Retiree’s next chapter unfolds in 18-Wheeler to Vegas during pandemic

By Bonnie Newman Davis

Executive Director, BND Institute of Media and Culture, Inc.

“Not only is Celine a Martian, but she is also the only child to ever inhabit Mars’ first human colony. After her father was lost in a great sand storm, her world was turned upside down. Not to mention, Celine’s annual Brain Booster is no longer making her smarter; it’s turning her into something alien! If only her mother believed her.”

So reads Jackie Hunter’s debut novel, “Lost in the Red Hills of Mars,” which the educator-turned author published in 2017. The book signaled a remarkable “next chapter” for Hunter, who began writing short stories and poems at age 12. After retiring from Henrico County Public Schools in 2005, the former science teacher and school administrator returned to her first love of the written word. 

“Lost in the Red Hills of Mars,” is about a 12-year-old girl who lives in the first human colony on Mars. Hunter says she wrote the book because she remembered how excited her students were when they were asked to design a human colony for Mars.

Jackie Hunter celebrates her book,
“Lost in the Red Hills of Mars.”

While still enjoying the success of her book, Hunter added another chapter to her life story in the spring of 2020 when she moved from her home in Richmond, Virginia to the bright lights of Las Vegas. The BND Institute of Media and Culture recently caught up with Jackie to learn more about her “pandemic pivot” and how she is adjusting.

BND:You’re a Richmonder who had a long, distinguished career in education. Briefly tell us about your own background and education, why you went into education, the challenges and highlights of being an educator, and the date that you retired.

Hunter:Yes, I worked in Henrico County for over 30 years.

I have what I call a “teacher personality,” “born to teach” kind of personality! When I was 19 years old, I was a Den Mother for a group of cub scouts! I got into a teacher program in my second year at Virginia Commonwealth University. In this program, students would receive monies to pay for tuition in exchange for a promise to teach in public schools. It was an excellent way to get more needed teachers into public schools. Later as a teacher, I obtained my master’s in education, focused on School Administration, from VCU. I became the assistant principal at Lakeside Elementary School and summer school principal at Highland Springs Elementary, both in Henrico County. I did that for only five years and went back to teaching middle school science, which I love, at Brookland Middle School in the latter part of my career, retiring in 2005. Hard to believe it has been so long! Following my retirement, I tutored algebra at Fairfield Middle School for seven years.

BND:Did you begin writing your book immediately upon retirement

Hunter:No, I sold real estate at a Coldwell Banker and then at Ricks and Associates for a while. When the real estate market changed I started a Class A general contractor’s business with a friend and fellow teacher. Lots of houses were being foreclosed, so we would make repairs, renovations and maintained the houses for the banks until they were resold. My partner passed away in 2011 and I kept the business going for about a year after his death. 

I then had lots of free time and began oil painting and singing in my church choir.

Then my daughter and son-in-law took five teen age boys into their home to give them an opportunity to get into college. So, I paid one of my former employees to maintain my house, while I moved to Atlanta to help my daughter with the boys. I did this for two years with just a few months at my home between those years.

BND:How and why did you decide to write your book?

Hunter:When I returned home to stay, I began writing short stories, but decided I needed more of a challenge and writing that novel was the challenge I needed. I began taking classes in writing. Also, I joined several writers’ clubs, but I highly recommend Agile Writers’ Club. I think it is one of the best writers’ clubs in Richmond. In Agile Writers’ one will learn the foundation of telling a good story. 

BND:What was the process of writing like for you?

Hunter:It was a real pleasure. I went to my writers’ club meeting once a week. We were always learning something new and we expected to have written at least 10 pages toward completing our novels. We also worked in teams of three to proofread and edit each other’s work. I finished my first manuscript in about six months, but I edited and rewrote my book several times before publishing it.

BND:When was your book published? What was your reaction in first seeing your book?

Hunter:My book was published in November 2017. I had my book launching party at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond! Over 100 family members and friends, from all over the country helped me celebrate my accomplishment! It was one of my proudest moments!

BND:What has the reception been to your book?

