There is nothing better, more exciting, and more inspirational than getting career advice from someone who has worked their way up to exactly where you only hope to be one day with the same hard work and persistence. Everyone who knows me knows that “I’m going to be on E! News one day”. I obviously believe in myself, but with having my peers, professors, and almost everyone I’ve had a conversation with believe in me too? ..It’s definitely flattering, but also a lot of pressure. I’m up for it though, and there’s nothing more reassuring than Zuri herself telling me I’m not unrealistic, and that my goals are absolutely achievable.
I was working on a class assignment a few months after this tweet, that required us to interview someone in the profession we chose to be in. At this point I was like, welp! There goes my grade, because with the profession I chose, it would take forever for someone to get back to me, with their busy schedules, as well as the factor of what if they don’t get back to me at all? Of course I could have interviewed a couple of my professors who had experience in TV, or even my connections at the local TV station that I was interning for, but no. I wanted to talk to Zuri. She was the first person who came to mind. She seemed relatable, and approachable, and there was something reassuring about turning on the TV to my favorite network and seeing someone who ‘resembles’ me doing her thing!
I’m not going to lie, I would usually procrastinate on doing an assignment until a day or two before it was due. I couldn’t do that with this assignment; not if I wanted a true professional in the entertainment business. I contacted Zuri that same day the assignment was assigned, because in my mind it would take weeks for her or anyone else to respond. To my surprise, she responded in 3 days, gave me her phone number, and we set up a date and time to chat! I was so excited and speechless, that all I could do was start twerking. LOL!
Fast forward to our conversation, I had all the questions I planned to ask her right in front of me. As the phone rang, I was so nervous, and didn’t know if I should say “hello”, “hey”, or “hi”. The struggle was so real! When she picked up the phone, all my nerves went away. She is so down to earth, and easy to talk to, that our conversation just flowed for a good 30 minutes, without me asking her any of the actual questions I had in front of me!
Although supportive of my career, my family, especially having African parents, would prefer I had more realistic, or ‘corporate’ career goals. It turns out Zuri and I had a lot in common as I asked her if she had any struggles with her family understanding her vision.
“My family was an advocate for higher education, and more traditional career routes and corporate ladders. I got a lot of push back. They were always trying to convince me to do something else, but they were also very supportive every time I had an interview, or a milestone, or the thousand times I thought I had my big break [laughs]. They definitely humored me and supported and loved me so I appreciate them for that.”
Throughout our conversation, I could tell that she really did bet on herself, as I had read in an article that featured her on xoNecole. The more I talked to her, the more I realized, ‘Yo, I’m not crazy. I’m not unrealistic. Not everyone will get it, until I give them a reason to ‘get it’.
“I got if from my father.” She said. “No matter what someone said, no matter the goal, or how unrealistic the goal or expectation was, even if it wasn’t realistic, it worked for me. I always had total faith in what I was always going to do, what I wanted to do, and that gave me the confidence to pursue it. It was really just knowing what I wanted, and knowing that I had an actual, tangible strategy for accomplishing it and then not worrying about that. Luckily I accomplished it. Granted if five years later I hadn’t done that, this might be a different conversation. It was really just that blind faith in myself and as I started to make progress, they started to gain more faith in the vision. I mean, they couldn’t see it. It wasn’t their vision, so I understand”
“I mean they couldn’t see it. It wasn’t their vision, so i understand.”
How do you feel when you wake up every morning and you’re going to work; you’re going to E News. What’s that like? Is it a sense of relief? Such as “I made it” or “I want more”?
“I don’t think I’ll ever feel completely ‘relieved’ because the very quality that got me here was my ambition so it’s sort of a blessing and a curse. As soon as you get one goal accomplished, you’re like okay, what’s the next one? So a Relief yes. It was something I wanted for myself, something I always said I would get. My family knew of it so there was relief in the sense that yes, finally they see. I got to the place I was gonna get to so that was nice.”
She continued to say, “I wake up more happy than anything else . It doesn’t feel like I’m done by any means. I feel like I have a lot left to do but I wake up very happy with where my life is after years. It was very tough. I struggled a lot, I was lonely a lot, I moved a lot… It was hard to make meaningful relationships or connections because I was a rolling stone. So now I’m very happy that it feels like [pause] the stars have aligned and I’m in a really good place emotionally, romantically and professionally. So I’m happy.”
Zuri’s take on networking in the industry, making connections, and the infamous “It’s who you know, not what you know” system we’ve got going on these days.
“You know, some people say that, and I think in California the mindset is very much its who you know. Having grown up in Ohio, somewhere that’s so far away from all of this, I feel like I’m living proof that that isn’t always necessarily the case. You have to get to know people. As far as relationships, it is about connections, but the bigger picture, I think, is that talent speaks the loudest, hard work speaks the loudest. Who you know can’t sustain itself once you’re in the newsroom.” *Preaaaaach*
The moment I knew Zuri was my spirit animal..
“Growing up I was like, how am I ever gonna get outta here, I don’t know anyone, I don’t know any agents. I’m sending emails, cold calling; I’m no one to them, and I’m not there, to sort of plead my case. One thing I always suggest to aspiring talent or on air talent specifically, is you have to be willing to sacrifice. It’s not as simple as someone making an introduction and that person just thrusts you into the national spotlight. Does that happen on occasion? Yes, very rarely. But I sucked it up, and I climbed up the local news ladder and that was 3 or 4 years where I was like what is going on? I loved that I was climbing up the ladder but it was a big sacrifice.”
She continued to say “Be willing to go where your talent is recognized. Sometimes that means being in a smaller market in the beginning because you haven’t yet proven yourself. Everyone will try convince you to stay. Give yourself a time frame of even a year, to build you up to the next stepping stone. Do that to build the experience and the proof, to show that you should be somewhere else.”
At the time of this conversation, I was going back and forth with the decision to either continue interning at the local news station while gaining more experience and working my way up, or to go all in and move to LA to be where it all happens, and hustle and make something happen with the experience I had. I couldn’t wait to hear Zuri’s opinion!
“It’s kind of the question of two birds in the bush, one in the hand. Do you wanna go for the two that you don’t have, or keep the one that you do, and risk losing the one in your hand. I won’t tell you which way to go, because Lord knows I don’t want your fate resting on this recommendation [laughs]. I would seriously consider taking the opportunity [local news station], because you could always leave, you know, it’s not like a death sentence, if you hate it, you quit. So, doing that and maybe working your way into on-air reporting. It’s a really good way to build your reel, and get professional recommendations from a real news director, from a real producer, and not just professors in college, but people out there in the workforce. Get 9-12 months under your belt, and then come to LA while having that foundation. My time in local news, really prepared me for E! A lot of people forget, even though we talk about fun stuff, it’s still news.”
She continued, “When I first met with E! it was just a general meeting, but there’s no way they were offering me a job. In my mind they were [laughs] I was still so green and had only been in TV for maybe 6 months to a year, so I needed those 3 years of experience under my belt before I came back to them again. It’s really about hustling for those small time opportunities whether its in LA as a freelancer, or in local news in a smaller market.”
Needless to say, this was probably one of the best phone calls of my life for obvious reasons. Following this conversation, I planned on staying local in Chico for 6 – 9 months and then moving to LA. But like Zuri, my ambition is something that cannot be tamed, and I did what I had to do to end up moving to LA 2 months later, for an opportunity I couldn’t let pass me by.
You can see Zuri doing her thing weekdays and weekends on E! News, and make sure to check out this interview with xoNecole. to learn how she won an Emmy by betting on herself!