Announcing the 2020 Lenfest Next Generation Fund award winners

February 27, 2020

We are excited to announce the second class of The Lenfest Next Generation Fund. The 25 NextGen award winners are Philadelphia-area professional and student journalists of color who will receive grants to attend the national professional development conference of their choice and receive related support from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

The Next Gen award winners will attend the following conferences: 

  • NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair: Eddi Cabrera Blanco, Derrick Cain, Siani Colón, Aaron Eaton, Tyler Jefferson, Antionette Lee, Eric Nixon, George Solis, Kristal Sotomayor, Afea Tucker and Helen Ubiñas
  • Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference: Joe Hernandez, Jonathan Lai and Claudia Vargas
  • Journalism and Women Symposium Conference and Mentoring Project: Tiffany Curtis, Porsha Grant and Kala West
  • Asian American Journalists Association Conference: Rjaa Ahmed and Marissa Weekes Mason
  • Online News Association Conference: Lisa Quattlebaum and Roberto Torres
  • International Symposium on Online Journalism: Kyle Hiller and Miguel Pérez
  • Third Coast Conference: Elizabeth Estrada and Xavier Lopez

Scroll down to learn more about each NextGen award winner. 

The awards and related programming are funded by the Independence Public Media Foundation as well as The Lenfest Institute, each Philadelphia-based non-profit organizations dedicated to greater equity and diversity in the region’s news media. For 2020, the Next Generation Fund will commit $30,000 and each winner will receive a $1,200 stipend. The 2020 NextGen winners ​will convene later this month at the Lenfest Institute where they will meet one another and share more about future plans, needs, and career goals.

The Next Generation Fund Leadership Award,  a separate but related fund also supported by both Lenfest and IPMF, provides grants of up to $2,500 to journalists of color accepted into a program or conference with a competitive application process or selective invitation policy. This Award is still open and will accept applications on a rolling basis for the remainder of the year. For more information please click here.

It’s a special honor to be able to announce this class during Black History Month. The work of Black Americans have been pivotal to every part of our society, and their work around issues of social justice have led to positive developments for many other marginalized communities throughout our history. The passing of the 15th Amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote,  laid the groundwork for the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment, which enfranchised women. We can also hearken to the Civil Rights Movement and how the the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided added protections and benefits to women and provided inspiration and a basis for later movements and legislation related to people with disabilities and the LGBT+ community. 

In Philadelphia, African-American journalists launched the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, the first such organization in America, and this in turn helped lead to the creation of NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA, JAWS and other organizations that support marginalized communities working in journalism.   

This work has never been more timely or more important. Philadelphia is a city that is nearly 45% black and roughly 66% are people of color, yet these populations are not yet fully represented in many of our newsrooms. There is work to be done.

The Lenfest Institute’s ambitious goal is that 50% or more of working journalists in Philadelphia will be people of color by 2025. The Next Generation Fund is one investment the Institute is making to help achieve this goal. ​The Institute is also focused on improving communication and partnership within the Philadelphia news ecosystem, creating initiatives in digital training, talent development, and newsroom inclusion, supporting entrepreneurship,  and accelerating the digital transition of individual businesses and news organizations. We are grateful to the donors and supporters of the Lenfest Institute, and to the Knight Foundation, and to Independence Public Media Foundation for their partnership and support of our work. We will be announcing more programming in the next few months.

Profiles of each winner are below:

Lenfest NextGen Fund award recipients

Rjaa Ahmed – Temple University: Asian American Journalists National Convention

“Last year, a generous grant from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism allowed me to attend AAJA’s national convention. For the first time in my entire career as a journalist, I wasn’t a minority anymore. The experience allowed me to visualize a radical future where such spaces aren’t so scarce. Since attending the conference, I have been working to utilize the skills I have learned and the confidence I obtained to spearhead diversity in the newsrooms I am a part of. Most notably, I took up a senior editor position at The Temple News where I manage digital and online content. I have been working towards recruiting writers from minority backgrounds and ensuring that they don’t feel alienated in a mostly-white newsroom. Our team still has a long way to go in terms of diversity so by attending AAJA this year, I want to learn more about recruitment strategies and inclusive leadership. I rarely see myself in the news. This conference will help me develop this voice to be much stronger and compelling.”

