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News & Press: NABJ News

A Major Plus at the NABJ Convention: Detroit Itself

Tuesday, August 14, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jovan Riley
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A Major Plus at the NABJ Convention: Detroit Itself

By Darren A. Nichols

It’s been a week since the annual National Association of Black Journalists conference ended in Detroit, but Detroiters are still buzzing about the convention.

Many were like Michael Stafford. The city resident, who is not a journalist, was so intrigued by NABJ that he ventured down from his nearby office in the General Motors building to take in the convention each day.

He started with a midweek drink at the bar to people watch. By Friday night, Stafford was at the Sports Task Force Party. He said he'd never seen a gathering such as NABJ.

“The interactions I witnessed between people were amazing. It really was like a big family reunion,” said Stafford, who has an MBA and works for Blue Cross Blue Shield. “I spent a lot of time pointing out celebrities to my friends from the sports, entertainment and media world. I was really impressed by the professionalism. They were all well-dressed and well-spoken.”

Whether it was people like Stafford who were simply intrigued by NABJ or those who volunteered to help with the convention, hundreds of Detroiters got involved.  In a city that's drawn negative press throughout the years, many people tried hard to show convention-goers a good time in Detroit.

It was personal.

“For years we've wanted to show people the resilience of our city and our people, so pulling out all the stops, making sure people got to see a slice of life of the Motor City, was an imperative,” said Marlon A. Walker, NABJ's Vice President of Print and a native Detroiter.

After it was all over, “Many people walked away wanting to vacation in the city, wanting to see much more than they were able to get in around the convention. It was amazing how many people I heard saying this was the best [NABJ] convention they had been to. It speaks a lot to our resilience as a city. We knew all along what Detroit could do.”

And for many Detroiters like Stafford, there were good impressions and a better understanding of the relevance of NABJ.

“Having this large collection of black people with a voice enjoying the city is a great way to show the rest of the country that this is not the same Detroit you heard about,” Stafford said. “I'm interested to know, after spending time did their experience contradict what they have heard?”

Former NABJ President Will Sutton led the volunteer effort that scattered people throughout the Detroit Renaissance Marriott and at the airport when people arrived. There was no final count on how many volunteers actually worked, Sutton said, but about 245 people offered to assist. About 65 percent were from metro Detroit and spanned from local sororities to auto companies.

The volunteers, who included retirees, independent business people, freelance journalists, communication specialists and others, were rated superb or excellent by 90 percent of those who responded to a Twitter poll, Sutton said.

Among them was Renee Yancy, a lifelong Detroiter who signed up at the request of Allison Vaughn, who helped run the NABJ Boutique at the convention. Yancy's assignment was to greet attendees as they moved around the host hotel.

For Yancy, it was great not only meeting journalists from such cities as Boston, New York and Los Angeles, but also encountering others who returned home.

“What I loved the most were the native Detroiters who were so very proud to say they were from Detroit,” Yancy said. “That 'What up doe' echoed in the Marriott. Most were willing to talk as they felt the positive energy that buzzed around the hotel. It makes me proud to call Detroit my home.” 

Detroiter Aaron Mayes attended the Sports Task Force Party and was impressed by the atmosphere and being around other professionals.

“I was able to go up to professional people who are in the media and pick their minds on what they liked about the city and what was offered,” Mayes said. “They were very approachable.  It made me proud that we showed off our city.

“Detroit never disappoints when we put on major events,” Mayes said. “We've done the Final Four. We've done the Super Bowl and the Grand Prix. We always have major conferences. We know how to [host] an event. We know what to do.”

And it made a difference, particularly with those who were visiting the Motor City for the first time.

Darren A. Nichols is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He spent more than 20 years at The Detroit News, primarily covering city hall, including the city’s financial collapse that led to the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country. 

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