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NU/Medill Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the African American Studies Department

by Julianne Sun (BSJ24)

Northwestern’s African American Studies Department (AFAM) will be hosting and celebrating its 50th anniversary on May 20, 2022. The event will celebrate all that the department has achieved to date since its inception, as well as map out what they hope the next 50 years will look like. The anniversary celebration will be available both in-person at the Block Museum of Art and virtually over Zoom. Current students and faculty are welcome to attend, as well as alumni and anyone else who might be interested.

AFAM finds its roots in the Bursar’s Office Takeover in 1968, according to Northwestern’s commemorative web page of the historical event. Otherwise known as the May 4th Agreement, it marks the 38-hour peaceful occupation of the Bursar’s Office by 120 Black Northwestern students. The occupation protested the issues of racism Black students encountered on campus, but presented a list of demands for the university. These included increasing the percentage of Black students in the incoming student population, providing more and greater scholarships for Black students, designating separate living spaces for Black students, and creating a separate Black student union. The Black House on Sheridan is a direct result of the occupier’s efforts, and functions as the Black student union to this day.

“It is important to celebrate this 50-year milestone to give honor and respect to all of the people who did the work and made the sacrifices for us to exist today,” said Mary Pattillo, the Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies and chair of AFAM, “and to celebrate the people who have been educated by this department over the years.” The research done by AFAM alumni – from law to medicine to journalism to education to social justice – is all encompassing, and AFAM’s overarching goal is to “address that research to the aims of Black liberation.”

Despite the progress made by the May 4th Agreement and AFAM’s 50 years of work, the goals expressed during the Bursar’s Office Takeover remain unchanged. AFAM faculty have published hundreds of scholarly books and academic articles challenging the boundaries of studying race, gender, sexuality, and culture, but they have also led and participated in countless struggles, from increasing Black enrollment and faculty to the anti-apartheid movement.

“Our impact on our students,” said Pattillo, “on Northwestern, on academic fields, and on Evanston and Chicago and beyond, will continue to be our work in the years to come.”

Raedell Boateng, a Northwestern alum who graduated from her undergrad in 2007 with a major in journalism and a minor in AFAM, said “My decision to minor in AFAM studies was 100 percent grounded in how much my Black femininity was not seen/valued and [that was] why the telling of our stories became very important to me during my undergrad. I found that the promoting of objectivity in journalism wasn’t going to work for me, but how to craft a story—the visuals, the words, the sources of information—is the most important thing I learned in Medill.”

Realizing in her senior year that she didn’t want to be a journalist, Boateng went on to become a teacher through Teaching for America, a nonprofit organization that trains teachers to expand opportunities for low-income students. She is now an educator and liberation life coach and uses Black women’s stories and experiences as a launching point across all of her work.

“I can’t imagine not being an educator,” she said, “and my experiences in Medill and AFAM studies play a huge role in how I approached teaching and in what I do now. I also entered into teaching wanting students to see the world through windows and mirrors—to value others and value who they are—and to understand how privilege creates barriers to holding such values, but literature, storytelling, and justice will help us overcome.”

Regarding this momentous anniversary, Pattillo said, “We decided to make this like a reunion and to celebrate the students who have come through the classrooms over the last half-century. Come to see old classmates. Come to see former professors. Come to see old colleagues. Come to find out what people have done since you last saw them. Come to see how strong the department is because of the people who make it up. Come to hear how African American Studies acts in the world to make it better.”

Registration for the in person anniversary can be found here, and the virtual event registration can be found here.

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Medill inducts six alumni into 2022 Hall of Achievement class

Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications welcomes six inductees into its Hall of Achievement for 2022. The distinction honors alumni whose careers have had positive effects on their fields.

“The Medill Hall of Achievement class this year reflects the breadth of Medill’s influence through many industries including media but also well beyond it,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “These exemplary alumni demonstrate that a Medill education can take you anywhere and give you the opportunity to do anything.”

 

Juan Cappello (MSJ66)

juan-cappello150x200.jpgJuan C. Cappello’s work as a journalist and strategic communications executive has been recognized by professional and civic organizations in the U.S. and overseas. Early in his career, Cappello received the Inter American Press Association Award for Young Journalists. In the field of strategic communications, he was the senior vice president, corporate affairs/marketing for ITT Corporation for almost two decades – the first Latin-born top corporate officer at a U.S.-based Fortune 500 company. Before founding his own strategic communications consulting firm in 2009, Cappello was president and partner of Hill & Knowlton in Latin America. He has been recognized by nongovernmental organizations and international groups, and he has also received official decorations from the governments of Austria, France and Chile, after its return to democracy in the 1990s, for his participation in human rights and cultural initiatives.

Melissa Grady Dias (IMC98)

melissa-grady-dias150x200.jpgMelissa Grady Dias was appointed global chief marketing officer of Cadillac in September 2019. As CMO, Grady Dias leads strategic marketing for the Cadillac brand around the world. Recently, Grady Dias was recognized by Forbes as one of “The 50 Most Influential CMOs in the World.” Prior to joining Cadillac, she was senior vice president of performance marketing, digital and e-commerce of Jackson Hewitt, where she was responsible for all demand driving activities including television and jacksonhewitt.com as well as the implementation of a hyper-local digital media program across several thousand locations. Before Jackson Hewitt, Grady Dias led digital acquisition on the global marketing team at MetLife where she led digital strategy for the U.S. market and acquisition programs for several lines of business, resulting in large year-over-year growth, and managed metrics plans and insights across all key global markets. Prior to MetLife, Grady Dias led the global analytics, e-commerce marketing, and CRM teams at Motorola.

 

Clinton Kelly (MSJ93)

clinton-kelly150x200.jpgClinton Kelly co-hosted TLC’s wildly popular makeover show “What Not to Wear” for 10 years, and for seven he moderated ABC’s daytime talk show “The Chew,” for which he won an Emmy. He has also been regularly featured on HGTV and Food Network. A former magazine editor (Marie Claire, Mademoiselle and others) and freelance writer, Kelly has authored several books, including the critically acclaimed “I Hate Everyone, Except You,” a collection of humorous personal essays. In 2020 Kelly took a break from television to focus on his writing, working with personal styling clients and hosting regular Style Esteem workshops, through which he helps people evaluate their wardrobes to fine tune their nonverbal messaging.

Mike McGrew (IMC97)

mike-mcgrew150x200.jpgMike McGrew assumed the role of executive vice president, chief communications, CSR & diversity officer for Constellation Brands in April 2020. In this role, he leads a team responsible for developing and executing the company’s corporate communications, investor relations, corporate social responsibility, and diversity, equity and inclusion strategies designed to enhance the company’s reputation with key stakeholders and advance the company’s business strategy. Prior to joining Constellation Brands, McGrew held various roles with increasing responsibility at Grainger, then a $9B global provider of industrial supplies and equipment. Prior to joining Grainger, he worked in corporate communications for Alliant Foodservice (one of the nation’s largest, privately held broad-line foodservice distributors) and Morton International (a leading manufacturer of salt and specialty chemical products). McGrew received his bachelor’s degree in organizational studies from the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern.

 

Stephanie Mehta (MSJ92)

stephanie-mehta150x200.jpgStephanie Mehta is CEO and chief content officer of Mansueto Ventures, the business media company that publishes Fast Company and Inc. She previously spent nearly four years as editor-in-chief of Fast Company, overseeing its print, digital and live journalism. Mehta has held senior writing and editing positions at Vanity Fair, Fortune, Bloomberg Media and The Wall Street Journal. She received a BA in English from Northwestern and her MSJ from Medill. A Chicago-area native, she now lives with her husband and two daughters in Scarsdale, New York.

 

Michael Paul Williams (MSJ81)

michael-paul-williams150x200.jpgMichael Paul Williams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning metro columnist whose opinion pieces appear on the Op-Ed page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In 2021, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary “for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city’s monuments to white supremacy.” Williams, a Richmond native, is a graduate of Virginia Union University and Medill. He won Virginia Press Association awards for column writing in 1992, 1994, 2007 and 2014. During 1999-2000, he was one of 24 U.S. and international journalists awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.

Medill will honor the 2022 Hall of Achievement classes on May 19 in Chicago.

