My mom is fond of telling the story about how I was meant to "tell the news" long before I attended journalism school and landed my first job on TV. In recalling my childhood, she says it was a
common, almost daily occurrence for her to raise up the window and yell for my brothers, sister and me to come into the house and everyone would come in except me.
When she asked my siblings where I was, they would give an answer similar to the one they'd given her the day before: "There's a fire and she's outside looking at the firemen put it out" or "That boy who lives across the street in that blue house was fighting with that other boy, and she is still watching the fight." My mom goes on to say that when I did come in I would "report" in vivid detail what had happened. So, it's no surprise that I became a reporter.
Sometimes it takes a while to recognize the thing that you LOVE to do--the thing you are passionate about. I started my career as a reporter in a radio newsroom before heading to television.
I started out at a small station in Mississippi then traveled to Illinois to work before heading to Albany, New York and WNYT-TV to work as an Education Reporter. Now I'm the 5:30
anchor/education reporter. I've covered everything from President Obama's awarding of the Medal of Honor at the White House to Sgt. Henry Johnson, to tornadoes in Oklahoma to the Elian Gonzalez
controversy in Cuba, to former First Lady of New York, Michelle Paterson.
But, my passion was realized while earning a Master's in International Women's Studies and learning about gender issues women were facing in many countries around the world. While in school I traveled to Africa and filmed a documentary on women in three countries. TOUCH A WOMAN, TOUCH A ROCK examines the importance of grass roots activisim in changing the lives of women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo-where women are being raped by the thousands-by soldiers who use rape as a weapon of war. The documentary also discussed the impact of AIDS on women in South Africa and poverty in Tanzania. It was on my return home that I really understood how even in the face of challenges women remain powerful. They are carriers of compassion, selflessness, and the ability to partner with others to not only change the lives of their families but their communities. So coming back home, I vowed to get that narrative-about the power of women- out there. In 2011, I started a weekly series called TODAY'S WOMEN at the television station www.wnyt.com. Now, like the magazine cover above says-I'm telling the stories of women around the world through the website www.SHESPEAKS2ME.com and through documentaries. My most recent is "SHE'S BLOC...KING,' a film on women who stutter. Every day most women talk without thinking. But, not all women. For some they have to think and analyze every word they say. Check out the trailer by clicking on My videos.
I met Pam Mertz and was instantly taken with her ferociousness at bringing awareness to women who stutter. I had never thought about women who stutter and had only known men. I was interviewing Pam around the time that the movie, "The Kings Speech" had come out for my television series on women called TODAY'S WOMEN. While listening to her reaction to the movie, she told me she also produced a podcast-talking to women around the world who were stutterers. I found that so unique that I told her I wanted to do a documentary on her podcast. I finished it in late 2013. It's called 'SHE'S BLOC...KING." Blocking is a term for stammering. We hand several showings of the movie and both times our discussion after the movie topped more than an hour-people were fascinated. I thank Pam for her lesson in friendship not just toward me but to the women whose stories she shares with the world. To purchase a copy of her poignant story go to our Products page. Also listen to her podcast, Make Room For the Stuttering, www.stutterrockstar.com
My life changed in 2007 when I traveled to Africa and met some great women--my sisters that I developed a great love for.
It was my first trip to Tanzania, Africa that I really got to see myself. I got off the plane and was greeted by women in colorful dress cheering me on. They looked just like me, same brown skin-same butt. They were so friendly it is like we were long time friends. My host owned a travel agency and as we stopped by her office I got to meet more women-same thing-although we lived thousands of miles apart it was like I had known the women for years. At her office, I met Massi women--their men are known as warriors but these women are all about finances. These women found that the life they lived in the rural areas was changing dramatically and they needed to do something in order to survive. So, they traveled to the urban area and started making jewelry (beautiful) and selling it. They weren't making a fortune but what I was impressed with was their ability to adapt and make changes. I then traveled to a rural area just outside of Dar Es Saleem and met rural women there. My host has a non-profit
www.Africanreflections.org which supports these women through agri-programs. The group places wells inside the village to provide water but to also keep the women save from rape and kidnapping. They also have farms where the women plant vegetables and sell to restaurants and keep the rest to feed their families. But the part that made me smile was how they took some of their profits and secretly had bank accountants set up and started saving money without their husbands knowing. I was there to met these women and interview them for a documentary I was producing. I realized that despite our distace, our culture and socio-economics these women wanted exactly what I wanted. They want to live in peace, provide for their children and they want to be financially independent. It was easy to be friends with them. Friends are people you chose-people who add to your life. These women did just that for me and showed me I was not better than they were. I was just like them.
