Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.
I'm a documentary film-maker, writer, and professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. I founded a specialization in documentary filmmaking here. Right now I am focused on a performance piece called "Casting the Vote" which seeks to create conversation around our relationship to democracy. It's a night of theater, a documentary experience, aa dinner party, and an opportunity to engage with one another person-to-person. Our team is seeking a way to scale it nationally for the 2020 political conversation.
Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?
I joined to get outside of my network of academes and journalists. I have only been a member for a year but the squads are definitely a highpoint for me. I listen and tink, "Gee, where would I have been had I had access to this kind of support earlier in my career?"
How would you define your professional mission?
I facilitate communication around uncomfortable stories.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
Persistence. Curiosity. A willingness to be unreasonably reasonable, as my friend Gwen Ifill of the PBS NewsHour used to say. A love affair with structure and the way discipline allows stories to unfold.
What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?
I told my life story as a documentary - most of the details of my life remained a secret, even to me, well into my forties. The documentary, "Secret Daughter" ended up making my career .
What are some career challenges on your radar?
I want to build a Center for Documentary at the Journalism School - that's a hefty lift; and I need to find those who can become the pillars for that effort.
What project have you worked on that you’re most proud of? Why?
I took on a series, "This Far by Faith" - which had been started by Henry Hampton of Blackside. When Henry died, the company went bankrupt. I formed my own company (developed as a non-profit); raised the money - nearly a million dollars - and got the six-part series completed. It aired on PBS in 2003.
We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?
Total serendipity. I decided I wanted to be a reporter when I was in middle school. From then till now, it's been a sort of meandering journey. I would land someplace, figure out what did and didn't work for me, work within the structure to the extent possible, then move one when I couldn't fit anymore.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
I love meeting and talking to strangers and telling their stories - and we all have one.
Who are your role models?
Henry Hampton, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Judy Crichton, Adrian Leblanc. My mother.
What does success look like to you?
You know I honestly don't know. I'm embarrassed by accolades; was raised Episcopalian! There are individual things: seeing a finished film on air or on-screen. My book: so I would say completion.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer working moms?
Find your squad! The ones who will be with you ride or die; the ones whose advice you'll follow; the ones you can confide in during your weakest moments. They may not all be the same squad. Diversify.
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