October 8, 2019
Raqiyah Mays, host of the podcast “Real Black News” is intent on sharing stories of the black experience far beyond what is shown in the news. (Photo: Courtesy of Raqiyah Mays)
The calling to be a writer began as early as 8 years old for Raqiyah Mays when she penned her first short story in elementary school. Little did this New Jersey native know at the time, her gift of writing would open a career path that would allow her to share the stories of others with thousands of people around the world. From entertainment reviews to radio host to author, Mays did it all. Along the way, she began to realize that some stories were not receiving any coverage by the news media. Those untold stories were mostly from black communities. Understanding first hand just how powerful media is, Mays would go on to create a platform in order to share stories of the black experience.
Although she admittedly struggled with journalism as a college student, Mays found herself with an internship at the entertainment magazine Vibe. Her first assignment was to write a review about an upcoming show starring comedian Chris Rock. Mays hesitated to accept, but had a hard time coming up with an excuse, especially since she already had plans to attend the event. As it turned out, once she wrote the review, a 100 word piece, she fell in love with writing. “It triggered something” she stated during our interview. “Oh my God, I like this! I do want to do this!” That spark was the beginning of a twenty-plus year career encompassing all areas of journalism – research, writing, and reporting the news, along with the entertaining hot topics of the day.
As a freelance journalist, Mays wrote music reviews and articles and for popular magazines including The Source, XXL Billboard, Ebony, and Essence. She moved onto radio and gained popularity as a host on the nationally syndicated station WBLS, as well as New York’s top hip hop station, HOT 97. There seemed to be no slowing down for Mays. She penned her first novel “The Man Curse” in 2015, adding the title “author” to her impressive, and growing, body of work. Her writing could be found as a contributor to the works of others, including a chapter in the book “Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African Community”, and as a speech writer.
At some point, Mays stopped seeing the value in writing, particularly for freelancers. She felt there were far too many “hoops a journalist has to jump through” just to get a good story, including dealing with publicists and especially when it came to the long hours of research and writing, all for “a check the might not come.” For Mays, it simply was no longer worth it. When asked how she feels about the journalists today, especially given the political climate, she stated that it’s all a big competition. Producers and networks are so interested in ratings and viewership, they control the stories. As for writers, “print is dying”. She explained that several of her talented, journalist friends are out of work, passed over for younger, less experienced writers and reporters who are all “rushing to get the story”, at the expense of those who had been groomed for the field of journalism.
As her career expanded, so too did her outlook and understanding of broader issues affecting black communities around the globe. With an inside track to the world of journalism, it was clear that the full gamut of stories were not being shared and those that were being told, weren’t being told by journalist of color. Mays found herself becoming more involved in activism and less involved as a writer. “The minute I stop liking something, I don’t do it. I no longer enjoyed writing for magazines and websites. Maybe I’m burnt out.” Not one to sit around and wait for an opportunity, on June 24 2018, she launched her own podcast, “Real Black News,” a weekly show featuring guests ranging from activists to entertainers. The show reports on the top 5 black news stories of the week and highlights stories of black experiences across the country. “Black news matters beyond the trauma”, she said. It was important for Mays to showcase the well-rounded existence of black people, and to let people know that there is “more to us than being shot”, an unfortunate reference to the constant news reports involving black lives.
One year and 57 episodes later, “Real Black News” has been placed on the “10 Black podcasts you should listen to in 2019” list and has managed to garner listeners from as far away as South Africa. Those who have tuned in heard interviews with guests that included Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory, hip hop fashion stylist Misa Hylton, film director Malcolm Lee, two-time NAACP Image award-winning two-time NAACP Image award-winning author Hilary Beard, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Trymaine Lee. The stories are both good news and not-so-good news, entertaining and serious, uplifting and informative. In other words, Mays presents balanced accounts of black news. She is able to book guests through the personal contacts she made during her 20-year career. One of those contacts, a friend she’d known from her days in radio, become the publicist for Rev. Jesse Jackson and made it possible for her to interview the iconic civil rights activist. That was just one of many highlights she’s had since starting the podcast.
When asked if there was one episode that stood out to her, Mays recalled the story of an Army veteran Everett Palmer, who died while in police custody. What set this story apart from other similar scenarios, was that several of Mr. Palmer’s organs were missing when his body was returned to his family. The tragic story barely made local news and the Palmer family had a hard time getting help. That’s when “a friend of a friend of the family” contacted Mays and she invited them on her podcast to tell their story. Soon thereafter, Mays’ former colleagues at WBLS’ radio talked about it on their Sunday morning program “Open Line.” From there, CNN and other news outlets began covering the story. Mays was pleased to have been part of helping bring the story to light.
Mays said that when it comes to those stories that don’t get covered, she just wants to “find a way to give it legs so others can listen, and take it to another level.” She hopes to interview billionaire Robert Smith, the man who pledged to pay off the debt of the 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College; and said that her goal is to always support those who are “in the trenches, doing the work.” Sounds like she is leading the way.