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Session 281: Forging a New Path with Jemele Hill

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

This week I’m joined by Jemele Hill, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, creator, and host of the podcast “Jemele Hill is Unbothered,” She’s also the founder of The Unbothered Network, a groundbreaking podcast and production company. Today she joins us to talk about her newly-released memoir Uphill, which details her upbringing in Detroit, her long-time career in sports journalism, overcoming a legacy of pain, and forging a new path. During our conversation, we discussed the considerations and discussions she had while writing about her family history, her career-defining moments and how she prioritized her mental health while writing the book.


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Session 281: Forging a New Path with Jemele Hill

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 281 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get into our conversation right after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: This week, I'm joined by Jemele Hill, an Emmy award-winning journalist, creator and host of the podcast, Jemele Hill is Unbothered. She's also the founder of The Unbothered Network, a groundbreaking podcast and production company. You may also be familiar with her nearly 12-year career for sports conglomerate ESPN, or her prolific writing at the intersection of sports and race as a current staff writer for The Atlantic, and former senior correspondent and columnist for The Undefeated. Today, she joins us to talk about her newly released memoir, Uphill, which details her upbringing in Detroit, her longtime career in sports journalism, overcoming a legacy of pain, and forging a new path.

During our conversation, we discussed the considerations and discussions she had while writing about her family history, her career-defining moments, and how she prioritized her mental health while writing the book. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Jemele.

Jemele: Well, thank you. I appreciate being here. I've been really looking forward to this.

Dr. Joy: Likewise, so happy to chat with you about your memoir, very excited for people to be able to pick it up and check it out. It feels like you have done so many things, you wear so many hats, can you give us a little bit of insight into who Jemele Hill is today?

Jemele: One of the best compliments I think I often receive from people, particularly from friends who have known me for a long time, is that they feel like, although I've grown and matured, that I'm the same person that they met X amount of years ago. The core basic foundation of who I am has never changed. And I do think that change and growth are different things. I want to never change but I want to always grow, if that makes any sense. And so I think at the core of it, I'm always going to be somebody who certainly believes in working hard, but believes that life should be lived with a sense of adventure. That's always been something that's been really important to me. And so as much as I'm doing 55 projects and I got 62 jobs, I still try to keep a sense of adventure, that spirit in everything that I do.

Dr. Joy: I think that that is quite a compliment. And quite the feat for people who have known you for a significant amount of time to say you've done different things but you have not changed. What do you attribute that to, that sense of being grounded?

Jemele: I think it has a lot to do with the way that I grew up, when you grow up in some of the challenging circumstances that I did. I think about often some of those very tough moments, bad moments. And I think because I was able to persevere through that, that's why now in present day, it really would take a lot to just kind of sort of get me down. Because I'm like, I think I've already seen the worst of it, okay. That's not to say that I won't face any more obstacles or any more challenges, or even things that might be on the same level of what I experienced as a child, but I think my perspective is just so much different now. And because I know what it's like to not have and know what it's like to kind of be missing some core elements of support around you, then it allows me to navigate this life that I'm in now much differently. With a respect for it and appreciation for it, of course, and with the understanding that this could all go away in smoke tomorrow, so I better make decisions and live my life as enjoyably as I possibly can.

Dr. Joy: I'm curious, was a book always a part of the plan for you? Because this is your debut book and so I'm curious to know, was a memoir always your choice? Did you consider writing something else? Tell me a little bit about the decision to even write a book right now.

Jemele: A book was always something I wanted to do; a book about myself was something I never wanted to do. So no, this was not the plan, to do a memoir first. I really want to (and I want to say in the present tense to make sure that I do) write fiction and I think eventually I will do that. But this was sort of the book that the market decided was the one that had to be first. And I'm glad that it worked out this way, that I had to kind of be convinced to do this. Because going through this journey of writing this memoir was very eye opening. I had to unpack some things and unlock some doors that I padlocked shut and so this forced me to kind of deal with those issues again. Remembering certain incidents and having to relive some things, that was not always easy to do but nevertheless, I feel better because I was able to do that. So no, a memoir was never in the plans.

Dr. Joy: Oh, wow. Tell me more about the convincing. I'm guessing this is your agent, the publishing company. What was the convincing to say, hey, this is what we feel like is needed right now?

Jemele: It was my literary agent, David *[inaudible 0:06:56], he was chief among the convincers, if you will. And as I said, the market decided, but you know what that means–money. I mean, to be frank, he had a really good feeling. Because of the time in my life where I was being approached about writing a book, he had a really good feeling that this book would go to auction, meaning it would be several publishers bidding for it, and that's exactly what happened. Obviously, it was my decision, I had the final say so. He was just like the book publishing business is hard and while I know you want to eventually write fiction; this is a great entry point for you to do so. You write this book, if it's successful, then it's going to be a lot easier to get people to buy into a fiction product. So it was a combination of strategy and looking ahead, money, and just understanding that he felt like there was a real audience for this story and that I could really make this a transformative process. So yeah, he convinced me and I said, okay, I'll just grit my teeth and suffer through and write all of this. But as I said, I'm so glad that I did it because it really was a worthwhile experience.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, it's a memoir so it's incredibly personal. As you mentioned, lots of difficult experiences and I don't feel like, at least reading it, you held anything back. It is very honest and so I would love to hear, if you're comfortable sharing, what was the process of talking to your mom and your husband and maybe other family members? And what was the process of letting them know that you were about to write this story?

Jemele: Of course, my husband, like he knew first it was happening. Certainly, he was aware of most of my story but there were just certain details I hadn't yet had an opportunity to share. Because I think people who are married can attest to this, is that even though you're married and you feel like you know the core person and who they are and you know their life story to a large extent, there's always moments and instances that you haven't quite filled in for them yet. Not because you're trying to hide them. It's just either it hasn't come up or you hadn't thought about sharing it or whatever. And so I gave him a sense of what I would be writing about and he was the first person to read it in its rawest form so that he would know everything that was going to be in this book. And of course, when you're writing a memoir, you have to think about how it will impact the relationships that you currently have and even how people, maybe you have not talked to in a while, how they will look at what you have written.

So yes, me and my mother, we had a lot of conversations, some of them were very difficult. Difficult just in the sense of, unfortunately, she had to replay and recount some very awful moments in her life. And I made sure to save those moments for the last conversations that we would have in the book so that it wasn't constantly a trauma call every time I talked to her. And so she's become like the family historian now so she knows and could fill in for me some other details that I didn't know, about her early life, about my grandmother's early life, about things like that that I did not know. It was also in the process that I learned a lot about my family and a lot about both my mother and my father and my grandmother too, throughout this, so I had the most conversations with her. I had some with my dad.

My dad still has not read the book in full, my mother has. And that was also a difficult conversation. It’s one thing if I'm interviewing you and we're talking about it and you sort of know what's going to be in the book; it's another thing to read it. And there were some things that her and I had an argument about, to be honest. Like she was not happy with some of the things that were in there, but we were able to work through that and come to some compromises. Just in the sense, when you write something like this, you have to think about what does your relationship look like with these people after this is out? And after the public has consumed it and they've had their opinions about your life and the people you're writing about. And I was very sensitive to that process, to say the least. The one thing she wanted me to remove, I actually removed it.

But what was funny is that she came back later after thinking about it and talking to some friends of hers that she really trusts, she said she thought she was wrong. She was like, you know what, I had a chance to think about it and you didn't have to take that out if you didn't want to. But I had already done it and so I was like, well, just thinking about how I want our relationship to be afterwards, I took it out. And so she was really surprised. And so it was an interesting journey for us in our relationship. I think my mother is like really comfortable with where it is, but certainly there was a lot of tough conversations throughout this entire process.

Dr. Joy: You mentioned earlier that you had to do a lot of like opening doors that you would rather have left closed, and unpacking things. What did your support system look like while writing the book?

