Famous African-American Women: Judlyne Lilly
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]mong all the famous African-American women in media, Judlyne Lilly stands out for her humble personality. Despite being an award-winning, Emmy-nominated broadcast journalist with a long and successful career as a reporter, anchor, and producer Judlyne Lilly continues to keep the focus on other people’s stories rather than becoming the story herself. But today we are turning the tables on her as we feature her as one of our Powerful Women.
When you think about famous African-American women who have influenced you, who comes to mind and why?
My mother and her sisters were not famous in the traditional sense, but they were famous to me. They, and women like them practically invented the working mother. They made the most of their careers at a time when the options for African-American women were extremely limited. All of them earned Master’s Degrees, most in Education. In fact I got my MFA in part because I was one of a few members of my family’s generation who did NOT have an advanced degree. They all did it while working full time as teachers and social workers and raising their children with their husbands. I learned the doctrine of hard work from them.
On the “famous African-American” side, there is Lorraine Hansberry. She is the first African-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway: “Raisin in the Sun” in 1959. Her determination and talent in the face of racism was incredibly inspirational to me.
There are more but I can’t finish this answer unless I mention Vanessa Williams. She made the youthful decision to pose nude for a photographer before becoming the first African-American Miss America of 1984. While she was down and out for a bit, her talent would not be denied and she went on to have and is having a great career.
More than once during your career you were the first African American woman in a specific position. Can you share with us what it feels like to be a trailblazer?
The first time I was a “first” was when I went to a church camp (!) that had never before allowed blacks to attend. It was an eye opening experience for me and for my white campers. I got lots of questions. They were surprised that my parents were educated and working as teachers and not domestics.
My other “firsts” and sometimes “only” was when I went to a summer theatre camp at the University of Houston, a school that did not allow minorities of any kind to attend at that time. I was also the first African-American intern at my local TV station in Houston which eventually led me to my biggest and most high profile first: I was the first African-American TV news anchor in San Antonio, Texas. That was in the mid ‘70’s.
In all of those instances, I didn’t necessarily feel like a trailblazer. I did however feel the pressure within myself to be the best “first” I could be so that I could change some attitudes about the ability of African-Americans to be as competent and in some cases better at their jobs than whites. I also wanted those who would come behind me to have an easier time of it. Generally, it was other people, both black and white who made a big deal out of it. The African-American community was proud of me and I was proud of that. It just so happened that the changing times were on my side.
You are involved in many different projects. You have your own company, Second Street Dreams Audio Network, a provider of short form programming for radio stations, you produce a segment called A Good Read on CBS radio where you interview authors, and you are still a news reporter. What do you find the most satisfying aspect of your career?
Despite the fact that I started my career in television, radio has been the best thing that ever happened to me. I love radio because of the creativity involved in producing it. It is a medium that requires one to listen and imagine the pictures in the mind. News reporting is the best because I, as a news anchor, am informing the public on a minute by minute basis of what is going on in their world and how it will affect them. My job also allows me to be a witness to history.
What are some of the hardest challenges you’ve had to overcome along the way and what strategies did you use to do so?
You could infer from my earlier answers here that I have never been affected by racism and/or sexism. That would be so very wrong, yet I don’t always assume that racism or sexism is the cause of the obstacles I’ve faced. However I was fired once from a job I loved and did well and I KNOW it was because of racism. I could not prove it, but I knew it. (Many of you are nodding in agreement right now.) I decided not to fight that battle and to move on. My firm believe in Karma was confirmed about a year later when I was re-hired for the same position at the same station (for a bigger salary) when the management changed. The day that I walked back into the newsroom the person who had fired me was walking out. He had been “let go” on that day. So my coping skill include this belief: Sometimes the no you get allows you to take part in something even greater that you didn’t even see coming.
What role have men played in your career success? Any suggestions on how to turn them into allies?
Men are so important to me, because of my father. He and my mother told me I could do whatever I wanted to do and this was when that wasn’t necessarily true. So to engage men in your particular goals/struggles, you have to tell them how your project is going to make money or gain positive attention which will make them look very good. It seems almost crude but it does work.
How are you currently helping other women advance in their careers?
Sometimes I offer advice when no one is asking for it. I do that in part because I see the same things in today’s young women that I saw in myself at that age. We are still afraid to ask for (dare I say demand?) a good salary. We are still afraid to put ourselves out there for advancement or additional training. So when I hear a young woman say, the bosses won’t train me for this or that position, I ask them if the bosses even know you want it. Usually the answer is no. That’s when I tell them that the best advocate for them is themselves and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what they want. The only thing that could happen is that the boss will say no. At least he or she knows what you want and in most cases will remember that you asked.
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