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Faces of NPR HBCU Edition: Sommer Hill

Faces of NPR: HBCU Edition
Sommer Hill
Faces of NPR: HBCU Edition

Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This month is special – we are featuring HBCU alum at NPR for Black History Month. Next we have Sommer Hill, Social Media Associate for @NPRExtra!

The Basics:

Name: Sommer Hill

Title: Social Media Associate

HBCU: Howard University

Instagram Handle: @Sommerfh

Where you're from: St Louis, MO, but I'm definitely a citizen of the world

Interviewed by: Yanius Alvarado Matos, Media Relations Publicist

Are you radical about self care?

I think we should be radical about everything. The term radical to me has just been a way for people to kind of box in people who are different from the norm. In ways that support us and help us, I think we should do what's best for us, even if it's called radical. And that comes in all forms.

Be radical about yourself. Overdo it, because no one else believes in what you do, like you do. Be radical about love because love is what keeps us going. I think being radical is good and I don't mind having always been labeled radical.

How do you cope with running (NPR Extra) social media accounts for a 24/7 organization?

Sometimes it's hard because I try to be fun on social media and sometimes people don't understand my intent. And so they come for me on Twitter, but I just have to remember not to take it personally. And then to that radical self-care, when I do feel consumed at work or like I need a break or I need a moment, I take it because I have to take care of myself.

For example, last weekend, I went and had a spa day and then took myself shopping and then took myself out to dinner. And in two weeks I'm taking myself on vacation because I need a break and that's OK. And I think we really enforce working but we don't enforce play enough and we don't enforce rest enough and we don't enforce vacation enough. So I'm going to enforce it for myself.

You're probably going to take your phone on vacation, right?

Both phones and my laptop. Because yes, work never stops. We work in news. We're in journalism and in social media, so it's always going, 24/7. It doesn't turn off at five o'clock, right? And so I have to set those parameters myself.

Monte Carlo
/ Sommer Hill
Sommer Hill
Monte Carlo

Where does your work ethic come from?

I mean, I think I'd be remiss to not credit my family and the way that they raised me. They've always allowed my brother and me to be very curious, very free and open. They've always been very encouraging about what I can do and what I can believe in. They didn't place limits on me. They've never put me in a box or put parameters around me. And I thank them 1000 times over for that. However, I did not realize it in myself. They've realized it in me since day one. But I did not realize it within myself until I was at Howard University. I think just being in a space with so many creative and intelligent and remarkable individuals really helped me see that I too am creative and intelligent and remarkable.

I remember sophomore year, 2017, I was kind of just floating through college like, whatever, it's college, I'm going to have fun. And then it hit me, like, the decisions you're making today are going to determine how your kids are going to live in the future. So I buckled down and I put my head down and I got really, really focused. But coupled with that, not only was I focused, but I also started to believe in my true power and my true potential and took steps to show other people as well. Because, you know, it's all about the opportunities that are given to you, the people that believe in you, right?

What was your experience at Howard? Is there anything specific that you remember from that moment being around so many creative minds that stands out to you?

Definitely. Howard was built in 1867. So you have people from Thurgood Marshall that went to this school, to Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). So when you step on campus, you will automatically feel that energetic charge. I can feel the power from the people who have gone to this school years and years ago. Even some of the buildings are still the same, like Founders Library. So this building I'm walking in is the same one that they've walked in. So first of all, being able to feel that really shaped how we were as students, but also being in a space where you are not really experiencing the outside world as you know it. We were experiencing, in my opinion, kind of a utopian world, like we're not dealing with racism, we're not dealing with microaggressions from white people. We are surrounded by Black people. You kind of forget that those kinds of things exist, however you are being taught about all these different things that affect you and that history that has shaped you. While you're not experiencing it, you're being taught it. So when you go back into the real world, you're really hypersensitive to it. I remember when I graduated from Howard and I got my first job, I experienced culture shock because I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I'm so not used to dealing with this or being around this." But I've been exposed to it, I've been taught about it. I've been taught how to react to it. And so I was super sensitive to it.

But while at Howard, I was so charged up with social change energy that I actually created this movement called the Ujima Movement. And it was to uplift Black and brown voices while demanding justice in all forms. So I used to go to the marches. I used to hold conversations with people. I created social media accounts just so we could keep up with everything that was happening. I used to talk to all the professors. I used to go on the news and talk about being a Black woman at this time and how my experience has been shaped in how we are still facing injustices to this day. And you're being encouraged by everyone around you because they're feeling the same way. So it was just an incredible experience being around people who believe in the same thing as you and will fight alongside you.

But, with that, of course we have to remember that being Black isn't a monolithic experience. So of course there are people who don't necessarily agree with what you believe in. But at Howard, if someone saw you doing something passionately, they would support you whether they believed or not. The kinship was real. And still is. I can still count on Bison support to this day.

How do you manage to make Faces of NPR uplifting, personal and truthful?

I don't know. I've just always been a person that people feel comfortable talking to. And I look at that as a gift, because people will talk to me and just start sharing. And I love it because not only are you able to release whatever you're feeling, but I'm also able to learn from your experiences. Then just back to my parents, they always encouraged my curiosity. I have always been a person to ask 50 million questions. And my favorite people are the ones who answer those questions. So it has been a great experience to be able to learn from these people. These people at NPR are so creative, they're so talented, they're so multidimensional, they're so intelligent. I've talked to people who have lived in the Middle East for 10 years and covered wars. I've talked to people who were the first lesbian in their family and how they dealt with that. I've talked to people who didn't have the will to live anymore and have found the light. And just to be able to share those stories and give those stories a platform means so much to me, because people deserve to be highlighted. People's stories are so deep and so necessary to the human experience to share in order for us to learn, and kind of guide how we continue our journey, right?

photo cred DBeltonjr MUA BeatsbyBritt
Belton Media Group / Belton Media Group
Belton Media Group
photo cred DBeltonjr MUA BeatsbyBritt

What's the most personal thing you've heard?