In 2008, I met a man unlike any man I knew. His name is Dr. Denis Mukwege. I had read about him while earning a Master of Arts degree in International Women Studies from State University of New York, Empire State College.
I was trying to understand how it was that men, soldiers were using rape as a weapon of war in Democratic Republic of Congo. I read how they had raped hundreds of thousands of women in a protracted civil war. If the act of rape wasn't evil enough the soldiers were intentionally destroying the women's reproductive organs, using candles, bayonets, guns to tear the women apart literally. The more I read the more repulsed I became. I could not fathom how one human being coud do that to another human being.
Then I read about the great doctor. At his hospital, Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Congo he was not only restoring the women to health, he was giving them hope. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was awarded a Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2011. In 2015 an Honorary Doctorate degree was bestowed upon Dr. Mukwege by Harvard University.
Shortly after reading about him, I discovered he was coming to the U.S. to speak in Washington D.C. at the Holocaust museum. I met him, told him of my interest in what was happening in Congo and that I was producing a documentary and asked him if I could interview him. He agreed and has been my hero ever since. It is my pledge that until Congo has changed for women I will continue to help them. I am doing this through a book on Friendships that I wrote and am selling on this website under MY Products or on Amazon.com. It's called 'THE FRIENDSHIPS BETWEEN WOMEN '.
In May 2015, I held a fundraiser for them, 'STANDING IN HER SHOES' and sent over 1100.00 to the Panzi Foundation USA. More fundraisers will follow but if you'd like to send a donation directly to the Panzi Foundation, just click on the link below.
UPDATE: September, 2009
It has been two years since I told you about my trip to Tanzania. Since that time, I have also traveled to South Africa and begun a relationship and partnership with women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Sew Much More. In my travels to these countries, I interviewed women there and produced a documentary, Touch A Woman, Touch A Rock.
What I uncovered is that women in these countries want what women around the world want; to be independent thinkers and to better themselves and improve the lives of their children. But unlike some women in other parts of the world, they face gender inequality and struggle as victims of poverty, gender abuse and war.
What I also discovered is that with the help of activists African women are becoming activists themselves. They may not have the physical muscles but they do have maternalism. They are saying as females who hold their comunities together, and mothers who birth a nation they have the right to have jobs, homes, food, access to clean water and the right to be safe.
In the documentary, I found out that in Tanzania activism equals money. With the help of activists Tanzanian women are gaining financial independence and gaining respect from the men in their village. Click on video.
In Congo, their activism means speaking out about the abuse they face in war. Congolese women are writing letters detailing their abuse. Click on video. And in South Africa, activism means education. Women there are fighting for change by educating girls. Click on Video. Stay tuned for other stories about women.
In eleven months, I will head to Africa-South Africa. It will be my second trip to Africa. In 2007, I traveled to Tanzania, Africa. I was on a fact finding mission wanting to learn more about the group, African Reflections. It is an organization that is "A well of water for women in Africa." Women of Africa Interviews And, what I saw changed my life. I fell in love with the people, especially the women and children. In fact, I have never met people so eager to succeed and achieve their dreams. In an attempt to help them, I am now the international ambassador for African Reflections And I am working on two very special projects, that I need your help with. The first is Biscuits for Breakfast. It is a program to feed students at the Mkokozi Primary School. Students there have no cafeteria or money to buy anything for lunch, so they get nothing to eat all day. Click on “Notes from Africa" below to read more about that journey.
The other program is called, Such Beautiful Girls. When girls begin to develop into young
women, many of them drop out of school, not only because many schools have one communal bathroom, (It’s not really a bathroom, just a cement floor with a hole in it) but also because they do not
possess feminine hygiene products.
But, with your help, we can make sure kids eat breakfast at school. And, we can make sure that young ladies, get feminine hygiene products so they can stay in school.
For more information:
I read a lot of magazines but never thought I'd be on the cover of one!!!!! In 2012 I became a cover girl.
My story: In February 2015 I discovered who I really was. I thought I knew who I was! What I know for sure is that I am blessed by God. I have a great family that I love, a beautiful home and a great job. I have been a journalist for over 25 years and covered politicians, criminals, natural disasters, teachers, I've traveled the world-Paris, Cuba, London, Rome, Africa, Costa Rica, Greece, Monte Carlo, China, you name it!
