A. Sherrod Blakely, the new chair of the APSE Diversity Committee, brings more than 20 years of experience as a diversity advocate, and he’s currently in his second term as chair of the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force.
The multimedia journalist is an NBA contributor to Bulletin.com and Bleacher Report, creator and co-host of the A-List Podcast and a lecturer at Boston University. He’s also a Sports and Pop Culture columnist for Ebony.com. The Syracuse University graduate previously covered the NBA for NBC Sports Boston and MLive.com, and college sports for the Raleigh News & Observer.
Sherrod and I caught up recently to talk about his goals as Diversity Committee chair.
Sherrod: One of the bigger things is figuring out ways to amplify women, particularly Black women, in this industry. The diversity report card that Dr. Lapchick released recently – it’s not even about what I think, it’s about what’s out there and what’s not out there. The fact is it’s embarrassing the grades we have when it comes to gender (an F for gender hiring, with a B+ for racial hiring for an overall grade of C). It’s clear as day that women need to have a much greater presence. I teach a journalism class of 15 students and 10 of them are women. To me, that’s the face of journalism going forward. We need to be at the front of that, not playing catchup like we are right now. We have to figure out ways to better position women for opportunities that are out there for jobs. I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that historically.
Lisa: How can we help improve that?
Sherrod: It has to be a multipronged attack. Part of it is through mentorship, and also through awareness of job opportunities and doing our due diligence to ensure that women are part of that process. Often what I find is that the lack of diversity in hiring has to do with the lack of diversity in the application process. There are jobs opening and women and people of color aren’t being made aware of them. We need to have a much clearer pipeline to that access, because it’s not so much about qualified candidates, it’s about having an opportunity to present yourself as a qualified candidate, which we need to be better at.
Lisa: Being chair of the NABJ Sports Task Force and now chair of the APSE Diversity Committee, how do you see that aligning, APSE working with NABJ as well as other groups (AWSM, AAJA, NAHJ, etc.)?
Sherrod: I think we all have the same goal, which is to have an industry that is a better reflection of society, which is not the case right now. As far as the Sports Task Force is concerned, we certainly plan to work closely with APSE on initiatives both in the short and long term. I think there is a lot of potential synergy between the two groups. When I go to APSE conventions, one of the things I see is that there just needs to be more people of color, young people, students there in the room with sports editors, because those are the people who make the hires. It’s been a little bit baffling to me. One of my goals with the Sports Task Force is to increase the engagement with APSE, particularly among our young people because that’s where the decision makers are every year at the annual convention, and when you can make those connections sooner rather than later, it gives you a better chance of being hired, and it gives the news organizations a better chance to realize that diversity isn’t some pie in the sky topic that we talk about, they can see it firsthand, in the flesh, get to know and understand why diversity matters and why this particular candidate is one I need to have this conversation with. I’m excited about the fact that I’m in these worlds that have a lot of the same goals and they just haven’t worked together as closely as they have in the past, and I have absolutely every intention of changing that.
Lisa: Do you think there’s a perception that you have a be a member of a diverse group to be on the diversity committee and make an impact? A White male could join this committee and do great things, correct?
Sherrod: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the misunderstandings and misnomers about diversity. It is not a Black thing, it’s not a female thing. It’s about inclusion, equality and a better reflection of a society thing. If you are interested in that, then the committee is for you. If it’s something that you feel passionate about and want to be involved with, if you want to make a difference and be the change that you want to see, then absolutely it’s something that you should look in to and be involved with. That’s a conversation I’ve had with a number of people when it comes to NABJ. The assumption is that you have to be Black to join, and that’s just not the case. In fact, in any movement of significance that creates progress and creates change, it’s not just one singular group that does that, it’s a collection of groups who all have a common goal. And for us, again, that is to create an industry that is a better reflection of the people we cover.
Lisa: If someone is interested in joining the Diversity Committee, how should they go about it?
Sherrod: The easiest thing to do is to reach out to me at email@example.com. Whenever we have a new member in the Sports Task Force, one of the first things I do is say congratulations and if you need me, here’s my email address and cell number. I have no problem offering myself up to folks I work with, because if you’re willing to go that far and inquire, the very least I can do is meet you halfway and let you know that I’m open to conversation and ideas and thoughts and ways that we can move the needle a little closer to being more diverse and more inclusive in our industry.
Lisa: You’ve been at the forefront of working toward diversity for 20-plus years. The TIDES report comes out, and while there might be signs of progress here and there, it’s mostly still a bleak picture. How do you keep from getting discouraged when you see that? What keeps you going?
Sherrod: The knowledge that there may be one person who I can help get a job. There may be that one woman who is indecisive about whether to be a journalist or not and is maybe inspired by something I do or someone I’ve worked with. Jemele Hill is someone who has inspired a number of women. I’m proud that I had a chance to work with her in the early stages of my career, and we talked about diversity and the importance of giving back when the opportunity presents itself. I don’t really get discouraged about a whole lot in life, in part because of the way I was brought up, but also in large part because at some point, someone didn’t give up on me. At some point someone had enough faith to reach out and help me out and help build me up. And to be frank, I don’t want to let them down.
Rob Parker was one of my first mentors, and he spent more time working with me then I ever would have imagined. At one point he said, ‘Sherrod, I’m going to need you to do something. And I said, ‘Ok, what is it?’ He said, “I need you to help someone when they need it. I don’t know who, but you’re going to help someone. And you’re just going to do it because it’s the right thing to do, just like what I’m doing with you now is the right thing to do.’ That has resonated with me 20-some-odd years later. And I look at guys like Chris Haynes, Vinnie Goodwill, Michael Curtis, young men who I’ve had the chance to work with and see what they are doing with their careers. I’m not looking for credit, just like Rob Parker wasn’t looking for credit when he helped me, and that’s what this is about. It’s about sacrifice, it’s about selflessness and it’s about service. That’s why I’m not giving up, even when the report card is bad, because if the report card is bad, that means you have work to do. This is work, this isn’t play time. I’m excited about APSE and I’m excited about figuring out ways to make this better, because I don’t do losing well. And this is just one of the battles in a war that I have every intention of winning.
Follow Sherrod on Twitter at @ASherrodblakely.
Read the TIDES report here.
This Q&A first appeared in APSE’s monthly newsletter. You can sign up to get the newsletter in your inbox by contacting Jake Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.