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Medill announces new leadership for programs in Washington, adds new lecturer

The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications announced today new leaders for its programs in Washington, D.C., as well as a new faculty member to work with Chicago high school teachers and students.

Elizabeth Shogren will join Medill this spring as an associate professor and will lead the graduate journalism Politics, Policy and Foreign Affairs specialization in Washington, D.C. Shogren was a senior reporter and producer for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting with her primary focus on climate change. Before that, she was an on-air environment correspondent for NPR’s national and science desks. Early in her career, she covered the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, as a freelance reporter, before joining the Los Angeles Times’ Moscow bureau. She also covered the White House, Congress, poverty and the environment as a Washington correspondent for the LA Times and was the Washington Correspondent for High Country News.

Recognition for her work has included a nomination for a Peabody Award for “Silencing Science,” her hour-long Reveal episode about censorship of climate change science at the National Park Service. While at NPR, she was a lead reporter for Poisoned Places, a data-driven series about the toxic air pollution that plagues some communities because of the government’s failure to implement a decades-old federal law. The series received several honors, including a Science in Society award from the National Association of Science Writers.

Ivan Meyers been promoted to senior lecturer and will serve as director of operations at Medill D.C. Meyers helped launch Medill’s new campus in Washington and will support programs for both undergraduate and graduate journalism students.

Michael Spikes will join Medill as a lecturer and curriculum specialist for the Teach for Chicago Journalism Program. This program engages teachers and students in Chicago Public Schools. He also will teach at Medill. Spikes is currently finishing his Ph.D. in Learning Sciences at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, where his focus is on news media literacy education. Prior to his time at Northwestern, he served as the Director of Illinois Civic News Literacy Educator Training & Digital Resources at the Center for News Literacy, and has also taught Mass Media Studies & Production in Washington D.C. area high schools.

“Medill has a rich tradition of giving our students an unparalleled experience in Washington, gaining significant reporting skills and Elizabeth and Ivan will ensure that mission continues,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “And we’re delighted Mike will help us engage with our community on one of our newest programs, highlighting the concept of media literacy which is a critical element of a healthy democracy.”

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Gayle Kerr honored with Inaugural Don Schultz Award for Innovation in Teaching, Theory and Practice of Integrated Marketing Communication

A committee of Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communication faculty and industry experts have selected Gayle Kerr as the inaugural recipient of the Don Schultz Award for Innovation in Teaching, Theory and Practice of Integrated Marketing Communication.

Kerr is a professor at the School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations at Queensland University of Technology. This international award recognizes university faculty and marketing professionals who have demonstrated excellence in teaching the principles of integrated marketing communications (IMC) and bridging the gap between the academic and commercial arenas. Kerr will receive a cash prize of $5,000.

“We considered several candidates who have made great contributions as scholars, as practitioners, or as educators,” said Medill Assistant Professor Judy Franks, who sat on the selection committee. “Like Don himself, Gayle Kerr embodies all three qualities. We celebrate her body of scholarship, her collaboration on important work in both the academy and industry and her tireless efforts to inspire the next generation.”

The award is named for long-time Medill Professor Don Schultz. Schultz played a pivotal role in creating the field of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) and establishing the IMC department at Medill in the early 1990s. Medill was the first school to offer a graduate degree in Integrated Marketing Communications in the United States. Schultz is regarded internationally as the “father of IMC.” He died in 2020.

“Don loved teaching more than any other aspect of academic life,” said Heidi Schultz, Don’s wife. “He wanted this award to celebrate those who make a classroom come alive, ignite passion in their students, and challenge them to think beyond the accepted theories and practices of the moment. Gayle Kerr carries on Don’s legacy with her dynamic, innovative, and forward-looking teaching approach and well deserves to be the first recipient of the Schultz award.”

As a teacher, Kerr has introduced many innovations including the first postgraduate Advertising and IMC courses in Australia and the first advertising digital units at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In 2017, Gayle was awarded Australia’s highest university teaching Award, the AAUT Teaching Excellence Award. She is also the only non-US teacher to win the prestigious American Academy of Advertising Billy I. Ross Award for Education.

