By D. Kevin McNeir
Every once in a while, one individual makes such an impression on their community and the world, that even in death, their unquenchable spirit and commitment to excellence continue to live on – inspiring and encouraging others as they pursue their own dreams.
Jim Vance, a beloved fixture in the D.C. media industry and one of the best at his craft as a television news anchor and reporter, serves as such an individual whose legacy continues years after cancer claimed his life in 2017.
Despite receiving numerous racist hate mail and threats in the early years of his career in the District, he would become part of the longest-running anchor team in D.C. television with co-anchor and friend Doreen Gentzler and would earn 19 Emmy Awards. At the time of his death, Vance counted as the region’s longest-serving television news anchor with more than 45 years at WRC-TV.
In March 2020, his legacy found a new home and means of expression with the Jim Vance Media Center at Archbishop Carroll High School in Northeast. With Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s blessing and cutting of the ribbon, joined by members of Vance’s family and other supporters, the advanced program for students studying journalism and media officially opened.
Vance had long sponsored an annual scholarship at Archbishop Carroll High School and in 2012, he had been presented with the school’s Hall of Honor Award.
During the center’s dedication, his wife, Kathy Vance, said the family would continue the scholarships because “his heart was in this school and still is.”
Still, the 5,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art media center, which includes broadcast and recording studios, editing booths, suites and master control rooms, would not have been possible without the financial support of longtime benefactor Steven Newby, whose $5 million donation represents the largest gift in the school’s history and represents his “investment in the future.”
But shortly after the dedication, the newly established program and the talented students who had been admitted, learned that the school would be forced to pivot to online learning because of COVID-19.
Fortunately, under the able leadership of the program’s director, Dr. Cherie Ward, along with her staff and a determined advisory board, the Jim Vance Media Program continued, refusing to allow its students to flounder.
And on Saturday, April 23, their collective efforts would be rewarded during a festive evening, “Simply the Best” – the center’s inaugural video showcase and awards fundraiser – honoring the Jim Vance Media Program’s first graduating class of 2022.
Perhaps fittingly, Gentzler, who joined Vance and his family during the center’s dedication and worked beside him for years, agreed to return and serve as the emcee for the evening.
Vance’s wife, joined by daughter Amani, said, “If there’s such a thing as life after death, that’s here in these students. And as Vance used to say, ‘getting the story and getting it right.’”
As the evening progressed, students received Legacy Awards for the top submissions in categories that included “Best Sports Story (video and print)” and “Best News Story (video and print),” among others.
Three students who received Legacy Awards shared their views about the innovative program and what it has meant to them in achieving their educational goals and providing a foundation in the careers they hope to one day pursue.
Stella Anani, 16, Sophomore: When I came to Carroll for track and field, my parents encouraged me to do my best but to also live in and enjoy every moment. And while there’s so much that we’re required to learn and so many skills we must master which sometimes almost feels overwhelming, I’ve proven that I can do it. I have been able to overcome the obstacles and I know that I will become a successful lawyer one day because of the foundation I’ve received in this program.
ZyJon McCoy, 17, Junior: I came to Carroll to play football but then I heard about the media program and decided that it was just what I needed. Now I have to balance football practice with tech rehearsals but it’s nothing that can’t be achieved with the proper time management. I’ve made the best of my time here so far, starting my own photography and video company and even getting an engineering internship with a local media company. That wouldn’t have happened without this program.
Ijeoma Okere, 18, Senior: We started with 11 in our class but now we’re down to five who will graduate. As our numbers decreased, rather than being depressed, I felt encouraged. I knew I had to step up to the plate and accept the challenges that came my way. I became president of the program and I soon realized that even with the many changes that have occurred in the media industry today, we have no choice but to master every aspect. I came to Carroll on a basketball scholarship but personal health challenges forced me to leave the team after my sophomore year. Without the Jim Vance scholarship, I would have had to go to the public school in Bowie where I live. This has been a dream come true and one day after I complete my studies at Case Western Reserve and then medical school, I’ll look back on these years and know they were essential to my future success. (Readers should know that Ijeoma earned the highest GPA among all graduates).
In a video message to the students, radio and television icon Donnie Simpson left the youth with a message they’ll certainly never forget.
“A lot of times, your parents have a script for you that outlines what they want you to do with your life,” he said. “But your parents are merely the producers – God is the director,” he said.
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