‘Being Black in Lincoln’ receives Kennedy journalism award

Thursday, May 26, 2022 - 12:00pm

group photo, being Black in Lincoln

Twelve students in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications took home the College Journalism Award at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Book and Journalism Awards on May 24 for the “Being Black in Lincoln” depth-reporting project.

The award recognizes outstanding achievement in collegiate journalism that focuses on social injustices and human rights. This is the second time a depth-reporting project from the college has been honored with a Kennedy award.

In 2017, a Husker reporting team won the College Journalism Award and the grand prize for "The Wounds of Whiteclay: Nebraska's Shameful Legacy.” The project explored the issues and impact of alcohol sales in the small community of Whiteclay. It was the first time in the event's 49-year history that the top prize went to a college group.

Joe Starita, professor emeritus of journalism, was the editor for “Wounds of White Clay” and for this year’s award-winning project.

He and Jennifer Sheppard, assistant professor of practice, created “Being Black in Lincoln” to shed light on the reality that the Black community experiences in Lincoln.

Students applied to be in the class by submitting a 500-word essay explaining why they should be chosen. Starita and Sheppard sifted through the applications and picked 12 students to write a dozen profiles on Black residents of Lincoln.

“The bar was set pretty high on those essays,” Starita said. “They had to convince us that we should take them (into the class), and we were flabbergasted by the energy, the insight, the smarts and how clean the writing was in the essays among those we ultimately selected.”

The purpose of the profiles was to share the stories of Lincoln’s Black citizens who have overcome obstacles that their white counterparts don’t encounter.

The class launched during the spring 2021 semester, and the stories were published in the Lincoln Journal Star last summer.

With Lincoln being predominantly white, the students knew they wanted to highlight the Black community’s experience since most residents have not experienced the isolation that can come from being a person of color.

Sheppard said she knows the success of the project doesn’t stop at winning this award; it lies in the community’s response. She said she hopes the project will lead to Lincoln becoming a center of social justice.

Following is a list of students who were part of the project, listed by hometown, with their year in school and major(s).


  • Jaqueline Martinez, May graduate, advertising and public relations
  • Nick McConnell, senior, journalism
  • Zach Wendling, senior, journalism and political science

Morse Bluff:

  • Erika Jensen, junior, child, youth and family studies


  • Evelyn Mejia, junior, broadcasting and Spanish


  • Dillon Galloway, junior, advertising and public relations, and journalism
  • Jason Han, senior, journalism and English
  • Nia Johnson, junior, broadcasting


  • Victoria Baker, senior, journalism
Elsewhere in the U.S.:

San Diego, California:

  • Trinity Saez, junior, marketing

Parker, Colorado:

  • Drake Keeler, May graduate, journalism
  • Lauren Penington, senior, journalism and political science