06/23/2012 11:53 am ET Updated Aug 24, 2012

My First Day at NABJ - 2012

I arrived in New Orleans safely on Wednesday, but caught a bad case of jet lag after my six
hour trip from Boston. I missed a majority--okay, I missed all of the NABJ events on the first
night. My 30 minute nap, which turned into four hours caused me to miss Vice President Joe
Biden speak and soultress Melanie Fiona perform. I did get a taste of the Big Easy's night life as
I hung out on Bourbon Street and ate jambalaya at Coop's Place on Decatur Street.

I redeemed myself on Thursday morning as I dived head first into the NABJ convention bright
and early in the morning. The opening ceremony began with a Second Line brass band full of
local youth and adult dancers dressed in yellow and black costumes and blackface. Greg Lee,
NABJ president and his board members danced behind the band holding up colorful umbrellas.
The live music invoked the New Orleans celebratory spirit and kicked off the beginning of an
amazing first day at the convention.

During the opening ceremony, NABJ chapters and members were honored. Of course, Howard
University won the award for student NABJ chapter of the year (Go BISON!). The ballroom
was flooded with seasoned professionals from my former supervisor Sheila Brooks, founder,
president and CEO of SRB Communications to BET's own Debra Lee who I sat three rows
in front of me. As I sat in my seat taking notes on my iPad. I could not help but to soak in the
experience. I looked down at my lap to reflect and noticed that I had a huge grease-like stain
on the hem of my brand new Rachel Roy dress. I guess I missed the smeared clear lip gloss
on the back of my iPad case. The girlie girl in me said, rush home and change, but the hustler
in me said, charge it to the game. So, I sat there and thought about how much journalism has
been the air that I breathed for many years. It was an honor to be attending the convention with
thousands of members that shared the same passion as me. I was proud to be who I was--black
and a journalist.

After the awards were giving out, Reverend Al.Sharpton spoke about his involvement in the
Trayvon Martin case. Sharpton (who shed a ton of pounds) dismissed the notion that his
involvement changed the discourse in the case. He said, "People don't call you to hide their
problem. They call you to expose their problem." In my opinion, Sharpton's involvement was the
match that lit the fire in the Trayvon Martin case. I think people tend to forget the "Reverend" in
front of Mr. Sharpton's name. He started off as an activist not a journalist, so does he need to
be objective post his current position as MSNBC Commentator, maybe, but to what extent? It's
an unspoken truth in the black community that when Rev. Al Sharpton is called marches spread
across the nation like wildfire and attention is drawn to the issue at hand.

Following Al Sharpton, Trayvon Martin's somber parents and lawyers sat on a panel and talked
about the importance of black journalists and the coverage of their son in the media. Ben
Crump, Trayvon Martin's family attorney said, "We were begging the media to look at the facts."
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin said she was disappointed at some of the medias
coverage of her son's death. Tears welled in her as she said, "It wasn't news to me, it was
my life." The room grew silent as she passed the microphone to her lawyer. After Trayvon's
parents and lawyers left the stage, a panel of black journalists who have been following the
case discussed their role in covering a case objectively despite it being so close to home. I
could relate to what the panelists were discussing because I pitched the story to a conservative
national publication that I was interning for at the time. I knew the story would be huge, but
being the only black woman in the newsroom I didn't want to seem too invested in the case,
but I knew Trayvon Martin's story was beyond newsworthy. I pitched it and wrote an op-ed piece about how Trayvon Martin could have been my brother and received a lot of interesting
comments from some readers. Daralene Jones, General Assignment Reporter, WFTV-Orlando
who broke the story in Florida said she received emails from readers throwing racist slurs at her
like they were compliments. After hearing everyone's personal connection to Trayvon Martin's
story I just hoped that Trayvon's family felt the support of black journalists.

After the opening ceremony, I attended a panel discussion on branding yourself and cutting
through the media clutter. The panel featured journalists Natalie McNeal, Personal Finance
Journalist and the woman behind, the lovely Corynne L. Corbertt (I love her!
), Beauty Editor at Essence, Bomani Jones, Sports Personality, and many more. Although i've
heard it all before about branding yourself as a professional, hearing people who have been
there and done that offer advice about how they made their brand work for themselves never
gets old. They advised the attentive group of budding and seasoned journalists to put more time
into branding ourselves. So, if you have a blog spend as much time and money into perfecting
that blog. They also said to know who your audience is going to be, so if you sell peas, sell peas
to that distinct audience who is gong ho about that green goodness.

I left the panel fired up and hungry, so I headed to Johnny Po'boys. As I walked down the street,
I noticed Trayvon Martin's parents standing outside of Morton's Steakhouse on Canal Street. I
stopped, introduced myself, and extended my condolences to their family. I tried to hold back
the tears as I told them about the piece I wrote concerning their son. I reassured them that there
are good journalists out there and went on my way.

I had a shrimp Po'boy sandwich and the best seafood gumbo from Johnny' Po'boys (i'm still
drooling as I type). My hotel was in the heart of the French Quarter, so finding a place to eat
was a no brainer. After lunch, I changed my stained dressed (Oh, I pray the cleaners can fix
that) and headed back to the Hilton where the convention took place. I attended the Convention
Chairman's reception and hopped right in line to take a photo with Marsha Ambrosius and
Trombone player Jeff Bradshaw (He has played Trombone for Jill Scott and Jay-Z). Yes, you
read right, Ms. Ambrosius was there in the flesh and she was the sweetest person ever. It's
nice to meet artists who are down to earth. She attended the reception to support the With Art
Philadelphia program. The event was open bar, but I kept it strictly professional and sipped on
my virgin Shirley Temple.

My first night at the NABJ convention was beyond a success. I forgot to mention that I handed
out a ton of business cards and exchanged contacts with some big industry names. I'm looking
forward to seeing what the rest of the weekend has in store.