theGrio’s Washington D.C. Gala was a ‘front-row seat to history’

One of theGrio's youngest writers unpacks what it's like to be given a seat at the table for one of the most exclusive Black events in Washington, D.C.

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What do you get when you put government officials, journalists, and reality show stars together in one room? I’ll tell you: a night to remember. 

On Saturday night, I, a lifestyle writer and one of the youngest staff members here at theGrio, attended theGrio’s Washington D.C. Gala, presented by Byron Allen at the National Museum of African American History and Culture — and had to pinch myself all night to ensure I was not dreaming. Despite having been born and raised in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area (a.k.a the “DMV”) and being familiar with the political scene, nothing could have prepared me for running into U.S. Representative Maxine Waters in the restroom or seeing New York Mayor Eric Adams and Maryland Governor Wes Moore hype each other up to DJ Ty Alexander’s mix. 

Byron Allen Presents the Washington D.C. Gala, White House Correspondents Dinner, Gayle King, A Seat at the Table, Black journalists, Black politicians, Byron Allen, Allen Media Group,
Maryland Governor Wes Moore attends as Byron Allen & his Allen Media Group Celebrate Gayle King at the Washington D.C. Gala after The White House Correspondents Dinner at National Museum Of African American History & Culture on April 29, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Richard Chapin Downs Jr./Getty Images)

“We have to have a seat at the table,” Allen Media Group founder and CEO Byron Allen told the crowd. “We have to be unapologetically Black, unfiltered, straight ahead, no apology — and demand the respect and the money […] that we deserve.” 

As the afterparty for one of the most significant media events of the year, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, theGrio’s D.C. Gala was a true celebration of Black excellence. Yet despite continuously asking myself, “How did I get here?” as well-known faces like “Real Housewives of Potomac” star Wendy Osefo walked past me, I must admit I have never felt more at home. In a building celebrating our ancestors who forged the path, there’s an indescribable feeling of doing the “Wobble” alongside Black people leaving their mark across industries. It truly felt poetic. 

Just a few feet below the event, authentic artifacts were displayed, threading the Black journey from slavery to freedom. Some who marched on that journey were among the gala’s guests, like Bobby Rush, former congressman and co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Stepping back and listening to the laughter and joy that took over the museum’s main floor as guests mingled in their best cocktail attire felt like a reminder that we were living our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

Gayle King, co-host of “CBS This Morning” and the recipient of theGrio’s Journalist Icon Award for her trailblazing career, echoed my sentiments in her acceptance speech. 

“This building is about storytelling and truth. And so many stories, as we know, we’re told here,” said King. “We’re living in a world — we all know this — where mass shootings are multiplying; the world is struggling. Racism is on the rise. And civility is in the downfall. So my colleagues and I try to do everything we can to tell the truth. Not my truth, not your truth, but the truth.” 

Met with a cacophony of soulful “mmm hmms” and “amens,” King reaffirmed something many of us often forget: “I have a front-row seat to history.” As Black professionals, we’re often tough on ourselves, judging our success based on data and validation, constantly seeking the next big thing as a result of never truly being satisfied with our work, etc. However, sometimes our presence in certain spaces should be affirmation enough. 

Take me, for example. I spent the first hour of the gala anxiously texting my mother — my first text read, “I’m here, but I feel like I’m not supposed to be here.” And can you blame me? It hasn’t been a year since I walked across the Syracuse University graduation stage, yet there I was, in a room full of people I have watched and studied for years. In less than a year, I went from stressing about final exams to dancing just a few feet away from Gayle King as the D.C. Gala’s special guest gave an iconic performance. 

Ultimately, the experience was both intimidating and incredibly inspiring. While I fangirled over shaking Karine Jean-Pierre’s hand, I realized I had a seat at the table of history. No one was worried about what awards I had won or how many years I’d been in the industry. My being in the room was more than enough. 

So the next time you feel a sense of imposter syndrome, remember the words of theGrio’s recent Journalist Icon Award recipient. 

“Even an ordinary person, a secretary, a teenager, a housewife can walk into a dark room, switch on the light, and shine a light on something.”

Haniyah Philogene is a multimedia storyteller and Lifestyle reporter covering all things culture. With a passion for digital media, she goes above and beyond to find new ways to tell and share stories.

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