STORY BY VANNESHA HALL, RONNELL DAVIS, AHMAD WOODARD AND RAYVON GAINES, FNN REPORTER, ANACOSTIA BUREAU
MAY 7, 2013. ‘’One day was never like the day before,” she remembers. Ms. Gilliam entered the unpredictable life of a journalist at the young age of 16, filling in for a journalist who was out on maternity leave. She wrote and edited small pieces. Over time, she eventually landed a prestigious position at the Washington Post in 1961 where she became the first female African American writer at the Post. She enjoyed being there and claims that, ‘’Everyday was something different.‘’ She had a wonderful experience meeting new people, but through it all, there was a little hatred directed towards Ms. Gilliam. She remembers when people from the Washington Post didn’t speak to her when they saw her outside the Post’s walls. The hatred was at times due to the color of her skin, other times it was because she was a female.
She recalls that during the civil rights era, taxis didn’t want to take her to black neighborhoods in Southeast, Washington D.C. when she was coming from work. But that didn’t stop her from interviewing her people. For instance, to other non-black journalists, a homicide towards a black was considered to be a “cheap death” but to Ms. Gilliam this was a story to be told.
Ms. Gilliam didn’t really have much support for her ambitions in her household but her mother supported her in motherly way. Her father died when she was 14 but always cared highly about education, which encouraged her to be the best and give back to the African American community.
Her advice to young aspiring journalists is, ‘’Don’t limit your future. Take every point of your life and learn from it.’’ Ms. Gilliam made sure she did that and kept a journal with her to write about what was going on in her life and to make her writing better.
She tells young women or males to start now, read a lot, make it a point to read magazines, books, and blogs and make “our stories” to be told by African Americans.Ms. Gilliam moved on from the journalistic writing but still is on the rise.
She created and runs a program called Prime Movers Media at George Washington University which is helping young journalists like she once was.
Ms. Gilliam is a role model today for young, African American aspiring journalists. She has 3 daughters and 3 grandchildren. ‘’I want them to follow their own footsteps in life.’’ Ms. Gilliam still loves to write today.
Vannesha Hall, Ronnell Davis and Ahmad Woodard are freshmen at Anacostia High School. Rayvon Gaines is a senior at Friendship Collegiate Academy.