Eddi Cabrera Blanco – Delaware State University: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“As graduation comes closer, I have already begun searching for jobs in the news industry. My top career goal after college is to work as a news reporter. Entering a competitive field, I have started searching and applying for various positions in news such as production assistant, news producer, web producer, and social media coordinator but my main goal is to land a job as a reporter. I believe that the next eleven months left in 2020 will be pivotal in my career. I really hope to secure a reporting job, so one day I can accomplish my long-term goal of being a morning news anchor. I am certain that this convention can prepare and model me into becoming the media professional I aspire to be: a bilingual multimedia journalist and reporter as well as a positive representative of the Hispanic and Immigrant Community.”

Derrick Cain – Resolve Philly: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“Attending NABJxNAHJ will deepen my relationships with journalists from across the country. It will allow me to encourage them to share their expertise and experience and use it to see more coverage of certain types of stories. By opening up their news gathering process, I believe the outlets represented can better respond to the needs of the community and uncover underreported stories.”

Siani Colón – Temple University: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“As I approach graduation in May, I would like to help to strengthen local media in Philadelphia, but also explore my options beyond the bubble of the mid-Atlantic region which is why I find the Career Fair important. By attending the conference I hope to establish strong connections with other journalists of color in the field. I would like to establish a platform one day amplifying queer communities of color, who are often underserved in the mainstream and would like to learn the skills and resources I would need on how to get there. As I move from student to professional, I want to learn while in the presence of industry peers what skills I must refine.”

Tiffany Lashai Curtis – Freelancer: Journalism and Women Symposium Conference and Mentoring Project

“What drives me as a wellness & culture journalist, who is also a queer Black femme, is centering stories of Black womxnhood and femmehood in my work. I am intentional about profiling Black womxn, writing about Black culture, and reporting on the issues that keep us from achieving liberation and equity. If given the opportunity to attend this specific conference, I am achieving my short and long-term goal of being not just a womxn, but a queer Black womxn in the journalism space, telling our stories. The journalism industry is already a white male dominated space, and womxn-centered media spaces are far and few. Spaces for Black womxn are even more rare. I want to decolonize media spaces, and do so by reporting on issues that don’t only center Black trauma and pain. Mentorship and professional connections are one of the defining factors in being able to grow as a professional in any industry. And the chance to be in a space where womxn are mentoring womxn, and ultimately working to strengthen our collective voice in an industry where we are a minority, would be one of the most powerful moments in my career as a journalist and storyteller.”

Aaron Eaton – The Philadelphia Tribune: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“This conference will allow me to network with young professionals in the digital space. I’m hoping to build a network of individuals that have accomplished some of the things I want to accomplish, and seek out that mentorship and learn how to direct my career path and build on things I’m currently doing at the Philadelphia Tribune.”

Elizabeth Estrada – WHYY: Third Coast Conference

“I have wanted to work in audio and podcasting since the first time I heard NPR’s LatinoUSA over five years ago. My current role as Engagement Editor at WHYY’s PlanPhilly primarily focuses on communications, community engagement and managing and writing for our op-ed section, but I am given the creative freedom to incorporate multimedia elements into my work. Outside of WHYY, I am working closely with a mentor in the podcasting industry through a fellowship at AIR Media to develop my own podcast series about Latinx changemakers in America. I am at a pivotal juncture in my career and attending the Third Coast Conference would really help inform my craft both in my current role at WHYY and beyond.”