Jemele: My husband was wonderful throughout the process. It wasn’t like I would write and then I’d go talk to him about everything that I just wrote! I think just him supporting me through it. It was like, okay, he's like I'm sure it's fine, you're doing a good job. Just encouraging me to continue to dig deeper and that the reactions to it would be fine. He knew how important it was for me to write this book with a sense of authority and transparency, and so just him kind of holding my hand, so to speak, throughout the process, I think he just gave me the reassurance that I kind of needed as I was writing this book.

Dr. Joy: I was drawn in by the first sentence of the book. The book starts with: I started going to therapy on a dare. So you talk about that and you talk about lots of the experiences that maybe led to you being in therapy. Can you say how therapy has supported your journey, and even maybe what therapy looks like now as you prepare for the launch of the book?

Jemele: It's funny you brought that up because one thing I definitely want to do before my book tour starts is make sure I have a session with my therapist. Because this will be very different. I've been interviewed thousands of times so being interviewed, that is no big deal, but I've never really been interviewed about my life. Maybe some bits and pieces of my life, but this memoir, as you said before, is intensely personal. I'm going to be asked very personal questions about my life and so I want to make sure that I'm in the right mental framework to do that. To answer these questions repeatedly, over and over, to be asked repeatedly about having an abortion and some of the sexual abuse that my mother suffered, like having to go over that over and over again. And even doing book signings. Having people who read the book just asking me about that or sharing their stories, so I have to make sure that I'm in the right mental framework to handle all of that.

But for me, therapy was very eye opening. I guess that's kind of a cliché word to use because I guess for everybody it is. I remember the very first session I had with my therapist, and I started going to her in 2018, and our first session, she told me something like just kind of really hit me all up in the chest. She was like, childhood lasts forever. That's what she told me. And I was like she is so right about this because we're constantly dealing with the impact of our childhood, be it the traumas, whatever it may be. That's not to say you continue to be the same person you were as a child, you obviously do not, but it is to say some of those things you experienced, they literally last forever and that you're going to be dealing with that. And so, in addition to being eye opening, I think what I love about therapy is that it's forced me into a space of vulnerability. It's the space I'm most uncomfortable with and most of the memoir is about me on that journey of trying to be more vulnerable. Because it just simply was not the way that I was raised and I see the unintended consequences of not being able to embrace or live in a space of vulnerability.

I think a lot of black women, unfortunately, we get conditioned to be out of that space, even though we're not perfect nor are we superheroes. And so we can't always be all these things to so many other people and then be nothing for ourselves. Finding that balance and being able to kind of appropriately deal with my vulnerability issues has been a challenge but it's been one that I've always embraced. One of the things I love about being married is that marriage forces you into that space all the time. Marriage is a reflection. I think in good and bad ways, it is a complete reflection. It exposes you and so some of the things that you don't want to deal with, you are forced to deal with them in marriage. If you want to have a good marriage, deal with them in order to be better for the person that you've committed to.

Dr. Joy: You said something that made me think. I have always wondered, is there some kind of after care, or is there a group of people who prepare you to release a memoir to the public? Because I think it’s different than like a fiction book, right? People project all kinds of stuff, but you're right, I think you should be prepared on your book tour for people to ask you very personal questions, even though you've shared very personally. But also for them to identify so much with your story and your mom's story and your family's story, that it will also encourage them to share their own stories that may be very difficult. Do those kinds of conversations happen? Has your agent or the publishing house sat you down and said, okay, here's what to expect?

Jemele: No. I don't think they would be probably the candidates for that, but what I have done is talk to other authors who have written memoirs. I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Gabrielle Union, and she's released essentially two memoirs—We're Going to Need More Wine and I'll Have Another. And in it, she shares the fact that she was sexually assaulted, when she was a teenager, I believe. She talks about the crippling effect of that and then the multiple miscarriages that she has. So she was telling me, when she was on her book tour, about how mentally it was just really tough to deal with the fact that women were constantly coming up to her, telling her their stories of sexual assault. And she was like it was a lot to deal with. Because you don't want to relive the worst moment of your life every single day for three weeks or four weeks (or however long she was on tour, she did a nationwide tour.)

