A Black Woman Just Won The Largest National Media Award In The Country

Nonfiction writer and journalist Dara T. Mathis is the 2024 recipient of the American Mosaic Journalism Prize. Created by the Heising-Simons Foundation, with a $100,000 award, it is the largest national media award in the country.

Per the website, the Prize has been “awarded for excellence in long-form, narrative, or deep reporting on stories about underrepresented and/or misrepresented groups in the present American landscape.”

In an unusual twist, awardees did not even know they were being considered. More than 150 journalism leaders around the country submit confidential nominations and a panel of judges then determines the recipients.

Mathis confirmed this fact, telling ESSENCE, “I was shocked. I didn’t see it coming at all. The entire process is a surprise and when I got the email from the director…I went into it almost like an interview.”

Throughout her career, Mathis has consistently delivered powerful coverage of Black freedom and liberation movements, identity, parenthood, and linkages to Black memory. But she mostly “loves to tell a good story.”  

When asked about her path to journalism and eventually winning this award, Mathis said, “I think I’ve always been a writer.” She shared, “my mother would sit me down at the kitchen table during summer breaks and make me read the newspaper. She would have me write a response or an analysis of what I read and she would ask me questions and have me write out the answers.”

“She knew that I loved writing and she fed me books. She fed me news, and asked me to think critically about what the news was telling me about who Black people were,” Mathis relayed. “She would point out negative things that the news was perpetuating about Black folks and she would ask me to think critically, to dismantle the argument, or she would ask me to say, ‘Well, what do you see that they’re saying, or not saying, and what should they be saying?’ And in counterbalance to that she would fill my shelves with all sorts of positive representations of Black people.”

“As a career path, I was an English major and so my first language is essays,” Mathis eloquently stated. “I came to journalism because I wanted to write essays with more heft to them and I really admired writers who were able to kind of weave the strength of reporting into their essays and I started freelancing.”

One thing was a revelation for Mathis—“I found that I like talking to people, which surprised me because I’m relatively shy. I learned how to talk to people and to ask them about their stories and to ask them questions. To figure out what questions were the ones that needed asking and that’s what led me to journalism.”

As the journalism industry faces unprecedented pressures, Mathis is committed to speaking up about her beliefs. Mathis is committed to ensuring that people learn the truth about what’s going on in the world and wanted to impart the following message: “I absolutely stand in solidarity with the journalists who have been killed [in Gaza]. I think the Palestinian people who have had their institutions erased and their people raised in genocide definitely deserve to have their story told. Journalists around the world are connected and I feel a tremendous burden on my heart for Palestinian people, journalists, writers and poets.”

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