We are so excited to kick off Black History Month with an all new Career Feature! Black media has been an essential tool utilized to bring the voices of communities of color to life on a national scale throughout history. We have been fortune to have the pleasure of sitting down with Najja Parker, of Ebony and Jet Magazine, two MAJOR publications that have paved the way and richly diversified perspectives from news to culture. Najja’s warm southern comfort coupled with her passion for writing turned her dream to a reality. No set back could deter her from getting the role that she envisioned.
Read on to take a glimpse inside the life of journalism through Najja’s shoes!
Digital Editorial Assistant, Ebony / JET
Johnson Publishing Company
Hometown: Memphis, TN
Spelman College, BA Theatre and English
Columbia College Chicago, MA Journalism
TC: Why didn’t you attend a Predominantly White Institution (PWI)?
NP: Spelman had been a dream for me since I was 11 years old. I applied to 4 schools in total but I only did that because my mom said I needed to apply to more schools other than Spelman. I thought it was just amazing that there was this place where all black women went for the same purpose. Despite different majors and degrees, we would all have one goal – receiving a great education. It was really simple for me, if I went to Spelman and used my resources right, I’d be set.
TC: How did you pay for college?
NP: Paying for college was a challenge, especially for my parents who helped out tremendously. They knew I really wanted to attend Spelman so although it was really expensive, we took loans to fund the first year. However, once Spelman saw my work ethic and freshman GPA, they gave me scholarships. I was able to obtain alot starting my Sophomore year up until Senior year. I got scholarships from the theatre program and for my academics and GPA.
TC: What do you think made you a great candidate for those scholarships?
NP: I think it was because of my reliability and trustworthiness. My professors and advisors trusted me enough to know that I was a great student who would get her work done and be serious about my education. They had faith in the potential they saw. And along with that, I was diligent which is a characteristic you have to have when seeking scholarships. Never stop looking and be in tune with your academic advisors because they may have access to scholarships you don’t know about.
TC: What organizations did you join while in college? Were any influential to the position you have now?
NP: I was an ambassador so I gave tours of the campus. I wanted to make sure girls who were visiting were just as excited as I was. I wanted to make Spelman a dream for them, like it was for me. So it was exciting to point out the different buildings and say trivia facts like some of the backdrops from A Different World were Spelman buildings. Being an ambassador taught me how to be a people person and now as a journalist who interviews people I know how to be relatable and make people feel comfortable.
I was also apart of the English Honor Society, and I helped facilitate theatre programs. The theatre programs definitely helped in my current position because as a writer you have to know how to tell a story and much of theatre is storytelling.
TC: Who was you most influential college professor?
NP: Dr. DeKimberlen Neely. She was my freshman year advisor/mentor whom I met during my Freshmen Experience course. She worked in the psychology department at the time, now she’s a dean at the college. I appreciate her because she always told me the truth and if I was ever interested in a program she would tell me what I needed to do to be successful. We had this one program called domestic exchange where you’re able to go to another campus across the country for one semester, so it’s like an alternative for study abroad. I wanted to go to NYU for a semester and she helped me get in. When it was time for grad school she wrote my letter of recommendation. I could go to her office and talk to her about anything and she’d always be available for me.
One time she called me for some reason, I can’t remember, but she left me a voicemail like, “you need to change your voice mail because it’s unprofessional.” She helped groom my professionalism, and ultimately, helped me become a woman. She is an amazing example of a mentor and I will always look up to her.
TC: HBCUs have this reputation that they aren’t as rigorous as PWIs. But do you feel that Spelman was rigorous institution and that it prepared you to work with other people, besides African Americans?
NP: Yes, it was rigorous and it did prepare me because Spelman doesn’t just focus on academics, they focus on cultivating educated black women and what that means to society. Just because we’re among mostly black students doesn’t mean that’s all we know. They teach us how to interact with everyone and they provide opportunities to study on different campuses just in case we want to get a taste of that. They offer internships, study abroad programs, and domestic study programs to put their students in situations where they’re able to apply what they’ve learned from Spelman.
We have so many female professors that groom us. The wisdom that they bestow upon you is amazing because they give you life advice, in addition to academics. So I do feel like I was very well prepared because I knew my voice. Some people who’ve gone to PWIs say that their voice is lost among the other students but Spelman is intimate. They teach us how to use our voice, how to be outspoken, and how to own our own opinions so when we do transition to the workforce we won’t be scared to share what we truly believe in.
TC: Lastly, what advice would you give your undergraduate self?
NP: I would tell undergraduate Najja to stop comparing herself to other people. I found myself doing that a lot because Spelman had so many types of women that went there, and sometimes I had a hard time appreciating what it was that I had. I needed to understand that I am unique for a purpose and nobody can be me, but me. I had to grow a lot to realize that and only experiences got me there.
Be yourself and enjoy being yourself evolves into loving yourself; it’s all apart of you and you have to own it.
TC: Walk us through your career journey?
NP: After I graduated, I worked at Macy’s part-time. But working at Johnson Publishing Company was my first real job. I started as an intern and after six months, I was hired as an Editorial Assistant on the Jet side. At the time we were transitioning from print to digital so there was alot of work to be done. Then, a couple of months later, I was promoted to Ebony magazine and worked as the Executive Assistant to the Editor & Chief at the time. This was an interesting position because I didn’t do as much writing but I got to see alot of the behind the scenes of the magazine. From there, I got another new position as the Editorial Assistant for Ebony magazine and then I came over to the digital side. So I’ve worked for all the publications that you can work for at Johnson Publishing Company.
