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Melony Roy, PABJ President, speaking during the 2018 PABJ Awards & Scholarship Gala. Photo: PABJ Twitter
Melony Roy, PABJ President, speaking during the 2018 PABJ Awards & Scholarship Gala at WHYY Studios. Photo: PABJ Twitter

PABJ Awards Gala honors black media professionals and pioneers

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As nearly 200 people gathered in the Lincoln Financial Digital Education Studio for the annual PABJ Awards Scholarship Gala on Oct. 27, the event highlighted one big truth in our society — the urgent and clear need for black journalists and journalists of color.

Melony Roy, the president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, said it best.

“Great storytelling aimed at revealing our truth needs to be recognized, honored and shared,” she said, relating to the importance of black journalists.

PABJ honors several journalism, communication, and community standouts at their annual awards ceremony, which recognized six honorees this year. The 2018 honorees were Vincent Thompson III (Lifetime Achievement Award); Leslie Foster (Impact Award); Angela P. Dodson (Trailblazer Award); Lorene Cary (Community Service Award); Glenn Ellis Sr. (Community Service Award); and Evon Burton (Media Professional Award).

This year’s gala celebrated PABJ’s 45th anniversary and also spotlighted the pioneers who started the organization in 1973, which later led to the formation of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Each honoree expressed their appreciation for being recognized, but more importantly, the reason the work they’ve done and continue to do is so crucial.

Lorene Cary, a best-selling author and founder of the Art Sanctuary in Philadelphia, detailed the pressures for black people to “record ourselves” because “America’s trying very hard to erase us.”

“Black media understands the greatest fear and hatred in America,” she said. “Black media understands it, and tells stories that are not fake innocent of that underbelly. And still, still, still rise up anyway, with hope, with brilliance, with encouragement.”

Vincent Thompson, a radio host and founder of Thompson Mediaman Communications, said that being honored by fellow African Americans made his Lifetime Achievement Award even more special. He credited the founders of PABJ and NABJ for not being afraid to speak up about inequality during a time when doing so could result in them being fired—or worse.

Throughout his years in the field, Thompson has found that many black journalists buy into the idea that they must separate their ethnic identity in order to show they can be fair and objective — a concept he vehemently disagrees with.

“African Americans in journalism need to be proud and unapologetically black,” he said. 

“Since the first Africans came to America 400 years ago … we have been the moral compass of this nation,” Thompson noted, adding that people of color are the ones who will ultimately determine the failure or success of our nation.

“We are still a work in progress, and I think journalists have always had the responsibility to highlight the good things happening in our nation, but to also shine a light on our failures,” he continued. “Our greatness as a nation can only happen when people of color become a true part of the American Dream.”

As a woman of color, Angela P. Dodson, a longtime journalist and former editor at the New York Times and Essence magazine, worked her first several years as the only minority in the newsrooms.

Paving the way for more women entering the field has long been a major goal of hers. Dodson detailed the fact that while women in journalism have made “tremendous progress,” they continue to be underrepresented—citing pay gaps, glass ceilings, harassment, discrimination, fewer bylines, less camera time and quotes as sources as examples.

Through all the struggles, Dodson gave one predominant piece of advice to women.

“We need to act like the majority that we are,” she said. “If ever there was a time to do so, it is now.”

Whether it’s black people, other people of color, women or any marginalized group, the speakers and honorees at the PABJ Awards were in agreement that representation is crucial, and that journalists have a responsibility to serve the public and inform them about the truth.

The message of the night: As the American population evolves and the media as well, the representation of the people who make up the U.S. also need to evolve. Journalists are the individuals who have the task of raising their voices and using their platforms—especially during these troubling times.

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