When I tell people I’m going to all five minority journalism conferences this summer, they look at me like I’m insane.

I’m beginning to understand their sentiments.

No working journalist would consider going to multiple journalism conferences in one summer – it’s just impractical. Working on the student projects of each convention demands a high level of production, and is full of late nights and early mornings.

UNITY Reporting fellow Melanie Balakit is covering the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association in summer 2014.

UNITY Reporting fellow Melanie Balakit is covering the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association in summer 2014.

Yet here I am, expenses paid for by UNITY. I’m a recent Filipina graduate navigating the waters of the professional journalism world. Two conventions down, three more to go.

I’ve met more people than I can remember. I’ve shook hands with admirable and talented professional journalists. I’ve been able to hone my journalism skills.

But the best thing (besides spending the generous NABJ food stipend) is being able to listen to intimate conversations. Conversations focused on race, social injustice, stereotypes, and painful histories. Things you wouldn’t normally bring up at the dinner table.

At the Native American Journalists Association, people freely asked each other, “What’s your tribe?” They applauded and cheered in unison to the idea of changing offensive Indian sports mascots. Talks about life on the reservation were easy and natural. There were rants about how the general American population is ignorant of the Native American community, past and present.

This week at the National Association of Black Journalists, the most interesting thing I’ve heard are the aspirations of my fellow students. Ambitious dreams of filling executive positions at public relations firms and journalism organizations, of becoming mentors in the future and giving back to their community. These dreams spanned at least the next 15 years of their lives. The idea of an educated and ambitious black person filling executive positions is not the narrative in our society. I loved talking to people who are trying to change that.

But now I’m wondering, what now? What do I do with these experiences, with these conversations? To be honest, I don’t really know. But I do have certain hopes.
I think at the end of this experience – after also going to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists, and National Association of Gay and Lesbian Journalists – I’m going to have a unique, heightened sense of the (growing) minority communities in this vast country.

I hope to remember these communities and reflect their voices in my journalistic work. I hope to read more minority news publications daily. I hope to meet all the great people I’ve met again in the future.

And with that, I’m off to my next convention: NAHJ in San Antonio, Texas.

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