In writing about my hero Sandy Close, it's hard to know where to start. The end point is easy: Sandy is a over 65+ writer, editor, creator, social change leader and visionary whose work at New America Media and Pacific News Service gives me a map for what fearless, consistent work in the community-focused media space can look like. Her work is so unique, and her impact so profound, that this year Sandy was the 2011 recipient of the George Polk Career Award, one of journalism's highest accolades.
Over the past 37 years, Sandy has: founded and run New America Media, a gigantic, progressive media organization that does everything from teach and mentor under-served youth to act as an almost global distribution and syndication network for ethnic media outlets. A winner of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship in 1995, Sandy was one of the key organizers in 2007 of the Chauncey Bailey Project, a team of reporters whose investigative work led Oakland police to arrest those responsible for killing Bailey, the editor of Oakland's African American newspaper, The Oakland Post. One of the reporters on that project, A.C. Thompson, --who was in a teen program Sandy started--won a Polk Award for Television Reporting this year for a story based around Hurricane Katerina and New Orleans. In addition, she has been a friend and partner with many smaller organizations, including my own hyper-local non-profit news site, Oakland Local.
And as the ED of NAM, Sandy has also done an amazing job raising money from people who might never have thought about media and the digital divide before Sandy walked into their life, but who leave those first conversations on fire with possibilities for change.
Why do I find Sandy so inspiring?
Well, first of all, it's because of what she has accomplished. NAM has been a training ground for so many amazing people, many of them journalists of color and/or from working class backgrounds, some of whom would probably not have gotten the skills or accreditation NAM has help them acquire without even more of a struggle. As a media outlet, NAM continues to provide a diversity of views, and a range of voices, that more mainstream media really needs to emulate (but that BlogHers will feel right at home with). I turn to NAM for writings that I won't find elsewhere, and I learn overtime.
Secondly, though, Sandy inspires me because I think she's built her career on doing what she believes is right. Not the easiest thing, and not the most profitable. Not the one thing everyone else wanted her to do, but the one she thought was right. My gut is that there were points in time where there were some people who thought what Sandy was trying to do was very wrong, doomed to failure,or just plain off-base -- and she kept on anyway. This is what makes her my hero.
As I slog away in Oakland, working with an amazing team of people -- many of them women of color -- to create a non-profit news site for Oakland and a training academy that empowers locals to make their voices heard online, I get discouraged sometimes -- especially around the earned income/revenue side. It's just hard to make an online site self-sustaining, as we all know.
And when I have a down moment, one of the people I think of is Sandy Close, who set out to do something that no one had done before -- create a syndicate of progressive media outlets and stories to distribute--and who went on to found NAM, a media giant that supports diverse viewpoints and gives work and support to people who are often marginalized in the media (as both contributors and subjects). I tell myself, she didn't give up, she made it work, and I start to feel a little better (or my stubborness comes out.)
You see, Sandy's focus, her unrelenting intention to act from her beliefs -- which is something you see right away when you talk with her today -- represents the kind of purposeful, service-driven life to which I aspire.
In a month when we honor women of valor and accomplishment, it's impossible not to write about Sandy as one of my most vibrant every-day heroes. Here's to all the work she has done at NAM, and to the hundreds of people she has taught and inspired. And here's to you, Sandy Close, my Woman's History Month hero.
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