Curry Chicken or Chicken Curry?

With Christmas just being a week away, I think we're all due for a few Christmas miracles, right? Parang is in the air, ponche creme is flowing..the mood is right for a seasonal surprise. Would you believe that I was able to lay the centuries-long debate of curry chicken vs. chicken curry within an hour? Yes man. Our latest feature from Guyana chose curry chicken over chicken curry lol Anyway, leh we go with the interview!

Melissa Noel, Award-Winning Reporter, Producer & Host


“I had the best of both worlds. My parents instilled a strong sense of Guyanese pride within me, while allowing me to explore American culture; I never had to choose. It was just as important for me to be involved in what was going on here, as it was for me to participate in events back home, like Mashramani. The only time things got hard was in school, when kids would pick on me for things like bringing curry and roti to lunch instead of a subway sandwich, for example. However, I was instilled with this strong sense of self, that I never let those experiences get to me. Instead, it pushed me further in wanting to share more about my culture and where my family is from. America is a melting pot, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your culture behind. It means that you should continue to share who you are with people.”


“I became a journalist because of my grandmother. God bless Laura Benjamin. I call her my Guyanese Gold. She was the epitome of grace and style. When we settled in New Jersey, my grandmother would send me to a West Indian market called Joe’s Market (which is still open to this day) every week to pick up a Guyanese newspaper. Every week, she wanted to know what was going on back home. She would have me read the paper to her and the way I saw that woman’s face light up when I started to was like she won a million dollars. I would always ask “Why are you so happy?” And she would say “Because, I still feel connected to home. My Guyana, El Dorado ” And I knew from that moment, at the age of eight, that I wanted to report and make people feel connected to a story in the same way that my grandmother felt connected when hearing the news.”


“I stuck with it. My dad would sit me down and have me watch the world news with Peter Jennings every night. I participated in this pre-college program from middle school throughout high school that took place in colleges throughout New Jersey. They had opportunities for me to write articles, create magazines, attend  journalism workshops, etc. This was my life every weekend and every summer. But, when I got to Howard University, everything fell into place…”


“Howard University is my heart and soul. I owe that university so much. What it gave me, I could never pay back. As a Black person, it taught me such a sense of community. Your success is not your success alone, but that of your community. Those four years were the best four years of my life so far. Howard gave me a platform. My first semester as a freshman, I started hosting the Island Hopping show. It really catapulted me into reporting on Caribbean stories. Mondays and Wednesday, 2-4pm, I hosted the Island Hopping show and got to do everything from creating news segments on what was happening in the Caribbean and in the Diaspora to interviewing  the likes of Damian Marley. I couldn’t imagine any other place where I could have gotten to do that as a freshman, other than Howard University.”


“After Howard, I took a full-time position at ABC News working as a news associate. I was worked my way up, but after my experiences at Howard, I knew that I wanted more. I wanted to focus on Caribbean stories. I was always told that I had to pay my dues. But, I realized that if I would have stayed in that position, I would have gotten further and further away from what I truly wanted. After a year at ABC, I went to grad school to further my multimedia skills. After I left grad school, I went to NBC working part-time as a producer and eventually full-time. Then, again, I realized that I really wanted to focus on the Caribbean, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. There were no Caribbean correspondent positions in mainstream media, in the same way that you would have correspondents in other parts of the world. I knew that the only way I would be able to have the flexibility to pick up and leave when I needed to do stories in the Caribbean was to become a freelance journalist. I had to prove to people that there was worth in Caribbean stories and it wasn’t just a place to report on natural disasters.”


“I quit my full-time reporting job and my parents thought I was mad. First of all, my parents always wanted me to be a dermatologist. They supported my journalism career, but they didn’t understand it. When I worked at ABC, they were confused that after a few years of working, they were like  why aren’t you anchoring the news like Diane Sawyer. When I told them that after 4 years in the industry, I was planning on leaving my position, they thought I was crazy. I didn’t want to just report , I wanted to make an impact on my community. For a long time I was “Melissa Noel of ABC” or “Melissa Noel of NBC.” I no longer wanted that. I simply wanted to  be known as Melissa Noel and let my brand  and passion for reporting on marginalized communities and bringing more Caribbean stories to the forefront to  speak for itself, no matter the outlet.”


“Many people say that I’m lucky because they see me traveling around the Caribbean.  I do feel blessed that I’m able to do what exactly what I set out to do.  But, when I started this, I was spending money from my savings. When I would pitch a Caribbean story to major outlets,  although they thought the ideas were great, I had to pay out of pocket to get there and get it done. Caribbean reporting was not often in the budget. I would stay at family and friends, stay at friends’ of friends houses in the Caribbean, do my stories, then come back to the U.S. For two years, I was spending money, not really making it. But, I knew that I had to cement my brand, prove that people did want to see these stories and that regular representation of the region and its many diaspora communities are important. The role I have now as Caribbean correspondent for several major outlets is one that I hold with a great sense of pride and responsibility. I really love what I do”


“Eventually, I kept hearing things like “Hey, your story did the best all week. When are you going back to the Caribbean?” Then I was able to leverage things in my favor and ask for the network to cover expenses. It went from me footing the bill for everything, to my editors finally saying “Okay, we will provide funding for your travel and stories.”


Melissa Noel's interview is brought to you by this amazing Guyanese paraphernalia.

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