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Student Leaders Host Black Speechwriters for Inaugural Symposium

Panelists from left to right: Janet Stovall, Desson Thompson, Cheril Clarke, Ashley Mitchell, Andreya Davis and Larae Booke. Photo by Ashleigh Fields

By Ashleigh Fields

A group of six well-known black speechwriters graced the stage of the Founders Library Browsing Room for the Inaugural Black Speechwriters Symposium hosted by the Cathy Hughes School of Communications Student Council on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

“I realized the impact of speechwriters given my background in speech and debate and knew I wanted to make a difference,” said Michael Franklin, junior legal communications major and Vice President of the SOC council. “So I went on a mission to host the inaugural black speechwriters’ symposium.”

The panel featured Desson Thompson, who wrote for Hilary Clinton, Larae Booker, who was a political appointee during the Obama administration, and Ashley Mitchell of WeTheAction, a nonprofit organization that connects lawyers seeking volunteer work with other nonprofit organizations. Those in attendance were able to gain an understanding of the speechwriting field. 

Franklin and Katiana Jackson moderated the panel. An audience member asked, “How does your blackness affect the impact of your voice?” Each response explained the benefit of being black in these spaces. 

“You’re the only one at the table that brings that background with you,” said panelist Cheril Clarke. “And it helps when your the only one who can push that agenda.” 

The panelists continued to speak of how their blackness brings them power. 

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“There are times when I feel like I’m the only one standing up for the company so they don’t do stupid stuff, and for the audience so they don’t have to hear stupid stuff,” said Janet Stovall. “But there are things I can push for, that person at my level shouldn’t or wouldn’t be able to push.”

Otherness was certainly defined and uplifted on this panel. The facilitators asked many questions surrounding the fact that each of the panelists were minorities in their workplace. 

“Speechwriting is the act of otherness, if I’m writing for someone who doesn’t have the six hours that I do to write, I have to think, speak and breathe as that person,” said panelist Larae Booker. “So learn to take your otherness and apply it to your craft.”

Student attendees left with more insight into the speechwriting profession.

“It was very enriching to listen to black professionals give insight and advice on what it’s like to be an “other” in an executive corporate space and using their voice,” said junior political science major Rhyan Lake.

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