Why I left the daily grind of news

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

It has been seven months since I signed off from Global News. More specifically, that’s how long it’s been since I filed my last report, stepping away from the work I’ve known and loved for the last 17 years. While my departure took many I know by surprise, the truth is it’s been in the works since about 2017. I’ve known since then that it was time for a change.

A purpose-driven life

2017 was a pivotal year for me. Amidst some major shifts in my family, I spent the entire year soul-searching: what was my purpose? I knew there was so much more to me than the 6 o’clock news. Almost daily, I seemed to be wrestling with a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo: the routine of just going to work and filing stories. 2017 was also the year I stepped into a leadership role with the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ), the nonprofit organization I helped re-launch and still lead today. Between the deeply meaningful work of the CABJ, a growing hunger for a different kind of storytelling, family upheaval and a desire to know God more, 2017 became a year of purpose and self-discovery.

I read a host of books that year, though none more impactful than The Purpose Driven Life, which really helped set me on the course I’m still on today. There’s something deeply profound about slowing down, resisting the urge to just fulfill the destiny others have charted for you and pursue purpose. For me, it marked a big shift: away from the life I was told I was meant to live to the one I’m actively pursuing today.

Passion meets purpose

The year 2020 started with me stepping well outside of my comfort zone and really embracing the work of advocacy. Alongside CJOC, the CABJ released our ‘Calls to Action‘. We spent months working on this document, tweaking and re-writing it, going back and forth between the two teams. I remember when we finally settled on the current version and, in early January, set a date for it’s release.

I was terrified.

I remember praying (HARD) in those days, waiting for some grand sign from God that we should or should not move ahead. I felt like my career was on the line and that sharing this document could bring it to an end. I specifically remember praying one morning and feeling, very deeply, like God was saying to me, “what are you waiting for? I brought you to this point. The time is now.” When we released the document, the response on social media was swift and very supportive. However, it wasn’t the same from my employer at the time: I didn’t receive any response. In fact, none of the major media outlets we sent the document to responded. Immediately, and despite the assurances I knew I was sensing from God, I thought my career was over.

But the murder of a Black man outside a Cup Foods convenience store in Minneapolis, Minnesota, changed everything.

Suddenly, every media organization wanted to talk about race and racism. Black journalists began sharing their stories of race and racism in the newsroom – in Canadian newsrooms – on social media and in interviews. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my career. For the CABJ, it meant our workload increased overnight: we were being called on by news leaders across the country who wanted to talk about the very same document they’d ignored at the beginning of the year…the same document I was almost too scared to release. Even now, things haven’t slowed down for the organization. We relaunched our membership, built four national programs, co-hosted our first conference – the list goes on. As we prepare to head into 2022, we’re focused now on internal structure, ensuring the necessary framework is in place for a new generation of CABJ leaders to step in. It’s deeply rewarding work, the kind some might call purpose-driven.

Time for a change

I’ve always loved the work of nonprofits. I’ve volunteered in various roles across Canada because I love that kind of community engagement. Deep down inside, I always wondered whether it was possible to do that kind of purpose-driven work for a living. At the time, I was still very much into news, moving to different cities and provinces before settling in BC in 2014. However, by 2021, I just knew it was time for a change: there was just this…internal inkling that something had shifted.

I remember sitting up one night in March of last year in our home office, writing in my journal. My entries are deep reflections that often become prayers and that night was no exception. I remember writing, and saying to God, that I felt like it was time for a change. The next morning, I woke up to a note in my LinkedIn inbox. A former colleague of mine was leaving his communications job at a local charity. He reached out to me, wondering whether or not I was interested in applying for it. Fastest answer to prayer ever.

Seven months into my new role at that charity here in Vancouver and I couldn’t be happier. I get to mix media and advocacy for a living, all while still pursuing my passions on the side, which include continuing to lead the CABJ. The change of pace has been welcome for a number of reasons. And working in a new industry continues to deepen my understanding of race and racism in Canada, how it manifests and how to address it (but we’ll save that for another blog post!).

