My first big-girl conference. I was terrified.
As a student journalist for the Latino Reporter, I was waiting to interview a group of students for a story. They seemed busy, so I waited behind an empty broadcast booth. All of the sudden, I saw a security guard approach me. I was sure I was in trouble.
Instead, Amanda Mitchell smiled at me and said hello. She asked if I needed directions. “Are you okay?” she said.
A lanyard around her neck said “NAHJ” in big block letters. She wore black pants and a long-sleeve blue shirt with a gold star. I thought she was a cop, but she was hired as a security guard for the conference. A 55-year-old Miami native, she’s worked the job for 15 years.
At first, it was a way to make money. The hours can be long. For this conference, she has worked 16-hours shifts. With time, she found she loved interacting with strangers at conferences and events. Her favorite gatherings are music-related.
Her voice reminded me of a teacher, kind and encouraging. I felt like I could trust her.
I explained that this was my first ever audio assignment and I was asking about a difficult topic — affirmative action.
She understood. She said I seemed smart, qualified and distinguished. She complimented my outfit, which my mom picked out for me: a tan linen blouse and pants, as well as black heels. Nobody could tell I was scared, she reassured me. I just looked a little silly hiding behind the displays.
We laughed. Then, she gave me some advice. “You have to muster up the courage to ask for what you need. And not just when reporting stories.”
By the time we finished talking, I realized the students were gone. She helped me find another interview.
Before we said goodbye, she asked me how to pronounce my name. She saw it on my badge, but wanted to make sure.
She said she always takes the time to get right. Over the years, she’s learned a lot of names. Not everyone asks hers in return, but that doesn’t bother her.
“You have to put out good energy,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you get back.”
Aisha Baiocchi is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University studying journalism and international comparative studies. Reach her at aisha_bee [at] me [dot] com and on Twitter @_aishabee_.