In early 2010, I introduced many of you to “Happy Black Girl Day!”, a holiday created by Brooklyn diva extraordinaire and fellow blogger Sister Toldja. This once-a-month holiday allows us to take a break from the constant media assault on Black women and to celebrate the sisterhood with showers of positivity. The way I choose to celebrate HBGD is by highlighting an extraordinary and prototypical Black woman.
October Prototype: LaToya Foster, DC Radio Host of “The Washington Insider,” and First Black Woman in her Generation to Host a Sunday Morning Political Talk Show, “In the Know”
When asked what her dream was as a child, LaToya Foster laughed and said, “I wanted to be Oprah when I grew up!” Many little girls dream of growing up to be like Oprah — but D.C. native LaToya Foster is well on her way. She is the first African American woman in her generation to host a Sunday morning political talk show on television; her radio show, “The Washington Insider,” is in talks for syndication, she is a contributor to FoxNews.com, has been a panelist on MSNBC, Fox News, Black Entertainment Television, Radio One and XM Radio, and she is putting the finishing touches on her first book, to be published in 2011.
And none of this is by accident. LaToya has always had a passion for people, hope for the disenfranchised, and a dream to break barriers in any way she could:
I always knew I liked engaging conversation with people. I like to inspire, inform, entertain and working in the media was a good fit. It gave me an opportunity to engage the disadvantaged in something they’ve often been disenfranchised in, so I got started really early.
LaToya credits her grandmother as the inspiration to find her voice:
My grandmother played a major role in my life. She’s deceased now. She raised me for the most part because my parents were on the road a lot. My grandma’s house was my stability. She taught me how to read when I was 3 and 4 years old, so that by the time I got to kindergarten, I was reading on a 4th grade level. I had a very sheltered upbringing and became an old soul, along with my grandmother. I couldn’t go outside so my outlet became entertaining myself. I remember sitting with my grandmother reading poetry and she just stopped me and said, “No, LaToya, read it with some feeling, read it with expression!” So I did.
She and my mother both always pushed me to pursue my dreams. My mother used to say: “Nothing comes to sleepers but dreams!” She said ” ‘I cant’ never could. You have to carve out your own niche and pave your own way. If a door isn’t open you have to find a window with a crack.” And I kept that with me.
LaToya aggressively pursued the entertainment industry, first by breaking into the music business, where she learned that as a woman — and particularly, a woman of short stature — she was going to have to fight her way to the top:
I broke into the music industry because my stepfather was working in the industry. I was going on tour with artists and seeing that there are actually careers in the music and entertainment industry. At that point in time, people my age weren’t thinking about that. And since I was here in the nation’s capitol, people were expecting me to be in the government, a lawyer, a doctor. But my stepfather showed me that that this was really attainable. I wanted to know more, so I began to intern with record labels and I became interested in journalism because I didn’t see a lot of African American female representatives. But Black women were really absent from sports reporting, so that is where I focused my energy next. When I broke into sports as a woman standing 5 feet, I knew I had people standing at least a foot over me, so I had to be aggressive. It was a balance trying to be aggressive yet ladylike at the same time. But no one can stand in your way when you’re trying to achieve your goals. I might be 5 feet, but no one is going to walk over me.
From the music industry to journalism and on to television, LaToya visualized her future and prayed to God for the courage to reach it:
I always knew television was the next step, but I had no idea how I was going to get there. I remember dropping to my knees and praying to God, saying “I don’t know how I’m going to get there but You have given me this vision, I can see myself hosting a Sunday morning talk show because there’s no other Black woman out here doing it, so just please send me this opportunity.” Literally one week later, an opportunity came to appear on a T.V. program as a guest. Then I was asked to come on twice more, and then I was asked to come on full time as the host and producer of the talk show that aired on ABC 7, “In The Know.” I became the first Generation X African American to host a Sunday morning talk show, exactly like I envisioned.
But LaToya didn’t stop once she reached her goal. Instead, she applied every ounce of determination that it took to get her on T.V. with her throughout her career as a host. Most notably,
What I learned in the entertainment industry was to ask myself, “What’s the worst thing you can do to me? Tell me ‘no?'” If I’m told no, I knew I wouldn’t be any worse off than I was before I asked, but closed mouths don’t get fed. And just because you tell me no right now, doesn’t mean it will be no tomorrow or no ten minutes from now. I took that attitude with me into the political arena.
When she was out on the U.S. presidential campaign trail in 2008, LaToya didn’t let, rain, snow, stairs, or shoes get in her way of interviewing the candidates she was after.
I was at a hotel and it was snowing and I saw John Edwards way down the stairs in front of me. I had to catch him, but I couldn’t do it in my heels. I kicked those bad boys off and ran down those stairs and out the door barefoot in the snow and I caught him and he gave me my interview! It was brief, but I got him!
