In honor of Women’s History Month in March I want to take this time to highlight women in media who are breaking barriers. Being a black woman in the media is hard because just like in any career, you have to be the best and look good while doing it all. This is for all the young ladies making their dreams come true and recognition that they deserve.
Social Media: @heysamra
Career: Creative Writer based in NYC
Quote that I live by: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” -Audre Lorde
How did you find your passion and when did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
I realized my passion for writing during high school. I wrote a creative short story based on Isabel Allende’s The House of The Spirits” for an AP Language assignment and my teacher noted that I should consider a career in writing. I had always liked writing, and I was pretty active in my high school’s journalism department, but that little boost of confidence got me thinking about how I could write professionally someday.
I was pretty focused on careers that would be lucrative, though; I didn’t know anybody who did anything creative and I didn’t believe in my ability to monetize a writing career, even despite winning a journalism scholarship that my high school awards to one journalism student in the program each year. I wanted to make my family proud, and I thought the only way to do that was through a more practical career; something STEM or business-related. Writing someday was always a goal of mine, though. One that I had an inkling I would circle back to at some point.
How would you say you got your break into the entertainment industry?
Like I mentioned before, coming into writing was a bit of a circuitous path. I majored in healthcare management and policy during undergrad, after devising a plan to get my MPA/MPH and work for an NGO abroad somewhere, or for the UN like one of my aunts who I looked up to. After not being able to find an internship in public health that suited me my junior year, I expanded my options and ended up landing an internship in NYC with an organization called DoSomething.org. I did healthcare campaigns for them, but being in the digital space in some capacity and being able to use my creative capacities more intentionally definitely made me switch gears. Instead of changing my major to something media-related and taking a fifth year (I had a full ride and wasn’t willing to go into debt), I planned to do another internship in digital media after graduating, and just kind of crossed my fingers hoping that something would work.
I moved to New York City 2 weeks after graduation and did a Digital Campaigns Intern at Global Citizen, a nonprofit that uses music to incentivize people to help them reach their goal of eradicating global extreme poverty by 2030. I worked mostly on social and did some internal reporting, but I asked the content team to let me write a few articles for their global news feed, mainly so I could get some editorial experience and have some clips in my portfolio, should I ever need them. I had a great time there, and I learned a lot, but they weren’t hiring any more full-time Social staffers and I was intent on doing something social media, marketing, or editorial-related, so I explored my options in the city.
I fired off resumes and poured my soul into cover letters for 5 weeks before I landed a gig that really spoke to where I thought my career should go. It was a Marketing Coordinator position at a technology company, and I had the opportunity to work on social media, email marketing, copy writing, and even editorial writing here and there. It was a great first job: I learned so much and had amazing bosses who really wanted me to grow and use my creativity as much as possible, even in a more conservative and traditional space. I liked it there, but ultimately I knew I wanted to break into the media industry. I applied to a few jobs in NYC and some in LA, and one day I got an email from a recruiter at BuzzFeed about an application I submitted for a Creative Writer position on their Branded team. I was shocked; I didn’t have a degree in anything media-related, and I barely had any experience, and BuzzFeed seemed so huge and competitive. And it was. But I realized that my diverse experience and unique portfolio was what got me the interview. After interviews and completing and presenting an assignment for the team, I was extended an offer.
What do you feel was the most helpful thing that jumpstarted your career?
I’d definitely say doing meaningful internships with reputable organizations in NYC was the springboard for my career. I knew that having that experience would be the key to securing job offers in an industry that had such abstract hiring practices, especially as a black girl without big-shot connections in the city. I sacrificed a lot by interning again directly after graduation, especially because it didn’t really pay (minus a tiny stipend that basically only paid for my Metro card) and I basically had to wipe out my savings, but I knew I had to do it to get someone to look in my direction. And it worked.
What does it mean to be a black woman in media to you?
In 2018, being a black woman in media means so many things. For me, it means finding your niche; finding the space that allows you to create based on your unique skills, style, and voice. I write content for tons of different companies, but I never feel like I’m sacrificing my integrity– mainly because I work for a company that makes sure I feel comfortable doing whatever I’m doing, but I make it a point to be as creative and personal as possible in the content I pitch and write.
How would you explain your experience of being a black creative has been in your journey?
This is news to nobody, but I think being a black creative means having to work ten times harder to prove yourself. I figured everything out on my own, and worked incredibly hard to sustain myself and secure a creative career. On the flip side, my blackness is the reason for my creative identity and capacity. Being a black woman, an Ethiopian woman, has bound me to certain interests and, even when I didn’t realize it, helped me cultivate a voice and a style and cultured me in ways that absolutely make me a better creative.
What inspires you to keep going in this industry?
People. On days when I’m feeling slightly discouraged, I just look up around me and see amazing, talented individuals, both within my social circle and at BuzzFeed who both inspire me and remind me of why I wanted this so bad. This industry offers endless possibility, and my trajectory just depends on how I decide to refine myself and put my creativity to work.
Share something about your position or the industry that you wish you would’ve known before going into it.
I wish I would have taken Creative Cloud more seriously. Even if you don’t necessarily want to be a graphic designer, learn PhotoShop on YouTube or take a class during college if you can! I’m a creative writer, and BuzzFeed has its own amazing graphic designers for more sophisticated posts of course, but writers use PhotoShop A LOT for the different types of posts we make.
Who are some women you look up to in the industry?
My good friend Hannah Giorgis, a phenomenal writer and one of the most supportive and uplifting women I know; Ashley C. Ford, a spectacular writer whose memoir I can’t wait to read; Doreen St. Felix, another phenomenal writer who currently is at New York Mag; and Issa Rae. I watched her web series “Awkward Black Girl” when I was in high school and thought she was a genius. It was so funny and so relatable and I feel like her come up just speaks to everything I’ve learned: being dope and believing in your self and working hard as hell gets you where you belong.
What has been the most difficult situation you’ve had in your career or with starting your career?
Starting my career was the hardest part of it all! I was so broke after my summer internship post-grad and had the worst anxiety every. Looking for a job– a job that you like and makes sense for you– is one of the hardest things, and I was riddled with guilt because I had turned down a great job in Madison, Wisconsin that would have guaranteed my financial stability. I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, though, and the grind was worth it. The tears were worth it. The struggle was absolutely worth it, and I’d do it ten times over.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your journey?
Don’t give up. Don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes, you might get nothing but rejection after rejection, but all of that rejection is just helping you narrow down what you really need to be doing. Having a hustle bone and being smart about the moves you make will get you far. Everyone stumbles sometimes, but don’t give up.
What’s a piece of advice you would give a girl who wants to do what you do?
Never, ever think something is beyond your reach. I think a lot of us, especially young black professionals, especially young black WOMEN professionals, tend to feel like we’re not worthy of a dope or high-paying job, and that we have to settle for something we don’t want, but it’s not true. Work hard, work smart, and aim high. You have what it takes to succeed and are totally deserving of your dream job.