Just hearing how she handled it, what it was like for her coming out of that, her taking a break and taking some time to collect herself, was very helpful for me so that I can maybe figure out a way to set some boundaries with that. It will be quite an interesting mix because you want to set the boundaries, but you also have a book to sell. So it's like you have to figure out what that looks like for you. And so think as I go through the first week of it or the first couple interviews, that I'll be able to have a better handle about what kind of space mentally that puts me in after doing these interviews. And everybody's not going to ask about all the trauma. There are other things that are in the book that people will ask me about, so I'm not going in with the expectation that they're just going to be an entire trauma conversation. But I'm just trying to make sure I'm as mentally healthy as possible to deal with the aftereffects of that.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I think that follow up session with your therapist as you prepare for the tour might be a great idea.

Jemele: I'm gonna have one with her before I go on the tour and then I'm gonna have one with her when I come off the tour.

Dr. Joy: Right, right. What do you feel like were the toughest chapters for you to write? Do any come to mind?

Jemele: Oh, yeah. When I was interviewing my mother, there were things she told me, I did not know at all. As much as I was a spectator and a bystander, unfortunately, to when she was really embroiled deeply in her drug use and as much as I saw even through that, there was a lot of stuff I clearly did not even see or know. So the tougher parts were, one, when she told me the story of her being raped in Texas. I knew she was raped in Texas, I had known that my whole life. I never got the breakdown of everything that happened and so for her to go into detail about how she was kidnapped, because she was taken outside of her apartment by what the police believed to be a serial rapist in the area… Having her go through that and it was probably the first time in a while that she had talked about in such detail to the point to where she could remember certain smells and certain feelings and just the things. Like I didn't know that she was given a morning after pill when she got the rape kit at the hospital so these little details were tough for me to hear, even though I knew this is what happened to her.

Another story she told me that’s in the book is about her basically hiding out in a rat infested trap house because she had come there looking for drugs. And I never even knew that story so I had no idea. I didn't know that her drug use actually started when she was like 10 or 11 years old, so I didn't know that either. Those are tough chapters and moments to write about because I'm sending her back to a place that she is very distanced from, because my mother has been drug free for decades now. So it was trying to hear about that and to understand just how much my mother had been through. I've always known she's been through a lot, but this really put it into very distinct detail what she had actually been through. I guess when you're somebody's child, regardless of your age, it’s inherently selfish existence to be a child because everything is about you. About how you're taken care of, how you're doing and so your parents focus on you.

Once they have you, like the rest of your life, your parents are somewhat focused on you and so what happens is that you don't learn nearly enough about them as you should. And so as part of this memoir writing process, I've told a lot of my friends… I was like, listen, while your parents are still here, ask them every single question that you can. Because as I was writing this, as close as me and my grandmother were, there were so many questions I didn't ask her that I had as I was writing. And I was like, I wish she was still alive so I can ask her some of these things. Not necessarily for this book, but just to learn more about her early life and to put together the pieces of how she came to be the person that she was. So yeah, there was a lot of challenging moments, there was also kind of a lot of funny moments to relive and write about as well, but probably the more challenging parts were writing about my mother's trauma.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Jemele after the break.


Dr. Joy: What was it like to look back over your career as you were writing this book? I mean, you still have a lot of career I think left, but there's been a lot of career already. So what was it like to look back over there to prepare for the book?

