Washington Association of Black Journalists (WABJ) President Khorri Atkinson (right) presents Washington Informer reporter Hamil Harris with the organization's Legacy Award at the WABJ Special Honors Awards gala on Dec. 10. (Robert R. Roberts/ The Washington Informer)
Washington Association of Black Journalists (WABJ) President Khorri Atkinson (right) presents Washington Informer reporter Hamil Harris with the organization's Legacy Award at the WABJ Special Honors Awards gala on Dec. 10. (Robert R. Roberts/ The Washington Informer)

About 250 people descended upon Eaton DC, a boutique hotel in northwest Washington, on Dec. 10 to celebrate the accomplishments and careers of five of the national capital area’s most noted media professionals at an event sponsored by the Washington Association of Black Journalists (WABJ), the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Dressed in their finest clothes– from men in tuxedos with bow ties or business casual, to gowns, skirts, sparkles or business suits for women— people came ready to celebrate the honorees as well as the hard work of all the leaders and members of WABJ.. Loud conversations took place from the reception with people sipping on cocktails or Coca-Cola while munching on finger food. Folks also sat at designated tables decorated with white cloths and a small bushel of red flowers along with the strategically placed silverware and plates for each diner. The range of conversation included fellow guests wondering, “is that Roland Martin,” to the latest political gossip, such as “what’s wrong with Sinema, honey,”  and many people congratulating the honorees. The atmosphere remained light and giddy.

The evening grew more serious when the program started. Eugene Daniels, White House correspondent for Politico, and Marissa Mitchell, morning anchor and host of “Lion Lunch Hour” on WTTG-TV (Fox 5) served as the co-hosts. 

Khorri Atkinson, the president of WABJ, welcomed the guests to the affair.

“I am thrilled to be among you for our inaugural Special Honors Awards Gala as we celebrate five esteemed local Black journalists and communicators for their distinguished work and outstanding career achievements,” Atkinson, 31, said. “We celebrate you and your stellar careers that are worth emulating. I am proud of our honorees’ tireless and groundbreaking service in pursuit of truth and in defense of democracy.”

Atkinson pointed out that the proceeds of the event will go to WABJ’s professional development programs such as the annual high school journalism institute.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser delivered greetings on behalf of their offices and, in the case of the mayor, the city of Washington.

“Tonight is an amazing night,” Braveboy said. “I know some of the people who are being honored tonight, Hamil Harris and Tracee Wilkins, Prince George’s County’s own.”

Bowser expressed delight in seeing people gathered in person in spite of the coronavirus pandemic’s presence. She praised the African American presence in the news media.

“The Black press gets the information and tells our stories,” the mayor said. “I am proud to talk about the Washington Informer, the Black, female-owned newspaper here in the city that tells our stories.”

Bowser, 50, said the coverage Black-led cities, Black politicians and Democrats receive “differs from anyone else.”

“What I want from the media is the same coverage you give Larry Hogan or Glenn Youngkin,” she said.

After dinner, the honorees received their recognition. All honorees had a short film clip on their careers aired before they actually were presented. 

Harris, who worked for two decades at the Washington Post and presently serves as a freelancer for the Washington Informer, got the Legacy Award. During his remarks, Harris, 62, talked about coming to the District in 1984 to pursue a medical career but ended up practicing journalism. He said the journey had its difficult moments but he made it with grace and gratitude.

“I want to thank my Black press family for supporting me,” he said. “I just want people here to reach back and help someone else along their way.”

Nolan D. McCaskill, congressional reporter with the Los Angeles Times, received the Young Journalist of Excellence Award. Like Harris, McCaskill, 31, said his journey into journalism didn’t come easy but his education at Florida A&M University gave him the confidence to pursue and reach his goals.

Adelle Banks, 60, the projects editor and national reporter for the Religion News Service, got the Lifetime Achievement Award. Banks, who expressed pride in her decades of journalism with her employer, said Black journalists are needed more than ever. 

Lon Walls, the founder of Walls Communications, received the Excellence in Communications Award. Walls, 72, said he appreciated the award, but emphasized the focus of his life is doing the work and not getting the accolades.

Wilkins, a new member of WRC-TV (Channel 4) investigative team and longtime Prince George’s County Bureau Chief, got the Journalist of the Year Award. She spoke slowly during her presentation.

“I am living the dream,” she said. “Next year, I would have been at WRC for 20 years. The fact that this award comes from this organization means a lot to me. Journalism is such a high calling.”

Jayln Hall, the actor who played Emmett Till in the movie “Till” made a special presentation announcing the WABJ Investigative Journalism Scholarship. Hall said he learned the importance of Black journalists as he researched the role he played in the movie.

“I was 14 during the production, the same age Emmett Till was killed and I thought about that a lot,” he said. “I thought about how hard that must have been for his mom because they were close like me and my mom [are] close. Mamie Till Mobley became a hero, that’s something very few people will ever do.”

WABJ member Trina Williams received the President’s Award for her work in the organization and her passion regarding the high school journalism workshop.

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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