By Brionna Jimerson, digital/ multiplatform fellow at WBUR
I started planning for the conference in June, one solid month before I was to set off for Florida, still about $800 short. The opportunity itself was a complete gamble–having enough money to cover the registration fee and airfare, I took an unprecedented leap of faith and tweeted out my desperation on June 26:
140 characters catapulted my professional and personal life to heights that I still can’t believe. The next morning, NABJ Convention Program Committee chair Benet Wilson reached out via email, asking me to contact her. I assumed she wanted to tell me off, to let me know that the NABJDigital Twitter was not designed for post-grad supplicating. I girded myself and called her that morning. Her words still rings in my ears.
Ms. Wilson had seen my tweet, and offered her hotel room to me at no cost, contingent on me writing about the experience for NABJDigital, and “doing the same for someone, someday.” Benet said that I’d stepped out on faith, and that sort of risk should be rewarded and encouraged. I remember sitting in my office’s “innovation lab,” close to tears, crying (in the office!) out of gratitude. I thanked her, did a victory lap (read: power walk) around the office, had a “moment,” and got back to work.
The conference began smoothly enough. I landed, found Ms. Wilson and went straight to my first workshop, “Skillset and Mindset: Change Now or Miss the Bus.” facilitated by Cliff Caldwell, Jackie Jones, and Glenn Proctor. I was paired with Carole Carmichael, Assistant Managing Editor at the Seattle Times. At the outset, Ms. Carmichael began grilling me on my interests and passions, pushing me to find the core of my purpose as a journalist and trace my “Brionna fingerprint,” a marker of quality and originality that I could put on all of my work going forward. This being my first interaction at the conference, I had nothing but high hopes going forward.
The rest of the week, I attended half a dozen workshops, most of them focused on personal and professional development—I wanted to focus intensely on developing a healthy mindset and skill set. The first night found me in the Presidential Suite (with Ms. Wilson’s blessing), at the tail-end of a 25th anniversary celebration for Sheila and Rodney Brooks. Helping to celebrate the love between two expert journalists who forged ahead in their relationship and careers hand-in-hand felt like the perfect culmination of my first night in Florida. I fell asleep confident that Ms. Benet’s faith in me wasn’t misplaced.
On the last night, I was blessed enough to stand in the presidential suite again, as the convention’s organizers, officers, and long-time members got together to reminisce and celebrate the end of another successful convention year. In the last hours, toasts were made and glasses rose to the first woman president of NABJ, Sidmel Estes, outgoing President Gregory Lee, presidential candidate Sarah Glover, and countless others thanked each other for sacrifices and contributions to the organization.
The great friends I’d made during the weekend–Chidre, Megan, Emani, Gabrielle, Rochelle, and Vance (all convention first-timers)—stood with me as we watched history unfold in front of us, and realized that our generation was the next to navigate the organization forward. The energy and pure love in the room was overwhelming. The wealth of information transcended a level of business cards and professional advice. We just wanted to sit at their feet and absorb.
NABJ13 was precisely what my soul needed during the nebulous weeks after graduation. It was a tangible reminder that there are folks who have blazed the trails I’ve yet to come across, and they’re more than thrilled to help me find my way along. The critical mass of astonishing journalists and communicators I met at the conference is enough of a testimony to the importance of fellowship and “paying it forward,” and I won’t doubt for a moment that every opportunity that’s available to me now is the direct result of Ms. Wilson taking me under her wing, because she believed that, with an extra nudge in the right direction, I could carry myself through the experience and emerge intact on the other side.
Brionna is a Tufts University graduate and newly-minted Bostonian (by way of St. Louis, MO). She’s currently a digital/ multiplatform fellow at WBUR Boston’s NPR news station via the David Burke Fellowship for Media and Public Service. Post-fellowship, she will begin the job process in earnest.