anomaly, forced to find ways to stand out in order to attract professionals and opportunities.
Still, Meghan McPeak, Perdita Felicien and so many more confirmed a path to success.
So, I decided to ask those women about their experiences both in and outside the industry.
“Somewhere, there’s a little Black girl who will see what you are doing and think to herself ‘I want to be like her’”
I had the amazing opportunity to hear from Meghan McPeak, a WNBA play-by-play broadcaster for the Washington Mystics, who took part in the all-female broadcast for the TSN Toronto Raptors telecast on March 24.
McPeak gave me the inside scoop on her journey to becoming a force in basketball media. She taught me the importance of being prideful and unashamed of the success you’ve earned.
“People can’t appreciate what they don’t see, so I will put myself in front of them so they can see and not think twice about it,” said McPeak.
She said the bigger picture is not just about excelling for yourself, but for the people who come after you. That’s where her motivation lies.
“Somewhere, there’s a little Black girl who will see what you are doing and think to herself ‘I want to be like her,’” said McPeak.
“Someone will give you that opportunity. It just depends how long you’re willing to wait and how patient you’re willing to be”
I was practically shaking with excitement during my first conversation with Perdita Felicien, a two-time Olympian and renowned Canadian hurdler.
She told me she broke into journalism after receiving a phone call from CBC, asking her to join a broadcast covering the Olympics.
Motivated to kickstart her new career, she went to broadcast school at Seneca College explaining that she wanted people to take her seriously.
Felicien, who has since worked as a multimedia journalist for CHCH TV, Global News’ The Morning Show and Toronto radio station NEWSTALK 1010, said her love for broadcasting pushed her to constantly strive for bigger, more challenging roles.
“If it wasn’t for that experience…I wouldn’t know that I love the camera. I wouldn’t know I love broadcasting,” said Felicien.
She’s currently the host of the reality show All-Round Champion—a show where young athletes compete in various sport challenges—while getting set to launch her first book, My Mother’s Daughter at the end of March. Felicien described her highly anticipated book as a love letter to her mother and women in her family.
Felicien’s secret to success is knowing when to be patient and knowing when to push.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, ‘I can host, I want to host, I need to host,’” said Felicien. “I kept pushing back and pushing back.”
She confided that persistence is required to let those around you know you’re capable, determined and willing. It gives you strength and motivation.
Executing patience is a lot harder, yet just as necessary.
“Someone will bring you to the dance,” said Felicien. “Someone will give you that opportunity. It just depends how long you’re willing to wait and how patient you’re willing to be.”
“There’s so many avenues for you to be great. You’re going to fail at something, but you’re going to excel in many different avenues”
A prominent figure that knows a lot about trailblazing is Tabia Charles-Collins, a Canadian long jump Olympian.
Hearing her story about how she worked her way through corporate Canada, to becoming the owner of her clothing brand “Anisah by Tabia Charles,” is inspiring in its own right.
While Charles-Collins isn’t in the journalism industry, she had some of the most insightful advice to share with me about navigating through the workforce and life as a Black woman.
She detailed a time in her life where she felt as though she needed to fit in and assimilate to be validated.
“I felt like I had to go along, I had to talk a certain way and laugh at certain jokes,” said Charles-Collins. “I was like, ‘I’m the only Black person, let me just be a chameleon and go along with all that.’”
This is known as code-switching: the pressure many racialized folks face to adjust their voice and tone in professional or social settings to be accepted.
While I applauded in agreement, she followed up by saying that at the end of the day, she pushed through by welcoming things that felt uncomfortable. She was honest with herself about how vital it is to go through the motions of hardship.
“I realized, in life, there’s so many avenues for you to be great. You’re going to fail at something, but you’re going to excel in many different avenues,” said Charles-Collins.
My main takeaway was to be as committed to learning from failures, as I was to receiving success.
Each of these women encouraged, challenged and inspired me to think about my journey as a Black woman venturing into sports journalism. I left these interviews knowing I was more than capable to carve out a bright career for myself.
And one day, when I’m asked for help by another bold Black girl on the rise, I will do my part to pay it forward.