It almost seemed like it would never happen, but the day has finally come!
Many of you may know my own personal story of navigating the TV news industry, and while it continues to be a tough battle to get the door to open, I’m very proud and happy that someone I know personally, was able to break through and pave the way!
She didn’t have a hashtag campaign, there was no pomp and circumstance. She worked hard as a journalist and producer and all that paid off when she was recently promoted to an on camera reporter.
What many people may not realize, because there have been lots of girls who “aspire” or “claim” the title of being “first” hijabi this or that, there hasn’t been anyone on a U.S. news channel yet.
As a journalist myself, I’ve been tracking this for a very long time. And finally, a mainstream American network has opened the door.
We’ve seen it done in England and Canada, and now finally in the United States.
Today I bring you the first exclusive interview that Tahera Rahman has given on her journey and making history last night!
First, tell us a bit about your background and how you got into journalism.
As with most Americans, 9/11 was a turning point in my life. I remember watching the news coverage and having so many mixed emotions; shock, confusion, sadness. That only deepened as I saw people who looked like me and who shared my beliefs
become more and more vilified.
It was starting to become an “us” and “them” America and I felt young, powerless and hopeless. It seems silly to have to say
this now, but my second-grade self wanted to say “Hey, I’m just like you. I’m sad about this, too. I want justice, too.” I made it a mission to somehow stunt the growing misconceptions forming around Muslims.
So, in elementary, for some reason that to me meant either being a lawyer or the person on TV telling the stories. Between debate and journalism in high school, I found my passion and went with it.
Did you face any obstacles on your journey as a Muslim woman wearing hijab?
Oh, absolutely. Every step of the way, really. Most of the obstacles didn’t necessarily come from a place of malice, though.
There were dozens of people who told me, in many different ways, that making it in front of the camera wasn’t going to be likely.
But all you need is one yes. And I knew if I continued putting in the effort and keeping faith that someone would decide to give me the opportunity I worked so hard for, despite what concerns or reservations they might have about the way I look.
Many people may not realize it, but you’re the first woman in hijab to work as an on-air reporter for American television. Did that scare you to take on such a big role?
Yes and no. It’s definitely a milestone on many macro levels; what it means for Muslims in America, TV standards, etc., and realizing that God has opened that door for me is humbling and scary at the same time.
Personally, as a journalist, I feel more than ready to make the leap into what I had been building towards day after day, year after year. And I can’t wait to continue growing as a journalist. There’s a lot yet to learn.
Did you ever think you’d make it in TV as a hijabi reporter, was there a point where you were ready to give up?
I always held out hope that I would, but there were definitely times when I felt ready to give up. I had been working in radio for two years when I started applying for TV reporting gigs again. After months, I made it pretty far in the interview process at a station in Minot, North Dakota (yes, I was willing to move to Minot, North Dakota, to do what I wanted to do).
In the end, they told me that although they discussed me at length and I was one of the top two candidates, they “decided to go a different direction.” That’s how I actually ended up taking on a producing job at CBS4 in the Quad Cities. I had half-given up but still thought, “Okay, maybe I need to try a different approach. Maybe I can still make this work.” I took on extra roles, came in on weekends to help shoot, write and edit and started working on yet another reel (my third, at that point).
I got rejected again a year later. That one hurt the most. It was at a difficult time in my life and I had put in so much work and I just felt like I wasn’t going to be able to handle getting back up. I remember talking to my mom on the phone on my way home from work that night and unexpectedly just breaking down. I had to pull over. I told her I didn’t think I was going to try anymore. And God bless her, that woman did not miss a heartbeat. She said, “Of course you are. This has been your life, of course you are going to get right back up.” And I did. About six months after that meltdown, my General Manager told me I had the job.
What made you persist with your dream?
I couldn’t really imagine myself doing anything else.
I always thought that if I could concentrate on getting better every day— improving my writing, coming up with solid story ideas, making extra calls, learning new skills, someone would eventually give me that chance based on my merit, even if it would be a “risky” move in today’s political climate.
How was your first day on the air as a reporter, what was the response like?
Incredible. Everyone in the building was so supportive; from our sales department to our newsroom. And of course, my family. They drove down from Naperville to the Quad Cities to watch my first story live. At first, that made me even more nervous; I think what has scared me the most is disappointing people I know.
But the interviews I set up went well, and as I was putting my first story together it just felt right. It felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Of course, the butterflies settled in again as I was getting ready to go on air that night.
I had a tug of war with my hijab trying to put my earpiece in and I was shaking as I was on standby in the studio. And afterward, everything just seemed surreal. It still does! What keeps snapping me back to reality is realizing I still need to make sure I line up my interviews and get working for the next day!
For other hijabi women who want to make a living on television, what’s your advice to them?
Go. For. It. If you want to do it because you love creating and telling stories, then you can find a way.
Keep your eyes on the big picture and in the meantime don’t be afraid to take every opportunity and put in every ounce of work you can.
It’s not enough to say you have a big dream; you’ve got to take real steps to get there, even if it’s not always fun or easy or glamorous.
Watch the background story that Tahera’s station produced about her journey here.