For that entire time, this blog sat dormant. But I think this year marks a shift for the blog, too. One of the things I love to do is to share my knowledge and experience to help others. After all, it was a desire to help other female Black journalists that led me to the CABJ in the first place. I’m hoping to now use Black Girl Reporting to help young journalists just starting out in need of some advice on how to navigate the newsroom

This is important to me: I’m sure I

have the experience and perspective (and the heart!) to help make the journeys a little bit easier for someone else. You can catch the ‘Navigating the Newsroom’ posts the first Monday of every month.

My prayer for you in 2022 is that whatever might be holding you back from stepping into your purpose finally gives way. The world needs your voice/ideas/advocacy more than you know. Don’t let anything hold you back.

Stay tuned.

A change of heart

I used to think vision boards were a waste of time. How could a glorified arts and crafts project really help you stay focused on your future (cynical, I know)?

Despite my best efforts, the first thing that came under siege for me this year was my focus. The challenges came out of nowhere. Some storms in life brew on the horizon and, even though we try to ignore them, they come to pass (been there, done that, writing the book—literally). There are other storms in life you simply don’t foresee. The ones that hit when everything is going well and you’re doing everything right.

I can honestly say that, in February, I was doing everything right…but so much went wrong. There were many days I found myself speechless. One morning I woke up to pray, but there were no words. Some days it was just about getting through.

A young girl I used to mentor asked me if I’d come with her to an all-girls Valentine’s Day party. I thought the plan was just to eat chocolate-dipped fruit and paint our nails. I didn’t realize making vision boards was also on the agenda. I went because I care a lot about this young girl and I wanted to be there for her: to spend time with her, see how she was doing and just to support her. So, when it came time to make these vision boards, I put aside my cynicism and jumped in.

As I made the board, my mind wasn’t consumed with thoughts of the various situations percolating around me, for a change. The only thing on my mind was my vision. In that moment, everything else seemed like a distraction. For a few hours that night, everything came back into focus. Cutting and pasting images representing my short and long term dreams lifted my spirits. It was a different kind of self-love.

My vision board is now posted on the cork board in the room I pray in every morning. It’s the first thing I see: a visual reminder of where I’m going. I’m going to get there regardless of what I see happening around me. I whisper a prayer over every part of the vision board daily.

The storms haven’t yet passed, but I can see to the other side of them. I’m working on looking at things more through eyes of faith. It’s the kind of vision you need to stay focused. And if it takes glue sticks and some old magazines to help me do that, then so be it.

The last ten years

The end of 2019 marks the end of a year and a decade…which is kind of a big deal when you stop to think about it. I began reminiscing over the last decade: where I was when it started and where I am now. So much has changed…

I started working for the CBC in 2010, marking my first on-air gig for one of the major Canadian broadcasters. I was both timid and terrified, having just relocated from Toronto to St. John’s for the job. Fast forward ten years and I’m amazed at how much my confidence has grown. I’m not an extrovert (I just play one on TV), so believe me when I say my confidence has never been this high…though, if history is any indication, it can only increase.

Of course, this kind of reflection leads to a narrowing down of the key lessons that have carried me through these past ten years. I’m sharing them now because I’ll need them for the journey ahead.

Don’t give up. It’s impossible to navigate the ups and downs of life a quitter. Race and gender aside, this industry isn’t an easy one to survive. I’ve been laid off, had to move across the country for work and had to volunteer or work freelance for five years before I could land my first casual gig. I don’t know where I’d be now had I given up (or had people given up on me…but that’s for another post).

Sacrifice is part of the journey. I’ve had to move away from my Toronto family and I’ve worked nearly every weekend for the past ten years. For anything we want to achieve that’s worth pursuing it always means we have to give something up in the short-term. It’s always worth it in the end, I’ve learned.

