When I was a little girl I wanted two things: a pair of magic earrings, identical to the ones in my favorite cartoon, and to be a Fairy Princess Ballerina Astronaut. Both seemed like realistic options in my little world, which I created from my bedroom in Alexandria, Louisiana. I was not aware that hologram, time-traveling earrings did not exist…and probably never would in my lifetime. Nor was I told that balancing a theatrical career and space travel might prove to be difficult and test my time management skills.
I was young, full of hope and daring to dream.
As an adolescent, I aspired to be a ballet dancer. It seemed like a more far-fetched dream than the magic earrings, because I did not know any African American professional dancers. I could see my cartoon every week on TV in the living room (yes, cartoons felt like real life), but a real-life, professional dancer of color in front of my very eyes…not likely. I was often the only dancer of color in my ballet classes, and when you live in “Small Town, USA,” being a dancer, or any creative occupation for that matter, is not exactly encouraged.
My mother, my first mentor, recognized my passion and love for the performing arts and was determined to not only encourage me to pursue my dreams, but also to show me that those dreams could in fact become a reality.
My mother heard about a Principal Ballerina in her hometown of Houston, Texas by the name of Lauren Anderson. Ms. Anderson was a performance powerhouse with the Houston Ballet. She was also one of the first African American ballerinas to become a principal for a major dance company, an important milestone in American ballet. My mother had two tickets to see Ms. Anderson perform the Pas de Deux in “The Nutcracker” ballet, and she was taking her baby girl.
When Ms. Anderson stepped on stage, I felt as though I leaped onto that stage with her. Every step, turn, and gesture had a young Dana Blair mesmerized. The possibility of seeing someone like me, in front of my very eyes, accomplish their dreams was all of the motivation and inspiration I needed. I then knew that my dreams could also come true.
Fast forward several years to when I would move to New York City and, quite literally, live out multiple careers, first as a dancer and marketing executive and now an on-air correspondent and producer. While the journey seemingly had no clear path, it did have men and women along the way that took interest in my potential, supported my goals and nurtured my dreams. Thus, like my mother, these mentors went above and beyond the call of duty to guide, challenge and direct my energy and talents. They too showed me that my dreams could become my reality. Without them, I know I would not have achieved many of my milestones, big and small, along the way. Their mentorship guided me through difficult career decisions and taught me invaluable life lessons.
Each of my mentors over the years have come from different economic backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and industries. However, they have all given me the same advice over the years: “Don’t thank me. Just pay it forward. One day it will be your turn.”
Now it is my turn to step up to the plate and pay it forward. This is why I joined NNPA’s 2018 Discover the Unexpected (DTU) Journalism Fellowship program as a Road Trip Navigator (mentor). I was honored to be considered for the role and leaped for joy once I found out that I was on the team. I now have the opportunity to align with General Motors and the Chevrolet Equinox, a brand as passionate about mentorship and empowerment as I am, plus get to know six really cool, motivated young men and women representing six HBCUs throughout the country.
I had the pleasure of meeting the DTU Fellows in Detroit for an intense two-day boot camp to get them road trip ready. I must say I felt like the overzealous, nosey auntie at the family BBQ. Their eyes were bright. The energy was high. I wanted to be all in the mix. I wanted to know everything about them from birth all the way up to what they had for breakfast that morning.
As six sets of eyes looked at me from around the table, I struggled to find the right words to empower and inspire, yet not overwhelm them (I tend to talk a lot!). These young, bright minds are future Black journalists that will shape dialogue in our country and increase representation for their generation.
What words of wisdom did I want to impart?
I came up with these three tips to help them prepare for their summer-long internship of road tripping in the new Chevy Equinox:
Be Prepared. You are journalists now. It is your duty to know all of the angles, research and possible plot twists on the subject. What do you want to discover, explore and share with your readers? Furthermore, how do you want to deliver this to your audience?
Be Polished. Ms. Anderson provided important representation in the dance world and created a ripple effect in my life, and I am sure in many others. It is important that the Fellows are on point. As young men and women being granted access to some really cool stories, rooms, and executives, conduct yourselves in a polished manner. You never know who is watching and what your presence may communicate.
Pay Attention. In media, it is your job to see the details. It is often those details or tidbits of information that pop up in an interview that can make or break a story- carrying you down a new road to find something truly powerful and interesting.
I am humbled and honored to be a part of the NNPA’s 2018 DTU Journalism Fellowship and the fellows’ journey. I hope that my stories, lessons learned, tips and, of course, the occasional corny joke show them that their dreams can become a reality, just like mine. This is their time to thrive and shine, and I am beyond thrilled to sit next to them in the driver’s seat. Let’s go DTU 2018 Fellows! We have some new roads to discover!
Dana Blair is the Road Trip Navigator for the NNPA’s 2018 Discover The Unexpected Journalism Fellowship program. Dana is also a producer and on-air personality. Follow Dana on Instagram @justdanablair.
Learn more about the NNPA’s Discover The Unexpected Journalism Fellowship at nnpa.org/dtu.