‘We are different and we still belong’: A Diversity Academy success story

February 5, 2020

Suleman Din is conferences content lead with Arizent, formerly the technology editor at American Banker and Financial Planning. On the last day of Poynter’s 2019 Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media, he shared his goal for a new career direction with his senior colleagues. He succeeded, in more ways than one. 


So much of first-gen immigrant experience is shaped by what we saw our parents struggle with.

They had no help. They overcame language barriers to establish a better life. You don’t talk about your problems. You keep going. You get it done.

Show some stress, and you’ll hear it quick: You didn’t become a doctor, an engineer. You’re a journalist. Be grateful you have a job.

And so often, being the only person of color in the newsroom, I learned to compartmentalize. To play down my difference, to laugh when someone made a joke about it – no, to beat them to it. See? Laugh with me. I’m not so scary.

But inside Poynter’s Academy for Diversity in Digital Media fellowship, I looked around and I grasped my avoidance. We are different and we still belong. And it’s OK to talk about it.

When I found myself in a quiet moment with a mentor from The Washington Post, venting about the things I have carried quietly as a working journalist of color, there was just a sense of release.

  

At last, damn it. I didn’t have to make anyone laugh. I could let myself feel that anger — for my working desire, my ambition. I want more, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about.

There was this space among my cohort, too. Journalists of color, from some of the best media brands in the industry, all already accomplishing amazing things. I didn’t know any of them before I arrived. But they wanted to help me. They understood me. No code switching required.


Do you want to apply for Poynter’s 2020 Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media? Apply by Feb. 14.


The academy was a week to ponder my career direction. But a structured week: rigorous, backed by forthright reviews from colleagues, personality trait studies, and exposure to the best ideas and the best practices from the bold-faced achievers in journalism.

I took notes, I took pictures, I asked as many questions as I could.

  

Through the week, I was challenged to look in the mirror and just stare. Don’t pretend to look like someone else. Just see yourself as you are. It was a gift.

I met a colleague who came in to talk about the craft, the disruption that has punctured our industry norms to flow in new ones. She’s done so much, accomplished so much.

I came to her side, and got down on one knee. “We’ve known each other for so long. But I could have been a better ally. I’ve never been that good about helping others. Please forgive me.”

“Why don’t you ever ask me? You should ask me for help.” My heart swelled. Gratitude is for those who give freely.

And so per one of the assignments, I made a list. Not for someone else — for myself.

I got up in front of all my new colleagues and I read it out to them. This is what I am going to go after.

They looked at me, they read my anxiety, my impostor’s syndrome naked before them. My eyes met theirs, they met mine. And they knew. Like our parents knew.

You keep going. You get it done.

I went out and found a quiet spot under a stairwell inside the institute’s cavernous galleria. The number for my senior colleagues was scribbled down on the page of my reporter’s notepad. I took a deep breath. I made a small prayer and an intention: To find a new role that reflected the change and lessons I observed at Poynter. And then I called.

“Yes, I can do that.

“Yes, I can do this.

“Yes, this is what I want.

“… Really? Uh… yeah sure, that, no, no, that sounds great. That’s amazing. That’s exactly what I want to do next. That’s an amazing opportunity. Thank you.”

I tapped the screen. I stared at my phone. And then I hollered.

So that’s what it feels like.


Suleman Din graduated from Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media last year. Applications for the 2020 program are open now; the deadline is Feb. 14.