In celebration of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Kent State Alumna and part-time adjunct instructor Ile-Ife Okantah to discuss her journalistic work in the entertainment industry.
Okantah graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication and a double minor in fashion media and public relations. She then graduated in 2021 with a master's degree in journalism and digital media. During her undergraduate years, Okantah served as co-editor-in-chief of UHURU magazine and presented a TEDx Talk on code-switching in the black community.
While in her master's program, instead of doing a traditional thesis, Okantah did a series of professional projects where she explored what it meant to be a culture writer and to write about black culture.
“I did four essays that would solidify myself as a cultural critic, and then I did a research element that showed how black culture permeates every aspect of our lives and popular culture,” Okantah said.
Specializing as a cultural critic freelancer
Through a freelance newsletter called "Study Hall," that sends freelancers a weekly newsletter with writing opportunities for different magazines, Okantah was able to write for magazines such as Vulture and GQ. She specializes in cultural criticism and the intersection of Black and popular culture.
“Writing for a publication attached to the New York Magazine [Vulture] was so huge to do as one of the first things in my professional writing career,” Okantah said. Vulture needed someone to do a recap of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Okantah pitched her idea to them.
“They had originally wanted someone to fill in for four weeks, and the woman who normally does the TV show recaps didn’t want to do it anymore, so Vulture gave me the whole season,” Okantah said. Okantah now regularly recaps different Black-centered tv shows for the Vulture. She has recapped The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Rapshit, Atlanta, Abbott Elementary, Kindred, and more. Okantah is currently working on recapping the TV show Snowfall.
“My byline in GQ was big; it was an amazing opportunity,” Okantah said. “I got it because of the work I was doing for the Vulture; GQ reached out to me and asked if I wanted to recap the TV show P-Valley.” When she’s not writing for the Vulture or GQ magazine, she’s teaching Media Power and Culture online at Kent State.
“I enjoy teaching Media Power and Culture because I love interacting with the students,” Okantah said, “I truly believe everything I did in school set me up for success farther than other people in journalism.” Okantah accredits the extracurricular activities she did with how successful she’s been in her career.
“I like that I can show students there are actually careers you can get out of this education besides working for a newspaper or corporate type of work,” Okantah said. “There is the possibility to get out of that, don’t be discouraged from trying other paths that aren’t presented to you at school.” With Okantah teaching Media Power and Culture, she hopes students are inspired by her work and encouraged to try something new than the “black and white” news.
“Don’t get discouraged from no’s; you’ll probably hear them a lot in entertainment work,” Okantah said. “You have to remind yourself that with freelance work; you are putting yourself out there for people to pick up your work or not, and you have to keep up the perseverance.” Okantah wants students to remember not to put their eggs in one basket; they need backup plans in case something doesn’t work out.
“Remind yourself to do your best with what you have,” Okantah said. “You're not superhuman, and it’s okay to pick up another job, and it’s okay for your career not to be the end all be all in the beginning.” Okantah also wants students to know they don’t have to be stuck working for traditional media outlets after graduating with a degree in media, journalism, or even public relations.
“I am a pop culture person,” Okantah said. “I believe there is so much in our society that you can take out of popular culture, entertainment, and things that aren’t just the black-and-white news. It can really help push society forward, and I want to show students that.”
Ramona Hood, CEO and President of FedEx Custom Critical, proved that no feat is ever too large as she told her inspiring and insightful career journey to members of PRSSA Kent.
Hood began as an entry-level employee at FedEx Custom Critical. She wanted a job with consistent hours and reliable employment as a 19-year-old single mother raising her daughter. She began to notice, however, after a few years of employment, that professional growth in this company was possible through hard work.
“A lot of the leaders had taken notice of me because I was a person interested in learning more than what my job was,” she said, “I began to cross-train and support when there was a need for that.”
Hood proved herself in her mentorship and leadership skills throughout the years and eventually took her role as President and CEO at the end of 2019.
Creating lasting relationships and connections can help professionals and students build networking skills. Hood stated that sometimes a small network could be just as powerful as a big one.
“It's about quality, not quantity,” she said. “You don't need to have this large network, but it's really about how you can help that person and how they can help you.”
With networking also comes advocacy, especially for a young professional. Hood spoke about the need to go after what you want, even when times can feel uncomfortable.
“The way that you advocate for yourself is really understanding how to stretch yourself and how to share the talent you have,” she said. “Your ability to have your brand out there requires you to share what you're doing and also what you want to do with others.”
Hood inspired a go-getter attitude in our filled First Energy lecture hall that night and motivated students to realize that no dream is ever too big to accomplish.
Hood sparked the go-getter sensation in our fully filled First Energy lecture hall that night and inspired students that no dream is ever too big to accomplish.
Most of us know the PR faculty at Kent is a tight-knit group, but you may not know that Associate Professor Dr. Cheryl Ann Lambert was approached by Professor Michele Ewing to teach at Kent State.