“Don has always been a part of my academic life,” said Kerr. “From examining my Ph.D. thesis to working on research together, to presenting at conferences, to inspiring my students. I learned so much from Don and tried my best because of him. Winning an award from such a prestigious institution as Northwestern Medill is an honor in itself. Winning an award in the name of someone who set the trajectory of my career feels like Don’s final endorsement.”

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Sports journalist Mike Greenberg to address 2022 graduates at Medill’s convocation

Medill will welcome Mike Greenberg (BSJ89) to speak with 2022 graduates and families as Medill’s convocation speaker.

“We are honored to have Mike Greenberg come back to Medill to share his valuable experiences and lessons with our community,” said Dean Charles Whitaker (BSJ80, MSJ81). “Mike’s career in sports journalism equips him with a distinct perspective to inspire and influence the Class of 2022 as their careers begin.”

Greenberg is a member of the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame, the National Radio Hall of Fame and Medill’s Hall of Achievement.

Sports fans listened to Greenberg as one of the hosts on “Mike & Mike” for almost two decades on ESPN Radio. He started his career with ESPN as an anchor in September 1996 with the launch of ESPNEWS. He also anchored ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

Recently, Greenberg became host of “NBA Countdown.” He continues to host “Get Up,” ESPN’s morning show, which he began in 2018. He returned to ESPN Radio in August 2020 hosting “#Greeny,” where he shares his take on the trending topics featured from that morning’s “Get Up.” He’s also been host of “Bettor Days with Mike Greenberg” since September 2020, a show on ESPN+ where true stories of gambling adventures are told through character-driven reenactment.

In addition to his radio and broadcast milestones, Greenberg has authored multiple books. His first book, “Why My Wife Thinks I’m An Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad,” was released in 2007 and spent five weeks on The New York Times’ Best Sellers List and received a nomination for a Quill Award. When celebrating 10 years on air with co-anchor Mike Golic in 2010, “Mike and Mike’s Rules for Sports and Life” was released and reached number three on the New York Times’ Best Sellers List. Greenberg wrote the novel “All You Can Ask For” in 2013 and co-wrote the children’s book “MVP: Most Valuable Puppy” with his wife Stacy Steponate Greenberg in 2018. They donated all of the author proceeds from both books to the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Greenberg released the novel “My Father’s Wives” in 2015.

Before joining ESPN in 1996, Greenberg was a sports columnist for the Copley News Service in California. He also reported for SportsChannel Chicago and was a sports anchor for the regional cable news network CLTV. He reported on events including the Word Series and the Super Bowl for Chicago’s WSCR-Radio and was a sports anchor/reporter for Chicago’s WMAQ-Radio.

Greenberg’s wife Stacy (IMC95) is a Medill alumna. Their children Nikki (WCAS23) and Stephen (COMM25) are current students at Northwestern. In 2017, the Stacy Steponate and Mike Greenberg Scholarship was created to support undergraduate Medill students with financial need.

Greenberg will address Medill undergraduate and graduate journalism students and their families during Medill’s convocation on June 12.

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Centennial Remembrance: Medill Network Led to New Career Path

by Dr. Norma Fay Green (MSJ72)

Seven years after earning my MSJ turning an internship recommended by Ray C. Nelson (MSJ55) into full time Crain Communications editorships and becoming president of the Women in Communications Inc. Chicago Professional Chapter, Dr. Elizabeth Swayne Yamashita (MSJ59, Ph.D.69) recruited me to return to campus to teach an undergraduate Basic Writing course. She saw something in me that I hadn’t considered.

I thought I would spend my career writing for invisible readers. I didn’t appreciate the visceral and immediate challenge that attempting to share information with a live (and lively) audience would elicit in me and those Medill students in Spring 1979 at Fisk Hall. Despite encouragement from course supervisor Emily Soloff, teaching initially felt like “trial and terror.”

When I told my father, who taught night school business classes at Wayne State University and University of Detroit that I’d be teaching an evening section, he said. “Oh, you’ll be teaching people in their sleep.” Actually the class was alert, eager and sometimes knew more than I did– apparently having memorized Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” in high school! They kept me on my toes and most recovered nicely from my evaluations of their narrative, descriptive and expository writing assignments. I surprised myself by discovering I enjoyed the face to face feedback and decided to commit to a full-time career in academia.

