Texas native Toni Hall had long dreamed of working in media. “Growing up, I always wanted to be a meteorologist,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to do anything else: Just tell the weather and work for the Weather Channel.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Prairie View A&M University, Hall had an opportunity to work in The Weather Channel’s advertising sales department. Once there, however, she realized that her ambitions in the field lay along a different path.
“I felt like my personality was too dynamic for the business side of media,” she said. “I wanted to tell stories.” Having met USC Annenberg Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Miki Turner during her undergraduate studies, she knew of USC Annenberg’s reputation and reached out to the school. She applied and was accepted to the master’s degree program in specialized journalism.
Hall says she was initially hesitant to apply to USC because of the price tag. “I was like, there's no way I can pay for it — I'm already in debt for undergrad,” she said. “But then I just manifested it: I remember sitting there once the application process was done, I was like, ‘I'm not paying for school.’ I know the kind of person I am. I know what I can bring to the table. Every day I said to myself, ‘I’m not paying for school.’”
Hall’s aspiration became reality in August, when she was named the inaugural recipient of the GRoW @ Annenberg Scholarship. Led by Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, an Annenberg Foundation vice president and director, GRoW @ Annenberg is a philanthropic initiative dedicated to supporting humanitarian efforts across the globe, as well as innovative projects in health, education, art, the environment, civic and cultural life, and more.
Weingarten partnered with USC Annenberg to establish this multi-year scholarship that fully underwrites the cost for graduate studies for Black journalists and seeks to advance diverse representation in newsrooms. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2013–17 American Community Survey data, only 7% of newsroom employees are Black and only 6% of news directors are Black.
“USC Annenberg is committed to increasing not only the number of Black journalists across newsrooms, but also to furthering their leaderships roles within those organizations,” USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay said. “The GRoW @ Annenberg Scholarship Gregory has created here aligns perfectly with this goal: identify talented Black student journalists like Toni and provide the comprehensive support they need to pursue their graduate studies.”
“It is incumbent upon all of us who are in positions to make a meaningful difference, to do what we can to support efforts to address systemic inequities that have been in place far too long,” Weingarten said. “Education is just one in a very long list of systems where we can effect change. I am so pleased that Toni is the inaugural recipient of this scholarship and I look forward to the day when I can meet her in person.”
After initially considering a focus on the entertainment field, Hall says she’s now exploring sports journalism. She recalled a recent report she saw on ESPN about Josh Jacobs, a running back for the Las Vegas Raiders who grew up homeless.
“When I heard that story, I was fascinated by the resilience of the human spirit and how, despite the odds that are against you, if you will persevere, you can do anything,” said Hall, who has been pursuing her Fall semester studies remotely from her home in San Antonio. “I really want to tell stories like that about athletes.”