Introducing the winners of the 2022 Lenfest Next Generation Award

June 16, 2022

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is proud to announce the 16 members of the 2022 class of The Lenfest Next Generation Fund. The Lenfest Next Generation Fund supports professional development opportunities for Philadelphia-area journalists, media executives, and students of color. 

Fifteen award winners are receiving support through the NextGen Professional Development Track, which provides up to $1,200 per person to attend a conference or purchase new work-related equipment. Another awardee is participating in the NextGen Internship Support Track, which provides up to $4,200 for student journalists to participate in internships at Philadelphia-based media organizations. Award winners work in digital, television, radio, podcasting, and print media in multiple languages across the Philadelphia region.

The Lenfest Next Generation Fund is an integral component of the Institute’s Philadelphia Media Ecosystem strategy to support an interconnected ecosystem of Philadelphia’s news and information providers that is representative of the communities they serve. The Institute believes that diversity and representation are critical to achieving positive business outcomes for publishers. The programming intentionally supports individual journalists and media professionals of color in Philadelphia to ensure that diverse leaders at every stage of their career are equipped with skills to lead their organizations and build sustainable, community-centered news products.

“I am always inspired by the innovative work of our Next Generation Fund applicants. Having the opportunity to invest in their professional development and growth will benefit the Philadelphia Media Ecosystem for generations to come,” said Lenfest Institute Program Director Shawn Mooring.  

Please join us in congratulating the 2022 NextGen Award Winners:

Marina Affo

Investigative Reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Denver

“Almost a year ago, I started my first job solely dedicated to investigative work. It’s been a great start, but it hasn’t been without its challenges, particularly with the pandemic. Being newer to journalism, and especially newer to investigative work, I know this conference will be instrumental to my work. I know the information I would get at sessions like ‘It’s not just Tuskegee: Investigating stories on race and health’ or ‘A year in local investigations: Watchdog stories ideas’ will have real life, practical impacts on my work and the communities I care about. I care deeply about communities of color and their interactions with the health care system. I would love to hear from others doing this work about how they got started, what they’ve been up to, what are some databases or resources I am not aware of, etc. This conference would help me better serve this important community.”

Melissa Beatriz

Documentary Filmmaker and Co-Founder, ¡Presente! Media

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: Hard drives and a subscription to the Adobe Creative Suite of software for filmmaking and editing. 

“I would like to keep building a body of work focused on social justice and the arts that critically reports on stories through a long-term collaborative model alongside diverse communities. Support through the Lenfest Next Generation Fund will help me achieve this broader goal by elevating me to have access to more professional and upgraded equipment in order to produce journalistic stories efficiently. Having access to this equipment would also assist with collaborative storytelling projects by being able to quickly share and transfer media to others. 

I am also passionate about media organization and archiving systems. I think a lot about how to store media used in interviews properly. It is essential to archive Philadelphia stories thoughtfully so that they can continue to be accessed.”

Sharron Cooks 

Owner and CEO, Making Our Lives Easier LLC

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: 2022 NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair in Las Vegas

“I aim to further my professional media career as a public relations, marketing, and communications consultant, advising and training diverse clientele with proper media training, management and development. I hope to expand my professional media skills and knowledge, in addition to building a more expansive and diverse network of relationships with public relations and media professionals. I will have the opportunity to further reach these goals by attending the National Association of Black Journalists Convention & Career Fair particularly because they have partnered with the National Hispanic Association of Journalists for this convention. 

My ultimate career goals are not only to continue to consult, advise, and conduct training geared toward media, public relations, and community engagement, but also to become a spokesperson,  press secretary, and/or a marketing strategist for organizations and companies to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion endeavors to help improve and diversify the news and information industry.” 

Keyssh Datts

Student Journalist at Community College of Philadelphia

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: Videography equipment

“I’m a 20 year old multimedia creator from Southwest Philly who uses the love of the past, the now, and Afro-futurism to help people learn and unlearn for the betterment of society and humanity. My career goal is to be a Black studies educator and change the way we interact with art through social justice. I am drawn to art because I feel like it gives me a way to help our community. Media can become a saving grace — an out for someone to finally see others in a way where they are not judged, or seen as something to be criminalized because of the community’s identity. 

