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Detroit native Jemele Hill named NABJ Journalist of the Year

The senior correspondent and columnist for ESPN's The Undefeated will receive the honor at the national convention when it returns to the city Aug. 1-5

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

The last time the National Association of Black Journalists convention was held in Detroit, it was 1992 and a 16-year-old budding journalist named Jemele Hill joined the organization. 

This week, the NABJ announced Hill is the 2018 Journalist of the Year. The native Detroiter will be honored at the annual convention and career fair when it returns to Detroit at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center Aug. 1-5. 

"It's kind of come full circle," Hill said in a phone interview Monday. "To receive this kind of honor in front of my peers and colleagues, friends who have been my journalism family for all 20 of my professional years is just unbelievably exciting, and I’m kind of speechless."

Hill, a senior correspondent and columnist for ESPN's The Undefeated website, said that as a young member of the organization she “never imagined that would be my destiny this many years later.” She will receive the award on Aug. 4.

In addition to being named NABJ Journalist of the Year, Hill will serve as honorary co-chair of the national convention.

“We’re delighted that a Detroit native is receiving the honor and especially that it’s Jemele, who is deserving and who has done great work at ESPN and now at the Undefeated in the past year,” said Vincent McCraw, president of the Detroit Chapter NABJ. 

The NABJ, founded in 1975, is an organization of journalists, students and media-related professionals that provides programs, workshops and services to and advocates on behalf of black journalists worldwide.

A statement from NABJ released Monday praised Hill for using her platform to “address national, social and cultural issues, in addition to sports.”

The association’s announcement made reference to when Hill “nearly broke the internet” last year by calling out President Donald Trump. “His rise is the direct result of White supremacy,” she tweeted in 2017.

The White House called for her removal from ESPN, but she retained her position after a two-week suspension. Hill violated ESPN’s social media guidelines for employees a second time when she fired off a tweet to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones when he threatened to bench players who didn’t stand during the National Anthem. Both social media storms spawned the hashtag #IStandWithJemele. 

“Jemele Hill is a gem. She exhibits strength, grace, and doggedness,” NABJ President Sarah Glover said in a statement. “NABJ appreciates the courage and steadfastness Jemele has demonstrated as a journalist and commentator speaking truth to power.”

Hill, a graduate of Mumford High School and Michigan State University, has written for the Detroit Free Press and Orlando Sentinel. At one point, she was the only female black newspaper sports columnist in the country. Hill joined ESPN in 2006 as a columnist and broke new ground with the popular podcast-turned-TV-show “His & Hers” with co-host Michael Smith. 

Both McCraw and Hill said they are excited about the convention returning to Detroit this year so the expected 3,500 journalists from all over the country will be able to see the changes in the city. 

“We’ve always struggled to get people to understand the nuance of the city beyond just the negative headlines that are constantly written about Detroit,” Hill said. “Now you have some of the most talented journalists of color that will be inhabiting the city all at once. They’ll be able to understand that what’s happened to Detroit — what has happened in Detroit — is very much an American story. It’s not just a Detroit story.”

For aspiring young women journalists who look up to her, Hill said, “don’t be me, be better than me."

“They have to understand that already the talent that they have is enough,” she said. “For them, it’s just a constant fight to understand that they have a sense of belonging in this business. Despite what some of the dismal numbers in their professional may look like, they belong and they have a place in this business.”


Twitter: @melodybaetens