So I commuted to Michigan State University, for an interdisciplinary communication program, where future Medill faculty Donald E. Schultz and Martin P. Block were among the first graduates of its new doctoral program in Mass Media. In 1995. Peter Jacobi (BSJ52, MSJ53), one of my Medill professors in the magazine sequence, became my instructor (again) in a week-long Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication/Freedom Forum Teaching Workshop at Indiana University.

Eventually I was hired full time at Columbia College Chicago and soon became its second Graduate Journalism Director succeeding former Medill faculty member and alum Eric Lund (BSJ49) who retired. I became the journalism department’s first full time Ph.D., first faculty member to successfully complete a newly-established tenure process and later became its first Full Professor. Along the way I continued to publish (more scholarship, less journalism) and garnered teaching, curriculum and research awards from Lilly Endowment, Ford Foundation, Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Poynter Institute, National Endowment for the Humanities, and, in 2000, my first Fulbright. That latter award attracted the attention of my fellow WICI member and Medill alum Marilyn Moats Kennedy (BSJ65, MSJ66) who recruited me for NU’s alumnae mentors, The Council of One Hundred.

In 2017 I took a buyout from Columbia after 29 years of teaching 24 different courses but have continued my academic research including chapters in “Political Pioneer of the Press: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Her Transnational Crusade for Social Justice” (2018), “Curating Culture: How Twentieth Century Magazines Influenced America” (2021), co-edited by Medill Dean Charles Whitaker (BSJ80, MSJ81) and my Columbia colleague Sharon Bloyd Peshkin and the forthcoming “Gandhi, Advocacy Journalism and The Media” (2022).

Years ago at a party someone asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a college teacher and they quipped, “Oh, so you’re an idealist.” I laughed and said “Yes, I am and proud of each student courageous enough to pursue their dream to go into journalism. After all, I learned from the best.”

Photo: Dr. Green’s 1979 Basic Writing students

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Medill to remodel broadcast studio, largest classroom thanks to transformational gift

A transformational gift from the Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust, under the direction of Melissa Bernal-Vega (BSJ97) and Ernesto Vega (P’23, P’25), will enhance the learning environment for students Medill. The gift will create opportunities for Medill students to learn and collaborate using cutting-edge technology and facilities designed to respond to today’s curricular and industry needs.

The gift will support the renovation of the forum in the McCormick Foundation Center, Medill’s most iconic space on the Evanston campus, to upgrade the technology and expand the space to provide enough seating to accommodate Medill’s entire first-year class. The work will be completed in the year ahead, and the space will be renamed in tribute to Melissa’s father, Alfredo M. Bernal.

The gift will also allow an upgrade and expansion of Medill’s broadcast and digital media suite on the fourth floor of the McCormick Foundation Center. The Aida and Mike Feldman Broadcast and Digital Media Suite will include space for TV editing and teaching, podcasting, team meetings and voice-over work. In addition to being at the center of curricular activity, the suite will create a space for student media groups to meet and work.

“We are delighted for the opportunity to transform these spaces to give all Medill students an outstanding environment to learn and practice their skills,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker (BSJ80, MSJ81). “We are deeply grateful to the Vega family and the Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust for their generosity. These enhanced facilities will support Medill’s efforts to be the best school of its kind in the world.”

Melissa and Ernesto are co-founders of CANVAS Real Estate, a Florida-based firm with more than 20 years in the residential and commercial real estate and property management businesses. CANVAS has 10 offices across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and more than 1,100 agents.

Melissa came to Medill as a first-generation student, and it was while she was studying at Northwestern that she met Ernesto, a fellow Cuban American who also grew up in Miami. They are parents of two current Northwestern students: Matthew, a first-year journalism student at Medill, and Michael, a junior studying at the McCormick School of Engineering. Melissa is a co-director of the Northwestern Alumni Admissions Council’s Southeast Florida Region and a member of the Northwestern Parents Leadership Council. She recently joined the Medill Board of Advisers.

