NABJ Chicago Goes Behind the Scenes with Mayoral Spokespersons
The National Association of Black Journalists-Chicago Chapter recently gave its members and guests a glimpse into how black journalists and communications experts transition into life as press secretaries for the chief executive officer of the nation’s third largest city.
NABJ-Chicago’s September meeting, held at CBS2 Chicago, featured distinguished panelists, who at different stages of their respective careers served under former Chicago mayors Eugene Sawyer, Richard M. Daley, and incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Cheryl Corley, NPR correspondent and member of the NABJ-Chicago Board, served as event moderator.
The panel featured Monroe Anderson, former press secretary for Sawyer; Tarrah Cooper, former press secretary for Emanuel; Roderick Hawkins, deputy chief of staff for Public Engagement under Emanuel; Jackie Heard, former press secretary for Daley; and Avis LaVelle, also a former press secretary for Daley.
Heard, who was then reporting for the Chicago Tribune, shared that prior to her tenure, she never considered the position. She said she was first approached by Daley himself over breakfast and that it was weeks later that she ultimately decided to accept his offer.
“I went there totally believing that I would walk away with stories, none of this nonsense about being a press secretary,” Heard said. “But after talking to him and hearing his spiel about him needing me on his team, the fact that I had grown up in public housing, attended public schools, and lived in the city my entire life. He said, ‘I don’t have that viewpoint on my team.’ And quite honestly, I respected the fact that he was able to see the need for that.”
Cooper, a Chicago native who assumed the role of deputy press secretary at the age of 25, described how she was able to succeed as one of the youngest-ever press secretaries.
“It’s by saying yes and getting it done,” Cooper said. “No ego, no agenda, but just delivering. I think what’s so significant about all of us is that we work hard. I think there’s no coincidence in how much you have to deliver and the pressure under which you have to do it, and how you have to execute. And that’s something that black people just do really well.”
Also at the September meeting, NABJ Chicago President Maudlyne Ihejirika announced the organization had just selected four college students as winners of its 2018 scholarship program. The winners, who will share $3,000 in scholarships, will be presented with their scholarships at an upcoming meeting. They are: