In the journalism game, The New York Times is the Holy Grail.
Founded and continuously published in the Big Apple since 1851, it has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes – the most of any news organization. And in this day and age when the Internet is wiping out most of the competition, the New York Times remains the most popular American online newspaper website.
All reporters – I don’t care what they tell you – work their tails off to get there. And in the late 90s, Nichole landed the ultimate byline on the metro staff. Based out of Brooklyn and daily covering the happenings from the streets to City Hall, her stories ranged from the urban to political – typical copy fare for a reporter on the rise.
Then, the unthinkable happened: The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers were attacked.
Part of the newspaper’s metro staff who produced Portraits of Grief, Nichole was among the first of many New York reporters trying to make it to the scene. Stopped at the Brooklyn Bridge by people fleeing Manhattan, she reported from there before making it to Ground Zero. Then, later went on to pen fifty of the portraits chronicling the lives of people killed in the September 11 attacks.
“I interviewed the family members of the victims and all they could tell me about their loved ones was that they loved life,” said Nichole, referencing the portraits she wrote for the Times’ A Nation Challenged special section, which was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer for public service.
“I came away from that thinking, ‘I don’t want to be an incomplete story,” she said. “When I die, I want to die completely empty.’”
The next year, her daughter, “The Kid,” was born.
LET IT GO
Having a baby changes everything. For Nichole, that wasn’t just a sentimental Johnson and Johnson Commercial, it was the truth.
So, when she got the chance to jump off “the New York Times treadmill” and return home to work at the site of her first newspaper internship, she took it.
“I told myself, I was moving back home to raise my daughter near my family. But the truth was I wasn’t going to raise her anywhere near my family,” said Nichole, who admitted she took the job at the Detroit Free Press in 2003 to protect her resume.
“There was a part of me that knew my journalism career was coming to an end. I was falling. But I was thinking and falling at the same time, and honestly, I thought, ‘it’s cheaper to fall apart in Detroit.’”
Falling apart in the D also helped her pull together the jagged pieces of her past.
“My mom died on her birthday in my bedroom. She was 36,” said Nichole, who named her 9-year-old daughter Asha Elise, a Bengali name which means “Hopeful life consecrated to God.”
“On my 37th birthday, something compelled me to find her gravesite. I took with me the only picture that I have of us. My daughter looked at it and asked me, ‘Mommie, is that me and you?”
Nichole continued, “I let go that day. And I finally saw my mom as a three-dimensional person. Did my mom make some mistakes? Yeah, hers were messier than most, but I told myself, ‘You’re still here. Let it go.’”
And that’s why when Nichole received the news she was being canned that fateful day, she was able to do just that.
“The day I got laid off, I didn’t go into a fetal position. My shoulders stretched out and I felt the spirits of my parents,” she said. “I had no trust fund. But I did know two things about myself – I’m resilient and ready. Plus, I’ve always had faith, even when I didn’t know what faith was.”
SUCCESS IN MESS
Put an application in front of Nichole these days, she doesn’t know how to fill it out.
Emancipated from the Detroit Free Press for two years now, Nichole spends her days doing whatever her spirit moves her to do. Nine to Five, she makes national reports on Detroit from a regional perspective for WDET’s Craig Fahle Show. And during the rest of her waking hours, you can find her taking walks, snapping photos, doing yoga, volunteering and selling Think This Designs – her inspirational brand of t-shirts and other products – at local fairs and markets in and around City.
Nichole also recently started The Circle Fund – a giving/community service organization for students. It teaches children the rewards of intentional giving and awards micro-grants to students who might otherwise have no access to new opportunities.
Passionately committed to using her life and art for service, Nichole said, she doesn’t call herself a journalist anymore.
“I’m tired of just chronicling the world. I want to live in it,” she said. “Life, and I don’t mean in the accomplishment sense, is really all in the doing.”
And that’s exactly the message she shares with young people who are interested in journalism.
“I tell them to make sure they’re going for it and building their life at the same time.,” said Nichole, who shared her story last year in Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood, a new anthology from WestSide Press Books in Chicago, earlier this year. “Journalism teaches you to get the story. It doesn’t tell you to know your own story first. But when you’re anchored in your own story, then things in life don’t really touch you in the same way.”
Happily married for 20 years, Nichole’s anchors today are her husband Wayne, her daughter and her grandmother. None of which, she said, would be as precious to her if not for the life and death of her mom.
“Every day you wake up, you get to make a choice. You’re either living by default or design. Well, I’m living and learning in mess. And I’m cool with that,” said Nichole.
“That’s really what success is – being willing to stumble and realizing that in your stumble is your power to stand.”