I remember it like it was yesterday. May 2002.
There I was, in my crisply pressed black cap and gown, sitting under a big white tent with a few hundred young adults like myself. The heels of my brand-new fancy black fabric pumps from Nine West were slowly sinking into the muddy lawn – thanks to the previous night’s rain storm – as I sat there listening to the SUNY Purchase College graduation commencement.
“Wow,” I thought. I had earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, with a concentration in Journalism. At that very moment, I was the proudest that I had ever been of myself in my life. Following endless nights of studying the history of various cultures around the world; after several stories written for the school newspaper, The Dispatch (I wrote a story once about female students who were caught playing soccer topless. They thought it was unfair that their male peers could do this, but they couldn’t); and many black and white photographs later that I had developed in the darkroom during my photojournalism class, I was finally here. Graduating.
The pride that I felt the afternoon I was handed my college diploma followed me for a few years as I embarked on my career. Fear was not a word I was familiar with at that time of my life. I was eager, I was excited, I was passionate, and I was so happy.
Fortunate enough to get my foot in the door at a small local newspaper in my county, the Women’s News, I was on my way to start my journalism career. I was an administrative assistant, which soon turned into an editorial assistant at the monthly newspaper that published stories about businesswomen in the area and other women in the community. The editor would be the first of many women in my life who would encourage me to pursue my passion for journalism. She reiterated the foundation of skills in feature writing I had learned in college, taught me to think outside of the box, and continued to help me hone my talent. And, soon, I was writing stories daily – and the stories were getting better and better the more I wrote.
After the newspaper folded, I swiftly moved on to other newspapers in the area, a not-so-easy accomplishment in the competitive field.
I accepted a position at another local newspaper group, HomeTown Media Group, as an office manager, but instead of just doing my office duties, I was soon writing stories on election night for local political runs and had my nose into the editorial room most days out of the week, listening in to what reporters were bringing to the next edition of the weekly paper. Only after several months of working there, I was approached by a previous coworker to take on a reporter position at a business newspaper group he was working at, where I would solely be able to concentrate on reporting and photography. The publisher of Westfair Communications (another woman who took the time to encourage my journalism skills), gave me the opportunity be the reporter covering a city for a new edition of her newspaper group. Me. Hope Salley. The young girl who had itched her way into writing stories when her job was to mainly work on administrative duties. This was my chance.
I spent days and nights hunting the city for stories. After all, it was my responsibility to get stories – damn good stories – in the paper each week. This was the opportunity I was given and I was going to show them! I created a relationship with strangers I’d meet on the streets, politicians, business owners, parents of children in the school district, and even the homeless. My eyes had opened into a whole new world. And, I loved it, the interaction with people with different stories, different opinions and different expectations. They relied on me to get their stories in print. I soon began writing stories about businesspeople and their passions and taking their photographs for other publications under the news group. And, my eagerness to tell peoples’ stories followed me as I went on to become a reporter a the county’s main daily newspaper, The Journal News, thanks to my career mentor who recommended me – yes, another female role model. Angels leading me the way.
I spent many nights at planning board, zoning board, and town hall meetings. I wrote stories about art exhibits, including one highlighting the late great photographer Gordon Parks, who exhibited his work at a local town’s art gallery before his death. I talked to exchange students from France who expressed their new experiences of America to me. I shared stories with the community about a young teenager, Nick, who struggled with cancer, yet never expressed sadness over his impending death. I later wrote his obituary as a feature story, at the request of his mother.
I loved journalism. It was rewarding.
But, after three years of writing and reporting, my career took a turn. I had maintained my position at The Journal News as a part-time reporter, while others had been laid off. Seeking full-time work and wanting to continue to challenged myself. I entered public relations.
For almost seven years, I wrote press releases, managed accounts and suggested editorial calendars for communication professionals at high-level companies throughout the country. It was a corporate position, I sat behind a desk all day – and I learned. I learned alot about the public relations and news distribution industry, and soon I also learned other positions at the company and helped out in other departments. I was growing. But, a little part inside of me still wanted more … more excitement.
And, here I am today.
I am about to start a new job at a local public relations agency in just a few days that will allow me the opportunity to further enhance my writing skills, PR account management skills, and interview skills. A job that will allow me to be out in the field in the community, attending events and getting the stories out there, and taking photographs – the type of work I feel I’m meant to do.
I’m thrilled. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. The passion is there and because of that I know that I will be fearless on that first day I enter the agency to work on their accounts. I’m dedicated – not to do a good job – but to do an outstanding job.
I have been lucky. I have been fortunate. I have been BLESSED when it has come to my career. Each position that I obtained was not due to the fact of being fired or laid off. I’d like to think that each employer recognized my hard work and skills that I put in each role that I played, and that I was an asset to each organization. I’m certainly not patting myself on the back. It has not been perfect. I have, OF COURSE, had my share of ups and downs in my career just like everyone else. But, I recognize my blessings and thank God daily for them.
As I prepare to take on a new adventure in my career, in my life, I will stay fearless and keep the warm words of encouragement that the many women in my life, past and present, professional and personal, have played in my heart. Along with the many women I have encountered face to face, I also think of one historical pioneer, Ida B. Wells, an African American woman who became a strong figure in black history, women’s history, and journalism. She was certainly fearless. Read here about her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_B._Wells
I’d like to take this time to wish you all a very happy Women’s History Month. I encourage you, too, to take the time to reflect on how women have made a positive impact on your life, and take a look in the past for some very significant women in our history. Be inspired.
T-minus two days until I start my new adventure. I’m writing my own history. Here I go!