Birmingham conference offers Civil Rights history, affordability, central location in South

From left to right: Karen Gray Houston, Craig Melvin, from the Today Show, and Sharon Stevens pose for a photograph on the first of the day of the NABJ Convention at the Sheraton lobby Wednesday, August 2, 2023.
Lena Pringle (left-green), 30, an anchor at WISH-TV in Indianapolis, embraces Aleesia Hatcher with WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, FL at the NABJ career fair in Birmingham Alabama Wednesday, August 2, 2023.

By Christina Norris

NABJ Monitor

When the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists President Carla Wade relocated to Birmingham from Las Vegas in 2020, she didn’t realize that NABJ had chosen Birmingham as the convention site for 2023. 

Steve Crocker, the former president of BABJ, was a part of the team that lobbied for years to bring the convention to the city, along with the current Treasurer, Roy S. Johnson. Crocker says the board’s decision to select Birmingham – a deviation from larger cities usually selected – for the convention was “God’s timing” along with affordability, the city’s progress, and, most importantly, its Civil Rights history.

“We can’t forget our ties to history,” said Crocker. “There are so many people who are still walking around who were integral parts of major moments of the Civil Rights movements of the ’60s.” 

Wade, a transplant from Nevada, said a lot of African Americans in the West and Northeast have roots in the South.

“So they felt like this was a kind of a way of bringing those people back to kind of where a lot of their origins are from,” she said.

Although she is newer to the BABJ chapter, Wade was and still is excited to work with the NABJ convention committee and help convention attendees return to their roots. She says the NABJ board is BABJ’s “biggest cheerleader” in the planning process. 

“Anytime we’ve had a question, anytime we’ve needed support, they have been like, beyond helpful,” Wade said. “I don’t think even as a host chapter if you really want to put your best foot forward, you can’t possibly do it without the support of the board of directors.”

Convention co-chairs Tia Mitchell and Glenn Rice are empowering the NABJ Task Forces not only to meet their members’ programming needs but also to reflect on Birmingham’s history. 

“We worked really hard on making sure that no matter what type of journalist you are, whether you’re print or broadcast or digital, no matter what your beat is, no matter whether you’re a student or early career or mid-career or late career, whether you’re an educator or a manager, we really want to make sure there was programming for everybody,” Mitchell said. 

To them, an NABJ Convention means returning to a sense of friendship and family. 

“You know, I’ve been a member for close to 35 years, and you get to see faces that you know, that you haven’t seen in quite some time,” Rice said. 

Mitchell is always surprised by who she sees. 

“You can’t keep track of who was coming and not coming on any given year,” she said. “But you’ll be walking down the hallway, and you’ll see someone you haven’t seen in forever, or like you might not have seen someone but hear a scream and a squeal, and someone has made a connection with someone they haven’t seen.”

Birmingham also offers proximity for the many NABJ members who live in the South, and it is less expensive than some bigger cities, Mitchell said. 

“I’m hoping this year there are there will be a lot of people who either it’s their first convention in a while, or maybe their first convention ever, but having it in a city that’s a little bit more accessible and a little bit more affordable has allowed them to come to have that NABJ experience for themselves,” Mitchell said. 

Not only are NABJ and BABJ working together to host this convention, but the city of Birmingham is helping through sponsorships and recommendations for visitors, such as the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Wade is aware that most people not from the South view Birmingham through the black-and-white lens of the Civil Rights Movement and the horrors that occurred there.

“We wanted people to get a chance to experience the new Birmingham that has so many Black entrepreneurs, the Birmingham that’s led by an African American mayor, and I think at one time the police chief and fire chief were both African Americans,” Wade said. “I mean, there are major companies here that are headed up by African Americans. And I think that’s something that a lot of people just aren’t aware of.”

Wade also thinks there’s a place for Black journalists in “The New Birmingham.” 

“As a Black journalist, I’ve gotten to do stories here that I have pitched for years in other newsrooms, and never — you know, those stories got shut down,” she said. “The majority of our audience is white. They don’t care about that. So, I do think that there’s definitely a lot of support for black journalists in this market.”

Janet Pugh, a weekend morning producer for WBRC FOX 6 News in Birmingham, is excited to attend her first convention in the city where she works. 

“For it to be in Birmingham, in my home city, like I said, it feels like I’m right in my backyard learning everything I can about the world,” she said. 

University of Alabama student Kenneth Kelly said it’s an opportunity for him and his friends to make a convention.

“With it just being an hour up the road from campus,” he said. “It gives a lot of our students and members at our NABJ student chapter the opportunity to come in.”

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