When I think of Amudalat Ajasa I’m reminded of a 1986 pop tune from the one-hit wonders Timbuk 3, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”
I didn’t see Ajasa in shades – even in the blazing desert sun of Las Vegas where we gathered over the weekend for the National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NABJ/NAHJ) joint convention – but she might want to invest in a pair of Ray Bans. Maybe Ray Ban should invest in her. The St. Paul native and recent graduate of New York’s Hofstra University is confidently striding into her bright future. And she’s doing it in the spotlight.
At a conference where I casually bumped into the likes of Roland Martin, CBS’s Byron Pitts, PBS and MSNBC White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, MSNBC’s José Díaz-Balart, The Nation’s Elie Mystal, ESPN’s Elle Duncan and Stan Verrett and other luminary journalists, Ajasa, who is interning at the New York Times through the Ida B. Wells Society of Investigative Reporting, was honored as the NABJ Student Journalist of the Year.
She joins a growing list of Twin Cites Black journalists taking their rightful place on the national stage. Charles Hallman of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder was just inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame. And last year, NABJ honored as its Journalist of the Year Libor Jany, who earned his honor while covering the murder of George Floyd for the Star Tribune. He has since moved on to the Los Angeles Times.
For Ajasa, taking a chance at a chance encounter catapulted her rise.
“I was in line at a Jamba Juice with (former WCCO anchor and current MPR show host) Angela Davis and I told her about my interest in journalism and she told me about a lot of opportunities, including those with the Twin Cities Black Journalists (TCBJ),” said Ajasa. “And TCBJ gave me my first shot at an internship at a time during the pandemic when outlets weren’t doing internships.”
Ajasa’s talents were recognized early by TCBJ.
“We are so happy to be able to be a small part of Amudalat’s journey as she continues to grow as a young woman and a journalist,” said Nicole Norfleet, president of TCBJ. “She cut her teeth at our very own Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, the oldest Black newspaper in the state. Several of our chapter members served as mentors for her as she started out. And as our area continued to be an epicenter for revolution, we shared with her and other members the different freelancing opportunities that were available like The Guardian, where Amudalat contributed.”
The honor of being named Student Journalist of the Year is humbling for the 22-year-old native of St. Paul.
“It was a shock (being awarded). There are so many other student journalists around the country who are working so very hard, so this is truly an honor,” said Ajasa.
Added Norfleet: “Amudalat’s story proves that when our young people are given the chance and the support they need, they excel. In the span of two short years, Amudalat has gone from no journalism experience to interning at The New York Times. We need journalists like Amudalat to continue to tell our stories. We are immensely proud of her and humbled to have helped her. I’m pretty sure in a couple more years she will be my boss!”
Grab those Ray Bans, Amudalat … you’re gonna need ’em.