Cathy Hughes
Cathy Hughes (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

Media trailblazer Cathy Hughes returned to her alma mater, Howard University, sharing her wisdom and witticisms in a conversation that kicked off the school’s Women’s History Month events.

Hughes reminded students to persevere, never give up and stay focused on their goals in life during a discussion moderated by Amber Tucker, a senior journalism student. Conversation focused on Hughes’s journey which led to her to owning one of the nation’s preeminent African-American owned media companies.

From landing a job as a lecturer in Howard’s School of Communications early in her career, to breaking the glass ceiling after being named general manager of WHUR, Hughes has grown accustomed to being the first Black and the first woman. Still, she faced the challenges even when, as it in the case of her breakthrough at WHUR, several colleagues criticized the appointment.

While building Urban One, she would be denied request from 32 different banks before finally securing her first $1 million loan. She says the odds kept her going.

“Law of averages teaches you it is impossible for a ‘no’ to remain a ‘no’ indefinitely,” explained Hughes.

Hughes said one of her greatest blessings (right after her son, Alfred), was knowing exactly what she wanted to do at a young age.

“I knew I would be on the radio. At eight, I knew I was on an entrepreneurial venture,” she said.

College students made up the majority of the audience, many admittedly unsure of what life looks like on the other side of a Bachelor’s degree. To that, Hughes said to push through life’s obstacles.

“Success is not a constant straight trajectory up. You’re going to have hills and valleys,” she advised. “It’s not just patience you have to exercise, it’s also determination.”

In the early days of Urban One, what Hughes lacked in resources she made up for in community. During that time, she used a $5,000 loan from her mother to build a kitchen and bathroom in the office, since that’s where she was living. Unable to provide benefits to her staff, she cooked for them and created a family atmosphere within the company.

“Success, in my opinion, is based on how many people you’ve helped in your lifetime,” she said.

On average, it takes a new business to three to five years to generate a profit. Urban One’s first profitable reports took seven and ½ years to materialize. realize.

“Oftentimes, the payroll didn’t include myself,” said Hughes who marked her company’s 40th anniversary in January at the Urban One Honors.

The second portion of the Hughes-featured discussion, moderated by another senior journalism student, Kaprielle Trenard, included: Karen Whitehart, Michelle Rice, Janine Brunson-Johnson and Editor of TV One Uy.

“It’s really important for us to have a voice and be behind the scenes as well,” said Uy who pointed out three female students taping the panel’s remarks which examined their experiences when working in a majority-woman environment.

“I always felt an obligation to replace myself, to clone myself — another woman of color,” Hughes said. “And while I say this facetiously despite it being true, women have made more progress in the basketball industry, in the WNBA, than we have in the media industry, especially in terms of women becoming owners.”

“There’s no replacement for hard work,” said Brunson-Johnson. “When you work really hard, sometimes people may have an initial perception of you but it changes [for the better] because they see that they absolutely need you.”

“There was a time when women wanted to dress like men and act like men because they thought if they walked in the room looking like a woman they would be treated differently,” Rice noted. “But for me, it’s empowering being a woman and I am going to embrace my femininity and the power behind my femininity and I won’t let anybody take that away from me.”

“There are no shortcuts,” Whitehart said. “If you try to take a shortcut, if you don’t do your work, you don’t do your research, you don’t prepare, if you don’t go out there every day trying to be the best that you can be, then you’re not going to get to where you want to get.”

“What you need more than a degree is an opportunity — that’s what Howard provided me,” Hughes concluded.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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