Ifill’s resilience, intelligence remembered

By Duke Staff

The ugly side of America has been thrown in our faces for the last few months. Issues that some of us preferred to pretend were things of the past — racism, sexism, class conflict — are now front and center. Regardless of your political stance, it is easy to look at the struggles still facing the United States and wonder, why bother? Can any of this be fixed? Can it be overcome?

To add to the sorrow, awarding-winning journalist Gwen Ifill died Monday from cancer, at the age of 61. However, even as we mourn her loss, Ifill’s journey as a daughter of immigrants who overcame racism and sexism to become the first black woman to host a national political television show should be inspiring to everyone who wants to believe the American Dream is still possible.

Ifill was born in the Queens borough of New York City to Oliver Urcille Ifill, an immigrant from Panama, and Eleanor Ifill, from Barbados. After graduating from Simmons College in Boston in 1977, Ifill landed a job at the Boston Herald American newspaper. It wasn’t easy.

“The old white guys” who ran the paper had “never seen anything like me — a college-educated black woman,” Ifill once told an interviewer, according to the Washington Post. “And they didn’t know how to deal with me.”

Ifill did not let her colleagues’ wariness slow her down. She moved on to larger papers over the next few years, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. She then switched to broadcast and eventually became one half of an all-female anchor duo with Judy Woodruff for PBS NewsHour.

Soon after taking the job, Ifill told the New York Times, “When I was a little girl watching programs like this — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color.

“I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal — that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all.”

A quick Google search of Ifill’s name reveals an outpouring of admiration from Ifill’s colleagues. She was a tough, calm and balanced reporter in a landscape full of charged punditry. She did not allow her struggles early in life to define her or make her bitter, and she took her position as a role model seriously. We could all learn something from Gwen Ifill, and we at The Duke encourage the Duquesne community to look to Ifill’s professionalism and poise when it comes to talking about charged political issues.