Have work, will travel. I still meet a lot of interns who say they don’t want to leave their home city to pursue opportunities. Leaving Toronto was tough, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’d probably have done it sooner if I knew how much good leaving the city would have done for my career. I still encourage young journalists to explore opportunities outside of their home cities. Be warned: it will be tough. Leaving Toronto meant my first real encounter with racism. However, the trade-off was personal and professional growth. The transformation came when I stepped outside of my comfort zone.

Be consistent. Over the course of this decade, I was consistently inconsistent. I started blogging but didn’t always do it monthly, I took up running but still don’t do it regularly. Consistency is key to success. Think of any great person and there’s something in their life they do consistently: be it training, sticking to their values, delivering on time, praying–regardless of what it is, they do it well because they’re consistent. I think consistency is about a personal commitment we make to ourselves without compromise, with an eye to the kind of personal betterment that impacts the lives of others.

The best-laid plans

A few years ago, I remember going to speak at a school and the teacher telling me her students were stressed out. They were in grade 10 and many of them were already dealing with the pressure of what to do and where to go next: what university to apply to (university, not college. Never college), what program to study, their career path. Their teacher told me the pressure they were feeling was driven by both external and internal forces.

I’m grateful for parents who were always supportive of my decision to pursue a job in journalism–which is kind of a big deal when you consider I was raised by two hard-working immigrant parents. They were both willing to look beyond the popular options of accountant, doctor and lawyer to see there was a storyteller in me. However, that didn’t stop me from applying unnecessary pressure on myself to perform. I had my one, three, five and ten year plans all worked out…

…but those plans never seem to take into account one oft-overlooked fact: life happens. My plan didn’t factor in multiple moves across the country or layoffs or delays–the unforeseen things that *seemed* to slow me down. Eventually, I learned I didn’t have to have it all figured out–no one does. Anyone who says they do have it all figured out is lying to you (and themselves, for that matter).

My faith also helps me cope with the ups and downs, valleys and peaks. Knowing God’s plans for me are–and have always been–good means I don’t have to worry (Jer. 29:11). The delays and disappointments become opportunities to grow and gain perspective. It’s what I tell students now when we talk about life after school: it’s about the journey, not the destination. So, I’m rejecting perfectionism for processing, because this process I’m going through is a beautiful thing, and choosing faith over fear so I don’t succumb to the pressure of thinking I need to have every step all figured out.

What sets your soul on fire

Have you ever been on a trip where the focus wasn’t so much on the destination, but on the journey? For me, that trip was Israel in February 2018. It was my first time in the country and it was amazing. There’s something invigorating about seeing all the places you’ve read about all your life: suddenly everything was alive in a way it had never been before.

But the trip wasn’t just about going to Israel. Rather, it was about everything I’d been through that lead to me being there. Up until late 2016, I’d spent nearly seven years searching for answers: what do I believe and why. I won’t get into the answers to those questions in this post. In the end, though, I returned to the faith of my childhood, but in a more meaningful way. This time, it was personal.

One of the key questions I grappled with as I moved into the next phase of my journey was purpose: why am I here? Why do I do what I do? What motivates me to get out of bed every morning? I remember taking part in a panel a few years ago and the question of purpose came up: why are you a journalist? One of the panelists (a journalist in Vancouver) said many people in news often talk about how much they love telling stories, they love meeting people, but, he said, the reason you’re in this business has to be–and likely is–deeper than that. The problem, he said, is we often don’t connect with that deeper meaning.

At the time, I remember feeling so offended by his response. How dare you criticize my shallow way of thinking, I thought. You don’t know me! Now, years later, I have to admit he was right.

I am still defining my why. The more I do the things that set my soul on fire, the clearer it becomes. The closer I get to my why, the less I care about money or status, the more my inner circle shrinks. The closer I get, the more I transform, becoming more of the person I want to be. The whole process is rather uncomfortable, but no less inspiring. The more I do the things that connect with that deeper sense of purpose, the more life comes into focus.