It’s hard to shoot projects with minimum gear, I do have a camera and a tripod but I don’t have a set up that would allow me to take on different types of  videography shoots. This will provide me the opportunity to create more and to help me get closer to my community. I’m inspired by our elders like Assata Shakur, Kwame Ture, and Laurie Anderson. They all represent people who have shifted the way I see my identity and view education through art.”

Camari Ellis

Chief Tax Problem Solver, Philly Tax Team & Host, “The Finance Rebel Show” / “The Daily Number Podcast”

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: MacBook Mini for website building

“My goal is to create an independent news platform to help create more awareness about financial literacy. This equipment will help to create better broadcasts and process video editing.” 

Shaynah Ferreira 

Anchor and Reporter, FOX 29

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: 2022 NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair in Las Vegas

“I would like to eventually become a journalist at the national level. Ideally, I would become a national correspondent with a sitting anchor role at a major network. I am passionate about the ‘big story,’ and I love being on the frontlines of history. I believe in the value of storytelling as a medium that informs and inspires, and I hope to make a career out of this very conviction. Attending the NABJ-NAHJ conference would put me in the room with decision makers and recruiters that can help advise me as I work toward perfecting my craft. The conference will also allow me to meet some of the journalists that are doing the work I hope to one day do. Networking is important in TV news and making a name for yourself early will only aid in my career advancement.”

Melissa Hellmann

Investigative Journalist, The Center for Public Integrity 

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Data Journalism Bootcamp in Columbia, Missouri

“I aspire to be an investigative reporter who uncovers stories that spearhead federal investigations and change laws. I ultimately plan to lead a newsroom of diverse reporters, using the skills I’ve learned to usher in a new generation of investigative journalists. 

The IRE Data Bootcamp will provide me with a crash course in skills that will help me bulletproof my reporting and create datasets to show inequities in our nation’s financial and healthcare system. My investigative stories are needed to demonstrate how inequities disproportionately impact Black and Brown people. While I have narrative writing and strong reporting skills, I know that learning how to manage data will help propel me as a journalist.” 

Malcolm Johnson

Producer, FOX 29

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: 2022 NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair in Las Vegas

“My ultimate career goals are to win an Emmy, an Oscar and a Golden Globe — and to do it all by telling stories of underserved communities in creative ways. I hope to leverage my journalism skills to propel my storytelling skills to new heights. This support would place me in workshops and seminars to refine my craft and to place me in spaces where I can network with the people who have the power to help me reach the next level.”

Jeffrey Jones

Host, “Community Voice Radio Talk Show”

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: Portable lighting, podcasting equipment, and a laptop to help with community outreach and remote broadcasting

“The ultimate goal for Community Voice PHL would be to become a nationally recognized show that features all the amazing stories about various people of color who are working to make a positive impact in their communities. We would do this by highlighting people and places that do not make the mainstream media or are hidden gems in the community. We would also look to do on-site episodes to truly capture the personal and poignant stories that will inspire other people to help build caring and prosperous communities in their own neighborhoods. Doing this will help to make Community Voice PHL a premier talk show that would attract sponsorship and support not just for us but also for our guests and businesses that would be featured on the show.” 

Maria Mitri

Student Journalist at American University

NextGen Track: Internship Support

Professional Development Opportunity: Internship support at the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting

“My ultimate career goals are rooted in a passion for helping others, with a special passion for refugee advocacy. My time with The Displacement Initiative, a nonprofit organization that researches on displacement crises around the world and reports on them, allowed me to advocate for refugees through my writing and journalism skills, and raise awareness about a traumatizing experience that occurs far too often. An internship with the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting will allow me to advocate for victims of gun violence and raise awareness about an epidemic that has reached almost every corner of this country, although gun violence has a uniquely gripping presence in Philadelphia. In the future, I see myself utilizing my research, writing, and journalism skills for others, and speaking up for those whose voices have been historically silenced. 

This internship will help me further develop my communications and relational organizing skills, making me a more well-rounded and equitable journalist, which will prepare me for my ultimate career goal of advocating for those who are typically silenced.”

