Zaina Adamu is a creative New Yorker who has a way with words! We recently got to interview her about why she became a journalist, how it felt to win such a prestigious award and what's up next for her.
Who is Zaina Adamu?
I’m a first-generation American whose parents moved from Ghana to the United States to provide a better opportunity for the family they planned to have. I was born and raised in New York and went to Morgan State University where I found my first love in writing. I take great pride in being the first in my family to get a college degree and the first to be named class clown. Oh, and I live for Dominican food, Coldplay and every Jay Z album. I love being silly, cracking jokes and being surrounded by trees.
What made you want to become a journalist?
You know, my path to becoming a journalist made me realize that everything naturally falls into place if you forget what everyone else says and just do what you love. I started off as a political science major in college because it sounded like it would lead to a nice-paying job, but realized early on it wasn’t for me. I knew that I loved reading and writing so I changed my major to English. I had no idea what I would do with an English degree, and got a lot of flak for it, but I took it up anyway.
Literally, one year into studying English, one of my professors suggested I take journalism as a concentration. I signed up for some courses and it was a ripple effect. I loved storytelling and it showed in my work. I started writing for the school paper, which landed me an internship at a local newspaper, which led to my first job as a staff writer, which helped me land my dream job at CNN.
You graduated with a BA in English and Journalism from Morgan State. How was your experience attending a HBCU?
It’s a time in my life that I wouldn’t take back for the world. I look back at my time at Morgan and realized that what I learned inside the classroom was only one component of the full college experience. I discovered firsthand about the breadth and diversity of my race. I learned about the strength of our ancestors, the trials, the triumphs, the continuous struggle. But most of all, even with all of our complexities, I learned that Black people are resilient. We have a rich history with a beautiful and fascinating culture. I took classes with students from Trinidad and Tobago, England, Nigeria, California – the list goes on – but we all identified as one. I'm pretty lucky to have studied there.
In your book "20,000 Words: A Guide To Finding Peace In A Cluttered World," you help others realize that the road to tranquility isn't as complex as people like to make it. What are some simple changes that people can make today to start living a more peaceful life?
Well, I get asked this a lot and I found that most of us overthink everything. Our thoughts end up clouding how we view life around us and we start perceiving things in a way that isn’t reality. It’s like looking at everything around you with smudged glasses on – you can’t see clearly, then you form these false perceptions in your head.
Simply enough, one thing you can do today is to go somewhere quiet and take a deep breath. It helps to get outside with the elements and reflect on the essence of what’s bothering you, then thinking of realistic, concrete ways to fix it. If you feel you’ve done everything you can to no avail, sometimes it’s best to be still and do nothing. We tend to feel the need to fix everything immediately, but what happens most of the time is that we end up becoming the mouse on the wheel who’s running but getting nowhere.
It’s okay to not have all the answers. You are allowed to feel frustration. We are human beings and we aren’t designed to live a life free from sadness. In fact, it’s quite normal to not have it all together. A peaceful life doesn’t mean problems don’t come your way. It means being prepared for those problems so that they don’t overwhelm you when they come along.
What did you win a Peabody for and how was that experience?
In 2012, my CNN colleagues and I were honored with a Peabody Award for our coverage of the wave of uprisings throughout the Middle East, better known as the Arab Spring. I was honored to work alongside journalists from across the world to deliver news that made a revolutionary impact.
Winning an award of that magnitude made me realize the power we as journalists have to tell meaningful stories that can galvanize change. There's no doubt that our reporting helped shed a light on what was happening in that part of the world. It's the most fulfilling, most rewarding feeling to know I played a part in that.
What's up next for Zaina?
Without saying too much, be on the lookout for a new writing venture I am about to take on early next year. I’m also looking forward to diving in the entrepreneurial realm and exploring what opportunities lie there for me. But most importantly, I’m excited to take a minute to just do me. This year’s been super productive so I plan on traveling more and taking some time for myself. As I’m getting older, I'm learning that I can’t help anyone if I’m not helping myself, and by helping myself, I mean chilling off the coast of some cool country, writing on the beach and drinking out of coconuts.
Be sure to check out Zaina's website to see more of her work.