Being Black in the Media

Me Me

When Emelia “Me-Me” Cowans-Taylor reached out to share that she had been fired from her long-time job at WRAL TV 5, I was devastated but not surprised. Emelia has been a friend and mentor since I joined the board of Women AdvaNCe. When I transitioned to the leadership team, she gave me a ton of advice about what I now consider part of my process of “unlearning” when it comes to harmful journalistic practices.

From being picked on about our hair choices, our weight, our skin complexion and that ever-so-slight “sassy” tone (that seems to bother the hell out of the old broadcast brass). Newsrooms are shrinking and the demand for diversity is intimidating for those who currently hold power. I learned this through a host of conversations with women who have come forward since Emelia released her viral Facebook Live.

After more than 20 years in the business, I joined Women AdvaNCe because I saw it as an alternative to “traditional journalism,” a place where women could share their perspectives. As in the case with Emelia, our collective is strong. Mostly, our audience is kind and supportive of those who come forward. But it sometimes comes with personal attacks, internet trolls and potential legal ramifications.

After seeing what Emelia went through behind the scenes, I applaud her for fighting to get this story widely shared. It took weeks and a viral video before a major news source would share her story. In the business, our editors, producers and co-workers often use the term “newsworthy.” Unfortunately, many colleagues didn’t see it as such, until the hashtag #boycottwral went viral. Women AdvaNCe joined in on signing an open letter from sources including Fayetteville PACT, Advance NC and others to demand justice.

Two things I learned during this month-long process. Emelia’s story has given women the courage to come forward.
This will not be the last time we hear about WRAL or the battle for Black women in broadcasting.

Secondly, WRAL’s public statement shows a lack of empathy or compassion for a long-time employee who had a deadly disease and it corroborates Emelia and others’ descriptions of how they were treated.

The media is quick to judge other industries for how they handle this type of harmful behavior, now we can see the hypocrisy (especially when it comes to Women of Color).

So, for those who don’t know, Women AdvaNCe is a safe space for storytellers. We help folks craft their stories. We look for unique and often buried perspectives of North Carolina women. This is storytelling not transactional journalism. 

Our storytellers are featured in local, regional and national outlets including Time Magazine, The New York Times and CBS.

Emelia’s story is one example of why we cannot be afraid or intimidated by media conglomerates. We will not be silent in calling out injustice.

Antionette Kerr is a syndicated columnist, lover of poetry and a nonprofit consultant.

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