*Crying Emoji*

Danielle C. Belton
·8 min read

So this is hard!

Even though I always knew this day would eventually come, I never really expected it to come! After all, being editor-in-chief of The Root was my dream job! To give Black writers and editors and videographers and hosts a platform was my dream job! To create meaningful stories, content, reported pieces and op-eds for Black people was my dream job! To create a women’s empowerment vertical, again, was the dream job! What could get dreamier than this?

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All my life, I wanted to be in journalism. Even before I knew I wanted to be in journalism. My earliest memories, aside from the one time my 1-year-old baby sister bit 3-year-old me, are of the Iran Contra hearings and watching them with my parents. I started reading the local newspaper, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, daily around age 11 and started watching the evening news with my parents (both the local news and CBS Evening News with Dan Rather) around the same time. And it never occurred to me that as a Black woman I couldn’t be a journalist because from Julius Hunter, a local CBS-affiliate news anchor, to Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes to Vicki Mabrey (a fellow St. Louisan!) on 60 Minutes II, to the women of Vibe Magazine, like Danyel Smith, and writers like Joan Morgan, and editors like Kierna Mayo, and icons like Susan L. Taylor, former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine, I knew there was a place for me because there was a place for them. I could follow in their footsteps or blaze my own trail. The options seemed endless.

After many, many years in the wilderness of media—working at small-town newspapers, starting a pop n’ politics blog called The Black Snob, becoming one of the first Black women to run a writers’ room in late-night TV for BET back in 2012—I found a home in The Root, a site I’d been politely stalking since its founding in 2008. I tried to get the top job as managing editor there in 2009, but nobody took 31-year-old me seriously. Not even 31-year-old me. But I never gave up. I was always in the periphery, waiting for my opportunity. Then, in 2015, I was hired by then Root managing editor Lyne Pitts and by 2016, she and our founding publisher Donna Byrd, were pulling me aside, asking me to take over.

I almost didn’t do it! Which now seems crazy in hindsight! But at the time I thought I was content as an associate editor who occasionally wrote long features that went nowhere! But I’ve always been ambitious, so it was hard to turn down a job I’d wanted for the past seven years.

I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it—the world had chewed me up and spat me out a few times by this point—but I did know one thing…The Root had a solid foundation and a great, talented staff. They just needed to be pointed in the right direction. They just needed to be set loose, set free and supported in their creativity. So that’s what I did. I became the boss that I had always wanted, a writers’ editor. One that rewarded creativity and talent, providing structure and patience. I didn’t do everything right these past five years in my leadership role; I had a stiff learning curve and a lot of it was trial by fire, but what I did right, turned out amazing. I knew I’d moved The Root to the forefront of the conversation when everyone from Pete Buttigieg to Kamala Harris to Rihanna was willing to talk to us. I knew I was on to something when we were casually mentioned in a Saturday Night Live skit and when we made the New York Times crossword puzzle. We were part of the zeitgeist, where this site always deserved to be and definitely belonged.

And we were there because we did it as a team. From buzzworthy interview-snatching social media editor Corey Townsend to our award-winning video team featuring talents like PJ Rickards, Jessica Moulite and Felice Leon. From the man who can do it all in senior writer Michael Harriot, to the man who would make dunking on Trump a daily sport, Stephen Crockett. From moving, brilliant writer and editor Maiysha Kai from fashionable freelancer to managing editor of The Root’s first women’s empowerment subsite, The Glow Up. From seeing both the video team, under former Root senior producer Ashley Velez’s leadership, bag HUGE interviews with Ayanna Pressley and tons of Democratic presidential candidates with our senior reporter Terrell J. Starr, was amazing. Hiring so many incredibly talented people, often after they’d freelanced for us, like Joe Jurado, Ishena Robinson and Jay Connor and Monique Judge, was something I prided myself on. And seeing producer Felice Leon go from doing buzzy news clips to becoming an on-air host was so affirming. And I can’t not mention our excellent freelancers in pageview powerhouse Zack Linly, “Lady Welpington” Shanelle Genai and our outstanding freelance editorial assistant, Bella Morais, who can literally do anything—from social media to slideshows. With a team like this, including long-time Root managing editor (and excellent, hardboiled editor) Genetta Adams, as my No. 2, and two “very smart brothas” in my friends Panama Jackson and Damon Young, the sky always felt like the limit at The Root. We were a tight unit, bonded team, and a lovely, incredibly funny dysfunctional family. I don’t just like my staff, I genuinely love them. I’ve cooked meals for them in my home. I’ve lobbied for them all to come into town for our annual gala, The Root 100 (the best party you could ever go to), and taken them out to show my appreciation for their hard work and dedication to The Root. Because while I may be in charge, they’re the ones who daily execute my vision and make my dreams come true. They are the heart and soul of this organization and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them and their daily efforts.

I have been told that when we finally get to get together again after the pandemic has died down, that I’m welcome to pop up at The Root 100. I’m telling you now, I have a dress picked out but might have to wear tennis shoes as these feet haven’t seen a heel in a year. And even as I move on to HuffPost as their new EIC, I will still be cheering the staff of The Root on as this site, this organization, these people will always be in my heart. From co-founder Skip Gates and all his amazing support to all the staffers who have come and gone since I’ve been here and moved on to even bigger and better things, I owe you and I’m grateful for you and for the rest of your lives you have an ally in me.

Lastly, shoutout to everyone who has supported The Root and me on this journey, including you, yes you, the readers, who without your continued support, none of this would even be happening. Whether you’ve known me since The Black Snob or, hell, even my Bakersfield days, or you just discovered us at The Root last week, I appreciate your willingness to rock it with me until the wheels fell off.

In 2017, I introduced The Root to the world of Kinja to Jay-Z’s “Public Announcement,” while there were some trolls, most folks were excited to see what this Root 2.0 would be. I leave you with the words I used to describe us, to describe me in that brief post that I wrote while struggling with the world’s worst writer’s block and migraine headache:

Hello. We’re The Root.

Once a gleam in a noted professor’s eye, nurtured and carefully tended to by a tireless warrior woman and a bevy of brilliant bosses, we have been through the fire and walk among you the unburnt, First of Our Names, Blog of Unapologetic Blackness, Snatcher of Wigs, Bane of Bigots, #TeamRoot, run by some sensitive nerds, a few proud weirdos and one former snob.

We come from disparate places and motley backgrounds. The streets of D.C. The suburbs of St. Louis. Jamaica. The dirty South. JERSEY. This sunny beach we’re all jealous of. New York, N.Y. We sometimes talk too much. Idris Elba once wished one of us happy birthday. Black Lives Matter. All of us have champagne tastes and beer money. Drake wishes his patois were as good as ours. We #StayWoke. Every once in a while we have to remind people that social media is forever, and hate only makes us stronger. We agree except for when we don’t agree. We do it for the ancestors, the culture and the ’gram. Our Afros? Big. All of our parties? Lit. We love, we live, we write. We started from the bottom and now we’re here ... on Kinja.

Get to know us!

Thanks for getting to know us and getting to know me. And now like skinny jeans, side parts and Obama, I’m out!