I started this year as an intern. A few weeks later, I became a general assignment reporter for a local investigative newsroom in San Diego — now I end the year as Word In Black’s first health data reporter.  

As I reflect on my career growth this year, I realize that much of it can be accredited to having a Black editor, working for the Black press, and amplifying the experiences of Black Americans. 

Word In Black, for so many of our readers, and for myself as a reporter, has served as a lifeline for our community.

It is a place where our team rigorously amplifies the diverse perspectives of those in our community, which mainstream media is less adept at paying attention to. It is a place where readers can find health, education, social justice, and breaking news reporting that is written by and for the Black community.  

Working at Word In Black for the better part of 2022 has taught me that there really is no such thing as giving a voice to the voiceless — it is about using our platform to let our community tell their own stories. Which is exactly what I plan to continue to do. If you would like to share an idea, pitch, or suggest something you think Word In Black is missing in our coverage, please email me at anissa.durham@localmedia.org.  

Now, after six months on the job, I would like to share a brief roundup of some of my favorite stories to report on, my most impactful story of the year, and projects I will be working on in 2023.  

Most Impactful: We Keep Failing Black Victims of Domestic Violence 

Photo of Mic’Keya Montgomery and her daughter. Courtesy of Chancierra Coleman.

In September, I reported a two-part series on the ways domestic violence impacts Black women. It illuminated the ways in which Black women are silenced, gaslit, told and expected to stay, stereotyped as strong Black women, and seen as less than a woman for leaving an abusive situation.  

In reporting that story, I spoke to Chancierra Coleman, a woman whose 21-year-old little sister was killed by an ex-partner in August of this year. Throughout our discussion, as you can imagine, it was clear she was still processing and reckoning with the loss of her sister — especially since she had a less-than-2-year-old niece to think about.  

It was important for me not to make this story about what anyone thinks her sister, Mic’Keya Montgomery, should have done better. Black women deserve safety. Black women deserve peace. And it goes without saying Black women deserve not to be abused in any capacity — let alone killed.  

A short excerpt from my story: 

This is a story of how the justice system fails Black women.  

This is a story of how our community fails Black women.  

And this is a story about the generational trauma domestic violence inflicts on the Black community.  

Most Captivating: Pregnant Black Women Shouldn’t Be Scared of Dying 

One of my first reported pieces for Word In Black was about how Black women and newborn babies are three times more likely to die when cared for by a white doctor — and the barriers expecting Black women face.  

Photo courtesy of Rose Archer.

Although I do not have children, it is not hard to understand the joys of expecting a baby. But, with systemic racism and maternity care deserts — areas identified without a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care nearby — it is easy to see how stressful being Black and pregnant can be.  

I spoke to Rose Archer, a doctoral student in the department of sociology at Florida State University. She shared with me her pregnancy story, why the rate of Black maternity harm is at the center of her research, and how she became a doula.  

“My hope for this particular research on maternity care deserts is to help people understand how Black women and Black birthing people are making a way out of no way,” Archer says. “And how can we notice and appreciate what they are doing as a way to mitigate health inequities?” 

At the center of this story is the very fact that Black women should not be dying at this rate from pregnancy, and Black women should not be forced to fear death while trying to bring new life into the world.  

Most Difficult to Report: COVID-19 Survivors Are Battling Suicidal Thoughts 

In October, I was assigned to report on long COVID and the ways in which it affects Black folks, given the fact that much of the reporting I have seen is centered on non-Black folks. My initial angle for this story was to report on how delivery workers are dealing with long COVID symptoms and if major delivery companies were adequately supporting their Black employees.  

Photo courtesy of Teresa Akintonwa.

But, that is not where my reporting took me.

I like to consider myself the type of journalist that is flexible and allows my sources to dictate where the story will go. After my first couple of interviews, not only was it clear my delivery angle wasn’t going to come to fruition (at least for now), but also that this story needed to be a series.  

Part two of this series details the story of Teresa Akintonwa, a COVID-19 survivor who was vocal about her suicidal thoughts, ideations, and plans to harm herself when her long COVID symptoms were at their peak. Personally, I was not expecting the interview to go in this direction, and this was my first time discussing suicidal thoughts with a source.

I am not going to lie, some of these interviews are not the easiest to report, and this story was difficult to hear, report on and write about. But, I knew because it had those elements, that is exactly why this story needed to be told.  

“I had to go to my family and tell them, here are my weapons. I need you to take these and put them away for me,” Akintonwa says. “I thought about it quite often, almost obsessively. That was the first time in my life I’d ever thought about suicide or hurting myself like that.” 

With the recent suicides of well-known Black individuals, it is so important to check in with your mental health and the mental health of your loved ones around you. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal: 

Offer Support 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests being willing to have uncomfortable conversations with someone experiencing suicidal ideations. It’s important to be compassionate and empathetic to what a person is going through and why they are feeling that way.  

A few examples of compassionate statements:  

  • I’m so sorry you’re going through this.  
  • You mean so much to me. I can’t imagine life without you.  
  • I know that you’re in pain.  

These examples offer validation, support, and show that you love your friend who is experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  

Don’t Judge, But Know When to Act  

It’s important not to be quick to judge someone who is opening up about their suicidal thoughts and ideations. But, you also shouldn’t delay taking the appropriate measures to make sure they are safe and cared for.  

Depending on the severity of their suicidal thoughts and plans, a few resources below can help determine who to call and what to do next.   

  • Help them find a therapist — psychologytoday.com offers a network of therapists who can help  
  • Call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress  
  • The Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support through text messages to people in crisis when they text 741741  
  • Call 911 

Most Interesting: Why More Black Men Are Getting Vasectomies 

As we neared the end of this year, I wanted to report on a few more stories that were centered on the experiences of Black men. Something that came up was vasectomies. Let me make this clear, I am without a penis, and the way women view things is clearly much different than the way men view things.  

But, I wanted to approach this story like I try to do with all my pieces, with a lens of learning. I was connected with Justin Harlow, a general dentist in Charlotte, North Carolina, who got a vasectomy to support the development of his family and simply because he loved his wife. 

Photo Courtesy of Justin Harlow.

As unique as his experience was, talking to Harlow was probably the funniest and easy-going interview I have done this year. He joked about the stigma and misinformation attached to Black men getting vasectomies, like doctors are taking a “whole left nut from you,” or changes to your ejaculation or sex drive.  

But in the words of Harlow, “Your penis doesn’t get smaller, you don’t stop ejaculating, you still get an erection, your cum still looks the same.” 

Upcoming Projects: Are Young Black Bodies Treated, Viewed, or Seen Differently Than Others?  

About a month into my role at Word In Black, I accepted a fellowship with the University of Southern California’s reporting health program — aimed towards supporting health and data reporting projects.  

The project I am currently developing and reporting on is the ways in which Black children are forced to mature at faster rates than other non-Black children, especially those in educational settings. A coined term for this forced maturity is called adultification. While many Black folks may not initially relate to that term, it does not take long to realize that almost all Black people have experienced being adultified and sexualized for their bodies.

Part of my reporting is requesting as many Black folks as possible to fill out a 2-minute survey about any experiences of being treated differently than others. There are no wrong answers, and you can remain anonymous. But, if you would like to share more of your story with me, feel free to leave your contact information at the end of the survey or email me at anissa.durham@localmedia.org. 

Survey: Are young Black bodies treated, viewed, or seen differently than others?