Conversations about Race at Sunday Brunch

My mother is my biggest fan. No matter what city I’ve found myself working in, she has always made sure to call the cable company and order the channel or she’s tuned in online. My sisters call her ‘The Alpha Fan’ … though, the more I travel and report, I’m beginning to realize Mom isn’t the only one watching…

Recently, I attended a special Sunday brunch hosted by the Congress of Black Women of Canada (Waterloo chapter). I was invited by a woman who is a member of the group after she spotted me at the gym (on the StairMaster, right in the middle of a serious cardio workout). She told me it would mean a lot to her if I attended … and I’m glad I went.

Every day in our newsroom, reporters have to send an email to the producers, outlining three things about their assigned story–one of them being what surprised you most about it. At this brunch, what surprised me most was the sense of pride these Black women said they felt when they turned on the TV and saw my face for the first time on their local newscast. I was a stranger to them and them to me, but that unfamiliarity between us seemed to last only for a few seconds. There were a number of candid conversations–particularly about race and the media and their desire to see more young, Black journalists on the air across North America.

These conversations were something of an eye-opener to me. As reporters, we aim to make our stories relevant and relate-able. However, I didn’t realize how closely newscasts were being watched–not just for the content, but also for the deliverers of that content. What’s more, despite all the advancements that have been made by the mainstream media, there were some who told me there’s still more work that needs to be done.

What exactly did they suggest needs to be done? I’ll save that for another post. I will say, though, that meeting these ladies is something I’ll never forget–and I’m sure they won’t forget either. Much like my Mom, I’m sure they’ll be watching.

Nadia

“Did a man bring you out here?” and other awkward questions.

I love my job. I love asking questions, getting answers and sharing them with the public. However, sometimes, I find myself answering questions, but not the kind you’d expect…

Questions from viewers are never meant to offend…but sometimes they’re just terribly awkward. I remember meeting a viewer for the first time when I lived out east. They were curious as to why I would want to move to eastern Canada (Newfoundland, of all places!) for work. “Did a man bring you out here?,” they asked.

Now, if someone had asked me this question back in–oh, I dunno–the 1940s, it probably would have been fair. But in 2012?? I couldn’t help but laugh before, politely, answering.

Over the years there have been more questions–and sometimes puzzling statements–that I’m still at a loss for words over.

“Are you single?”

“Is that your real hair?”

“You’re prettier in person.” (Well, what do I look like on TV then?!)

“I love your tan. It’s just such a lovely shade!” (NB: The viewer was talking about my skin tone…)

“Are you from Africa?” (See my earlier post about this FAQ)

In my defense, there is no appropriate response for some of these questions/statements (#3 is a perfect example). Often when I return to the newsroom and share these stories, the only thing my colleagues and I can do is laugh. The viewers are sincere and this is just their way of letting you know that they like you (they really like you!).

I’ll be honest, I don’t entirely mind these encounters. Awkwardness aside, it confirms an important fact: people are still watching local news. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

 

Nadia

My other full-time job

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My sisters will *never* leave Toronto–much like Oprah, this is one thing I know for sure. They, like so many other Torontonians see no need to leave the big smoke…and I’ve given up trying to change their minds.

Up until 2010, the three of us (+ Mom) all shared the same home. My sisters (one older, one younger) know me better than anyone else–making them perfect roommates. While I knew I was ready to ditch TO, I wasn’t ready for the experience of life away from them: no older sister to make me dinner, no younger sister to make me laugh and (most importantly) no sisters to borrow clothes, shoes–ANYTHING–from.