That's hard, I've heard so much. When Whitney told me that she woke up every week and wanted her life to end, that hit me in the chest because I was like, "Oh, imagine if this world did not have Whitney." And Bobby telling me about his mother with cancer really stuck with me too. Because in my head, for them to share these intimate stories with me, they must feel safe and they must trust that I will protect these stories. I really appreciate them for that.

You have a unique style of writing. I want to say you see kindness, positivity, but also truth. Would you describe it like that?

Honestly, I feel like I write as a poet because I actually prefer to write poetry. So when I'm writing long form, it feels like I'm writing a poem, right? And I like for my words to be poetic. The girls who get it, get it. You know what I'm saying? But also because it can touch you differently. I want to say, what is the language of your heart and how can I speak it? You know what I mean?

Let's talk about Reanna's tweet. NPR resonated with the young audience for being radical but saying the truth. As a social media manager, is that our north star?

Well, like I said, I believe in radicalness, I believe that we should be radical right now. We live in a time where everything is political. The color of our skin is political. Whether you get the vaccine or not is political. But there is a truth. And I think as long as we stay on the side of the truth, right, you can say it's political, but that does not make it political. I think we should be radical with what we say and what we do because we live in a time now, especially our generation, where we don't play that anymore. Either you stand with me or you stand against me. And I think by using social media to show that we will always stand on the side of the truth, we will show the people that we stand with them.

What are you looking for now, from your position?

Yeah, honestly, if you were to ask me right now, my five year plan, I couldn't give it to you. If you were to ask me right now, what do you want to be when you get older, I couldn't tell you. But I can tell you what stays the same. I could tell you what's always constant. What's constant for me is to uplift the voices of Black and brown people. To create an environment that's equitable for them so that they can come in the door. And make sure that the door they get in is easier for them to get in. And finally, to make sure that once they are in the door, they feel safe. Those are the only four things. I could be a host, I could be a producer, I could be the VP, I could be a chief communications officer but those four things will always be the same. So I don't know what I want to be when I get older, but I do know that it is my duty and it is my job to create a more equitable place for people. And it just so happens that NPR also has that mission. So we are aligned right now.

As a social media manager, what are the trends you think are coming in for 2022?

TikTok. NPR needs to be on TikTok. Planet Money is doing so well [on TikTok] because we have Courtney Theophin and Jack Corbett, and they're so funny and they're so creative and they reach a young audience. That's where they are. And then also NPR's leading the game with audio. But we need to get podcasts on video. I have talked with a few different people. I've expressed this idea. They also agreed that this needs to happen. So all I have to do now is do it, and I'm willing to help whatever I can to make it happen. But I think NPR has always been traditional and right after the curve, and we need to be in front of the curve, and the only way we can be in front of the curve is to hear these new and fresh ideas from these new and fresh people.

Who is Sommer? In one song.

Sunshine by Alexander O'Neal or Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers. So my parents named me Sommer because they wanted me to be bright and happy and a sunshiney person. You know, bring some sunshine to people's lives. So I don't consciously try to do that, but definitely subconsciously. So as long as I'm people's sunshine, I feel good. You know, as long as I'm my own sunshine, I feel good.

Sommer Hill
/ Howard University
Howard University
Sommer Hill

Rihanna is pregnant. What the hell are we going to do?

No, she's not.

I just. Yeah. No, actually. I think she would be a good mom. Do you think she's going to be a good mom?

Oh, for sure.

Have you had some good mentors?

OMG, I definitely have to take a moment to shout-out all of my mentors. First of all, at Howard, Professor Jennifer Thomas and Professor Victoria Walker always believed in me and made sure I was giving every project my all, and if I didn't, they'd definitely let me know. My first internship was at NBC4 with Donna Weston. She was the first person to take a chance on me and I have so much respect and admiration for her. At WUSA9, Darren Haynes worked on an internship project with me for hours on end and he had a live hit right after. That was never lost on me. Bruce Johnson and Lesli Foster made sure I was making connections and getting to cover stories and being on the news. At NBC, Annie, Pri and Christina took a chance on me, listened to me and ultimately made some necessary changes in the Page Program.

Jamila Roberts always reminded me how valuable I am at work and to always push forward. She answered every question I had honestly. She always provides great feedback. From BET, Christine Monds and Chanel Joyles are my people forever. Like I actually want them to come to my wedding one day and meet my kids. They both have my best interests at heart and I am really appreciative. Tammie Holland from St. Louis made radio cool for me. She still is one of the coolest people I've met.

Finally, here at NPR, I have met with and learned from so many amazing people, Isabel Lara, Anais Laurent, Bobby Carter and so many more. Michel Martin was the first person I met from NPR. She came and spoke to my class at Howard and I kept in touch. She's so remarkable. And I am grateful for the friendships I have made at NPR too, Taylor Ash, Yanius Alavarado Matos, Kelsey Page. All of these people are in my circle and root for me. I want them to know I appreciate them.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Yanius Alvarado Matos