Juliana Feliciano Reyes

Reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Denver

“I want to break big, important investigative/accountability stories that will help people’s lives, change norms, and expand the way people see the world. I can’t do that without training and support, and I believe IRE will expose me to a network of investigative journalists and potential mentors, as well as workshops and practical tools, that will help me accomplish my goal.”

Lauren Settles

Entertainment Reporter, “We Talk Weekly’s After The Talk” and Master’s Student, Temple University Klein College of Media and Communication 

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: 2022 NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair in Las Vegas

“My career goals include starting a media company that offers media literacy programs for minority youth to train them to become local/community journalists that invest in the communities from which they come. I also want to partner with schools to create performing arts programs to get students involved in the arts. I plan to produce content that tells true and authentic stories about people of color via multimedia platforms. The support from the trainings, workshops, career development, networking and building relationships will help provide additional resources that I can use in the future as I seek new employment and start the media literacy programs.”

Melissa Simpson

Audience Engagement Editor, Next City

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: Canon DSLR camera

“My ultimate career goal is to lead a team in content strategy or audience engagement while defining the voice of an outlet through photo, video, and written mediums. My day job as Audience Engagement Editor at Next City allows me to flex my writing expertise, though there isn’t much room to use my photography skills. Freelancing for outlets like XPN’s The Key and cineSpeak gives me the opportunity to shoot, but I haven’t been shooting as much lately due to the diminished quality of my current camera. Once I have a higher quality camera, I’ll be able to further hone my photography skills and use them in the future to help shape the voice and style of a news organization. The majority of my visual work consists of street photography and event photography therefore having a high-quality camera that is equipped to handle fast-moving subjects is essential.” 

Theresa Spencer

Director of Communications, American Heart Association

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity: 2022 NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair in Las Vegas

“My top three career goals are to connect with like-minded individuals, research new tools and methods, and give back by becoming a teacher. I love to surround myself with people who challenge me to learn more about my industry as well to encourage others to do the same. Attending NABJ will give me the opportunity to learn more about my field. Attending conference presentations will allow me to engage in topics that I may not have personally researched. 

Attending a professional conference can be an excellent chance to network with other people in my field, which will allow me to feel more integrated into my professional community. Having a diverse professional network will be useful to me in my current position, but also for helping me learn what other opportunities might be available to me if the time comes when I am ready for a change.”

Zari Tarazona

Editor, Kensington Voice

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity:  Poynter’s Essential Skills for Rising Newsroom Leaders, Poynter’s Summit for Reporters and Editors, or ONA 2022

“My ultimate career goals are to be a thoughtful/successful leader, collaborate well with others, and make a positive impact through my writing or editing. This support would go toward strengthening my leadership and interpersonal skills. Sometimes, I still doubt my capabilities, especially when confronted with difficult conversations or situations. The Poynter opportunities would be more rigorous, but even the conference would help me grow. I graduated in 2019, and then the pandemic started in 2020, so I haven’t gotten many opportunities to network.”

Solmaira Valerio 

Multimedia Reporter and Resilience Editor, Kensington Voice

NextGen Track: Professional Development

Professional Development Opportunity:  Canon DSLR camera 

“As a Latinx photojournalist from North Philly, I aim to empower and increase visibility of underrepresented and marginalized communities. My work currently focuses in Philadelphia but I am actively also working on creating more work in my family’s native islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. My personal experiences, family’s history, and cultural roots drive the work that I create and the connections I build with people. Centering on human rights, mental health, gender, domestic violence, and accessibility to resources, I also use a trauma and harm reduction approach to my work, which is not traditionally considered in photojournalism. It is my utmost goal to protect the rights, safety, and well-being of the person, people, or communities being portrayed in the photographs I create. By sharing peoples stories with empathy, highlighting their resiliency, increasing their visibility and voice, I aim to dismantle oppressive systems, challenge existing stereotypes/harmful narratives about our communities, and to celebrate our people, where we come from, our victories, and the immense sacrifices many of us have had to make to be where we are today. Having professional equipment of my own that is not lent or borrowed will not only grant me the opportunity to further grow as a professional photographer but to further expand on this vital work in Kensington that could also be extended to the communities in my family’s native islands, which could increase their access to much needed resources such as safer living conditions, domestic violence support, and education.” 

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