For Yamiche Alcindor, inspiration to become a reporter came from an unexpected place.
The PBS Newshour White House correspondent was 16 when she heard Emmett Till’s name in a Kanye West song. Learning about Till, a 14-year-old who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, propelled Alcindor to develop her love of writing into a journalism career based on social justice.
“I wanted to become a journalist that told the hard truths about our country,” Alcindor said in a Nov. 29 lecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Willa Cather Dining Complex.
In her talk, Alcindor discussed with members of the campus community the perseverance that helped shape her career, her journey covering the most divisive issues in the nation, and her experience as a reporter in today’s political climate.
Alcindor’s visit was part of University Housing’s Multicultural Awareness and Diversity Education initiative, and supported by the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services and the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. The presentation builds upon Nebraska’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“College students are the future of journalism,” Alcindor said. “We’re in tense times, and they have to hear from the people doing the work — that it’s not easy, but it’s honorable.”
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Alcindor shared how her background has become a guiding force in her career. She learned heart and humility from her mother, a social worker, whom she accompanied on visits to troubled homes. She witnessed unequal opportunities for children of color in her own community and school. From her family, who sacrificed everything to come to the United States, she grew to understand how much it means to be an American.
Alcindor established herself writing stories about victims overlooked by the system, including those impacted by sex trafficking and inadequate health care. In recent years, working for both USA Today and The New York Times, her pieces have focused on the intersection of race and politics. She has covered the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, as well as police-related protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.
“Journalism is a medium where we must continue to dig on issues of race and justice,” Alcindor said. “I’m always reminded that I’m doing this job in a black body. Even when I don’t want my identity to factor into my job, it will. I use all of the things that make me who I am to tell stories. I don’t run from it.”
Alcindor drew national attention in early November after asking President Trump to explain his association with the word “nationalist” during a White House press conference. She told the audience that her role as a journalist is to remain objective, providing accurate and meaningful information to the public.
“I was focused on my purpose,” she said of the encounter. “I was prepared for that exchange, and I didn’t get into the mud. I was there to do a job.”
Despite her role on the national stage, the themes of Alcindor’s discussion — perseverance and passion — rang true even far away from Washington.
“I hope that those who interacted with Yamiche were inspired by her perspectives on current events and her message of hope for people who may feel marginalized or not reflected in our current national discourse on race, power, privilege and policy,” said Erron Reynolds, Schramm Hall residence director and MADE coordinator.