Metro Philly columnist Ernest Owens was recognized Monday evening by Young Involved Philadelphia and the Forbes Under 30 Summit for his contributions to Philadelphia through his writing and community service.
In an interview with Metro US, Owens talked about the award itself, diversity in the newsroom, and how he’s been trying to make waves in Philly.
Metro: Tell us little about this award
Owens: Young Involved Philly is an organization in Philadelphia that connects young people in the city doing great things in all different sectors: media, public service, governance and a bunch of other stuff.
They recently teamed up with the Forbes Under 30 Summit, which is going on in Philadelphia this week.
The award is called the Young Philly Leads award which is basically an award that encompasses mostly young Philadelphians that are doing amazing things.
What they did for the awards this year is they asked the general public, anyone in Philadelphia, to nominate someone in different sections. There were over 200 nominations for different people in different categories and they picked the top three finalists.
I was nominated for my work at Metro, being the youngest columnist in Philadelphia and for the type of work I've done advocacy wise.
I was surprised I won! They gave me this great trophy and I got the title of Young Philly Leads.
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Metro: What did you think when you won?
For me [winning the award] was an opportunity to increase visibilty for different topics: I'm black, I'm openly gay, I'm a millennial, and I'm an in a media space that could use all of those identities.
So I really take the responsibility seriously to be able to share those opinions, share that commentary whether it's through reporting, working with staff, or being on the ground. I take that responsibility to share those voices and give that voice in the news.
Metro: How have you actively tried to help the community in Philadelphia?
I'm a director of an after-school multimedia enrichment program that I got grant money and funding for from Penn.
I basically teach everyday public school kids how to use photography, technology, blogging and social media in order to help diversify the newsroom.
In fact, having an award like this has enabled me to come back to those kids, show them it, and say "This can be you. You can have an award like this."
Metro: What are the roadblocks to we face to achieving more diversity in newsrooms?
It's institutional and it's social.
Institutionally we just don't have a lot of people that are culturally aware and aware that the newsroom needs to not just be talked about but needs to be worked around.
I think we have a newsroom that is predominantly white, predominantly straight and a lot of times I think the culture of the newsroom is so used to it being that way that they don't know what it would look like any other way.
A lot of the old heads in the business that have been there for a long time are stubborn to change and I think they think "we can cover 'these people' but we don't necessarily need them in the newsroom in order to that," and that's a lie.
If you look at Philadelphia Magazine's cover story about education, if a black editor was in that room that wouldn't have happened.
Metro: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being such a young columnist?
Life experience, naturally.
The best columns I read come from people who have the ability to talk about life experiences: raising children, marriage, wives, husbands, all these different life experiences that come with age.
They've been around the world a little longer, they have a bigger expanse of a mindset about the world through their life.
One of the great things about being this young is that you have the advantage of youthfulness — to have a different perspective. To actually be iconoclastic to a lot of the viewpoints that I am up against. I kind like that. I love that.
A part of it for me, especially in Philadelphia — I'm not from Philadelphia I was born in Chicago, I was born in Houston, Texas — [is that] my whole city-wide view on politics is shaped by my experiences in other major cities.
I love coming in with not only this youthfulness but also this transplant experience — an observance which I think this city lacks. This city is one that loves itself. It loves being from Philly, by Philly, for Philly. I've come to love the city for that but I also see some of the setbacks and some the things that [Philly] is still lacking and could learn from.