By us, for us, for generations to come.
By Ashley Holt
The National Association of Black Journalists at the University of Missouri, Alé Chapter, started in 1996 because African American students in the Missouri School of Journalism saw a need.
“I didn’t know any other black students going into the journalism school but me. When I got on campus, I avoided the journalism school because I had this crazy reverence for it,” Darryl Swint, NABJ-MU’s first president says.
He said that getting in to the journalism school was his goal, and once he got in he would figure the rest out—but that didn’t prove to be as effective as he’d planned.
“That put me behind in terms of volunteer work, getting to know professors, attending seminars with speakers...It was pretty stupid on my part,” Swint says.
It wasn’t until he was already in the Missouri School of Journalism that Swint heard about the National Association of Black Journalists organization.
“At that time there were no student, black, journalism organizations [on MU’s campus]. I figured they [black students] could get internships, jobs, attend national conventions…It was pretty much a no brainer,” Swint said.
Swint teamed up with two other African American journalism students, Todd Witcher and Naomi (Last name TBA), to put work into this new concept. NABJ would propel black students in the journalism school to the same level of achievement, or greater, as their white counterparts.
Cue Earnest L. Perry Jr., Ph.D.—the chapter’s first adviser and current associate professor, chair of journalism studies and coordinator for the Doctoral Teaching Program. When asked why it was necessary for the Missouri School of Journalism to have its own chapter, Perry puts it simply.
“Because it’s Missouri,” he says. “[To] not have an NABJ chapter just didn’t make any sense.”
Perry recalls Swint contacting him due to his national involvement with NABJ. He was not only a member, but was involved in the planning of conventions on the national level. The students had made connections with professional chapters in both Kansas City and St. Louis, but that didn’t mean Perry didn’t have concerns.
“The problem had always been that there just wasn’t enough students to really put it together and keep it going,” Perry says.
After completing his Ph.D, Perry left Missouri and Ronald Kelly, now assistant vice chancellor of Principal Gifts and University Programs became the adviser in 1998.
“He was sort of the surrogate father of all of the black journalism students. He was kind of a trailblazer in the journalism school,” Swint says.
Kelly, however, said that it was Robert Knight’s journalism camp, AHANA, that laid the framework for NABJ-MU’s current curriculum.
“To teach them different things such as how to address issues, how to network, connect to the right people and how to cover minorities in the media,” he says. “It was a way to bring speakers [in order] to expose them to their success in the media.”
But even after becoming more established, Earnest Perry notes that the issue then became that the students within the organization were either having trouble getting into the journalism school or staying in. This was a challenge that Perry sought to solve by conceiving a mentorship program. He was no longer adviser for the organization, but it was still important to Perry that the organization did what it was created to do.
“What we were able to do was to get a connection between the students who were in the school and [those] who were trying to get in the school,” he says. “And what the students were doing was telling them, ‘Hey, this is sort of what you have to do to get in.’”
To this day, NABJ-MU’s mentorship program remains one of its pillars of success along with its media tour. The media tour is an annual trip in which a group of NABJ-MU students travel to a United States city with top media outlets. This allows them to network and learn from the best in their intended field or ‘sequence.’
“When I heard of the media tours I was blown away,” Swint says. “It’s a testament to the black students and black journalists that came after us that took responsibility to make the organization stronger.”
NABJ-MU is so much more than just its media tour or even its mentoring program. It’s a family that spans decades of graduating classes of the Missouri School of Journalism. NABJ-MU proudly upholds the legacy of its founding members and advisers, but is also responsible for the academic and extracurricular successes of its students.
It’s important that all of the black students coming into the Missouri School of Journalism know that they have an advocate to help and care for them not only until graduation, but for a lifetime.