Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Steinem. These are just a few of the icons that pioneering journalist Belva Davis has interviewed in over fifty years of reporting. This weekend, Davis receives the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) in Los Angeles.
Davis began her illustrious career in the 1950’s; became the first black woman to anchor the news on the West Coast and was host of KQED’s public affairs program, This Week in Northern California for almost 20 years. She talked to Fresh Dialogues this summer in Los Altos about why she admires PBS Newshour’s history making Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; her memoir; and the need for both curiosity and passion in a successful career. Davis also explains her need to prove herself every day. “Go home if you don’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities,” she says.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome to Fresh Dialogues. Today I’m with pioneering journalist, Belva Davis. She has a new book and it’s called Never In My Wildest Dreams. Belva, thank you for joining me today.
BELVA DAVIS: Well thank you. This is a wonderful opportunity.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: So let’s talk about those wildest dreams. When did you feel your wildest dreams were coming true?
BELVA DAVIS: Definitely I know when I decided that this reckless course was the one I was going to take, and that is to try to break into television news reporting. And to do that without having an example of anyone that looked even slightly like me who was doing it, I think took quite a commitment, to say I’ll do what’s necessary…
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: …And a lot of courage. So you really had no role models. Today we talk about role models and we can emulate this person or that. You had no one?
BELVA DAVIS: No one.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: If you were to go back to being 30 or 40 years old, what advice would you give yourself?
BELVA DAVIS: I always tell people, if you are not doing…Number one: if you don’t have curiosity about what you’ve chosen to do with your life, and if you don’t have passion for what you say you want to do with your life, you should keep looking.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Right, so passion and curiosity. They’re both really important.
BELVA DAVIS: Right, because one keeps you going, and wanting to know more about what you’re doing. By wanting to know more, then you get better. You don’t just sit there from wherever point you entered whatever arena you’re in. And you have to have passion to give the extra time. You can’t just do something that at 5 o’clock you turn off a key. That just doesn’t work.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And what about today? For young aspiring journalists, who are the good female role models today? Who would you point to and say: she’s got it right. She’s nailing it. Is there anyone you tune into?
BELVA DAVIS: (Laughter) I love everybody…
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: You don’t want to pick favorites?
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Yes
BELVA DAVIS: I wouldn’t put them in the “young girl category” but they’re both really intelligent, smart, good reporters and I admire them.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Yes
BELVA DAVIS: I’ve long…as a young woman…Soledad O’Brien I think has been a brave woman, you know raising her children and taking these really dangerous assignments. So, they’re still out there.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: I saw that wonderful interview with you and Judy Woodruff and you said something that really made me pause because there you are, you’ve been doing this for 50 years, and you said “I feel I still have to prove myself every day.”
BELVA DAVIS: Yes…I do.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Talk about that. What is it that’s driving you? You don’t feel that hey, I’ve interviewed Muhammad Ali, I’ve interviewed Fidel Castro, I’ve interviewed…presidents…
BELVA DAVIS: You should go home when you don’t have anybody else you want to interview. You should go home when you can’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities. The next day’s possibilities are what keeps you going forward. I mean if she (Sheryl Sandberg) talks “leaning in,” that keeps you going. Just realizing what could be, if you just do a little more, push a little harder, give someone else an opportunity.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Wonderful, Belva Davis. We’ll leave it on that note. Thank you so much for taking time for Fresh Dialogues.
BELVA DAVIS: Thank you.
Find out more:
See Fresh Dialogues Interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose on the burning curiosity that got him in trouble as a youth and today drives his “great and glorious life.”
See Fresh Dialogues video: Sheryl Sandberg on why women today should “Lean In.”
Columnist Leonard Pitts on The Hard Truths of Being Black in America
Photo credits: Lina Broydo