(From left) Medill students Jesse Sparks (BSJ17),Thaddeus Tukes (BSJ16), Christen Johnson (BSJ16), Sierra Boone (BSJ17) and Jillian Sellers (BSJ16) leaders of Northwestern's National Association of Black Journalist chapter after winning Student Chapter of the Year honors at the national NABJ convention in Minneapolis.
The Northwestern student chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists has earned national honors as Student Chapter of the Year as a dynamic group of student leaders revitalized the group to serve its members, Medill and the larger Northwestern community.
NABJ president Bob Butler presented the honor at the group’s national convention in Minneapolis on Aug. 5. The group celebrated the win with Medill alumni at a reception the next evening.
Thaddeus Tukes (BSJ16), who was the chapter president during the 2014-15 school year, accepted the award in Minneapolis along with incoming chapter president Sierra Boone (BSJ17) and Jesse Sparks (BSJ17), Christen Johnson (BSJ16) and Jillian Sellers (BSJ16), who are also leaders in NABJ’s Northwestern chapter.
“We are very proud of this incredible recognition for our NABJ student chapter and the student and faculty leaders who have worked to make it possible,” said Medill Dean Bradley J. Hamm. “Medill has a partnership with NABJ in awarding the Ida B. Wells Award each year, and this honor for our NABJ student chapter is special.”
This year, the chapter co-hosted the annual State of the Black Union in conjunction with Northwestern University's Black Student Union. At that event they hosted Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teen who was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida. His death and the early failure of prosecutors to charge shooter George Zimmerman resulted in nationwide protests and sparked debate about racial profiling and the American justice system. As part of the event, Boone interviewed Fulton onstage in front of 600 attendees.
“Typically, student organizations have one dynamic leader who drives the programming and planning,” said Professor Charles Whitaker, faculty adviser for Northwestern’s NABJ chapter. “This group, which was largely made up of sophomores, shared responsibility for programming and did a wonderful job of reaching out to other students in and out of Medill to heighten the profile and effectiveness of the organization.”
Prior to this year, Whitaker said, attendance at chapter NABJ meetings had been declining, but the energy of the executive board revitalized the chapter.
“They held firmly to their belief that NU not only could sustain an NABJ chapter, but that the organization was badly needed,” Whitaker said. “Their determination to revive the chapter has truly paid off.”
The chapter also provided professional development opportunities for members, like brand building sessions, interview practice and an active social media and web presence.
Having an active NABJ chapter benefits not only NABJ members, but the larger Medill and Northwestern communities who can attend events, Whitaker said.
Tukes was thrilled for the chapter’s work to pay off on both the local and national stages.
“I think it's good for Medill to show that not only do you have successful journalists, but you also have African-American journalists who are also being recognized as the best in their field.” Tukes said. “And not only at content they produce, but actually being able to host events and run an organization and I think it's just good for being a black student at Northwestern.”
Northwestern’s NABJ chapter won Student Chapter of the Year once before in 2005.
This year the executive board set earning Chapter of the Year honors as a goal and then worked hard build a strong chapter.
“We've had our eyes on this all year long, so to see it actually happen just does wonders for us as a group,” Tukes said.
Other student chapter finalists for the award this year included the Carolina Association of Black Journalists, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of North Texas student chapter.
Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications Jasmine Leonas contributed to this report.