Hunter:It sold well in the first three months and I am sure it was family members and friends giving me support. Those who read the entire book have really enjoyed it and are looking forward to the sequel. I still have sales, but not enough to live off. I have learned that it is not enough to write a great novel, but one must have a great marketing plan!

So now, I am taking classes in marketing and am planning to do a better job in that area. I have not given up on my novel becoming a financial success!

BND:With the success of your book and a busy and active social life here in Richmond, what led to your decision to move to Las Vegas?

Hunter:Richmond and Atlanta have been good to me! I will continue to maintain the friendships and relationships that I have made!  Before Corona, my friends were only a plane flight away! I love flying, but will probably not do any this year. I am working on my second novel and would love to be the local author of Vegas. There might be some opportunities here in Vegas that could not be found in Richmond.

BND:What was your family’s reaction to your plans to move?

Hunter:My family lives all over the country and in Canada. They are so excited that they will have another place to visit in Vegas!

BND:What was that journey getting to Vegas like? Did you purposely move during the pandemic? (lol)

Hunter:LOL!  Absolutely not! My daughter and I had planned to fly to Vegas and find my home together. My home in Henrico, Virginia had been on the market since January 2020. When my Realtor brought me a contract for the sale of my home in April, I wanted to delay the sale, but the buyer did not. I could have taken the house off the market but, I did not want to pay commission ($16,000) and not have sold the house. So, I closed in April.  I lived with my brother and his wife for six weeks until I realized that Corona was not going anywhere. I decided I would. Besides, mortgage interest rates were low and I wanted to find a nice home that I could afford in Vegas. 

Flying was out of the question. I decided to ride cross country (2,600 miles) with a family friend who happens to drive 18- wheelers for a living. As we traveled for four days, three nights, stopping each evening after eight hours on the road, I posted photos and our experiences on Facebook! I wanted my family and friends to see that I was alive and well! If only they knew how nervous I was about the whole ordeal!

BND:Have you settled in and if so, how? 

Hunter:Yes, I am working on it. Cautiously, checking out the malls and restaurants. There will be so much to do and see when Covid-19 is behind us! Living in Vegas will feel like a daily vacation!

Also, I am enjoying my lovely home in a planned community with lots of walking trails and parks! 

BND:What’s next for Jackie Hunter?

Hunter:I do plan to finish my second book and continue “The Rippy Effect” television show. I am considering doing a blog about black inventors. I am opened to all kinds of opportunities; I do keep my eyes open. Already, I am on my HOA Board of Directors and the Neighborhood Advisory Committee here in my new community.  Once Corona is behind us, all kinds of opportunities will be available. I plan to be ready!

To Learn more about Jackie Hunter, visit Lost In the Red Hills of Mars.

Living Her Best Life

The phrase “Living Your/My Best Life” may have been coined by Oprah and performed by a rapper, but Koshie France executes the words daily through her lifestyle brand that promotes self-care and well-being.

Koshie France
(Click photo for video)

France’s CocoaPariis brand encourages her clients and social media followers to “give yourself whatever you need at that exact moment.” If that means, perhaps, a charcuterie box that you envision yourself sharing with Cardi B, Anthony Bourdain, Michelle Obama or Tracee Ellis Ross, well….. that’s what it means.  Add a little sage (for positivity) into the vintage cigar boxes France uses to accent the sharp gruyere, Irish Cheddar, dried Wagyu beef, crackers and veggies and Voila! The IG account explodes!

France, a self-described food stylish, self-care advocate, body-mind designer and global citizen, grew up in Richmond, Virginia, but often traveled overseas with her Ghanaian-born parents. After graduating from Richmond’s Community High School and the University of Richmond, France’s interest in food, fashion and health merged with her savvy use of social media, which she used to build her brand. On her new website –– she rates her excitement about life as 8.92, describes herself in a hastag as “a vibe,” and says that she is most inspired right now by “black women.” 

Burning candles, buying fresh flowers weekly, visiting new restaurants, reading and indulging in baths and massages further allow France to live her best life.  Given what 2020 has given us, shouldn’t we all line up for a sentence, paragraph or page of Koshie France’s playbook?