Porsha Grant – ABC: Journalism and Women Symposium Conference and Mentorship Project

“I’m currently an executive producer whose primary responsibilities are to supervise reporters, producers and newscasts as a whole. I also lead a number of other projects at the station. I am currently the leader of WPVI’s station-wide Diversity Committee, a producer of the 6abc/Dunkin Food Drive Telethon and the coordinator of our news department’s internship program. The conference will help me to network with other women who are working to achieve greatness in their careers while diversifying the management ranks in newsrooms, particularly local TV news.”

Joe Hernandez – WHYY & WBGO: Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference

“As a statehouse reporter, I’ve noticed that traditional reporting on state government falls into common patterns and often highlights the same voices. Reporters follow the latest developments in the legislature and quote many of the same lobbyists and advocates. I’m guilty of this, too. Less attention is paid to the state government agencies that have a direct impact on residents’ lives. One goal I have in my current role as the New Jersey statehouse reporter for WHYY and WBGO is to seek out state government stories that matter not only to “insiders” but also those without a voice in Trenton. I also aspire to do more reporting on state government agencies themselves, and for that I’m hoping to learn some new investigative reporting techniques for cultivating sources and ferreting out wrongdoing and mismanagement in state government. Going to the IRE Conference would give me the chance to seek out this knowledge from my peers who are doing the same work (and struggling with the same challenges) across the country.”

Kyle V. Hiller – Broad Street Review: International Symposium of Online Journalism

“I’ve been working as a journalist professionally at some capacity since 2014, but in the past year, my responsibility in arts and culture journalism—especially as it relates to identity and politics—has swelled significantly. As Associate Editor of Broad Street Review (BSR), one of the last remaining arts and culture outlets in the city, I know that I have work to do. It’s a broad stroke of leveling up I have ahead of me, and the International Symposium of Online Journalists (ISOJ) presents an opportunity to elevate all my assets and evolve as a journalist. I think of Common’s feature in the Black Star song ‘Respiration:’ “Ask my guy how he thought traveling the world sound / Found it hard to imagine he hadn’t been past downtown.” I was one of those kids coming up: I never made it past West Philly. ISOJ brings voices from all over the world in one place, and I want to draw from that. I want to travel the world, and bring home what I learn. I’ve already been instrumental in making this happen with BSR. Before me, the contributors’ list had no more than two or three POC. Now, half of our new writers are POC. Additionally, 21 out of the 34 new writers are women or nonbinary folks.I want to dedicate energy into curating and representing diverse writers, readers, creators, advocates, and activists.”

Tyler Jefferson – West Chester University: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“The time has come to try to land my first job after college and I believe being at the conference last year helped me become a better candidate when applying this year. That would be my biggest short term goal going into this conference, securing a job. Another short term goal would be to just continue to learn new things that will help me on my journey. Being at the conference will allow me to connect with people I met last year, meet new people, and learn new things.”

Jonathan Lai – The Philadelphia Inquirer: Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference

“For the last few years, I’ve been pulled by the tension of two competing types of journalism: Traditional beat journalism and data journalism. It’s not a common role in many newsrooms, including at the Inquirer, and it can often feel like I’m climbing a ladder that hasn’t been built yet. In the short term, I want to learn to aggressively probe the electoral system in Pennsylvania, which can be complex and opaque. I’ve had some success and hope that learning from many other reporters’ approaches to their states’ systems can help me better hold elections officials to account as we head into a crucial election. At the same time, I want to get a better handle on ways to incorporate data into everyday journalism. Ultimately, I want to bring new types of journalism — and new ways of thinking about journalism — to the Inquirer and other news organizations, especially in the realm of politics, policy, and governance. I believe attending IRE would help me do that.”

