Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Black HERstory: Belva Davis
A Journalism Trailblazer

In honor of black history month, Cocoa Fly is recognizing  black women who blazed trails, kick down doors in their heels and are making a difference in the Black HERstory series. I'm open to profiling women who made remarkable differences on a local and global scale. If you know of a black woman in your town or city who made history, email cocoaflyblog@gmail.com with your suggestions.

Belva Davis seems to have covered it all in her journalism career. In a span of nearly five decades, she has reported on the Black Panthers,  political conventions dating back to 1964, Vietnam protests, the assassination of San Francisco Supervisor  Harvey Milk, President Obama's historical presidential victory and a whole lot in between. Davis became the first African-American woman TV journalist in the Western United States in 1966. Not bad for a Louisiana girl born to a teen mother and raised in Oakland's projects.

Davis shares her struggles and triumphs in her memoir  Never In My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life in Journalism.  Breaking into mainstream journalism is not easy. As a woman of color navigating the industry in brutal economic times, I know the media path is rocky. Imagine the racism, sexism, and classism Davis endured to be on air back in the 1960s. According to her bio,  a San Francisco station manager told her during a job interview he  wouldn't offer her a position because he "wasn't hiring any Negresses."  Yes, even in liberal San Francisco -isms exist. The drama didn't stop after Davis made it to TV.  The pioneer overcame obstacles to stay on air.  While covering the Patty Hearst kidnapping scandal in1974, white supremacists threatened to take her daughter.  These are just a few examples of stories in her book.

I heard Davis speak at a nearby Barnes and Noble. I asked her what are some of the positive and negative changes she has seen in journalism. Davis says the internet has opened doors for journalists to independently create content and put themselves out there ( You know I understand). The problem, she says, with layoffs and cuts, is figuring out how to monetize journalism (Unfortunately, I understand this too well also). The negative changes she sees is slanted reporting and opinionated, so-called, journalism. This style of "reporting" doesn't bring other voices into the conversation on issues.

 At 78, Davis has not closed her reporter's pad yet. The award-winning journalist hosts "This Week In Northern California" on the PBS station KQED. She's not the only history maker in her household. Her husband, William Moore is the first African-American cameraman hired for a major California station. 

 I must say, hearing Davis speak recently inspired me. I thank her for paving the way for women of color in journalism.  Davis was a single parent of two, born during the Great Depression, grew up in a segregated society and still made her way to the anchor's chair. If she can persevere and live her wildest dreams, what's stopping you from reaching yours?

Click here for Belva Davis book-signing dates around the country.

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