Koshie France Video

Kitchen Talk: African-American Holiday Cooking Traditions – Part ll

Serving Up Soul Food on Jeff Davis

Barbara Anderson Bryan, owner, LBJs@Traditionz Smokehouse

Of all the hats that Barbara Anderson Bryan has worn – singer, musician, corporate employee, business owner – the one she’s most comfortable sporting these days is that of a chef. Her love for cooking developed when she was in high school and her home economics teacher noticed her culinary talents. The teacher enlisted Bryan to help her cater school-related events. The student excelled. Bryan picked up many of her cooking skills from her father, Herman Anderson, who ran a catering business in their hometown in Richmond, Virginia for many years. Yet, when Bryan attended Virginia Union University, she chose music, a passion shared by her mother and three brothers. Forced to leave VUU due to a lack of money to continue paying for her education at the private, historically black university, Bryan worked several years performing several jobs, the most recent at DuPont in Richmond’s southside. Ready for new challenges after spending five years at DuPont’s Spruance manufacturing plant on Jefferson Davis Highway, Bryan noticed an empty restaurant across the street. The rest is history. LBJ’s @Traditionz Smokehouse has been open a little less than two years and business is booming. Bryan keeps it that way by serving loyal customers crispy hot chicken wings, fish, pork chops and more with all the fixings. But she mainly prides herself on her signature egg rolls filled with surprising secrets designed to please any palate. Here’s her story.

Kitchen Talk: African American Holiday Traditions – Part II

Catering to Community

Herman Baskerville, owner,
Big Herm’s Kitchen
Photo – BND Institute of Media and Culture, Inc.

“Big Herm” Baskerville is known as the “Mayor of Two Street” in Richmond, Virginia’s historic Jackson Ward community. Baskerville also is well known throughout central Virginia for his signature dishes, which include mouth-watering fried turkey, burgers, catfish dinners and more that either are sold at his “Big Herm’s Kitchen” take-out business or served through his thriving catering enterprise. Baskerville entered the food and restaurant business after learning how to cook while still in high school.

Honing his craft in corporate kitchens led to Baskerville’s first restaurant more than 10 years ago. He currently is located at 315 N. 2nd St. Richmond, VA 23219. In this video the married father of two who lives in Hanover County talks about his path to success, staying viable in a pandemic, and plans for the 2020 holiday season.


Kitchen Talk: African American Holiday Cooking Traditions

Join geneaologist and cookbook author Bessida Cauthorne White on November 23 at 6:30 pm on Zoom as she discusses holiday cooking meals and rituals in African-American households. She’ll be joined by Media Personality and Virginia Lottery Draw Host Mikki Spencer who will interview Cauthorne White about her work as a genealogist and her cookbooks, “A Reunion of Recipes: The White Family Cookbook” (1990), co-editor of “Help Yourself! There’s a God’s Mighty Plenty: A Treasury of Recipes from the Cauthorne & Brooks Families” (First Edition 2000 and Second Edition 2017), and co-editor of “Gather at the Welcome Table: The Angel Visit Baptist Church Sesquicentennial Cookbook”.

This virtual program is free and you may register here.

Washington Post trailblazer Dorothy Butler Gilliam on her career and the future of journalism

Gilliam, the first Black woman reporter at the Post, covered key moments in the civil rights movement, all while being a pioneer for African American women in media.

Dorothy Butler Gilliam, the first Black woman reporter at The Washington Post, spoke Tuesday as part of the Robertson School’s ongoing speaker series. (Joshua Smith, Robertson School)

Reprinted with permission, VCU

By Brian McNeill

University Public AffairsWednesday, Oct. 14, 2020

When Dorothy Butler Gilliam was hired as the first Black woman reporter at The Washington Post in 1961, she was driven by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., when he said “Go and make a difference.”

It was far from easy.

“Taxi cabs wouldn’t pick me up when I was trying to get a cab so I could write my story and get back and make my deadline. It was very frustrating. But I had to do it and I had to make it work,” she said. “Sometimes when I went into white neighborhoods, it was an invitation to be abused. One time, [while visiting a home to do an interview] a doorman saw me and he said ‘You can’t come in the front door. The maid’s entrance is around the back.’ I was dressed nicely. I was very professional. But he just couldn’t believe that I was a reporter for The Washington Post.”

Gilliam discussed her trailblazing career Tuesday in a virtual event hosted by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University and co-hosted by the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the BND Institute of Media and Culture.

Gilliam, a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists and author of the 2019 memoir “Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America,” spoke as part of an ongoing speaker series hosted by the Robertson School. The event was moderated by Diane Walker, an anchor at NBC 12.

Gilliam’s career at the Post spanned a half century, and included time as a reporter, editor, columnist and director of the newspaper’s Young Journalist Development Program. She also has been a TV reporter in Washington, D.C., and a senior research scientist at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, where she founded a program encouraging young people to pursue careers in journalism.

She also has a close relationship with VCU. She served as a Dabney visiting professor in 2000 and was a commencement speaker for the Robertson School when it was called the School of Mass Communications. School Speaker Series event with Dorothy Butler Gilliam

‘A front-row seat’

Gilliam’s journalism career began in the Black press. At 17, she worked as a secretary at the Louisville Defender and got her first opportunity to cover assignments when the paper’s society editor was out sick.

“It was a surprise to me that journalism opened doors to just so many new experiences,” she said. “I found that there was a small Black middle class in Louisville that I didn’t know about. These were the doctors, the lawyers, actually the editor of the newspaper. They lived in a certain section of town. My dad was a minister and we lived in the working class section of town. One of the great things about journalism and one of the reasons I’ve been so happy as a journalist is that it opens the door to new worlds. And it gives you experiences that you wouldn’t expect to have. It’s a front row seat to history.”

She attended Lincoln University in Missouri and after graduation was hired at the Tri-State Defender, a Black newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee. At that paper, she covered the integration of Little Rock Central High School, which was marked by violence, including the beating of her editor, Alex Wilson, by a racist white mob.

“I was back in the office where he left me covering what was going on in Memphis,” she said. “I looked up on the television screen, a little black-and-white television set in the office, and I saw the news that my boss was beaten by this mob. So I knew that I had to get to Little Rock. So I ended up going to Little Rock, Arkansas, with a photographer and really having the opportunity to cover this violent integration of Little Rock.”

Gilliam later worked at Jet Magazine and studied journalism at Columbia University. The Washington Post’s city editor would routinely visit to interview graduates, she said, and he advised her to get daily newspaper experience and then to come back and talk to the Post about working there. However, the Post’s interest was sparked when they later learned that Gilliam was going to Africa as part of a program called Operation Crossroads Africa that sent Black and white students to African countries to conduct service projects.

“When I told them I was going to Africa, that just seemed to interest them. They said, ‘Well, would you send us something you’ve written?’ And I did,” she said. “And when I came back, I was hired as the first African American woman reporter.”

Clockwise from top left: Diane Walker, anchor at NBC 12; Bonnie Davis, CEO of the BND Institute of Media and Culture; Marcus Messner, Ph.D., director of the Robertson School; and Dorothy Butler Gilliam.

Slights, determination, and James Meredith

As a trailblazer, Gilliam knew there was far more on her shoulders than others in the newsroom.

“I felt I was really showing people a different image of African Americans,” she said. “That was another job that I had, in addition to being a reporter and writing the story. It was also a time to help show the larger public — very often a very prejudiced public — that we, African Americans, were able and willing to do what it takes to really be a part of this nation.”

She experienced slights on a regular basis, she said. Colleagues would be reasonably civil at work and then pretend they didn’t know her elsewhere.

“I knew that if I failed, if I said, ‘This is crazy, I quit,’ then it would have been much more difficult for the next Black woman,” she said.

She added that the first Black man reporter at the Post, Simeon Booker, who was hired in 1952, only worked at the paper for about a year-and-a-half.

“He said, ‘I was getting neurotic. People thought I was sick because I trying to cover stories in a city where even the dog cemetery was segregated,’” she said. “He said it was just too much. So I didn’t want to fail. So I persevered. That is not easy but it is something that we, as African Americans, have to do.”

