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Honorees at the 2019 PABJ Awards & Scholarship Gala. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.
Honorees at the 2019 PABJ Awards & Scholarship Gala. Photo: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News.

PABJ Awards 2019 recognizes black journalists making an impact

During the annual event, journalists were honored, students received scholarships, and the organization received a new grant that will go towards funding its…

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The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists serves as an important voice towards strengthening the voices of black journalists and journalists of color throughout the city. 

During the 2019 PABJ Awards on Nov. 2, that was the message echoed by speakers and participants throughout the evening.

“We believe, at PABJ, that communities of color are best served when we own the stories that are told for and about us. This is the work that we invest in, said Manuel McDonnell Smith, PABJ president.

Since its founding in 1973, PABJ, the largest and flagship chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, has served as a prominent advocate for newsroom diversity and fair coverage of communities of color. 

Each year at its annual award ceremony, PABJ recognizes and celebrates several local journalists of color who’ve made significant strides in the field of journalism while servicing their communities. The 2019 honorees were Michael Burch (Community Service Award); Aliya Z. Khabir (Media Professional Award); Eric Nzeribe (Trailblazer Award); Yvette Ousley (Impact Award); Mensah Dean (Journalist of the Year, Print); Cherri Gregg (Journalist of the Year, Broadcast/Online); Linda Wright Moore (President’s Award) and Vernon Odom (President’s Award). 

The community plays a critical role in the functioning of the media as a profession. 

“We are nothing as journalists without our communities who trust us enough to share their stories with us,” said Cherri Gregg. “And it’s why we work so hard to do them justice.”

With the goal of making sure communities of color are afforded the chance to feel empowered to tell their stories, several of the honorees have taken it upon themselves to pursue equality and representation not only through the mainstream media, but also through entrepreneurship.

For Michael Burch, after spending 20 years living outside the region he grew up in, he returned to the Parkside area of the city over a decade ago.

Upon his return, he noticed a need to help residents of the community become more informed about the happenings in the area. This idea sparked the Parkside Journal.

“The Parkside Journal started as a neighborhood newsletter,” said Burch. It was only two pages. 

It has since developed into a quarterly newspaper that is a product of the rich diversity that exists in the Parkside community and beyond. Approximately 8,000 copies are distributed with each edition produced. 

A big part of PABJ’s function is to provide media access for journalists. Aliyah Z. Khabir, who frequently attended these media access workshops was once called upon to fill a space within the workshop that had been missing.

“That’s where I fell into that expertise of being that access point to my community,” said Khabir.

As a Muslim woman, Zhabir has made it a point of emphasis to help other members of the Muslim community to own their stories and narratives.

“I helped for my community to have confidence in the journalists that they’re speaking to and with the journalists, I have earned their respect and confidence in linking them to the right resources,” she said. 

In 1992, Eric Nzeribe launched FunTimes Magazine in his home country of Liberia, to help the country heal from its civil war. It started as a 12-page pamphlet filled with comics, jokes and life stories.

Upon moving to the U.S., he restarted the magazine in Philadelphia and it is now a 100-page, full-color magazine. 

“Our work at FunTimes Magazine is very simple,” said Nzeribe. “We celebrate Africa and the diaspora, we showcase positive people and things in our community, and we provide a platform for diasporic conversation.” 

Beyond starting their own publications, the honorees have also made significant impact through the stories produced for mainstream, legacy media publications, as well. 

Yvette Ousley is the education and deputy news editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Mensah Dean is a reporter on the justice and injustice team at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Ousley is the only black content editor, while Dean is the only black male news reporter in the newsroom of more than 200 journalists. 

“That’s nothing to be proud of in the post-Obama era in a city that’s almost 50% black,” said Dean. “We should ask ourselves, ‘Why is that?’”

However, the work of PABJ is playing a key role in not only helping diversify newsrooms across the city, but diversifying the ranks in management.

“I am an example of why organizations like PABJ and NABJ are so important, because they open doors for young journalists,” added Dean, referring to the position he was in when he first arrived to Philadelphia more than 20 years ago. 

For Ousley, this award inspires her to continue urging for coverage of black and brown communities that is fair, accurate and inclusive.

“Not just in the words that we publish, but in our thinking and sourcing, and the photos we use, and the headlines and captions that we write with them,” added Ousley. 

In addition to honoring the many journalists who are in the field everyday shedding light on the realities that are taking place in communities of color, PABJ also makes sure that there is a pipeline for young journalists of color to pursue careers in journalism.

To strengthen this mission, PABJ also honored six students of color with scholarships that ranged from $500 to $1,000 to help with the goal of bringing more diversity and inclusivity into the field of journalism. 

In addition, the Lenfest Institute of Journalism announced the commitment of a $50,000 grant to PABJ to continue to accelerate that work into 2020. 

“We’re excited to continue partnering with organizations with the collective goal of making Philadelphia more reflective of, and equitable to, the communities that we serve,” said Cheryl Thompson-Morton, program manager at the Lenfest Institute of Journalism.

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