By Savannah Bullard

After I woke before the sun, and drove three hours to the University of Alabama campus one gorgeous Tuscaloosa one Friday, my entire career path changed.

Now, this is not a cheesy “Roll Tide” public relations ploy or a sappy road trip story; it is an experience of a lifetime that truly taught me what it means to be a journalist.

UA hosted the UNITY: Journalists for Diversity Regional Media Summit in October. Dozens of journalists, students and teachers gathered at the Ferguson Student Center at UA to discuss diversity in southern journalism — formally and appropriately entitled “Empowering the Southern Narrative.” As the youngest in attendance, surrounded by “real deal” journalists and esteemed college professors and students who think of high school as a distant memory, I felt pretty small.

Yet, that little feeling was abolished within half an hour, as speakers took the stage and I found myself answering questions and volunteering to write for the cause. The breakout sessions — scattered throughout the day and taught by journalism gurus — were engaging and informative, making me want to jump into the field and bust out the next big CNN headline. Panda Express sponsored a delicious lunch and the keynote speakers — — provided a legendary discussion that left me (ironically) speechless.

While this all was an unforgettable experience, the journalistic knowledge I gained was not even the best part of it all. The entire workshop truly redefined what it means to be a journalist in such an adolescent society. My generation is growing up in a world where technology has reached unbelievable heights, where our Founding Fathers would be absolutely astounded by what has been discovered.

We have come so far — yet we have so much farther to go. Racial tension, even in 2015, still runs rampant through the streets, tearing families apart and breaking the bridge between races that has been constructed since the Civil Rights Movement. It has only been four months since same-sex marriage has been legalized and there are still certain offices turning gays and lesbians away. Transgender men and women are being murdered in cold blood just for expressing their identity and suicide steals the lives of nearly 1,500 LGBT youth nationwide, every single year.

What a nightmare.

But this is why it is so important to be a student journalist. Times like these provide the opportunity to give silenced people a voice. We reach schools and communities, even the entire nation, with information and stories that touch the heart and make people think. We educate with integrity and teach people that every life has a story that begs to be told. And to those who could not handle the burdens of this world…as a journalist I refuse to allow their lives to be in vain.I learned through this workshop that it is my job to promote people’s stories and give my readers the same connections to start their own conversations.

Once we get people talking, there are infinite possibilities for change. And with the help and guidance through UNITY, I left Tuscaloosa that Friday evening with a healing patch in my heart and a new, brighter sense of the kind of journalist I dream to be.

Savannah Bullard, In-Depth Editor, SHS Crimson Crier Staff

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