Looking back on her early years at the Post, Gilliam said the assignment that had the most impact on her was the integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962.

“Mississippi was like a place apart. It was a lynching state. It was a state where Black life was cheap. It was a place where the university was like this bastion of white supremacy,” she said. “And it was very, very difficult to [watch as] this lone man, one person, had the courage to integrate the University of Mississippi. His names was James Meredith. He had been in the Army. And he said he really came back to fight white supremacy.”

That assignment, she said, drove home how different her experience was from other reporters covering the story.

“The white people who were part of the team, they could stay at the Sand and Sea Motel and sit in the lobby and have lunch or dinner and talk about the story and trade ideas, as reporters do,” she said. “But I knew they would not rent me a room.”

Gilliam ended up staying in a spare room above a Black funeral home. “I slept with the dead. I did what I had to do,” she said. “Certainly nobody bothered me.”

At the time, Gilliam was one of just a handful of Black reporters at white newspapers across the country.

“You could probably have gotten all of us into a very small room,” she said. “It was important to make a difference, to show that we could succeed, that we could do the job.”

“[The] doorman saw me and he said ‘You can’t come in the front door. The maid’s entrance is around the back.’ I was dressed nicely. I was very professional. But he just couldn’t believe that I was a reporter for The Washington Post.”

‘We’ve got to make a difference’

Gilliam and other trailblazing Black journalists advocated for more newsroom diversity, but always encountered white editors saying they couldn’t find qualified applicants.

“We knew — the few Black journalists who were there — we knew that was not true,” she said. “We had to just jump into action and start training programs.”

Gilliam co-founded what became the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, which today continues to provide training to journalists of color.

“That was our response,” she said. “When we saw a problem that needed solving, we just jumped into action. We said, ‘We’ve got to make a difference.’”

Today, she said, newsrooms continue to need more diversity, as well as more inclusion and acceptance.

“The problems that I faced many years ago were different but there still are many, many issues that need to be resolved,” she said. “It’s important that we keep up the fight, keep up the struggle against those who don’t want us to have inclusion, those who don’t want us to be a part of society.”

“I really want this nation to change dramatically. It’s been 400 years of Black people pushing and taking two steps forward, and then being pushed three or four steps backward,” she said. “We’ve given so much to this country, we’ve sacrificed so much, we’ve served in places where we weren’t wanted but were needed. It is time for a change. It is time for the media to dismantle its systemic racism. It’s time.”

Trailblazer Dorothy Butler Gilliam is BND, VCU, SPJ speaker on October 13

Sep 24, 2020

Dorothy Butler Gilliam will speak at the Robertson School’s virtual Speaker Series event on Oct. 13. (Kea Dupree Photography)

The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture is excited to announce Dorothy Butler Gilliam, the first Black woman reporter at The Washington Post and author of an acclaimed book about newsroom diversity, for its Speaker Series event on Oct. 13. 

The virtual event, co-sponsored by the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the BND Institute of Media and Culture, is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m. and will be live streamed.

The event will be live streamed as a Zoom webinar. The Zoom livestream will become available on this page at the time of the event. 

You will also be able to view the live stream on the Robertson School’s Facebook page at the time of the event.

Gilliam will be answering your questions during the event. You can submit your questions before the event via this online form. You can also post questions during the evet in the Q&A function of the Zoom webinar and on the Facebook livestream as well as tweet questions during the event with the hashtag #VCURobertson or #SPJVA. We will be asking as many of your questions as possible during the event.

Gilliam started at The Washington Post in 1961 and worked as a reporter, editor, columnist and director of the newspaper’s Young Journalist Development Program during a career that spanned a half century.

She also has been a television reporter in Washington, D.C., and a senior research scientist at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, where she founded a program encouraging young people to pursue careers in journalism.

Diane Walker of NBC 12 will moderate the Speaker Series event.

Gilliam, a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, has a close relationship with Virginia Commonwealth University: In 2000, she was a Dabney visiting professor and a commencement speaker for the Robertson School when it was called the School of Mass Communications.

