You never like to hear that a person you consider to be a mentor has passed away. If you sent them an email or a text or even spoke to them on the phone recently, it hurts especially more. This week, Tina L. Birchett, owner and publisher of GRACE Magazine, a local magazine for women of color passed away. She was one of the first people to give me a shot at writing in print. I wrote my first assignment for GRACE in 2004 when I returned home from graduate school, and I’ve continued to contribute on a monthly basis. ever since.
Writing for GRACE, I snagged my first cover story in print, and was able to keep my finger on the pulse of the city by interviewing movers and shakers. Ms. Birchett made those connections possible, allowing me to meet some of the most influential people from and in the Bluff City (that’s Memphis for y’all who don’t know), including bestselling author, Dolen-Perkins-Valez and Diedra Shores, former Today Show Kid Reporter. E-introductions count too, as I recently met Arienne Thompson, writer for CocoaFab.com, who also writes for GRACE.
More than a woman who loved people and honoring trailblazing women, she was a business woman. She was also the founder of the Sisterhood Showcase, which celebrated its 18th anniversary this year and brings the best in entertainment, shopping and black literature to the city. She definitely answered her life’s calling to be an entreprenuer and source of women’s empowerment in her time here, and she always encouraged others to do the same.
As I reflect on my relationship with Ms. Birchett, I can’t neglect to give new writers a piece of advice. You might not have your first piece published in a national magazine for $2 a word. Look to your local publications for opportunities to write. Get your interview skills up and learn to work with publishers and editors whom you can actually meet in person if you choose. Building those relationships is key in moving to the next level. Don’t abandon or cut those ties either. If you’re not in a large market for writing, start at home. Grow where you’re planted.
I extend my heartfelt prayers to Ms. Birchett’s family, friends and all those she’s touched. May she rest in peace.