Jemele: Mostly, I just realized how old I am. I was just like, god, I’m old. I've been doing this for so long. It dawned on me as I was writing that I've been a paid journalist since I was 16 years old, so that is spanning 30 years. That in itself is just a tremendous blessing because a lot of people, when they identify what their life's work is and identify their passion, they don't necessarily get paid to do it right away. I got paid to be a journalist right away when I started working for the local paper in Detroit. That's what I was paid to do. And to realize, too, that I haven't had that many jobs outside of journalism. Maybe like two and those are part-time, just kind of seasonal things that I was doing, nothing on any kind of a full time basis. But every job I've had as a professional has been journalism related and it just kind of put me in a space of gratitude of understanding just how rare that is.

My husband tells me this all the time that I have the privilege of identifying early what I wanted to do and also the privilege of always being paid to do that thing that I love to do. Because as he reminds me, so many people have jobs they don't really like or are not in passionate professions. Really, as I recounted the different stages in my career in the memoir, it kind of brought that home even further. Like, wow, I'm truly blessed to have been able to have done this for 30 years.

Dr. Joy: A part of the story that a lot of people will probably be most familiar with was your time at ESPN. Can you tell us a little bit about how your career there kind of wrapped up and what lessons you've learned from that experience?

Jemele: Well, ESPN, I was there 12 years, it's the longest job I'd ever had. It's certainly the best job I ever had. The last couple years were rocky and I write about them very transparently in this book, particularly after the tweet that changed my life happened with Donald Trump and what that experience was like. But one thing that ESPN taught me, or among the many things because it's more than just one thing, I learned a lot. The journalist that I was when I got to ESPN was not the journalist who I became when I left. It was a much better journalists. I was so much more well-rounded, I learned so many different mediums at ESPN. I wouldn't necessarily call it a training ground, it was more like a very intense bootcamp, where you came out of it and you’ve slimmed down about 20 pounds and you're in the best shape of your life. That's how I felt leaving ESPN. And I think it taught me about my value, my worth. Also about how the next phase of my career, it really put the battery in my battery pack to make sure the next phase of my career was about ownership and autonomy.

While ESPN was so great for my career in a number of ways, the one downside about being there is that you are property of ESPN, essentially. There's not a whole lot you can do outside of being at ESPN and I realized just how much my professional freedom meant to me being there. And once I left there, I just kind of mentally decided I'm never going to be in that space again, where I'm beholden to one entity and do not have the freedom to do other things that I feel like would amplify who I am or amplify my brand. So it definitely taught me the value of that. And also, I think so much in your career, you're striving for stability. Stability is great, particularly financial stability is great, right? But I think now I'm okay that if I get a project or a job that just lasts a couple of months, as long as I'm fulfilled in doing that. A lot of times, professionally, we chase contracts for length of time and I’ve learned, the shorter the contract, the better, to be honest.

So it's just kind of switched up my mentality, coming from a more traditional mindset. Like, oh, gotta work for one network or one media outlet and that's it. But now I'm just like, I'm a hired gun, I'm a mercenary out here. I work for 30 different networks at the same time, I don't care. It’s like cut the check. I think just understanding the value of my freedom, it really brought that home. Once I left ESPN, for the first time in my professional career, I was able to pick where I wanted to live and that was like a crazy, exhilarating feeling for me. Me and my husband, we moved to Los Angeles because we were able to sit down and say, okay, personally and professionally, where's the best place we want to be? Who doesn't have snow? They're in the conversation if they don't have snow! It felt really good to feel more in control of my life once I left ESPN.

Dr. Joy: Had there been inklings of that for you, even before the tweet that changed everything? Had you kind of been feeling restless and like you wanted to establish yourself as more of your own brand even before then?

Jemele: Oh, yeah. But the funny thing is what I thought about doing was not really about my own brand; it was more or less about me separating from something that I didn't love. The last job I had at ESPN was as SportsCenter anchor. It was the worst job that I had at ESPN. I knew within a couple of months after we took that job, I was like this ain't for me. I knew it. I told my co-host at the time, Michael Smith, a dear friend of mine… I said, Mike, I'm gonna make it to the end of this contract and that's gonna be it for SportsCenter for me. The problem was, we had at that point three more years of it so that was gonna be a long wait. And it was just like, man, how am I gonna get through this? And of course, you hope that maybe things will improve but there was a very significant change in leadership that happened before the Trump thing even happened. So I was already in the thought process of “I'm not very fulfilled or happy doing this” and wondering what the best strategy was to leave. I didn't know if leaving meant just leaving SportsCenter and doing something else at ESPN or if leaving meant just leaving ESPN altogether. Before the tweet, those were very dominant thoughts in my mind about something that makes me feel much more fulfilled than this does.

