By Christina Norris & Shanaé Harte
It’s a moment many have been waiting for since the pandemic began.
Members of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) reunited this week, potentially surpassing total registration numbers exceeding the last joint convention six years ago.
Over 4,000 are expected to attend NABJ-NAHJ convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, NABJ Executive Director Drew Berry said, adding that registration numbers aren’t likely to be final until later in the week. The previous joint convention in Washington, D.C. in 2016 brought out 3,225 attendees.
“For the first time in our history, we had to shut down on-site registration, and unfortunately, I had people hit me up saying ‘Can you open it back up?’ [But, we couldn’t] for the safety of our registrants,” said NABJ Treasurer Walter Smith Randolph.
Berry said there were only 20 cancellations, mostly due to COVID concerns and related issues. Those who canceled their registration were fully refunded.
Berry believes that the vast registration turnout shows that NABJ and NAHJ members “were hungry to get out and return to normalcy.”
NABJ president Dorothy Tucker expressed that she is overwhelmed to see the turnout.
“I didn’t expect as many people to actually want to attend as we have,” Tucker said. “But I’m happy to see so many people who are coming, and it’s going to be record-breaking numbers for even more joint conventions.”
Members arrived excited about attending an in-person convention, with Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and former NABJLA president Xavier Higgs calling it “therapy.”
“You find yourself doing work and maybe in an environment where you might be the only Black person or just gives you a chance to kind of share ideas from a cultural standpoint,” Higgs said.
Juan Daniel Avila, a recent San Diego State University graduate, has been looking forward to attending his first convention in Las Vegas where Latinos are well represented — something he doesn’t see in newsrooms.
“As a graduate student, the one thing you want to pursue is a job, and obviously, learning as much as possible about the journalism field.”
Despite the excitement to return in person, some members were still concerned about their health.
“I am a little bit nervous about walking around and pretty much shaking people’s hands,” said Emmanuel Young, who is vaccinated and an active student member of NABJ since 2019. “However, at the same time, I know this is a risk I got to take because I need to be able to meet these people in person and network [with] them rather than just wait on my computer and talk to them over emails.”
Beverly White, a reporter at NBC Los Angeles and former president of NABJLA shared similar sentiments.
“It’s almost spiritual seeing people, seeing not just their eyes over the mask, but getting the elbow bumps and the fist bumps,” said White I’m still not hugging and [shaking hands]. But it’s still just a blessing to be here.”
“I’m very excited that being in person is really going to make a big difference to connect and network with professionals,” said Jorge Flores, an NAHJ student representative who works at Telemundo 20 in San Diego. He attended his first convention virtually during the pandemic.
Vera reflected this enthusiasm. He said it is, “Because [we] all see for lack of better words, how magical it is to be around all these successful Black people, the camaraderie and the fellowship. It’s a giant family reunion.”
With one of the largest gatherings of Black and brown media professionals in the country at a time of racial reckoning and news disinformation, Berry said security protocols were definitely taken into consideration and “beefed up,” but he declined to elaborate.
“You hire more security. Yeah, definitely, we had to do that in Miami (2019) too, just because of the atmosphere of the country. We certainly had several meetings with the hotel security, but we went to a third party security as we did in Miami.”
Berry added that attendees are urged to report any threats or suspicious activity during the convention.
“We’re prepared and we’re just asking everybody who sees something to say something,” he said.
Rayshaun Baker-Lynch and Karina Bazarte contributed to this report