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SJGC Honors Alumni Spanning 40 Years with Thelma Thurston Gorham Award

SJGC Staff
SJGC Staff

The School of Journalism & Graphic Communication (SJGC) celebrated “40 Years Leading the Way” in recognition of its decades-long journalism legacy during FAMU’s Homecoming Week, held Oct. 23—30. As part of this milestone, SJGC resumed the bestowing of the Thelma Thurston Gorham Distinguished Alumni Award during its 40th anniversary reception at the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum on Thursday, Oct. 27. 

“Professor Gorham was the driving force behind the creation of the school of journalism,” says SJGC Dean Mira Lowe. “She was a dynamo in the classroom, a stickler for detail and a zealot for excellence and communications.”

SJGC broke from tradition of awarding one honoree annually by recognizing four alumni this year. The nominees spanned four decades since the school’s opening—a nod to the anniversary celebration. 

The award was last given in 2019 to ESPN play-by-play commentator Tiffany Greene, who graduated from SJGC in 2003 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Journalism. 

This award salutes outstanding alumni for their professional and personal accomplishments, community contributions and support of the school. Their work and service exemplify the mission and spirit of SJGC. All honorees are living graduates of FAMU.

Here are the 2022 Thelma Thurston Gorham Distinguished Alumni Awardees:

School of Journalism & Graphic Communication Dean Mira Lowe (left) presents Cheryl Smith (right) with the 2022 Thelma Thurston Gorham Distinguished Alumni Award.

Cheryl Smith, Class of 1980

Cheryl Smith is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years in the industry. She is the publisher of I Messenger News Group, which includes Texas Metro News, Garland Journal and I Messenger. She also hosts “Cheryl’s World” on Blog Talk Radio, is the treasurer of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and a SPJ board member. Cheryl was recently named one of “Editor & Publisher” Magazine’s annual “25 over 50” media list. She is the immediate past president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Association of Black Journalists (DFW/ABJ) and was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame this summer.

School of Journalism & Graphic Communication Dean Mira Lowe (left) presents Elise Durham (right) with the 2022 Thelma Thurston Gorham Distinguished Alumni Award.

Elise Durham, Class of 1991

Elise is the first assistant GM for Business Diversity at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The multi-award-winning journalist was previously director of policy and communications at the airport from 2018 until 2021. Elise has also served as director of communications for two mayoral administrations within the city of Atlanta. This fall she was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (Southeast Chapter) Silver Circle. She is the principle innovator for her full-service communications company, The Producer Pod®, which she launched in 2007.

School of Journalism & Graphic Communication Dean Mira Lowe (left) presents Rana I. Cash (right) with the 2022 Thelma Thurston Gorham Distinguished Alumni Award.

Rana l. Cash, Class of 1992

Rana was named executive editor of the Charlotte Observer in August 2021. She is the first black top editor of the paper. She most recently led the Savannah Morning News as executive editor and state director for Gannett’s Georgia markets. Before, Cash served as a Charlotte-based editor for the Sporting News for six years. She’s previously worked for publications such as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Louisville Courier Journal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Dallas Morning News and the Miami Herald.

School of Journalism & Graphic Communication Dean Mira Lowe (left) presents Marlon Walker (right) with the 2022 Thelma Thurston Gorham Distinguished Alumni Award.

Marlon A. Walker, Class of 2005

Marlon is the Marshall Project’s managing editor, local. Before that, he was state and executive editor for several USA Today network newsrooms in Mississippi, including the Clarion Ledger in Jackson. He has worked in reporting and editing roles for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Detroit Free Press, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tampa Bay Times and Associated Press. Marlon has also served on the National Association of Black Journalists’ Board of Directors.

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