• Zach Servideo

084: Boston Speaks Up with Miranda Perez of HBCU Founders Initiative

Boston Speaks Up (BSU) is a podcast owned and operated by Value Creation Labs. Listen to BSU on any podcast platform you choose: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Miranda Perez is a cross-topic multimedia journalist on a mission to highlight and elevate marginalized voices. Evolving beyond the newsroom, she recently joined the team at HBCU Founders Initiative, a nonprofit organization that is engaging rising HBCU students and alumni interested in pursuing entrepreneurship.


For those unfamiliar with the term HBCU, it refers to any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.


Perez is playing a critical role supporting entrepreneurs participating in HBCU Founder Initiative’s Pre-Accelerator, an 8-week program for early-stage founders who are past the ideation stage and ready to validate a problem and build a minimum viable product.


Beyond her role at HBCUFI, Perez still writes about business, tech, politics, social issues, fashion, and entertainment, among other topics. She also consults with businesses navigating societal and technological change.


She grew up as an inner-city kid in Chicago. She describes school “as an escape for a lot of the hardships I faced growing up.” She pushed herself academically and became the first person in her family to graduate from college, earning a Mass Media Arts degree from Clark Atlanta University, a top 25 nationally ranked HBCU and Black Ivy League school.


During college, Miranda served as the Editor-In-Chief of CAU's campus newspaper, The Panther, and as the President/Editor-In-Chief of CAU's online magazine, Her Campus. During that time, Miranda had her first national byline in The Nation as a sophomore in college.


These accomplishments won the attention of editors across the country, and Perez earned and held editor/reporter roles at BostInno, Insider and BuiltIn upon graduation. She’s also appeared on programs such as MSNBC discussing education equity for Hispanic Americans.


In this episode, we speak with Perez about the challenges she’s overcome in life, and her evolution from a cross-topic multimedia journalist into a dynamic branding and storytelling consultant.


You can listen to our podcast discussion embedded below or on any podcast platform you prefer (SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play):


Pre-Podcast Q&A


Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood?


I grew up in Chicago and was raised primarily on the west side of the city. We moved around a lot because the neighborhoods we lived in weren’t ever the best. This was due partially to the fact that my mom had me at 16 and my brother at 20 (so the neighborhoods we could afford to live in were inner-city, low-income and that came with problems like gang violence, poor school systems, etc).


The neighborhoods I lived in the most were Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Garfield Park. Despite moving around a lot and dealing with some more serious issues being raised in an inner-city, I’d say my childhood was pretty nice.


I grew up with a lot of love around me. Despite not always having the most money or access to resources, my family was super affectionate and tried their best to give us (my siblings and I) the world.


Who were your role models growing up?


Funny enough, Tyra Banks was one of my biggest inspirations growing up. I admired her tenacity and authenticity as a Black woman navigating the fashion industry and I was obsessed with watching her lead/mentor on America’s Next Top Model (though now it’s come out that some models didn’t have the best experience during the show).


I was also a huge fan of her talk show and I think that’s one of the first times I ever saw someone I looked up to pivot careers with the world watching. Her work as a model, mentor (to those who enjoyed working with her) and TV host showed me that the possibilities for my own career were limitless.


What is one of the biggest lessons you learned from your parents?


For the first half of my life I was raised by my mom and second dad (step dad). One thing my mom used to say to my brother and I every morning was “What’s the most important thing in the world?” and we’d have to reply “school.” Her follow up question would be “What’re you going to be?” and we’d say “Better than you.” This mantra of hers that she had trained us to do every morning was a huge lesson for me. It taught me that despite her shortcomings and the adversities we faced that I had the potential to be better than who came before me and more importantly I had her support.


Later in life as I grew a closer relationship with my dad (my biological father), he taught me that “proper preparation prevents poor performance.” No matter what I do in life I live by that. I work hard to make sure that every move I make is a worthwhile step in the right direction for my future.


What is the first career you remember wanting to pursue?


The first career I ever wanted to pursue was to be a fashion designer. I absolutely loved and still live for the fashion industry. Being stylish and fashion forward is the first way I show up in the world.


My mom and second dad steered me away from pursuing that dream at like age 9 or so because they were worried about me getting the resources to make money in that career.


I remember my mom saying “life isn’t about what you know, it’s about who you know” and we certainly didn’t know anyone from the hood designing collections that would make it to a runway.


Looking back, if we knew in the early 2000s the impact technology would have on accessing resources (and my potential to maybe blow up on TikTok or something as an emerging designer) she probably would have supported me to take that route. LOL.


What made you first want to be a journalist?


After being steered away from pursuing fashion design as a career, I really wanted to be an author. I was a huge bookworm as a kid and honestly was fairly shy which is crazy when we think of how extroverted my personality is today. I loved that books took me out of the inner-city struggles I faced daily and I wanted to do the same for others as an author.


BUT AGAIN, my mom hit me with the same advice. (I was literally pitching being a struggling designer or author to her and she wasn’t having it LOL. She wanted me to find something that was creative but stable.)


I was pretty stuck at that point (this was around the time I was in middle school) and I was having a life crisis about not knowing what I wanted to do in life. So I brought these ideas to my eighth grade teacher and he introduced me to the concept of journalism and being a fashion journalist. It bridged the gap between my love for fashion and writing so I was sold.


That’s what made me want to pursue the career and I just stuck with it from there. I started off reporting on fashion and then transitioned into writing about politics, entertainment and tech/startups.


What made you fall in love with the writing craft and want to make it your lifelong career path?


I was always an amazing writer and thoughtful storyteller. When I was first exploring the career idea, I fell in love with being able to do what I loved and get paid for it. After being told that all of my childhood career routes were too creative and unreliable, this was a really great happy medium for me!


As I got deeper into my field, I’ve seen how people light up when I interview them and how much they appreciate me giving them a safe space to be vulnerable with me as a well intended reporter. This, along with seeing how much people love to read, repost, learn from and respond to my work makes me know that working in this field is a God given gift to me.


I’m not in full-time news at the moment, but I’m always freelancing and won’t ever stop writing and reporting. I’m a journalist first, forever!


As a journalist, do you have any advice for young people that are seeking a similar career journey? Where should they start?

I would advise young people to read as many articles as possible and to watch the news often. Doing this will be a good practice to get their subconscious familiar with how news is written, how broadcast news works and more importantly it will allow them to find journalists they connect with.

After finding people they connect with in the industry, I recommend they just keep following these folks on Twitter and other social media platforms. This will allow aspiring journalists to see how their favorite journalists operate in real time and can even open doors for them to have one on one conversations with them too.

Start with studying the materials made in news, then study the reporters who make the news and then find an amazing journalism school to help advance your career that much further. (If you’re not a scholarly person and don’t like the idea of journalism school or college – look into webinars, LinkedIn seminars, and other events that allow you to learn independently).

Reflecting back to your earlier year starting out, is there anything you wish you had done differently to get to the point where you are today?

Not at all. I’m so happy with the decisions I’ve made in life.

My only regret is that I didn’t really understand how to navigate scholarships or financial aid as a first-generation college student. If I knew what I know now about the process, I would have graduated debt free and secured plenttyyy of outside funding for my undergraduate degree.


Is there a particular person or event that helped shape the career path you took?


My grandma spent a lot of time with me as a child and she was the one who taught me how to read. I credit her and her sister (my aunt Marta) for showing me how to love the written word. Without them striking that passion who knows if I would have ended up in this career field.


What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome getting to where you are today?


There's been so many major challenges in my life it’s honestly hard to say what was the biggest singular challenge. I can say that graduating college as a first-generation student was extremely difficult and is one of my biggest accomplishments by default.


But what was more difficult were the steps I took to get there. Outside of having no one in my family to help even apply to colleges, I had to deal with a lot of hardships that could have easily prevented me from pursuing my collegiate dreams.


For basically the first decade of my life, my biological father was incarcerated so I had to build a relationship with him while he was behind bars. My second father also succumbed to incarceration so I had to watch my mom struggle as a single parent. There were times where the lights or water was off. There were times where my mom would vent to me and I’d help problem solve and operate as more of a friend than her daughter. It was really rough.


In 2014, my mom passed away shortly after my biological father was released from prison. I had essentially lost one parent and gained another – but struggled to build a relationship with him. I lost a cousin to gun violence eight months after my mom passed away and despite being in deep mourning and grief during highschool – I still made it to college.


I decided to go to Atlanta for college because I went through so much living in Chicago at such a young age, I knew I needed to be in a new place to prosper. But even while I was in college breaking generational curses, the trouble at home didn’t stop. I had to balance living in two worlds: hood, inner-city Miranda and collegiate Miranda.


During my sophomore year in college, my grandma passed away and it hurt so bad to lose the woman who taught me how to read, who inspired my career. It was really difficult to stay committed to my dream of being the first person in my family to graduate. But, I did it. I didn’t quit school, I didn’t run home despite how much pain I felt being away. I saw it through and would never regret my decision to do so.


My whole life has been one big challenge, but it’s made me resilient and I love that.


How would you describe your style of work compared to others in the industry?

I’d say I am pretty much the stereotypical Gen Z worker (to a certain extent, LOL).

All jokes aside I’d say a big aspect of my personality and my generation is not committing to BS corporate traditions and setting the tone.

We typically enter workforces seeing no glass ceiling, we understand that we break warriors and societal expectations.

Despite often being the youngest in the room, I have no issue pitching an idea to executive leadership and being expected to be treated equally. I was taught to treat everyone from the janitor to the CEO the exact same way – and by default I expect people to do that to me.

I believe no person should be scared or intimidated by being a leader or commanding a room due to their age, gender, race, etc. While it’s not the easiest thing to do, it’s one of my favorites.

I’d say my style of work is passionate, enchanting, affirming and ready to take on whatever life throws at me. People (especially some older people in the workforce that I have run into) don’t always love that type of tenacity from folks they deem as early-career workers – but I don’t care.

What sorts of challenges and opportunities have you found in the pivot to virtual business and networking during the COVID-19 pandemic? How has the pivot “back to normalcy” affected you and your work?


The pandemic honestly served me more than it hurt me career wise. Going virtual for my last two years of undergrad allowed me to work in my field a lot more.


I was and still am picking up freelance jobs like never before because a lot of traditional workspaces finally figured out you don’t need to always be in-person to get the job done.


I attended a lot of virtual networking events during the pandemic and still do to this day. My business prospered because being inside gave me more focus time to just do what I do best: write.


The pivot to normalcy on the other hand has been a bit challenging only because I loved my seclusion, LOL.


I’m still very extroverted and love in-person interactions and events, but to me there’s nothing more special than the fact that I’ve built an amazing home office and just love being there as much as possible.


FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from a book, creating a new healthy habit… what is one challenge you have for the listeners?


One major challenge I have and encourage listeners to do is to take time to pour into their health and wellness. This could be attending a workout class, doing at home workouts or even just trying a healthy meal once a week.


All of this is easier said than done (I know because I struggle with it myself) but I would love to see the world and the workforce encourage us to step away from our computers and give back to our bodies.


###


You can follow BSU on Twitter at @BostonSpeaksUp, and recommend BSU guests by contacting bostonspeaksup@gmail.com.


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Boston Speaks Up (BSU) is a podcast owned and operated by Value Creation Labs. Listen to BSU on any podcast platform you choose: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play. In this