By Marquel Slaughter

This is the ninth in a series of 10 stories celebrating the 10th anniversary of the APSE Diversity Fellowship.

Marquel Slaughter

Applying for the Diversity Fellowship Program in 2019 was a complete shot in the dark. 

Joining Class IX was a blessing. With the training opportunities that the fellowship offered, and knew I’d grow into a better professional.

The training sessions at the Tennessean, seeing the nation’s top sports sections as an APSE contest judge, even dinner in Tampa and the Nashville Predators game, were all highlights I’ll take with me forever. I can’t give enough thanks to Larry Graham, Michael Anastasi, Jorge Rojas, and countless others for their insight and hospitality. 

What I didn’t realize I’d receive from the Fellowship is the community aspect. I’ve never had journalism peers or people I can share my professional experiences with. 

I’ve reached ovut to my fellow Fellows — Rachel Lenzi, Michelle Martinelli and Thomas Scott — with questions and concerns that I could not talk to with those outside of the journalism realm. 

Just the opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds, cultures and in different stages of their careers has made the Fellowship more pleasant than I imagined it would be. 

A lot has changed since I applied for the Fellowship. I was still reporting sports for the Observer-Dispatch in Utica, N.Y. then. At the top of 2021, I arrived at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. Starting a new job during a pandemic was odd, but I’ve enjoyed my time here. 

I didn’t think a graduation ceremony would happen after my class had its experience cut short when the unimaginable COVID-19 struck, so this opportunity for a commencement is a great surprise.

Rachel Lenzi

Rachel Lenzi

Nobody had any idea how the world was about to change when the ninth class of the APSE Diversity Fellowship began in the fall of 2019. I was in my second year as a college/high school sports enterprise reporter at The Buffalo News and looked forward to the learning angle of the Fellowship. After a weekend in Nashville of training and after four days of judging sections and stories for the APSE contest in St. Petersburg, I was full of new ideas and energized by the professional connections I had made, both in my class and in APSE.

Then, at the start of March, the country shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and all of us had to pivot. This meant Zoom meetings for work and for the Diversity Fellowship. It meant working remotely from my living room and dining room table, rather than being on-site for events and interviews. It also meant that my beat had changed — that I had to look at how the pandemic was impacting so many facets of college sports, from budgets to events and even to rosters, as the virus was sidelining scores of college athletes.  

However, through this new realm, I was lucky to realize that I had a small support system that was created through APSE’s Diversity Fellowship. We haven’t met face to face as a group since February of 2020 but we have communicated about job issues, career decisions and life events. It’s become a valued professional fellowship for me.

Michelle Martinelli

Michelle Martinelli

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Diversity Fellowship — like just about everything else on the planet — came to an abrupt halt. And to be honest, I assumed those of us in Class IX would lose touch for a while and seldom talk as we worked to navigate doing our jobs successfully while still quarantining. I’m relieved I was wrong. 

Our fellowship projects and plans were put on hold indefinitely, but the conversations never ended. Although we were no longer together debating journalism ethics to the soundtrack of live Nashville music or swapping wild beat stories over cigars while strolling through Tampa, those shared experiences built the invaluable foundation for our now-close group of fellows. From a distance, we became each other’s confidants and advisors with non-judgemental ears while we pushed through a seemingly impossible year under the cloud of the pandemic, as layoffs and furloughs were abundant. And, of course, discussions and debates about journalism continued.

Class IX’s Diversity Fellowship began in 2019 and was supposed to end in 2020, and despite not having the opportunity to complete it, my experiences with APSE helped prepare me to step into an expanded role with USA TODAY Sports and For The Win. When I applied for the fellowship, I was a reporter unsure about aspirations of becoming an editor someday. But the incomparable and continued guidance, particularly from Larry Graham and Lisa Wilson, changed that.

My shortened experiences with the Diversity Fellowship offered more perspectives on leadership and strategy in an ever-changing media landscape that so clearly lacks diversity. So when the opportunity to become an editor arose, I relied on lessons learned from the fellowship to ascend into an editor role with more confidence than I had before those experiences. Always eager to learn and grow as a person and journalist, I hope Class IX will have the opportunity to complete our fellowship someday.

Thomas Scott

Thomas Scott

It’s been almost two years since Class IX met together in Nashville for the start of the APSE Diversity Fellowship. That was the first of only two in-person experiences our class was able to have because of the pandemic. Yet we found a way to make the fellowship work for us.

The lack of in-person activities actually worked out for me as I was diagnosed with leukemia in September of 2020. There were signs of a health issue that I was able to quietly power through during the Nashville (2019) and St. Petersburg trips, but the doctors didn’t have an answer at the time.

The good news is I went into remission early and had a successful stem cell transplant. When I eventually told Larry Graham and my classmates, they were incredibly supportive and still kept me in the loop. Staying engaged with my peers was another way to keep my mind off my health issues at the time.

In addition to my classmates, I appreciated the other APSE members who knew that reached out to check on me.

Rachel Lenzi, Michelle Martinelli, Marquel Slaughter and I continue to use one another as resources and soundboards to bounce ideas off of. The Fellowship has been a great experience for me, and I’m looking forward to the next time we can get together at a convention, barhop in a new city and play Cards Against Humanity with the top editors in the country.