Dr. Joy: In the book, when you're talking about talking to your mom about leaving ESPN, you talked about her describing you as angry and you feeling uncomfortable with that label. Can you talk about how your relationship to anger has changed since then, if it has?

Jemele: You know what, anybody who knows me would never describe me as angry and so I was kind of thrown off when my mother said that. But I think, and we do this a lot of times with people… Sometimes people confuse anger and passion. I'm passionate about what I do and who I am and defending myself, but I'm not angry. I’m just not. I don't wake up mad at the world with my fists raised in the air, that's not even really in my personality. Yes, there are things that make me angry as they should. Yes, injustice makes me angry, racism makes me angry, a lot of things that we face as a society make me angry when I see those things. But I try to approach what I do from a perspective of passionate determination, not through anger.

And so when I started therapy after my mother accused me of being angry, I think some of that (her and I've spent a lot of time for years unpacking this) is that there's a part of me that always feels like my mother feels like I haven't forgiven her for the things that happened in my childhood that I was able to endure. And the boat of forgiveness left for me a long time ago, like I’ve forgiven her years ago, like a long time ago. And so if I give her pushback about some of the things that she says now, then I'm angry. And I'm like, no, I'm not angry, I just don't agree with you. There's a difference. For anybody who has any kind of relationship with your mother, you know, especially if they're not accustomed to that pushback, they don't really like that. So I think some of that comes from that place and I needed her to understand that this is not anything rooted in anger. It’s rooted in the fact that I disagree and I'm going to push back on you a little bit.

Dr. Joy: Have you and mom done any therapy together?

Jemele: No, but we should. I'm not even saying it to try to be funny. We have surfaced the idea. I think my mother would definitely be open to it, I certainly would. So maybe after this book tour, that's something we need to get to quickly.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Jemele after the break.


Dr. Joy: When I hear you say stuff like she thinks I haven't forgiven her, I'm thinking, oh, a conversation with a therapist might be a great place to have some of those conversations for you to maybe even hear more about what she's still thinking that may not even be true.

Jemele: Yeah, I think you’re 100% right. And it's like I want to definitely do that because I think it would be very helpful for our relationship. One thing I definitely thought about on this memoir journey, because there's going to be times when we're actually interviewed together, which has never really happened, so how we do that is going to be very fascinating because I'm just really curious. And as I told my mother, I was like be as honest as you want to be or set your own boundaries. I'm not here to tell you how to conduct yourself at all. I think you have your own story, you have a right to tell it in your way and from your perspective, and do that. This book is just my perspective but you have your own, you certainly will offer that. I think people will really be inspired by it because my mother has an incredible testimony. I think as this memoir gets out there, I think she'll see just how inspiring she can be to people.

But yeah, I completely agree with you, we we should definitely go to some therapy. I know other friends who have gone to therapy with their moms. I can't say it's turned out well, but at least ya'll went. That’s the thing.

Dr. Joy: Right, you just try and see. See what happens, you never know. It feels like there is this very clear thread throughout the book, as you're talking about your column on the Celtics and the sexual harassment with the female kicker, Katie Hnida, and the Trump tweets… It is very clear that there is a use of your voice with like confidence and conviction. I want to hear how your podcast, and how starting and launching your own podcast and network, has really helped you to kind of hone your voice as a journalist.