“My experience at Northwestern—particularly Medill—informed and transformed my life,” said Melissa. “We are inspired by Medill’s uplifting environment that encourages free thought, mindful and meaningful communication. We are blessed to be part of its future.”

The Vegas are members of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle and NU Loyal Society, with 12 consecutive years of giving to the University. Through the Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust, they have also generously supported Northwestern Engineering with the establishment of the Enrique Feldman Studio and Northwestern Student Affairs through their support of the University’s Multicultural Center. The Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust supports educational bricks and mortar projects across the United States and in Israel.

The Vegas’ recent gift to Medill was one of the largest Medill received as part of We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, which helped realize the transformational vis

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Kurt Paul Stocker (IMC faculty)

Kurt Paul Stocker passed away on February 11th, after a 10-month fight following complications from heart valve surgery. He was 84. Kurt was our patriarch and didn’t leave much on the table. He rounded Cape Horn, he dove from an airplane at 82 years old. He left an indelible impression on all of us. He was a huge contributor in the lives of his family. Beyond the professional accomplishments, Kurt was an artist, a skilled printmaker and filled much of his retirement time in his Corrales studio, porch side with his friends or in a catboat in Florida.

A long time public relations, public affairs and corporate governance professional, Kurt served as Chairman of the NYSE Individual Investor Advisory Board, as a Director of NYSE Regulation Inc. As a member of the Advisory Committee of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and as a member of the Board of Governors of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc (formerly, NASD).

Kurt was a Senior Executive with Continental Bank Corporation, United Airlines, Allstate and Hill & Knowlton companies.

Other professional organizations included serving as a past President of The Arthur W. Page Society, as well as being inducted into their Hall of Fame. Kurt was a past Commodore of The Chicago Yacht Club. He was a visiting lecturer and Assistant Professor in Medill IMC in the ’90s and served on advisory boards for PR Newswire, Journal of Integrated Marketing and San Isabel Land Protection Trust.

Kurt and his wife of 62 years, Kathleen attended Marietta College where they met and wed. Kurt is survived by his son Peter and daughter Jennifer and 4 grandchildren, Cate, Graham, Emma and Ian.

Tribute provided by Peter and Jennifer Stocker. 

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Congressional correspondent Nikole Killion brings a Medill mentality to Washington

As a congressional correspondent for CBS News, Nikole Killion (BSJ99, MSJ99) spends her days following stories on Capitol Hill and keeping viewers up-to-date with the latest in Washington. But her current role with CBS News, which she started in 2021, isn’t the first time she has covered the nation’s capital. 

Killion’s history covering news in Washington dates back to her time as a Medill student, first in summer internship programs with the Institute on Political Journalism and CNN and later through the politics specialization in Medill’s Accelerated Master’s Program. Decades later, she says the skills and experiences central to her time at Northwestern have been pivotal in establishing her career.

“Having those experiences made me very interested in politics,” Killion said. “While I didn’t set out to be a political journalist at the time, those are experiences that help give me that foundation to be able to see things up close for myself in terms of being able to cover the Capitol at such an early stage, to now say I’m a Congressional correspondent for CBS News.”

Killion’s interest in journalism blossomed during high school in Ann Arbor, Mich. through a program at a local community cable station. At first an occasional guest, Killion eventually became a co-host and used her platform to tell the stories of difference makers in her community. 

“Once a week, we would get to interview different teens in the area, so I had the chance to interview people, talk to people, and it really piqued my interest,” she said. “I decided, hey, this journalism thing isn’t too bad, maybe I should do a little bit more of it.”

With its Midwest location and strong reputation for journalism, Northwestern became one of Killion’s top choices when it came time to pursue her new interest as a profession. 

The fit turned out to be a strong one and essential to launching a career in journalism. Killion refers to professors Ava Greenwell and Charles Whitaker as two mentors that made a difference in her career and highlighted Medill’s emphasis on the fundamentals of journalism as a focus that still pays dividends years later.

“It comes back to the fundamentals, the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why,” Killion said. “That attention to detail, that attention to accuracy, that attention to getting both sides of the story are fundamental journalism practices that have been ingrained in me in my journalism career.”

