As a girl in Old Harbour, Jamaica, Renae Morgan, now 27, would watch the island’s leading television network and dream of working there.
“I was always fascinated with news, always interested in people, and always loved writing,” she recalls.
Today, amidst the unprecedented news coverage of a global pandemic, and worldwide economic and social unrest, her fascination has escalated into a powerful passion.
“More than ever, 2020 made me want to be a journalist,” says Morgan. “It helped me appreciate the impact honest, responsible journalists can have, as well as their burden and duty to remain credible.”
Public service comes naturally to Morgan. Raised primarily by a proud mother and grandmother, with 19 full and half-siblings nearby, she was awed by the respect her father commanded as a local policeman. Before his death in 2016, his emphasis on service imbued her with a desire to make a difference in her own way. That meant focusing her skills, of writing and storytelling, on the task of informing the public through compelling, responsible journalism.
“I remember reading an article as a child about a man jumping into a river to save a little boy from drowning,” says Morgan, “I’ve been inspired to write as a journalist ever since, because those kinds of stories communicate that, despite the chaos of the world, good people still exist among us.”
Morgan knew obstacles stood in her way. Few journalism programs existed on her small island, and a college education elsewhere seemed unthinkably expensive. But she was determined to become the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She worked and strategized until a combination of family contributions, scholarships and loans made higher education in America possible.
Four years ago, Morgan relocated near relatives in the Bronx, enrolled at Westchester Community College, and later transferred to the State University of New York at Purchase. When a friend suggested she transfer to Mercy, she applied, was accepted and found her educational home.
“Everyone was welcoming and hospitable. I could ask my classmates and my professors anything, so I quickly adapted,” says Morgan.
Barely two months into her Mercy tenure, her education became exclusively virtual.
“I had no experience with distance learning and it was difficult to be away from the intellectual activity of the classroom,” she adds. “I had to work harder to stay focused and grasp the subject material via online teaching.”
Compelled to isolate within the home she shared with friends in Poughkeepsie, New York, she was geographically cut off from her family and barely had the chance to get to know her school. Sympathetic professors helped ease the transition.
“They were understanding and provided great resources, checking in with regular emails and discussion board postings. And they were flexible about assignment deadlines,” she says.
All the while, she marveled at the growing influence of the news media. As the public clamored for the latest and more trustworthy reporting, journalism became a lifeline. No longer merely informative, it was now essential.
“The pandemic showed how important it was to report news with honesty and integrity, especially when it came to information about health and wellness,” says Morgan.
A year later, with her summer graduation fast approaching, Morgan is happily back in the classroom. She hopes to intern for a news organization in the New York area, and spend another year in the US polishing her skills. Then, she’ll return home to fulfill her Jamaican dream with a revitalized sense of gratitude and purpose.
“I’m grateful that the pandemic helped me appreciate so much and affirm how important even the smallest things can be.. I’ve learned to treasure those things while I have them.”