Antionette Lee – KYW Newsradio: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“Recently at KYW I spearheaded a positive news segment called Philly Rising. Every week this segment highlights a person in the local community who is doing something to improve the lives of others. This is an example of how I have carved a space for myself in the newsroom I’m currently in. It’s my belief that journalism which highlights some of the good taking place in our communities, especially communities of color, is just as important as the crime we often report on. I hope to be among the 6,000 attendees that are expected to descend upon Washington, D.C. in the summer so that I can expand my network and attend workshops to help forge a path that is fitting for me. Additionally, as an entry level journalist, I feel that I haven’t really found the mentorship that I need to reach my greatest potential. I hope the conference will introduce me to a couple of seasoned journalists that can help me continue to grow.”

Xavier A. Lopez – WHYY: Third Coast Conference

“This conference would be extremely beneficial for me because I am new to the radio landscape and am trying to learn as much as I can from people who have been around longer. I truly believe that this is a field where collaboration and knowing the right people is extremely important. I am currently an associate producer for The Pulse and I would love to eventually develop my own podcast/show. I think this is a career where professional development and collaborations are extremely important and I feel that this is an opportunity to meet some people that I can learn from. I would also love to find a mentor who can help me through this beginning stage of my radio career. I love the medium and want to work in it for the rest of my life.”

Eric Nixon – WURD Radio: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“This conference will help me with my career goals and aspirations to become a well rounded media professional. From social and entertainment news to world-wide impacting political and financial news and insights, I believe one cannot gain this knowledge JUST from reading, but from building a community of professionals in these fields to share their views and knowledge. I want to become a well rounded media professional that would help create and present thought provoking messages as a part of a conglomerate of creative individuals, doing our part to educate and inform.”

Miguel Angel Pérez – Cultural Journalism Institute: International Symposium of Online Journalism

“The Cultural Journalism Institute – CJI – is a research, educational and informative project in its initiations and planning phases. This is an independent academic, media, cultural and social entrepreneurship, focused on the analysis and monitoring of the reality presented by the exercise of cultural journalism in Spanish in Philadelphia and the United States of America news ecosystem; its relationship with traditional and digital media, with information sources (museums, libraries, galleries, publishers, bookstores, artists, writers, musicians and creators, among others) and the audience receiving the messages that are issued. Attending this conference will help me increase my leadership skills as I will have the opportunity to listen, learn, meet and share with journalists and media experts from different countries. This experience will allow me to see a larger image for the delimitation and fulfillment of the objectives and goals initially set for my project. It is also a great opportunity to know where, in other parts of the world, there may be some similar experience and how has been its implementation process.”

Lisa Quattlebaum – The Homesteadista: Online News Association Conference

“As editorial director and head writer for H-Mag (the digital magazine for The Homesteadista), my primary role is content creation that is relevant, engaging, elicits social discourse and moves the needle forward for women in urban changemaking. As a digital magazine, we are continually navigating the mercurial ways of technology, social media, and readers with short attention spans. The ONA Conference addresses all of those concerns and considerations and is both strategic and practical in its very inspiring delivery approach and content. My goal is to gain a deeper insight into the digital journalism space (story banks, docu-minis, podcasts, etc) as well as expand my professional network and mentor base. My long term goal is to grow our magazine into a multi-media digital (with printed companions and supplements) outlet serving a niche but thriving audience.”

George Solis – ABC: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“Attending the NABJ/NAHJ conference would allow me the opportunity to obtain feedback from some of the top journalists working in the industry today. As a reporter constantly looking to improve in my craft, being afforded the chance to hear from some of the industry’s top leaders would assist me in my goal of one day working as a national correspondent. The conference is also a great place to draw inspiration. A chance to see and hear from other fellow journalists and how they are innovating ways to share stories would hopefully give me an opportunity to bring some of these techniques and tools back to my newsroom and potentially inspire my colleagues to think outside the box in their day to day storytelling. The conference is also a great way to network. A chance to build contacts and even sources in the market.”

