Last year was a year of many firsts, personally and professionally.
My first publication in a local news outlet.
My first online publication in a national magazine, in the wake of Florida’s passage of the state’s $15 Minimum Wage Initiative.
My first time reporting on local and state elections for a readership rather than simply giving my friends and family an earful.
My first time covering Black Lives Matter protests on-the-ground as a reporter.
My first time being interviewed for a radio show, to explain online news coverage I’d authored.
My first time attending a press conference as a member of the press, and not just a curious bystander sitting off on the sidelines.
All the while juggling another contract gig, which constituted my primary source of income. As a self-employed writer/journalist/reporter/what have you, I learned as I went, navigating these firsts. I experienced embarrassment, with frequent realizations along the lines of, Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have done x, y, and z. Reminder for next time.
I’m an experienced copywriter. Not a seasoned reporter. I don’t have a degree in journalism. I don’t have a political science degree. I don’t have newsroom experience. Not really. I just had an idea and the drive to see that, and those that followed, through.
It began last June. I wrote a cold pitch to the editor of a local alt-weekly, with an idea for a feature to showcase a young group of racial justice activists that had formed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Much to my surprise, I received a response from the editor: Let’s do it.
And I kept writing. With a flexible schedule and unstable work last spring, summer, and fall, I quite literally hit the ground running to report on protests, policing, organized labor, and Florida’s fight for a $15 minimum wage with Amendment 2, which passed with nearly 61 percent of support.
I helped create a voting guide for Hillsborough County, Florida, where I currently reside.
I sometimes wrote late into the night, and often began early in the morning. More than once, I woke up after a night of tossing and turning, determined to get a story straight. To answer questions voiced by members of the community, uplift their stories, report on news that fell somewhere within the gaps of mainstream media coverage and rage-tweets.
And despite the frustration and significant stress that accompanied my job insecurity and instability last year, the opportunity to jump on these local stories — to research, make calls, rush out of my apartment for a protest with a backpack and water bottle in hand — meant more to me than I could have anticipated. It’s given me greater clarity into what kind of work feels both doable and meaningful for me. It gave me the opportunity to develop thicker skin, learn a myriad of new skills, and challenge some of what I had perceived to be both personal and professional weaknesses.
I’m beginning the new year stronger than I did last year. Humbled. Exhilarated. Exhausted. Grieving. Determined. Thankful.
I had no idea what was coming for me at the beginning of 2020, despite what a personal journal entry from January 3rd, 2020 — “What a f***ing year we’ve got ahead of us, folks” — might lead you to believe. I had the 2020 election cycle on my mind then, not a global pandemic, nor the resurgence of a global wave of Black Lives Matter protests, which saw thousands of individuals marching together to demand racial justice — and more still working off the streets to achieve it.
It’s both exhausting and exciting to consider the idea that this year might be the same: another year of firsts, of unexpected losses and gains. Beyond the basics of my day-to-day life that I try not to take for granted, I have no idea what’s ahead. Begrudgingly or not, dear reader, you can probably say the same.
To the firsts of 2020, and those to come in 2021.