Nicole Lyssy | Staff Writer
The 2017 Barbara Jordan Media Awards luncheon was held on Thursday, April 13 at the University of North Texas’ Apogee Club. The awards ceremony is an annual event that honors some of the state’s brightest journalists.
The 12 honored recipients offered heartfelt acceptance speeches as family and friends watched from the audience. Named after the congresswoman from Houston who successfully overcame barriers set in her path by multiple sclerosis, all 12 selections chosen from a range of mediums were recognized for their part in portraying individuals with disabilities in a respectful and positive light.
The event began with Mayborn Dean Dorothy Bland speaking about the importance of storytelling. Representatives from the governor’s committee presented the awards.
Before the award was presented, gentle voices read small selections of each winner’s work over a speaker system while soft music played in the background, allowing the winner time to make their way to the podium to accept their gold medallion. Each winner thanked family and friends, as well as the subjects of their pieces. The hopeful nature of the ceremony lingered long after the last award was given, and the feeling of excitement for journalism’s future was bright.
Bland noted UNT’s involvement with the Barbara Jordan Media Awards in the past.
“We were asked by the Texas Governor’s committee on People with Disabilities to host the event after a very successful event in 2014,” she said. “The work displayed was amazing and inspirational. It was a first class event and wonderful to see young talent educating and empowering others to share so many heartwarming stories on a variety of platforms and topics.”
Author Deborah Nowinsky was recognized for her book “Your Inclusion in Theatre.” She said she was inspired to write the book after being approached by a theatre teacher at a conference she lectured at.
“A teacher approached me and said, ‘Do you have a book? We need a book to take into the classroom,’” Nowinsky recalled. “I [thought], ‘How do I spread the message of inclusion in theater? I guess I’ll have to write a book.’ Teachers can take the guidebook into the classroom or theater and would have my step-by-step guide, exactly how we do it in my theater.”
Nowinsky elaborated on how she found out about the Barbara Jordan Media Awards in the first place.
“My book has been rejected by every publisher in the world,” she stated. “My editor [encouraged me to] self-publish it and put it on Amazon. A friend of mine sent me the link about the Barbara Jordan Media Awards. I sent in five books, and I thought [that] even if it doesn’t win, if it could touch one person on that panel and they learn something from it, we’ve won. I sent it out in January, and totally forgot about it.”
When Nowinsky received the call that she’d won, she said she felt shocked.
“I started to cry, because it was so unbelievable that finally this panel heard the voices of the passion of my actors,” Nowinsky said. “Finally, it has reached somebody who understood what it was like to be an actor with a disability and the pride they have in themselves. It was pretty amazing to win, and whether it gets picked up by a publisher or not, I don’t even care, because we’re doing great.”
High school senior Miranda Alexander’s story focused on a young student in a wheelchair. The story came to her attention through the PTA Board.
“I was notified about this young boy [who has] always wanted to share his story,” Alexander said. “They contacted Frisco ISD TV, and I just wanted to jump right on it and be able to capture the essence of Jaxon.”
She touched on an important life lesson she has learned through following this story.
“He’s taught me that it’s not just about the chair, it’s about the boy in the chair,” she said.
Alexander found out about the Barbara Jordan Awards contest through her executive producer and teacher. She decided to enter and was pleasantly surprised when she won.
“I was so excited,” Alexander said. “That was honestly such a great day. [When] I found out that I won an award and that it was going to be held at the school I’ll be attending next year, [I felt] great.”
Bland said she felt pride in the work UNT’s journalists have done to affect the future of storytelling.
“We are extremely proud that past and current students were recognized for their work,” she said. “Diversity is a core value of UNT, and it’s inspiring to see the amazing work being done to share positive portrayals of people with disabilities.”
Featured Image: The 2017 Barbara Jordan Media Awards held its annual event that honors reporters reflecting individuals with disabilities. Kelsey Shoemaker