Jemele: Once I left ESPN, one thing I wanted to get back to doing is having conversations with people. Although you do have them when you're in the midst of a daily talk show, they're five, six-minute conversations tops. Very short, you don't get to unpack some things or you don't get the vulnerability, you don't sometimes get the honesty in a five-minute interview. I wanted to go back to some of the original reasons that I became a journalist in the first place and that was to talk to people and to help them share their stories. Especially with the time that we're in now, it's important that we have some really critical conversations so the podcasting medium was very conducive to that.

And as my own podcast launched and had its success, when 2020 happened, and obviously in this country, we're having a lot more conversations about racism, and just had we reached that watershed moment where we were finally ready and willing to do the hard work to do something about it, it was a perfect time to approach Spotify about creating a podcast network for black women that was black women lead. That second part of that is very important. The reason I thought that now was the time to do it is because, frankly, corporations seem more interested in actually financially supporting black content creators, and just looking around and seeing all the dynamic things black women were doing, that part, of course, is very inspiring. You have black women saving Wakanda, you’ve got Stacey Abrams out here trying to save democracy, you’ve got Kamala Harris trying to save the country. Like all of this is happening and like black women were really seizing and stepping into their power.

However, that to me was such an incomplete story about who we were. Yes, black women are dynamic, successful, overachievers, but that's not all we are. And also our function in society is not to save everybody. Sometimes the way we can save everybody is by saving us, saving ourselves. And I'm thinking like if all these black women are out here saving everyone else, who is saving us? And so I wanted to create a network that represented the full picture of who black women are. How black women worship, how black women laugh, how black women love, how black women relate to their families. So there were buckets, as I was thinking about a podcast network, that I wanted to try to fill–dynamic black women creators–and just give us the subject matter that I think we’ve really been looking for that explore us in more fullness. So I'm really excited about the network.

Our first two shows launch the first week of November, one of which is called Sanctified, which I mentioned that one of the things I wanted to look at is how black women are worshipping today. Sanctified is a podcast with Lyvonne Briggs. As she describes (I told her I thought this description was so cool), a sex positive womanist preacher and I love that description. And also Deborah Joy Winans, and you know anytime *[inaudible 0:38:07] Winans, you know exactly what family that is from. One of the legacy families in gospel. They're going to really get into some taboo topics that are talked about, both in the pulpit and outside of church. Like talking about purity culture in churches, and marriage, and sexuality and all these other really taboo topics when it comes to how we discuss things within a Christian religious framework. So I'm really excited about that one.

And then another podcast we have launching with these two dynamic hosts of Brittany and Germani, it’s called Black Girl Bravado. They were an existing podcast that we’ve licensed exclusively now to Spotify. They're in the wellness space but this is not your normal sort of wellness space, in the sense like you have your zens, you have your ohms, uh-uh. These sisters ain’t like that. They are coming straight from the hip pocket and talking about self care in a way that I think is super relatable to a lot of women, particularly young women, millennials and zillennials, because they shoot just straight from the hip. For them, listening to Lil’ Kim is probably self care. They're very funny, they're very earnest, genuine, authentic, and just bold, and I love them both. Both these podcasts, I'm so proud that these are our initial offering. So I'm really excited about the possibilities of where this network could be because if I get it to where I envisioned it when I first came to Spotify, this will easily be the biggest thing I've ever accomplished in my career.

Dr. Joy: I love that, thank you for sharing that. What advice would you give to young journalists, early career journalists who may be struggling and want to speak out about injustices but are worried about pushback from their employers?

Jemele: Well, I think you have to let the journalism be your activism. Focus on the craft, on telling good stories, stories that you feel like illuminate what are very pervasive issues in a different way. We know injustice is everywhere but sometimes it's the way you tell a story that gets people to understand the gravity of something happening. I think about a friend of mine, Wesley Lowery, who is a great writer. He was one of the writers during Ferguson, he got arrested, he was right on the scene. But he created this whole lane of looking into all these police killings of black people and created a database, like he did some really good investigative work. It all stemmed from him understanding that when black people are pulled over by the police, our life is at risk, pretty much every single time. And from there, doing the reporting to support what was clearly a very deep societal problem. So if you are a journalist who is in the early stages of your career, you don't have to go into your bosses just spouting opinions; give them a story that they can get behind, that illuminates the issue that you feel like needs to be discussed. Be it police brutality, be it housing discrimination, whatever the topic is–find a story, put a face to it that will get people to maybe buy into an issue in a different way.

