I had the pleasure of having frozen yoghurt and a great conversation with the young, talented, motivated, hard working, smart, confident, shall I keep going? No, seriously, the 19-year-old journalist, Yaa Beverly Danquah, walked me through her quest as a successful journalist and television producer. Age ain’t nothing but a number they say, and Yaa is a living proof of that.
Yaa attended high school at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. During her sophomore year, she noticed that most of her peers had something going on, and were getting involved with something scientific, or medical. They had Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Scholars and programs at Columbia. These programs were implemented to get High school students ready for college. She didn’t quite know what her passion was, but she knew that she wasn’t into medicine or engineering.
“ I was just going to school and going home. How can I get involved in something [to] break the chain? I feel like it’s never too early to start. Those around me made me feel like I could be doing more, especially since I knew I was smart and have potential.”
She sought guidance from her grade counsellor. Unfortunately, she did not receive much help. At 15, she decided to take matters into her own hands by reaching out to the 11th-grade counsellor. The counsellor told her about the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), where she attained her certification in TV studio production and field production. After she engaged in multiple exercises like getting in front of the camera and speaking, and working the tripod camera at the certification classes, she said to herself, “This is fun I actually kind of like this.” The instructor heard her and then responded: “You’re a natural”. She was taken by surprise because to her, she was just a 15-year-old having fun as she dabbled into new things. “I was just winging it not putting my all into it,” Yaa said. “I was young, and I wasn’t thinking about a career.”
From there she went to a program called, “Get Reel with your Dreams” which was founded, and hosted by Eyewitness News Anchor Sade Baderinwa. This program hosts young people who desire to enter into the television, and film career. At this event, the guests are given advice by an elite panel of successful professionals. The attendees also engage in workshops, as they get tips from the professionals. “I saw young people pursuing different, creative things other than, engineering or doing something that I saw as safe, or what everyone else was doing.” From that moment, she made it her duty to seize every opportunity that would be beneficial towards her career goals.
Yaa then applied for NYU Journalism workshop. “I got accepted and I was shocked, I had very little experience and I was still [at age 16] the youngest person in the program.” During the program, she was awarded the Most Enterprising Reporter for the entire program, because of her interview with Kwabs Couture, a Ghanaian fashion designer, as well as an investigative story on Ellis Island.
Getting involved with New York Association of Black Journalists allowed her to report on multiple events that occurred in New York City. She travelled all around New York and reported on various things. Her first press conference was held at the Police department in New York City located at 1 Police Plaza, to discuss a racial matter. At the age of 17, she was youngest reporter present amongst huge networks like ABC.
“It was very intimidating, I felt like people were looking at me like ‘what is she doing here’”. Despite her nerves then, she has now been to every news studio in New York City.
After her certification, she wanted to serve the borough where she resides, the Bronx, NY. However, working with the cable tv network BronxNet wasn’t quite for her. “Wom de agoro, they were playing games”, she said, describing her experience there. She quickly made a choice to go back to MNN which she loved. Tiffany, one of the producers there approached her about a new television show that she was starting. She wanted Yaa on board with the show but Yaa was a little hesitant, because she was starting college, and wasn’t sure if that commute would work out.
“Thinking of a T.V. show, I knew I didn’t want to do it by myself because I am a very serious person sometimes even though I have a humorous side. I don’t like making jokes on TV. Usually, when you make jokes on TV it’s about someone else.”
She knew that she wasn’t capable of doing that, so she reached out to a young gentleman by the name Devon Arnold to be her co-host. She met Devon while interning at the Apollo. She loved his personality and thought it would be great for television. They started their TV show, “NightCap”, which is the most successful show on MNN Youth Channel at the moment. The show is now in its second year and is still going strong. Early this year, she also had the opportunity to intern for the New York City Council Press. However, she didn’t get the chance to intern for long because she had been selected to intern at CNN where she became the youngest black intern at the time.
While we were talking I asked her if she ever got some “me time” because I was baffled at how much she was juggling. Her answer was,“No. I was commuting from the Bronx to Queens to Manhattan every week. I didn’t party the whole semester, I had no life. My friends would make plans and I would tell them don’t even bother because it would just break my heart. I told myself it was for the greater good.”
Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter was the show she worked on at CNN. She was able to do some research, especially on the election. “It was a critical time with the ’fake news’ talk. It was extremely dangerous [because] if you’re telling the people the media is lying, then who should they trust?” Her time at CNN was a great experience and taught her so much. It was a fast-paced environment, but she enjoyed every moment of it.
Although she wasn’t the biggest fan of fashion journalism, she wanted to step out of her comfort zone and get some more experience. She landed an internship doing fashion copywriting at Moda Operandi boutique. She explained it to be one of the most uncomfortable experiences as an intern. Out of a staff of maybe 150, there were about four black staff. The staff was always in their finest designer clothing. She described the vibe to be bougie, and posh.
“You could look the cutest in the office, [but] if you weren’t in a designer outfit, it would not matter; no one would say a word to you. I was sitting in the back with my little H&M dress, feeling self-conscious. I did not interact with the staff to the point that on my evaluation, I got a 1 for interacting with staff.”
After her 2014 internship at the Apollo, Yaa and her peers had to create and organise an event. They wanted to create an event for the younger generation. The event was to give young upcoming artistes a chance to perform on the Apollo stage and also to draw a youth audience to the Apollo. The event was first created as a thought for the end of the internship project. Our event was the first event that was created by the young internship that became annual.
The administrators at the Apollo took note that the young people have a voice, and when they come together they create great things. They wanted to create a group called Young Producers, which they did.
“It was a huge deal, you didn’t have to pay to be apart of it. You just had to complete the internship, and have a passion for producing shows at the Apollo.” The young producers have created a plethora of events.
Yaa expressed her interest in journalism and media, and the Apollo gave her a platform to soar. She hosted about 3 events, and produced them while interning at CNN, and attending school. “I almost went crazy, but I had to push and reach new heights. I did not want to use my age as an excuse.”
She hosted an event this year for the WOW festival (Women of the World), which she described as one of the biggest moments for her while being at the Apollo.
“It was such a big deal. I was 19 and it was star-studded with guests like Gabourey Sidibe, and so many different people basking in the event that we produced”.
Yaa shared that the Apollo has this event called Africa Now, and every year they invite a different country to showcase their musical talents. In the past, they have hosted South Africa.
“I believe Apollo is starting to understand that the African culture has a huge influence on the Apollo background as well as its future. I can say Apollo can do better with incorporating African artists. In moving forward, I can tell the executive producer about it, as long as I have the idea. If anyone has an idea please share.”
According to Yaa, though her mother was so supportive from the jump, her father first asked her why she chose journalism instead. Her father’s friends would tell him to talk her out of it and instead encourage her to choose careers in fields like medicine.
“In a way, unfortunately, I kind of felt like I had to prove myself to my dad which is why I pushed myself so hard early on. If I didn’t show that I had potential, my dream would’ve died early.”
Now, however, she mentioned that her father is more than supportive because he understands her vision. It was surprising to me when she shared that at her church Easter convention, they asked her to talk to the youth and encourage them to explore different career fields, not just medicine.
Her advice to those who may be pursuing a dream that others may not see is, “If you know you can do it and it’s something you enjoy doing then go for it if it makes you happy. At the end of the day, if you’re making your money and don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’re just paying bills, and it won’t give you comfort.”
Throughout our discussion, we spoke about Ghana celebrating our culture more, showing off our markets through the media. Yaa shared that she loves what the Ghanaian media is doing today. She is an avid watcher of Ghanaian films. Yaa is a fan of Ghanaian commercials, she loves how even if you’re not in Ghana you get a sense of the culture; just through something as simple as a commercial and a catchy jingle.
I asked her if she plans on going to Ghana to do some work over there.
She told me she really wants to back and contribute to her country in the future, though she’s not sure exactly what she will do. When the time comes, she will know.
Her final words of advice to the youth who are discovering their passions and interests were, “Break barriers. They’ll tell you what you can do and can’t do. Show them who you are and what you’re capable of. Your age or circumstance shouldn’t define your level of success, so far as you push and apply yourself. Young age shouldn’t scare, it should impress.”
WRITER: CONSTANCE BOAKYE
IMAGES: YAA BEVERLY DANQUAH