Trailblazer Carol Jenkins Speaks at Chapin

On November 11, the award-winning writer, producer, consultant and activist Carol Jenkins visited Chapin to talk about her extraordinary life and to weigh in on some pressing issues of our time. Judith Ohikuare ’07, an accomplished freelance journalist and the Development Manager at NY Writers Coalition, led the fascinating discussion, which was attended by parents and alumnae.

In her introduction, Director of Community Life and Diversity Erica Corbin presented an overview of Ms. Jenkins’ trailblazing and multi-faceted career. The audience learned that, among her many notable achievements, Ms. Jenkins currently serves as CEO and Co-President of the ERA Coalition, which is working to introduce in Congress a new constitutional amendment that would add protections to women, people of color and other marginalized populations. (To date, just one more state is needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.) 

In addition, Ms. Jenkins is the founding president of Women’s Media Center, which seeks to increase coverage and participation of women in media, and the co-author, with her daughter, Elizabeth Gardner Hines, of “Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire,” a biography of her uncle, a successful Alabama businessman and civil rights activist. Moreover, she was among the first African-American women in broadcast journalism, having spent 25 years as an Emmy award-winning news anchor and correspondent for WNBC-TV in New York. Ms. Jenkins also hosts “Black America,” a highly regarded interview program on CUNY TV. 

“All this pales in comparison to being a Chapin grandparent,” said Ms. Corbin, adding that Ms. Jenkins’ granddaughter is currently in Lower School.

Guided by Ms. Ohikuare’s thoughtful questions, Ms. Jenkins shared that she came from a poor family in rural Alabama. She described her grandfather as a feminist who insisted that his 15 children, including nine daughters (one of whom was Ms. Jenkins’ mother), attend college. 

From a young age, Ms. Jenkins understood the value of education and hard work. Through perseverance and, as she describes, no shortage of luck, her first job in the secretarial pool at CBS led to a bona fide research and writing position at Channel 9 News in New York City and, eventually, to her celebrated news anchor role at NBC. “Those were the good old days,” she recalled, although she revealed that she faced her share of unfair treatment. “Discrimination against women is so entrenched in our society,” she remarked.

Along with questions about her upbringing and early years, Ms. Ohikuare asked Ms. Jenkins about her most memorable assignments. One stood out above the rest: When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, she traveled to South Africa to interview him. “I didn’t need to do another story after that!” she added with a smile.

Determined to play a more meaningful role in shaping the national conversation, Ms. Jenkins retired from her reporting responsibilities in 2000 to focus on raising awareness about topics that have long mattered to her like women’s rights and equality for all. “In order for me to become an advocate, I had to leave the newsroom because opinions were not allowed,” she noted.

Ms. Jenkins also talked about pay equity, the evolution of feminism, and her experiences with sexism on the job. “The bosses always made sexual advances. It was a given,” she said. “They suffered no consequences and went on to have great careers.” Thanks to the Me Too movement, both Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Ohikuare acknowledged that the culture is shifting in positive ways. “Now women are more willing to tell their stories,” said Ms. Jenkins.

Once the formal part of the program wrapped up, and at the invitation of Associate Head of School M.J. Quigley, Ms. Jenkins, Ms. Ohikuare and the audience stayed to enjoy an array of refreshments and continue this important conversation.