A salute to the women who are telling the stories of Black Boston

Danielle Johnson, state Rep. Chris Worrell, and Paris Alston at the recently held Black Excellence on the Hill Awards event at the State House.
Photo courtesy Rep. Worrell’s office

The press, especially at the most local level, continues to play a vital role in our democracy. The stories written by hard-working journalists across our country shape public opinion and, often, can drive incredible change.

However, the lack of diversity in journalism hinders Black storytellers from telling Black stories.  In 2023, just six percent of working American journalists identified as Black, according to the Pew Research Center. Unsurprisingly, there is no data on how many Black Women there are in journalism, but for the sake of this discussion let’s assume it’s less than six percent.

Black women have long been relied upon as voices of wisdom and truth in journalism, yet their stories often go unread or unheard and their names unrecognized. Throughout American history, Black women have stuck their necks out, raised their voices, and created space for themselves when there was no space allowed for them. 

Ida B. Wells was one such word warrior. In her 1892 pamphlet “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases,” she wrote, “Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.” Her work to spearhead the anti-lynching movement was a direct catalyst for change.  

Here in Boston – in our own time – Sarah-Ann Shaw was a frequent face in my house. As the first female African American reporter to be on television in Boston, there was only Sarah to tell our stories. She told the stories that we knew to be true, but never heard, because our narrative was constructed by people who were not us.

Sarah-Ann passed away three weeks ago, on March 21. She will be remembered as a truth-teller, and, as she self-described it, a bridge  between Boston’s ethnic and racial communities. She broke the glass ceiling for Black women in Boston journalism. Since then, we have seen a slow but impactful increase here in the number of Black women journalists.

My family had an unmatched love for Reverend Liz Walker, the first Black woman to co-anchor a newscast in Boston. In the ‘90s, Liz Walker was a household name, along with Carmen Fields who, according to Liz, was “the epitome  of what it takes to make change,” and practically a sister.

These women have since passed that torch to reporters like Callie Crossley of GBH, Karen Holmes-Ward from Channel 5, Kimberly Atkins Stohr from the Boston Globe, Amaka Ubaka from Channel 7 news, and many more. They are the current truth tellers who continue the legacy of greatness that their predecessors set before them. 

One of the 5th Suffolk’s own truth tellers is Danielle Johnson “Ms. HotSauce,” founder and CEO of digital radio station Spark FM. Through her struggle to break into mainstream radio, Danielle discovered a market for a hyper-local, bona fide voice of the Black community in Boston. She bravely began her business in April 2020 and has since created a “community in the comment section.” It has been almost four years since Spark FM went live, and the station now has over 25 shows per week and has featured hundreds of Black and Brown business owners, community leaders, and innovators. 

Aside from the steadfast forms of print and talk journalism, the way we receive our news is forever evolving, and it is important that Black and Brown people are thriving in those spaces. One of those thriving journalists is Paris Alston. She is currently co-host of NPR & GBH’s Morning Edition and The Wake Up podcast at GBH News, where she also does original, community-based reporting for her series “A Walk Down the Block.” 

In collaboration with NPR, WBUR, and GBH, Paris was the host of the “Consider This” podcast in 2020, when the conversation around racial justice was at the top of everyone’s minds. Names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were at the core of practically every conversation and Paris had come to a realization that this was a new era of journalism, where Black journalists needed to “unapologetically” report the truth about Black issues. Since then, she has felt an urgent responsibility “to give a voice to the voiceless.” 

It gave me so much pride to acknowledge the crucial work of Danielle Johnson and Paris Alston at this year’s Black Excellence on the Hill Awards, hosted by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. It is our role as elected officials to highlight the people in our community who exude what it means to be an excellent journalist. I hope that the work of these two incredible women will inspire the Black and Brown children of Boston to follow their dreams and make their communities proud.
Chris Worrell represents parts of Dorchester and Roxbury as the state representative from the Fifth Suffolk district.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter