Monica Kaufman Pearson Chopin Society’s special guest
Will be honored at Chopin Gala at CCOS
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The Chopin Society of Atlanta will return to Country Club of the South Nov. 17 for its annual gala and to honor former WSB-TV news anchor Monica Kaufman Pearson.
The Chopin Society of Atlanta is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting Fryderyk Chopin’s music, advancing the understanding and appreciation of his legacy and promoting the arts in the Metro Atlanta area.
In an exclusive interview with Pearson, writer Bozena U. Zaremba talked with Atlanta’s first lady of television.
Zaremba: “First woman...,” “first African-American…,” “first minority…” — These phrases often come up in your biographies or introductions to your achievements. How difficult was it to be “first”?
Pearson: It was very hard because of the community. The people I worked with were wonderful. John Pruitt was like a brother to me during that time.
But people would call in and say very negative things. People resented me for getting a position they felt should only be for men.
It was not only from the white community; it was also from the black community, who expected me to look and talk and dress in a certain way. But I started speaking at schools, at churches and events, and I always treated people with kindness. So when people got to know me, it changed.
I say all the time I am glad that Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist back then because I might not have been able to maintain my sanity. It was just telephone and handwritten letters back then.
Zaremba: I gather it was harder to break the barriers because you were a woman, not because you were black.
Pearson: Yes, absolutely, because the males on the anchor team were considered authoritative, and when you put a woman in that position, it changes the image. It makes her chief-in-control, and she has the power, and some people were very uncomfortable with that.
Zaremba: What is your greatest contribution in advancing the role of women?
Pearson: I would say it was the story I did on the Georgia High School Association. The GHSA controls all competitions within the school system from band to debates to sports of any kind.
And for almost 82 years (as of the time when I did the story), they had never had a woman on their board of directors, although they were setting the rules for girls’ sports.
So after I did my report, they added women to the board, and at that point they made sure that soccer became a statewide sport for girls. Because of that, girls can now go to college on soccer scholarships.
The same goes for cheerleading. To me, that’s the highlight of my career because it opened the doors of possibilities for young girls who might not be able to go to college except through such scholarships.
Zaremba: What challenges did you face when you started that nowadays women or minorities don’t?
Pearson: Well, they still face them. I hate to say that. We take everything for granted because we live in a large city, so in Atlanta when you look around, all of the TV stations have women anchoring the news, but if you go into smaller cities, where pundits are extremely conservative, you may not see a woman or a minority on the air. So it will be a while before the “first” phrase disappears.
Zaremba: Did being “first” entail a lot of responsibility?
Pearson: Oh, absolutely. But the real responsibility is to do your job as best as you can and not to compare yourself to other people.
You have to be original, you have to be yourself and you have to be, as my mother used to say, twice as good as anybody else. So yes, there are certain pressures, especially if you are black or a woman, or both. Because women in the community will say you’ve got to do well, and people in the black community will say the same thing.
It’s easy to be the first, but it’s hard to maintain the position and set a standard of excellence that will allow someone else to get into that position. So expectations are high, and you have to learn how to say “no” to every speaking engagement request that you receive and select only those that really are important to you and the community.
But you also must set limits on your personal time, because if you don’t, you will overwork yourself and won’t perform as well as people think you should. You cannot be all things to all people.
Chopin Society of Atlanta Gala
Sunday, Nov. 17
Country Club of the South
4100 Old Alabama Road, Johns Creek
Guest of honor: Monica Kaufman Pearson
Tickets: $85, chopinatlanta.org