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NABJ Remembers Sarah-Ann Shaw: NABJ Pillar & Boston’s First Black Woman TV Reporter

In the early days of NABJ, Sarah-Ann Shaw was among the brave group of journalists and communicators working tirelessly behind the scenes to create an organization that would serve as a voice and advocate for Black journalists nationwide. And while she passed away on March 21 at the age of 90, her work as one of the pillars of NABJ will forever live on.

According to Co-founder Allison Davis, while Shaw’s name wasn’t on the charter roster listing the 44 founding members of NABJ that were present in D.C. on Dec. 12, 1975, she still played a critical role in designing a community that would fight for fairness in America’s newsrooms. 

“We will always be grateful for the role she played in making NABJ the beacon of light it is today,” said NABJ President Ken Lemon. “Her family and friends shared that she recalled doing errands for NABJ at the time of the charter meeting, so while she was not physically present, her heart was certainly there. She lent her time and talent to the birth of NABJ so that others coming after her could fulfill their dreams without the barriers of injustice.” 

Before helping to make history by supporting the founding of NABJ, Shaw broke barriers as Boston’s first Black woman TV news reporter. In 1969, she was hired as a reporter by WBZ-TV, where she was celebrated for more than thirty years of stellar storytelling and uplifting the untold stories of marginalized people. According to The HistoryMakers, Shaw “helped define ‘minority’ affairs programming and news content.” 

In 1979, Shaw served as one of NABJ’s first Region I directors and she also went on to serve as a past President of the Boston Association of Black Journalists. She retired from WBZ in 2000, followed by an induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Her impact within NABJ and the news industry would later garner her the NABJ Lifetime Achievement award in 1998, which is bestowed upon a longtime journalist making an extraordinary contribution to the enrichment, understanding, or advancement of Black life and culture. 

In addition to her groundbreaking work in journalism, Shaw played a pivotal role in the advancement of civil rights, social justice, and journalism education.

In the 1960s, her activism work included co-founding the Boston Northern Student Movement, where she coordinated student-led voter education, high school tutoring, and economic housing education with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Boston Action Group (BAG), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She was also active in the NAACP Youth Movement.

In the 1970s, Shaw taught journalism at Simmons College. While there, she instructed future journalism icon, Gwen Ifill. She also was passionate about mentoring not only up-and-coming TV reporters but also those working behind the scenes in newsrooms such as videographers, editors, and other production crew members.

Shaw was honored by the Boston Radio-Television News Directors Association and received the Yankee Quill Award from the New England Society of Newspaper Editors. She served on many community boards and committees including the Central Boston Elder Services, The Boston Neighborhood Network, The Friends of the Dudley Library Inc., and The League of Women for Community Service. She graduated from Girls Latin School in 1952 and went on to attend Boston University.

Shaw is survived by a devoted village of her children, relatives, colleagues, and friends.

Celebration of life services will be held on April 27 at 11 a.m. at Bethel AME Church, 38 Walk Hill St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130. The service will be streamed live on the Bethel website.

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