I Was Just Thinking: Griots in Virtual Reality

By Norma Adams-Wade
Columnist 

Back in Africa, the Motherland, they called storytellers Griots. Griots kept the oral history of the tribes, and villages in their heads and memories. Griots were walking data banks. Their memories were archives of detailed ancient happenings. Nothing was written down. It was memorized–and recalled on demand when needed. That’s why the griots were important. They would recite the lineage of families, the movement of tribes from one location to the next, significant battles that were won or lost, births, deaths, marriages. Their minds were vaults, storehouses, and time capsules. I was just thinking…I’m proud to identify as a modern-day griot. I bring this up because of a group called the National Association of Black Journalists. I also am proud to be one of the 44 founders of that griot’s group that organized in Washington D.C. on December 12, 1975. During the nearly 45 years since then, NABJ has grown from 44 to more than 3,000 members and is the nation’s largest organization of journalists of color.

Storytelling and recording history–our history as descendants of the African diaspora–is what NABJ does. During August 5-8, NABJ held its national convention and career fair in conjunction with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). The two groups have similar missions and every four years meet jointly to strategize for the future and celebrate common advancements. The missions include: provide balanced news coverage; tell our own stories and help the world better understand our cultures and heritage; increase our numbers as managers and decision-makers; provide training and development; and help educate and direct students who might be interested in our profession. The new twist to the NABJ-NAHJ story is that this year is the first time the two organizations are having a combined virtual convention, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This joint body was one of the first to venture into the virtual world for a national convention. Workshops, forums, plenaries, and entertainment all were held online through digital technology. Luncheons also were included with online speakers, panels and dignitaries, and even meals delivered from local eateries to member’s front doors at home. Kudos to the leaders of both groups who plowed ahead when they could have called off the historic gathering. In fact, some membership opined that waiting till next year would be best. But vision and determination prevailed. I’m glad it did. This griot got to be a part of another chapter of my village life that I can record for generations that follow–this time in both memory and the written word. Here’s a portion of a letter I wrote for the NABJ newsletter prior to the convention:

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” I’m applying this familiar (Star Trek) phrase to our upcoming, first-ever virtual NABJ-NAHJ national convention…As one of 44 NABJ founders, this scenario so reminds me of more than 44 years ago when we gathered…and (created) our beloved NABJ. This (virtual) stratospheric venture will be similar, and yet far different… That first voyage on which we founders set sail…was cutting edge. We had neither road map nor NASA mission control center to guide us. This cyberspace venture is another uncharted mission… Let’s come aboard, fasten our seat belts, and…boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before.”

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