TC: What is a typical workday like for you?
NP: I’m not a morning person so I have several different alarm clocks, and I cut off about 4 of them before I actually get up. I eat breakfast, but of course, I didn’t leave enough time to eat at home so I take it to go. I have a 40 minute train ride to work and during this time, I’m always on social media because it’s a great way to find news quickly. I’m particularly interested in what people were talking about while I was sleeping and I take notes on stuff I find interesting so I can bring it up during the work day.
After browsing through social media, I read theSkimm because they do an excellent job of breaking down everything that’s going on in the world. My beat is entertainment news; I do news stories every once in awhile but as a journalist it’s important to know what’s going in both the US and across other countries.
Once I get into the office, I make a list of everything I need to accomplish for the day and then I start knocking that list down. I write briefs for Jet’s website and those are normally quick hits that are going on in entertainment and lifestyle. For instance, if someone just released a new music video or someone was cast in Empire it would go on the website. I write about 4 to 5 hits a day and each are 100-150 words long.
On Ebony’s side, I maintain the beauty section so mostly everything that you see on that part of the website goes through me first. I have a group of freelance writers that I manage. They send me their articles, I edit them, and coordinate the schedule of when things go online. I’m also coming up with ideas for content throughout the week because we have weekly editorial meetings and, of course, fresh ideas are needed.
On the administrative side, I maintain the budget and staff calendar. Our main editors send their numbers to me on a weekly basis and I compile it in an excel sheet so my boss can take a look at it.
TC: So your beats are beauty and entertainment. How did you find interest in the beauty and entertainment industry?
NP: I really don’t know. Yes, I’ve always been into entertainment but I guess it all just came together very organically. When I started writing pitches, that’s where they put me and they noticed I was good at it. And as far as beauty, my boss noticed that I was into nails and my twist-outs were on-point so she put me in charge of beauty.
Our boss Kyra Kyles is amazing. She’s the kind of boss that will ask you what you like to do and help you cultivate that through experience. When she took over as vice president of all things digital she sat down with every person on her team to ask what our interests were. She noticed I’d wear different designs on my nails and found out I had a nail blog, so she tapped into that.
TC: You mentioned that you deal with freelance writers. What’s a good pitch and a bad pitch, from a PR perspective?
NP: It really depends but my best advice is to know who you’re pitching to. Ebony is an African American publication, we cater to an African American audience but sometimes I’ll get pitches for things that aren’t a good fit for us. Some people make the simplest mistakes by putting the wrong publication in their emails. That’s probably not a good thing because I question if you really want me to have this story.
TC: What do you enjoy most about your job?
NP: I love when my story touches someone. It’s always about the reader and when they read through a story, they need to feel something. When the reader reacts, whether positively or negatively, I know I’ve impacted them.
TC: How do you escape on the weekends?
NP: I do nothing. I’m around people everyday so alone time has become super important to me. That’s how I reenergize. I watch netflix, order pizza, journal (especially if it’s raining), or I call my friends that I don’t see often.
TC: How would you describe your office culture?
NP: It’s fun. Everyone has a big personality and all the personalities are different so you’re going to get alot out of us on a daily basis. We grind, because we all wear a lot of hats, but we know how to have fun. Everybody just vibes and we’re all on point. If you don’t hear alot of laughter, it’s because we’re on deadline.
TC: For girls, both college bound and in college, who are interested in working for a huge publication like Johnson Publishing Company, how do they get here?
NP: You need to read all the time across all genres. As a journalist, you have to know everything from every sector. Read books specifically because they tell stories. You’ll get topics that you’re excited in and some that you aren’t but you still have to be able to write so that your readers are excited and interested in what you’re saying.
Find out where the need is. Find out what makes you different. There are alot of blog sites that already exist which is great but don’t be like them. You need to offer something different that nobody else has or is doing. I’d also say don’t rely on the internships and other opportunities coming your way; have your own side projects. Don’t take for granted the power of that.
TC: Favorite nail color?
NP: It depends on the season. In the fall, I prefer wine colors. But my favorite brand is Essie. They come out with new polishes quarterly and every edition excites me. Essie’s top coat, Good to Go, is literally life.
TC: #TeamNatural or #TeamRelaxed?
NP: I’m #TeamNatural now but I used to be relaxed. I was to scared to big chop so I transitioned slowly.
TC: Best advice you’ve ever received?
NP: Two pieces of advice that I’ve received have stuck with me throughout my college and career journey and both were from past professors at Spelman.
Dean Baxter taught a really difficult English course and our midterm was to write a 2,000 word essay. I was trying to get home for Thanksgiving and I remember being super stressed at the time. I asked her, “Is it always going to be like this? Where’s the relief?” And she said, “It’s always going to be busy but you’ll just get used to it”. That has always stuck with me because you really do get used to it. It’s about learning to find the balance.
Lastly, my theater professor, Dr. Eddie Bradley, used to always say, “You can’t cheat the process.” It can take months to put on a show. From learning lines to blocking to creating the set to incorporating lights, sound, costumes and props – it’s a lot. So he would say that to remind us that there are no shortcuts. You can’t go over or under it. You have to go through. I’ve applied that to many of life situations and this helps me to stay my course.
TC: If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be?
NP: Jill Scott. Her grace takes my breath away. She’s so in tune with the woman that she is that it’s inspiring. When I see Jill Scott, I see woman.
Thanks Najja for helping us to inspire and empower!