Kristal Sotomayor – Freelancer: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“I am a queer Latinx freelance journalist and film critic based in Philadelphia. My overall writing career goal is to be an established film critic that focuses on Latinx, immigrant, and queer films. In the short term, I aim to gain employment for writing thought-provoking articles on films produced by and starring underrepresented artists. Through the generosity of the Lenfest Next Generation Fund, I plan to attend the NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair with the goal of networking with editors at national publications. A major obstacle in obtaining writing gigs has been my lack of connections within the journalistic community. The opportunity to attend the convention would allow me to grow my career and gain a network of support for my writing.”

Roberto Torres – Industry Dive: Online News Association Conference

“I believe attending the Online News Conference in Atlanta will offer an important boost to my professional development plans. I have been a reporter for 10 years. In that time, I’ve had to hit the reset button and adapt to a whole new environment, language and social context — after moving to Philadelphia from my native Venezuela in 2015. After working to rebuild my writing skills and general approach to journalism, this coming May will mark four years since I’ve been a full-time reporter in the U.S. I feel like the transition is fully behind me now, but I’m ready for the next step. The time is now for me to launch into reporting projects with the scope and size the current social context requires. ONA is a prime opportunity to build the skills I need to raise the profile of my work. Not only because of the training opportunities, but also because of the connections to the broader industry and inspiration from the best of digital journalism.”

Afea Tucker – Freelancer: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“Attending the NABJxNAHJ Conference will help me continue the process of skills-building, career relationship development, and emerging technology exploration that will help me become a multimedia journalist, enhance my journalistic skills, widen my reach and give the opportunity to tell interesting stories on a national platform. As PABJ Secretary, attending this conference will also allow me to showcase the work of PABJ on the national stage and evolve into a stronger leader. I’m especially interested in learning more about reporting techniques, social media and broadcast production. Attending the conference will also provide the opportunity to connect with decision makers that work directly in the newsroom to pitch new story ideas and learn applicable skills that can immediately be applied to my board leadership with PABJ and as a journalist. It will also be a great space to receive direct feedback about my work and skills. I hope to meet with mentors and get insights into what would it take for me to reach my ultimate goal which is to transition from print to broadcast.”

Helen Ubiñas – The Philadelphia Inquirer: NABJxNAHJ National Convention & Career Fair

“As a mid-career female journalist (columnist) of color, I have often looked around the room only to realize that I don’t have many counterparts. There are many reasons for that, some I’ve explored in my columns and some I’ve pushed to improve through my efforts to diversity newsrooms. I am eager to talk to other journalists of color in my position to know what they are doing in their newsrooms to feel less isolated, and more importantly, to improve the situation in their newsrooms.”

Claudia Vargas – The Philadelphia Inquirer: Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference

“Investigative journalism is more important now than ever before. In order to maximize the value of investigative journalism, we need a diversity of voices both in the people we cover but also by the people reporting the investigative stories. As the latest reporter addition to the I-Team, I would like to further expand my investigative abilities and learn how to better analyze large data sets.”

Marissa Weekes Mason – Independent Photojournalist: Asian American Journalists National Convention

“I believe diversity in photojournalism should be valued in newsrooms because it leads to objective storytelling. Diversity in photojournalism destroys bias and predictability and should be the international standard of operation in newsrooms and other media outlets from digital to print. In attending AAJNC, I can connect with other photojournalists and journalists of color also committed to the idea that newsrooms shouldn’t be comprised of only one group of people who come from the same social, political, economic and educational backgrounds. AAJNC will help me hone new skills in practicing diversity and inclusion in photojournalism by attending workshops that broaden my understanding of race and how it relates to different ethnicities, cultures and identity in visual storytelling.”

Kala West – WURD Radio: Journalism and Women Symposium Conference and Mentoring Project

“Attending this conference would be a life-changing experience. Since the age of 16, I have always wanted to open my own Media Enterprise. By attending the Journalism and Women Symposium I will be able to sit at the feet of some of the most amazing women in journalism and will also be able to gain a mentor in the industry.”

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