In 2019, Gilliam published “Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America.” The memoir details Gilliam’s personal and professional experiences and her efforts to increase the number of journalists of color in U.S. news organizations.

The Oct. 13 online event featuring Gilliam will be moderated by Diane Walker, an anchor at NBC 12 and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.

Walker, who has received numerous awards for public service journalism and community involvement, is the face of her station’s flagship franchise “12 On Your Side,” which investigates consumer complaints and gives voice to the voiceless.

A special thanks to Mr. Michael L. Harvey of MLH Assets Management for supporting the BND Institute of Media and Culture in this program.

The BND Institute of Media and Culture’s Creative Writing and Summer Media Boot Camp 2020

Creative writing can be a fun and interesting way to improve writing skills. This one-week session will provide writing tools for middle school students as they explore poetry, plays and short stories for blogs, podcasts and videos. Sessions will be led by Bonnie Newman Davis, journalist and journalism educator, and other professional writers and guests. Click here for a sample project.

July 20 -July 24, 2020

10 am – Noon

Virtual Zoom Sessions

Students will need a laptop computer or mobile device that can access Zoom. A limited number of laptops are available for borrowing.

Cost: Free

Limited space available. Call 804 683-7203 for details.

BND Institute Creative Writing & Media Camp Registration



Sample Project – AKA Future Leaders

Thank you to our Sponsors!

NBC12 -Richmond

MLH Assets Management

Eric and Sarah James

JB Bryan Financial Group, Inc. & AfroEconomics ™

John Rich

A Black Man’s Quilt: Success!!

I took a course for small business owners last fall and, in explaining to my classmates that I had yet to attract many men to my media institute programs in nearly three years, someone asked why was that the case.

I shrugged. “Probably because they’re watching football,” I replied.

Well, I’m happy to say that a whole lot of men defied my sexist response and showed up last night for my first BND Institute of Media and Culture program of the year, “A Black Man’s Quilt.” The standing-room only event featured Robert L. Dortch, Jr., a minister, philanthropist, executive coach, poet, photographer, fraternity brother, father and more. Some might even call him a Renaissance Man.

During his one-hour presentation, Robert led us on an intimate journey of his life, art, journaling and family. He explored concepts of love and masculinity. He went there with his own failings and feelings. He described his son’s anguished cry the night of the Trayvon Martin verdict. He gave his take on Kobe, Gayle and Snoop. He left many of us pondering our own capacities and humaneness. He gave us ….hope.

Author and motivational speaker Stacy Hawkins Adams, a powerhouse in her own right, did an excellent job interviewing Robert, wielding questions that kept the audience engaged and feasting on his every word. Kym Grinnage, truly a blessing of a friend, provided introductions that only he can deliver with aplomb and panache. Head cheerleader and program sponsor Teshana Gipson rallied moms and dads by encouraging them to send their offspring to my summer media camp June 15-26 at Virginia Union University. Mr.  Michael Harvey“Debonair” Harvey, who always supports my programs with a check and a smile, was there as usual, quietly saying “I got you.” Please know that none of this would have been possible without the work and support of Kimberly Wilson, whose very presence reassured me that I no longer have to toil alone as I work to present unique programming honoring African Americans in Richmond. What an honor to work with this woman who, like me (and Stacy Hawkins Adams), has a string of job titles and manages to seamlessly balance them all. I am forever grateful to her. A huge shout out and thank you to Renee Johnson for bringing members of the Richmond Chapter of Jack and Jill to serve as hosts and hostesses, and for her amazing graphic design skills. My other brother, Darrel Johnson of TidBit catering, is to be commended for delivering a delicious menu when I called him just a few days in advance. Thanks also to Adele Johnson, Faithe M. Norrell and Mary Lauderdale at Richmond’s Black History Museum of History and Culture. Bravo, ladies! And a special salute to all the brothers who proved me wrong. Thanks for showing up and showing out. All, please remember to check out Robert’s photography at Urban Hang Suite through mid-March.

Bonnie Newman Davis