I learned at a very early age that there will always be naysayers around to tell you what you can’t or shouldn’t do. They come in all different forms which often makes them more difficult to recognize. The naysayer could be a good friend, “Come on girl. Let’s go to the ice cream store. It’s hot out here.” You kick your will power to the curb and ride with her to the store convincing yourself the entire ride that you’re just going to look at the flavors. You’re going to stick to your diet. You’re not going to order anything. As you dig into a waffle cone filled with sweet cream ice cream, pecans, brownie, fudge and caramel, she says, “I knew you weren’t really trying to lose that weight.” Then, there’s the coworker… the one who’s warning you for your own good that you’ll never get that promotion you’ve been hoping for. He overheard the bosses talking. They need someone who’s going to hit the ground running. That someone couldn’t possibly be you. Or, the sister who says, “He’s never going to marry you. He’s not the kind who’ll take care of another man’s children.” And, the parent who steers her child away from applying to colleges, “I didn’t go to college and I’m doing just fine,” she says as she anxiously stands next to the mailbox waiting for her check.
As a child, I heard relatives on both my mother and father’s side of the family questioning and criticizing them for having seven children. “Why you keep havin’ all them babies? How you gon’ feed ‘em? How you gon’ clothe ‘em? How you gon’ educate ‘em?” As the years went on, they saw we were all well fed, well clothed and well educated with no help from them. Then, the discussion became… your daughters are too pretty, too shapely, too fast. They’ll all be pregnant by age 16. Your sons are too strong, too cocky, and too defiant. They’ll all be in prison or on drugs by age 18. None of their predictions came to pass. And, thank God my parents didn’t listen to their fertility advice and have just one or two children. If they had, I wouldn’t be here writing this. I’m number six of seven children. My parents heard the naysayers, but chose not to listen to them. They quietly worked their own plan. They pushed forward with their goals and dreams for us, leaving the naysayers to wonder how they made the impossible possible.
I decided shortly after college graduation that I wanted to be an on-air radio personality. During my college years at Hampton Institute, I thought I wanted to be a TV news anchor. It sounded glamorous and exciting. I would get to wear sharp suits and high heels every day and I would get to interview all the world’s movers and shakers. But once I entered the real work world in Washington, D.C., I fell in love with radio. I spent my first two post college years at National Public Radio working as an administrative assistant. From that experience, I realized I was terrible at administrative work, and I also had no interest in becoming a production or editorial assistant. I wanted to be behind a microphone. And, so the journey began, a journey that would lead me down roads crowded with naysayers eager to tell me, “you’re too this or too that”.
During that period, I married a man who was in medical school at the University of Maryland. He made the hour long trip from D.C. to Baltimore every day for about a year, until the commute began interfering with his study time. We decided to move to Baltimore to be closer to his school. I put aside my dream of being on air and took another administrative position at a new public radio station owned by Johns Hopkins University. Unlike many college owned radio stations, WJHU was run by professionals. It was classical station featuring the music of Ludwig Von Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, totally unfamiliar and uninteresting territory for me, but the bills had to be paid, so I took the job.
About a year into my job as operations coordinator, what appeared to be the opportunity of a lifetime became available. A shift opened up, an overnight shift, 2am to 5am, Sunday mornings. I didn’t have to worry about pronouncing names like Pyotr Il’vich Tchaikovsky or Sergei Rachmanivov. All I was required to do was the time and temperature and keep the station on the air for three hours. “The time now is 3:05 … 75 degrees in Downtown Baltimore… high today 86.” I could keep my weekday job, while learning the ropes as an announcer weekend overnights. This could be my shot… my big opportunity… the one I had been waiting for. Bree Taylor and Candy Shannon, two female Dee jays who I considered the queens of Washington radio, I’m coming for your crowns. I talked to my boss, the program director, about the position and I gave him my air check. It wasn’t a real air check because I had never been on air before. It was one I made at the station one Saturday afternoon, but it was enough to give him an idea of what I would sound like on air. To my delight, he came back to me and said it sounded great and he was going to give me serious consideration for the job. It felt like the coming weeks before Christmas…. The excitement, the anticipation. But, my enthusiasm began to wane when days turned to weeks and I heard nothing. Whenever I would ask him about it, he would change the subject. Then, I finally got the word (not from him) that the shift was given to someone else, an intern. I was crushed.
I wanted answers, but he wouldn’t give them to me. Instead, he quietly ignored me. I wanted to know why… aside from the rumors that the intern was his mistress. Then, one of his close associates confided in me… I didn’t get the job because the PD felt I sounded too ethnic. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that too ethnic meant too black. But what exactly did that mean? Apparently, his ears detected something in my voice, my dialect that classical listeners would find disturbing? God forbid if a listener woke up at 4am and heard Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons followed by the voice of an ethnic sounding announcer.
A few years later, I was confronted with the opposite problem. I was criticized for sounding too white for hip hop. After my first husband and I split up, I left Baltimore and eventually ended up in Charleston, South Carolina where I landed a job as an overnight dee jay for a hip hop station. It was the early 90’s. Hip hop was in toddler phase. It hadn’t quite found its voice… neither had I. My general manager, who was African American, complained that my voice didn’t fit the format. I wasn’t hype enough or hip enough for urban hip hop. The only thing he ever complimented me on was my reading. He said I was good at reading promos, liners and public service announcements, but when I needed to sound like I was “down with my people”, I sounded more like NBC Today Show Co-host Jane Pauley doing a bad imitation of Queen Latifah.
When he called me into his office just five months after I was hired, I knew I was about to be fired. I panicked at the idea of having to move again. I had just moved from Houston, Texas where I landed my first paid on-air job. But, all I could find in the southwestern city was part-time shifts. I wanted a full-time shift to finally polish my craft. So, when a former co-worker told me about the job in Charleston, I jumped on it. I packed my dodge charger and headed back east. It was a bold risk, but one I readily took in pursuit of my dreams. Unfortunately, the risk didn’t paying off. I was about to be fired. Where would I go now? I didn’t even have a good air check ready.
To my surprise, I didn’t get fired… at least not that day. I was given a promotion. I was moved to the news department where I replaced the news anchor who had just been fired that morning for coming in late for the tenth time. He felt it was a much better fit for me and he was right. I’ve been anchoring news ever since.
I realized after that experience that the difference between a naysayer and a yeah-sayer is solutions. Naysayers are experts at giving criticism. But they never give solutions. The GM recognized that my sound wasn’t right for hip hop, so he found a solution, an alternative… something I was suited for.
I remarried in Charleston even after my best friend refused to be my maid of honor because she said it was too soon after my first marriage. I married a naval officer who had just received orders to report to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, 40 minutes from Washington, D.C… I was going back to the place I considered home. It took almost a year, but thanks to Kathy Hughes and Radio one I was finally able to break into the D.C. market where I’ve held many positions over the years from morning show co-host to news anchor.
The naysayers continue to follow me with their apocalyptic predictions and cynical insights. My plan to build a successful yoga business is their latest target. They tell me, “Yoga is too weird, all that O-M-M’ing and Namaste-ing. Girl, you don’t know what kind of demons you may be conjuring up. Black people don’t do that. “Or, “Aren’t you too fat for that. Yoga instructors are skinny, uber-flexible. I don’t think Lulu Lemon even carries your size.” I handle their comments the same way my parents handled them. I hear, but I don’t listen as I continue to work my plan.