But you also have to know when to fold ‘em. Mitt Romney‘s team was not playing with me, and I could not get an interview with him.
But no one was harder to reach than then-Senator Barack Obama.
My crew and I had been out there on the campaign trail interviewing all of the other candidates down in South Carolina, but it was so difficult to get to Senator Obama. I was trying and trying and it was just not working out. I was working with his campaign and they were was doing their part and we were doing ours, but Obama was just pulled in so many directions, and we just didn’t get the interview. So, we came home from South Carolina defeated. I walked in my house and my mother, who had come up to DC to stay with me awhile, asked, “Did you get him?” I told her no, I didn’t get him. She said, “Well I guess you better turn around and go back and get him, and don’t come back until you do.” Here she was in my house telling me I can’t come in until I get my interview! So, I looked up his schedule and saw that the next day he was going to be in Alabama. I got online and booked my flight, and told my mother I’d see her tomorrow. It’s the weekend, my crew was tired, we were trying to regroup and it was just a mess. But I took her advice because my mother has never steered me in the wrong direction.
I waited for hours after a big rally at the University of Alabama, but he was not doing interviews that day except for one with CNN. I was able to connect with some of his advisers who remembered me from Washington and they went and asked him if he would do the interview. He came out and said “You came all the way down here from Washington to get this interview?” He looked at his watch and he said “Get your camera crew over here. I’ve only got about five minutes but we’ll do the best we can.” He went and got a “Change We Can Believe In” poster and hung it up behind him as a backdrop for the interview and he kept true to his word. He gave me the time that he had and the rest is history! The next day he was endorsed by Senator [Ted] Kennedy and he just soared out of the stratosphere at that point. I know I wouldn’t have been able to get to him after that. So mama definitely didn’t steer me wrong! He went out of his way for that interview and I’ll never forget him for that.
LaToya is now the dynamic radio personality for the Sunday morning political show “The Washington Insider,” and is in talks to host yet another show.
She uses her radio show to promote causes that are near and dear to her heart. Particularly, LaToya has championed the cause of forgotten foster children. She would regularly start her show by allowing foster children to introduce themselves to D.C., in the hopes that someone would hear their voice and their story and permanently adopt them.
Raising awareness about these children in foster care is so important. What people need to realize is that there are over half a million children in foster care, and most are African American. These kids are out there and they need help.When I looked at these children, the idea of living out of a bag, being tossed from home to home, to feeling like you’re just a check for someone, no one really loves you. As a person who had numerous aunts and uncles and sisters and my mother and father and grandmother to love me, I wanted to be a part of making a difference in their lives. These kids were being so open and honest about their lives, saying “I just don’t want to go to a home where my parents are on drugs, or there’s alcoholism.” Hearing there stories does something to you that I cant even explain. They’re so young and strong. A lot of them you could tell they were going to on to do amazing things, and others you could tell just were not going to come out of this okay.
I just wanted to give them a voice. And that’s why the radio was so important it gave a voice to the least the last and the lost, the voice for the voiceless, I use that opportunity to make I hope that as a result of that some of them were able to get good homes.
This is why LaToya does what she does — for all of those forgotten children, and for all of the lives in this world who might benefit from her fulfilling her purpose.
Being a black woman in this field, is a special challenge. But you have to go out and pursue what’s yours because the opportunity is not going to fall in your lap. Life doesn’t work like that. If you don’t chase your dreams, you will live your worst nightmares. Chase your dreams like your life is on the line — because it is. And not just your life: The choices you make today not only impact your life, but others’ lives, as well. It’s not about me, but its about impacting what the people who come behind me see, what other young Black women see. So if I’ve got to take my shoes off and run, I’m glad to do it.
This is what she hopes her legacy will be:
Aside from wanting to be Oprah — I hope that I can encourage people to look at their set backs and their challenges as new and better opportunities, that “A Set Back is a Set Up for a Come Up.” You might be asking, “Why was I fired from this job? Why did my husband walk out on me and leave me in this situation with children?” or whatever the case may be. I want women to see that there is a light at the end of this tunnel and that we each have a unique purpose, so what God allows to happen to us, happens for a reason and elevates us to a to a number of new and exciting opportunities. So, be grateful that God is not placing you in a position that you thought you wanted. You never know what you’ve been delivered from. Don’t ever look back. Look forward, and look up. That’s what I hope I’ve done with my life, and I hope I can encourage someone to do the same.
What we can learn from LaToya: With God, impossible is nothing; Chase your dreams, even if you have to run barefoot in the snow, because the world depends on it — so you better not come home until its done!
Barrier-breaker and dream-maker, LaToya Foster is the next LaToya Foster, and: The Prototype.