Along with her experiences in D.C., Killion fondly remembers her Teaching Television residency, which she spent in Lexington, Ky. with the local CBS affiliate. The residency gave her the opportunity to develop her reel and build on-air skills at a top TV market. Living in Kentucky during a Kentucky Wildcats championship run and the Kentucky Derby was an added bonus, showing Killion the best of the Bluegrass State.

Killion found her way back to a professional newsroom after graduation, though she initially started out helping behind the scenes in news coverage. She covered 9/11 and other major events as an assignment editor and field producer at NBC News, then decided to pursue her on-air aspirations and moved to a station in Hagerstown, Md. in 2002. After stops in local television and as a Hearst regional correspondent, Killion took on a role at CBS News covering Washington, D.C. for its various platforms.

While Killion considers her own path to be traditional, she sees the journalism industry today as full of opportunity for young journalists. 

“Every path is different, it’s just a matter of utilizing your skills, honing your skills because it comes back to those foundational things from strong writing to storytelling to accuracy,” she said. “If you can do all those things well and on a platform of choice where you can get that attention and exposure, it provides so many more opportunities than the more traditional paths that I had coming out.”

Washington has rarely been easy terrain to navigate. Killion points to two recent events, the coronavirus and the January 6 attacks, as changing the dynamic of how the broadcast journalism industry operates and how she approaches her own role. 

“It makes it an even more challenging environment to cover than in years past, so that is something that I’ve tried to be mindful of in my coverage,” she said. “There’s always that desire and nostalgia to get back to the days of old and truth and bipartisanship, but it feels over to a certain extent in terms of journalism because things have gotten so partisan.”

From her time at the Lexington CBS affiliate to programs in Washington to the groundwork of journalism fundamentals, Killion’s time as a Medill student has a wealth of connections and “full-circle moments” to her current role as an on-air correspondent for a national news outlet. 

Even with her prominent platform, Killion’s motivation to report the news remains the same.

“Being able to witness history up close, whether it’s a positive part of our history or a negative part of our history, has been the fire that is in my belly and that drives me to keep doing what we do every day. You always have to be ready and willing to cover that next event because it could turn out to be something monumental.”

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Valerie Boyd (BSJ85)

Photo: Valerie Boyd, the author of a critically acclaimed biography of Zora Neale Hurston, appears at a reading in D.C. in 2009. (Susan Biddle/The Washington Post)

By Emily Langer, Washington Post

Valerie Boyd, a journalist who chronicled the life of Zora Neale Hurston in a critically acclaimed biography and edited a forthcoming compilation of the journals of Alice Walker, thus illuminating African American women of letters from the Harlem Renaissance to the present day, died Feb. 12 at a hospital in Atlanta. She was 58.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said her friend and power of attorney, Veta Goler.

Ms. Boyd spent nearly two decades as a reporter and arts editor at her hometown newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, training the journalistic eye that she would turn on Hurston in the biography that became her first major literary achievement of her own.

“Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston,” published in 2003, was the result of nearly five years of research. Ms. Boyd charted Hurston’s life from her birth in 1891 in Notasulga, Ala., to her upbringing in the all-Black town of Eatonville, Fla., through her literary activity during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s and her anthropological exploration of African American folklore, to the circumstances that led to her death in penury in 1960 in Florida, where she was buried in an unmarked grave.

“Because I am a Black Southern woman, I felt very close to Zora, as if I could paint a picture of her life almost from the inside out,” Ms. Boyd told an interviewer for the online magazine In Motion. “I wanted to give readers a sense of what it was like to be Zora, to walk in her shoes, to live inside her skin.”

Ms. Boyd’s 2003 biography of writer Zora Neale Hurston. (Scribner)
Ms. Boyd was an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., when she first read Hurston’s best-known work, the 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” a coming-of-age story about a Black woman named Janie Crawford.

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“I was just amazed,” Ms. Boyd said, “that a book published in 1937 could speak to me so clearly and so resonantly through the decades.”

Years later, she became a regular attendee of the annual festival held in honor of Hurston in Eatonville. In 1994, she said, she attended a speech there by Robert E. Hemenway, the author of a 1977 biography of the writer.