However, I think I underestimated just how much absence makes the heart grow fonder. In our time apart, we’ve exchanged thousands of text messages, countless emails, lengthy (expensive) phone calls and mailed gifts (but for some reason, we’ve never Skyped or Facetimed. Weird). While there have been missed Christmases and Birthdays, I don’t feel as though I’ve missed anything at all. In fact, we have grown closer…

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The three of us have always been close. We’re close in age and are also about the same size, making for an excessive amount of wardrobe sharing (a ridiculous amount, as far as Mom was concerned. When we were teens, Mom refused to fold our laundry because she never knew who owned what). Of course there were the typical sibling fights–my younger sister and I used to fight like cat/dog growing up. Up until she came I along, I had it made: my chances of being the baby of the family were looking pretty good…  Together, we would drive our older sister bananas–back then, it was our raison d’etre.

These two months in Kitchener mark the first time I’ve lived within driving distance of my family in nearly 5 years. I’m confident I won’t spend the rest of my life/career working in Ontario–there are just too many other cities to see, places to live. Plus, I do sincerely miss life in other parts of the country–I had a blast living out east and I very much loved life out west.

I’ve decided I don’t need to live in Toronto (there, I said it) because I will always have three perfectly good reasons to visit. My Mom and sisters will always be here (or in the GTA). So, until the day I leave Ontario again, I’ll trade the phone calls and text messages for lunch dates and sleepovers (you are never too old for sleepovers. Never.). Through the years, I’ve often said sisterhood is a full-time job. It’s also the best job I’ll ever have.

Re-discovering Ontario

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Growing up in Toronto/GTA is like existing in a bubble: everything you need is here, so why bother looking anywhere else? Having grown up in this world, I’m all too familiar with the downsides of ‘bubble-living’ and the narrow-minded city dwellers that kind of lifestyle produces. Its a big part of the reason why I was so keen on leaving Ontario to pursue my career in this industry.

It wasn’t until I left Toronto/GTA and made my way to other parts of the country–particularly western Canada–that I realized just how much Canadians *dislike* (hate is just so strong a word) Toronto (hereafter referred to as the ‘Centre of the Universe’). However, that feeling is also alive and well within the province too.

I have a number of friends/colleagues who proudly call Toronto home–and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Yet, this week, I also caught up with some of my girlfriends from University who happily call smaller, lesser known Ontario towns, home–Fergus, for example–and are just as happy as my city-dwelling friends. It’s worth noting that these country converts have also lived and worked in Toronto–they know very well what they’re leaving behind…

…The same things I was also all too eager to ditch back in 2010: unbearable traffic, a stressful commute, smog, an un-affordable housing market and, to be honest, a city that had begun to feel just a bit tired.

Being close to ‘The Centre of Universe’ means I’m closer to my family–and that’s a nice feeling–but I’ve only been back to Toronto 3 times in 2 months. In that time, I’ve noticed traffic has gotten worse, the commute even more stressful…and the people less patient. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, perhaps this return to Ontario is a chance to re-discover my home province–you know, see how the rest of the universe is living. My University girlfriends have given me a list of events that I *must* attend and I plan on taking them all in (suggestion are welcome!). The countdown to the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games 2015 has already begun.

 

Nadia

Off-Air Adventure: (finally) meeting Catherine of Kaela Kay

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Twitter is an amazing thing.

Last summer, I came across Catherine Addai on the Twitterverse. She was promoting her new line, Kaela Kay, on social media…and I was smitten at first click.

Off-camera, I love wearing prints, bold jewelry and statement pieces, but those fashion choices often don’t work well in my day-to-day world of news. So, when the opportunity presents itself–events, functions at the station or just socially–I dig out those pieces that reflect another side of my personal style.

So, last summer when looking for something to wear to the Black Gold Awards in Calgary, a piece by Kaela Kay seemed like a great idea…and it was.

This week, after more than a year of interacting via social media, I finally got the chance to meet Catherine. In her humble basement studio we chatted (for 90 minutes!) about everything from fashion, to life on-air, life off-air and about the joys (and sometimes challenges) of being a Black woman in Canada. It was great.

Very much looking forward to this fashionable friendship.

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