DECEMBER 7, 2021




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

Looking Back After 20 Years at BPM

It’s been 20 years since I was hired as the new program grants manager for the National Black Programming Consortium, now known as Black Public Media. I felt the butterflies in my stomach and experienced the tinge of imposter syndrome. I had just spent the last nine months as a contractor for Creative Capital helping to launch the MultiArts Fund. Before that, I ran AIVF’s membership program and was the artistic director of a youth theater group. I turned down a job offer at NYU’s Television Center because I wanted to work at a Black-led company that put Black stories and Black artists first. I was qualified, but nervous all the same.

I stood at the door, a little out of breath after the long climb up two flights of stairs. I grabbed the door handle, turned it, and pushed. It was locked. I knocked, once, twice, thrice. I called out “Hello?….Helloooo?!” I tried twisting the doorknob again, but it was definitely locked. I stood there frustrated and annoyed. Why weren’t they open? Why wasn’t anybody there to meet me? There were no iPhones back then, just my pink razor flip phone, and the only number I had was to the office, and clearly, nobody was inside. Should I have taken that NYU job offer instead? I could walk away right now and keep job hunting. I sighed, then sat down on the top step and decided to wait.

I was joining an organization that already had a rich history of supporting Black makers and distributing Black content. By December 2001, NBPC had completed another rendition of its Prized Pieces Film Festival, where it screened Spike Lee’s A Huey P. Newton Story. It had funded Orlando Bagwell’s Matters of Race, which was still in production; and the previously funded Marcus Garvey: Look for Me In the Whirlwind, by Stanley Nelson; and Ralph Bunch: An American Odyssey, by William Greaves, which had premiered on PBS. Among the 77 applications submitted to NBPC’s Open Call, there were proposals from some of today’s award- winning makers including Shola Lynch (Shirley Chisholm: Unbought & Unbossed), Marco Williams (Two Towns of Jasper), and Rodney Evans (Brother to Brother).

Sitting on those steps 20 years ago, I didn’t realize how much was waiting for me. Working at NBPC, now Black Public Media, presented several opportunities to learn and grow as a professional as well as a person. Of course, with mentors Mable Haddock and Jacquie Jones, colleagues Kay Shaw, Christian Ugbode, Terry Scott, Denise Greene, Lisa Osborne, and Alexis Aggrey, and producers such as Duana Butler, Angela Tucker, Phil Bertelsen, Michele Stephenson, Joe Brewster, and Thomas Allen Harris, how could I not? I’ve made mistakes along the way and suffered some personal losses, too.  Yet, working at BPM has also taught me the importance of resilience, which is why I’m still here working to uphold our mission.

This year, despite the pandemic, BPM has:

*Supported 23 content creators via our 360 Incubator and BPMplus programs,

*Committed over $550K to content development,

*Released the 13th season of AfroPoP,

*Had seven funded programs premier on Indie Lens, POV, American Masters, and American Experience,

*Had three BPMplus funded projects premiere at festivals and online publications,

*Supported Houston’s second Regional Black Media Story Summit,

*Established a new partnership with MoAD to promote the work of Black makers,

*Co-produced the Technically Brilliant Show to spotlight Black talent in the emerging media field, and

*Expanded staff capacity to bolster fundraising and engagement activities.

As 2021 comes to a close, and I look back on my first day at NBPC, I’m thankful I decided to wait.

We invite you to join us for a virtual Holiday Party, on the BPM Topia Platform, Tues., Dec. 21, 6pm - 8PM EST. To register, click here and you’ll receive a password to the platform on the morning of the 21st.

Black Public Media is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and Acton Family Giving.  For more information about underwriting and contributions, please contact Alisa Norris (Alisa@ blackpublicmedia.org). To donate, click here! In addition, you can donate to BPM through your Amazon purchases by going to smile.amazon.com/ch/31-1335950.

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