Lambert grew up in Springfield, IL and throughout her education and career has lived in Philadelphia, Knoxville, Chicago and Boston. Her biggest accomplishment is running a marathon in Chicago.
Me: “Is there something you've dreamed about doing for a long time?”
Lambert: “Yes, I would love to run a marathon but this is with the caveat. I ran the Chicago marathon back in 1998, but it's been so long that I would need to get back into running and training and consistency.”
Outside of Franklin Hall, you can find Dr. Lambert watching movies on a multitude of streaming services. Her favorites are Marvel and horror movies. She’s currently watching The Last of Us, “in spite of herself.”
“I have heard before that if you like scary movies that there are certain kinds of monsters that you do not like. I do not like zombies and yet, The Last of Us is about a sort of a zombie-like outbreak,” Lambert said.
One thing you probably don’t know about Dr. Lambert is that it took her an extra year and a half to get her bachelor’s degree in English because she transferred schools. “I'm sure there's some cool saying about that, you know, just stick to it, stick to it or it doesn't matter how you start as long as you finish,” Lambert said.
Me: “What is your best advice for students?”
Lambert: “I would say to remember your reputation has ripples outward.”
Dr. Lambert connected this back to her love of superheroes with the Spiderman quote “with great power comes great responsibility.” In PR we have great power, but we also have a responsibility to be ethical.
Lambert: “You want to be somebody that is reliable and responsible. So just keep that in mind that you're shaping your reputation all the time. But the great thing is that you can also reshape it. You know, you can slip up, change, make a mistake and then change.”
Professor Moore’s dream day includes shopping. “I have a shopping problem,” she said. “I have a problem going into Costco.”
Realistically… don’t we all? If you have ever had Professor Moore in class, you know as well as I do she’s goofy, giggly and one of the most understanding people you’ll ever meet.
If she weren’t a public relations professional teaching us about crisis communications and everything digital, she would be a pop star.
“I want to be a Taylor Swift or something,” she said. “I remember when I was a little girl, I used to sing in the backyard hoping somebody would discover me.” I mean … who didn’t?
When asked if she could choose anyone to host for dinner, she would choose Harry Styles. I am starting to sense a theme here (and yes, I interviewed Stefanie Moore, not her daughter).
Her favorite thing to cook is anything her children would get seconds for, specifically chili mac. Do you think she would serve Harry Styles chili mac? I wonder how he would react.
In true Professor Moore fashion, every question I asked got answered with something like “that is such a hard question.” But she knew her favorite ice cream flavor: mint chocolate chip.
The most shocking thing of all: she loves to bike! She did “Pedal to the Point,” a biking fundraiser for multiple sclerosis starting in Middleburg Heights and ending at Cedar Point two years in a row. Except she did not bike back the second time; her husband picked her up.
Talking to Professor Moore is always a fun time, and she will usually say something funny or squawk like a chicken (as she did on my first day of Digital Analytics in Advertising and PR). In all seriousness, ask her a silly question every once in a while and you may just get a really fun answer.
By: Macy Rosen
Did you know Associate Professor Luke Armour is in a band? No, I’m not making this up, he plays the bass guitar!
Aside from public relations, Armour is very passionate about music … and peanuts with shells?
I know what you’re thinking: “Professor Armour tells horrible dad jokes, and all of his classes are lectures, how can he be interesting?” Walk into his office, and that is interesting enough (kidding). But seriously, someone needs to help him clean his office.
Armour has an interesting story. He currently teaches Public Relations Tactics and Case Studies.
“I can’t pick a favorite class to teach. In Case Studies, I like watching students go ‘oh I get this.’ In PR Tactics, I like watching students progress in their presentation skills. I have a favorite piece of each class,” Armour said.
Similar to classes, Armour could not choose a favorite colleague (to be expected).
Me: “Who is your favorite colleague? Who brightens your day every time you see them?”
Armour: “All of PRKent. There are six of us, and I love all of us. It’s amazing. We all get along, and we all work together. We help each other. It’s amazing.”
Me: “Do you feel like you would consider them your friends?”
Armour: “Absolutely. Yeah.”
Although he expressed his love for his students and colleagues, Armour said in another life, he would be a rockstar with long hair. (This was an interesting thought, considering his current situation, but I support it.)
Speaking of being a rockstar, don’t forget he plays the guitar … in a band. With other teachers. What is this band called, you ask? Drum roll, please … Mental Faculties!
Armour said he has always been into music and playing instruments, and he enjoys playing with fellow teachers. He claims he tells us these things on the first day of class, but all I can remember is hearing about Star Wars and superheroes.
As students, we oftentimes forget our professors have lives outside of teaching. Next time you have a few minutes after class, consider asking your professor what they like to do in their free time, it may surprise you.
New dad joke by Armour: “Do you know why I like jokes about elevators? Because they work on so many levels” (cue the dad laughter).