Nia-Malika Henderson talks impostor syndrome: ‘You really have to talk yourself up’

‘I think women, women of color, and those from smaller groups go through impostor syndrome when you really have to talk yourself up,’ says Henderson

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Nia-Malika Henderson knew she belonged in the newsroom.

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The CNN broadcast journalist may have come from a small town but she never let that stop her from dreaming big. During a recent sit down with theGrio, Henderson opens up about how she maneuvered while covering Donald Trump’s presidency, unexpectedly becoming a mother during the first days of the pandemic, and the book she is writing about Shirley Chisholm.

Nia-Malika Henderson (Provided)

“It’s a challenge when you are the only one,” said Henderson to theGrio earlier this month. During her early days, she kept a note in her reporter’s notebook that said ‘You belong,’ as a reminder that regardless of being one of the few Black women in broadcast journalism, she was where she belonged.

“I think women, women of color and those from smaller groups go through imposter syndrome, when you really have to talk yourself up.”

Henderson was born in Hopkins, South Carolina, a small rural town made up of mostly working-class Black families admiring women like the late journalist Gwen Ifill.

“I looked up to her growing up and I still do,” says Henderson. Ifill was the first African-American woman to host a nationally televised U.S. public affairs show.

Henderson got her start in print journalism, eventually landing at The Washington Post.

The Women's Media Center 2015 Women's Media Awards - Arrivals
Journalist Gwen Ifill accepts a Lifetime Achievement award on November 5, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for The Women’s Media Center)

“By finding a community of people who came before you… that’s how I overcame being the only one,” says the Yale and Columbia University graduate.

Henderson also touched on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. As a seasoned reporter, she could, unfortunately, foresee that the day would lead to deaths.

“I know American history, I know where the backlash of this type of progress has led to. White rage is a very powerful force in American history if you think about the ways that it has manifested itself throughout our history.”

Henderson is based in Washington, D.C. She remembers leaving work that day, going home to her family, and watching the event play out on TV but says she felt like it played out in slow motion.

Five people lost their lives that day.

Despite the darkness 2020 brought to the country, Henderson found light. A few days into March she received a text message from her wife announcing that a woman from Kentucky had chosen them to adopt her daughter.

“She was a tiny baby and only weighed about five pounds when we brought her home,” Henderson said. She says new motherhood was challenging in the beginning due to the shutdown and that because the baby had come unexpectedly, the couple was not prepared. But everything fell into place and baby Bella just turned one.

“It was like building a plane as it’s in the air, but she is thriving and she is the joy of all of our lives.”

Henderson’s parents were heavily involved in politics. Some of her earliest memories involve her parents fighting to have the Confederate flag removed from the State building and joining her father for marches. So it makes perfect sense that Henderson is currently working on a book about the life of New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president.

Members Of Congress Remember Shirley Chisholm
A U.S. Capitol Police Honor guard participates in a memorial service for former U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm on February 15, 2005 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“I was listening to an interview and they asked her what she wants to be remembered for and she said, ”I want to be remembered as the woman who dared to be herself.'”

Henderson says the phrase is getting her through the project as she’s figuring out how she can use Chisholm’s story to inspire other women.

“At the intersection of racism and sexism we do have a tendency to curb certain parts of ourselves and put ourselves in a box because we think that is what the dominant society demands from us,” says Henderson.

“But for this woman who was born in the 1920s, her mission in life, her accomplishment in life, was that she could be her full self.”   

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When we asked Henderson what we can expect next from her she simply responded with:

“Shirley Chisholm book, baby! God willing by next Women’s History Month, I’ll be done with this book.”

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