People over the years have helped me along the way to be the Black journalist I am — yes, I am a Black journalist, not a journalist who happens to be Black. I learned and listened to them, hoping to glean as much knowledge and veteran seasoning as I could to somehow apply it to my own work in a sports media landscape where White privilege is overwhelmingly practiced. In too many cases, the press box or media row can be a White, White world. At a National Association of Black Journalists sportswriters’ breakfast in Philadelphia in August, it was a mixed crowd — well-known Black writers and broadcasters who are employed in mainstream media, young aspiring Blacks hoping to be next in line, and a writer from the oldest Black newspaper in Minnesota. Rod Parker, now with ESPN, strongly suggested to the young ones that they seek out the veteran Black sports journalists in the room for advice and counsel. “I didn’t get here by myself,” admitted the 25-year journalist. “People looked out for me and helped me along the way. You need people you can talk to who can give you support. That’s how important mentoring is.” Claire Smith, who has written about sports for over 25 years for four mainstream newspapers — 20 of them as a Major League Baseball beat writer — is one such person Parker referred to. She joined ESPN as a news editor in 2007. Smith explained that she never envisioned herself working in television but “has grown to love it,” she told the breakfast audience, adding that mentioning is “near and dear to my heart.” “Where would African Americans be if we did not learn at a very early stage in this country that you had to reach back to help the person coming up behind you,” she pointed out. “It takes a community in this country, and we should never lose sight of that.” Like Parker, someone helped her along the way: “He was my professor at Temple,” said Smith of Acel Moore. “He’d advise, and if you asked questions, he’d listen. I always loved the moments when I’d see Acel walking toward my desk because it would be some special moments, even if it was just a ‘hello’ and ‘How are you doing?’ It was so, so important to me.” Both Moore, now editor emeritus at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Smith, who once worked with Moore at the Inquirer, were honored at this year’s NABJ convention — she with the Legacy Award, and he with a lifetime achievement award. Being a Black sportswriter is tough. Being a female sportswriter is tougher. Being a Black female sportswriter can be doubly tough. “As an African American, I walked into a society where it really wasn’t right to wear your racism, but it was all right to wear your gender bias,” recalled Smith. “Being female presented more difficulties than being African American.” Smith’s defining moment, however, came in the 1984 National League Championship Series when she was physically removed by players from the San Diego clubhouse after game one. Then-Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth eventually resolved the matter, and Smith returned to her beat, but not without scars that still exist today. “I also found it helpful to always look to people in the industry, to the teams’ management and most of all, the players who wouldn’t stand for it and who always had your back,” she remembered. What also helped Smith was the fact that she is good at her job. “My mentor showed me how to be responsible; how to honor my profession; how to hone the craft and how to respect the power of the pen that was given to me,” she noted. This knowledge, among other nuggets of advice and counsel she got from mentors, Smith called “precious gifts.” Smith advised the young Blacks wanting to move up in the sports writing business, whether print, electronic or new media, “Learn what you learn today, and carry it into tomorrow to do a better job.” She also advised the rest of us “to reach back and help — we [as veteran Black journalists] have an obligation to stop and try to answer the questions” from the younger ones. “I think every journalist in this room — no matter how long you’ve been in this business — you know you did not arrive as a finished product,” the award-winning journalist surmised. “We [all] had people” who helped us. I asked Smith afterwards where she sees Black journalists in 20 years: “We need [Black] people to speak up for the underrepresented. We better be up front and keep it going, and we better make a lot of noise.” That’s why Smith sees mentoring as important because “journalism is at a crossroads, and seeking to reinvent itself.” We as Black journalists don’t want journalism to reinvent itself without us. Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.