By Ms. Boyd’s account, Hemenway surveyed the shortcomings that he said were inherent in his book as a work about a Black woman written by a White man. According to Ms. Boyd, he said that Hurston was owed a new biography, by an African American woman.

“When I heard those words, I felt it was my calling,” Ms. Boyd told an interviewer with Northwestern. “But even though it felt like something I would do, the thought of doing it was just frightening.”

She put off the task, judging herself not ready. Less than two years later, a literary agent called to ask if she might be interested in writing a biography of Hurston. “I felt like fate was calling me — and that Zora herself was calling me,” Ms. Boyd said.

Hurston had complicated the job of any future biographer, Ms. Boyd wrote, by disguising “many truths of her life in a confounding but crackable code.” In order to obtain schooling at a Baltimore high school, she reported her age as 16 when she was in fact 26. Her 1942 autobiography, “Dust Tracks on a Road,” however skillfully written, proved an unreliable account of the facts of her life.

With the passage of time, more dust, as it were, had clouded the story of Hurston’s life. It had been partially cleared by Hemenway’s book and by volumes including “Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters” collected and edited by Carla Kaplan (2002). But in “Wrapped in Rainbows,” reviewer Jake Lamar wrote in The Washington Post, Ms. Boyd produced a “scrupulously researched, gracefully written” work that will “most likely remain the definitive Hurston biography for many years to come.”

Ms. Boyd’s project was a journalistic odyssey, in which she located the few living acquaintances of Hurston and scoured the archival records of her life. But it was also an “intuitive, spiritual process,” she said.

“Sometimes,” she told the Northwestern interviewer, “it seemed as if Zora would look at me in a very approving way, and sometimes she seemed to be looking at me like, ‘Oh, please.’ And I would dutifully press delete.”

Ms. Boyd often reflected on the sisterhood of African American writers, observing that “Zora’s, Alice’s and my generations are holding hands.” Alice was Alice Walker, the author of the 1982 novel “The Color Purple,” which received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for fiction and was adapted into a 1985 film starring Whoopi Goldberg. Walker had helped reawaken interest in Hurston with an article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” published in Ms. magazine in 1975.

Ms. Boyd happened to meet Walker during her research for the biography and said that Walker, upon learning of her work, touched her face and said, “Bless you, my child.” Some years after the publication of the Hurston biography, when Walker set out to publish her journals from the years 1965 to 2000, she selected Ms. Boyd as her partner in the endeavor.

“Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker,” edited by Ms. Boyd, is slated to be published April 12, according to the publishing house Simon and Schuster.

“Valerie Boyd was one of the best people ever to live, which she did as a free being,” Walker said in a statement provided by the Joy Harris Literary Agency. “Even though illness was stalking her the past several years, she accompanied me in gathering, transcribing, and editing my journals. … This was a major feat, a huge act of love and solidarity, of sisterhood, of soul generosity and shared joy, for which she will be remembered.”

Valerie Jean Boyd was born in Atlanta on Dec. 11, 1963. Her father ran a gas station and tire shop, and her mother was a homemaker.

Ms. Boyd received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern in 1985 and a master of fine arts in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College in Towson, Md., in 1999.

In addition to her work at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ms. Boyd freelanced over the years for publications including The Washington Post. She was a senior editor at the publication the Bitter Southerner. In recent years, she was a writer in residence and professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia

At the time of her death, according to Simon and Schuster, Ms. Boyd was at work on an anthology titled “Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic.” Her survivors include two brothers.

Ms. Boyd noted that, in deference to her subject, she had visited Hurston’s grave in Fort Pierce, Fla., before embarking on the biography.

“I wanted to make a connection with Zora,” Ms. Boyd told the Journal-Constitution, “so I took an offering of Florida oranges, which she loved, and some money — she never had enough money in her life — and a pack of Pall Malls.”

Just as she was leaving, she saw a black crow similar to the one that had circled over the inaugural Hurston festival in 1990. Attendees had named it “Zora.” Ms. Boyd took the sign as permission to proceed.

“I believe that it was something that I was put here to do,” she told the Orlando Sentinel in 2003. “My destiny led me to Zora.”

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