Dr. Joy: Such good information, I really appreciate you. And Wesley's work is incredible so I think that's a good example to give people. As we wrap up, can you say a little bit about what you're hoping people will take away from Uphill? What are you wanting people to leave with?

Jemele: Well, it's a few things. I think mostly, if anything, when you read my memoir, you see the numerous challenges I've faced and then you see where I am now. Like a lot of people thought I was born on ESPN. I was like, no, I wasn't! It’s a whole life that happened before I ever get to ESPN. They see sometimes the completed team photo but they have no idea what's going on behind that photo. I hope through anything that people will be inspired to overcome whatever is the challenge in their life, and understanding that, however you grew up, what you did, or what you didn't come from is not a predictor of your future. You are able to control, even in the dire circumstances, a lot more than you think that you can. And so I hope it inspires people to be driven, to be purposeful in whatever it is that they pursue, because that's certainly something that I have been able to lean on in my whole career. My whole life, I should say. I don't know where my life would be if I didn't pursue journalism the way that I did, with such a single minded focus and passion and knowing that nothing was going to stop me from doing this.

I often think it's kind of funny because we hear stories from, you know, entertainers or whatever and how they talk about I sung because I was trying to get up out of poverty. Well, I wrote my way out of poverty. I journalismed my way, if I can make up a word. I journalismed my way up out of poverty. I think that what you should also take away is that if you're passionate about something, you will be the best at it, you will make money. When I was coming out of school, out of college, journalists were making $19,000 a year. That was the average salary. My first year at my first job out of college, I made 22. I was already above the game. A lot of kids, and I caution them against this, they pick careers based off how much money they make. I'm not saying money shouldn't be a factor, but if you pick it based off, “hey, I'm gonna be an engineer because they make a lot of money,” that will never sustain you. You'll be out of engineering within a couple of years because it won't be enough to keep you in it.

And so if you just pursue the things you love to do, those things you love, you will make the money. The money, the success you want, will all come because your love will be able to sustain you during those challenging times in your career and it will also push and drive you to take certain risks and to bet on yourself and those kinds of things. You know, I love this profession now just as much as I did when I was making $30 a story in college. So to me, there's no difference. And so if you can find something that gives you that amount of joy and passion, that's the thing you do and that's the thing that you commit to and focus on. And don't let people stop you from achieving and doing your best.

Dr. Joy: Great advice, thank you for sharing that. Where can we stay connected with you Jemele? What's your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?

Jemele: My social media handles are all the same, just @JemeleHill, so you can certainly keep track of me there. Unbothered Network, we have a website as well, so if people want to go and check it out to find out about the shows launching. Or even if they have podcast submissions themselves. We have people that have submitted original podcast ideas that we take a look at so that it doesn't just go to somebody's email box never to be seen again. We actually do read them. We're always in the market for black women podcasters who feel like they have something to say, feel like they can approach things from a nuanced perspective that they feel like will really add something to the conversation that surrounds being a black woman in America. So yes, they can certainly find me there as well. And most importantly, go buy this book because I'm trying to make a New York Times bestseller list. You could get this book wherever books are sold. Preorder it, get it at Barnes and Noble in the airport, I don't care, just go buy this book. And to borrow something that I saw Oprah does when she buys a book, she buys it for herself and for Gayle so they can discuss it. So do that. Buy for yourself and a friend so y’all can talk about it.

Dr. Joy: Great tips there. Thank you so much for sharing with us today Jamele, I appreciate it.

Jemele: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Jemele was able to share with us today. To learn more about her and to grab your copy of Uphill, visit the show notes at And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here