But, six years ago, I started telling the stories of women. I began a weekly television series at the NBC station I work for and started producing documentaries on women. Five months ago, I created this website for women. They may not be celebrities, or politicians, and in some people's eyes, there's no reason to celebrate them but I disagree. Women have the toughest jobs. They are single mothers raising the next generation. They put their dreams on hold for others, they go without food so their babies don't go hungry, they survive breast cancer, divorce, they get raped but they change a community for the better, they stay up late to create their own businesses and fulfill their own dreams. And, telling their stories has made me happier than I have been in years. It feels like I am finally fulfilling my purpose.
But, last month, I discovered my own story; my history, my family history. It is that I am the great, great granddaughter of slaves. I met a geneologist, and she researched my history and brought truth to an oral family history that I had heard most of my life. That family history was that my great, great grandmother, Jennie Caldwell was a slave and may have been fathered by a plantation owner with the same surname. Tara, the geneologist, searched dozens of documents and found my great grandmothers name and the name of the plantation owner.
While I read those documents and thought about what it must have been like for Jennie growing up in Sardis, Mississippi in Panola, Co. Mississippi, where all the blacks in the entire town were slaves, it moved me to tears, right there on the air as I shared my "Her-story". It was then, that I understood who I really was and why things have been so very, very hard for me (I know it's a shock-I always look so put together) . It's because of the blood line I come from. I come from slaves, the strongest people I know. And, things have been so hard for me because I am doing a work that few are doing. I am giving people who are often marginalized, paid less, labeled emotional, and abused, a voice and that takes guts. But, I come from good stock and I will be just fine.
What's your 'her-story,' Others are just dying to hear it.
My story is on video on WNYT. CLICK the link below
Think about it, what would your life be like without your girlfriend? I know mine would
not be as fulfilling. If you are like me, you have five or six girlfriends that you are really close with. One is adventurous, one is a comedian-just hilarious, another prays with you and one always
tells you the truth. There have been studies that show having friends improves your health. Friends, good friends help make you a better "you".
I found that out after hearing about women living in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. I was crest fallen when I discovered they were being kidnapped and raped by soldiers in the midst of an intractable civil war. These women had had children by these soldiers, many times the soldiers purposely destroyed the women's reproductive system, and if they escaped and made it back to their villages they were often ostracized by their families. You might ask how could these women teach me anything-they would appear to need my help and not the other way around. But, that's not true- what these courageous women taught me was how to be courageous. After hearing their story, I racked my brain trying think of how to help them. I decided to write a book. I would sell the book and give the proceeds to the women. That was the first lesson in courage-I'd never written a book. To cut to the chase, it was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. I'll share just one of the frightening things I went through while doing this. I accidently DELETED the book after being 95-percent done with it. But, I managed to pull myself together to start again. I used thousands of dollars of my own money to the dismay of many people. They couldn't understand why I woud do such a thing. Next, I decided not to take any of the proceeds from the book. Again, stupid-that's what peopled called me. But, I proceeded and three years after I started, I was done. The Friendships Between Women rolled off the presses. But if would take me 10 years before I was finally able to get money to the women. Perserverance- if these women could manage to survive-to hold on- despite all the heartache they'd endured-so could I. The friends I'd never met were with me every step of the way, telling me to keep going, to take risks, to dare to do something I've never done before-to do something for someone I'd never met all in the name of FRIENDSHIP. The book is a book of letters-letters by women detailing how a girlfriend changed their life. I asked women to write about their girlfriends. And, they did! They shared stories of how, because of their girlfriends, they were able to survive losing a child, losing a parent, going to prison, and finding their way in a new country after surviving genocide in their native land.
They also talked about enjoying "girl's" nights, going shopping, as well as, how female mentors changed their lives.
These letters were so poignant, that I took the women into a recording studio and we
created a CD-with the women reading their own letters. It was a such a special time!!!
So, what does friendship mean to you? What would you do to help out a friend? How would you describe your friendship with your best girlfriend? Write me a letter about your best girlfriend, and tell me why she is so important to you.
We will post them. Make sure you include where you are from. Share your friend with others!
OK, that's a little misleading. I've never met Bradley Cooper but I had the great fortune of being in one of his movies and it happened quite by chance. Cooper, Eva Mendes, and Ryan Gosling came to Schenectady, NY to shoot a movie, PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. The director was looking for reporters to be extras in the film. I found out very late but applied by email. I went out of town and they contacted me while I was gone. I returned and figured I had missed my chance. The movie changed directors and a year later I got a call to read for the on-air anchor in the movie. I did and months later was told I was in the movie. I guess the marketing had already gone out so I never got my name on the movie but sure enough when they held a premiere in Schenectady there I was near the end of the movie. And, as if things couldn't get any better, I now get residuals. I'm a movie star, Sweet!