By Tony Adame
The Pensacola News Journal

Before APSE Diversity Fellow Reina Kempt could even walk, she was already overcoming adversity – she underwent open-heart surgery to fix a congenital birth defect when she was just nine months old.

That innate sense of battling back through obstacles developed at an early age has served Reina well throughout her short career in an ever-changing industry, and the former Louisiana Tech basketball player has a bright future ahead of her.

Check out our Q&A with Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate Sports Designer, Baton Rouge native and Louisiana Tech grad Reina Kempt:

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background and growing up in Baton Rouge.

A: I grew up with that heart defect and having the open-heart surgery … that was a big thing for me growing up, but I knew I could overcome obstacles because I’d overcome that. I started playing basketball in middle school, got really good at it and focused all my time and energy outside of school on basketball. That allowed me to get a scholarship, and the only thing that I ever really loved outside of basketball was writing, so that love of basketball and sports and writing sounded good to me so that pointed me toward my major in journalism at Tech. My career has ventured from the writing side of it to design side, but it would be nice to get back to writing even a little bit again someday.


Q: You had such a unique experience with being a Division I athlete. Do you think that’s influenced how you approach things in your career?

A: Yes, definitely. I think just being able to see and understand the different perspectives in the sports world has a lot of influence on how I look at covering things. A good example was we were watching a game in the office the other day and somebody missed a free throw and the one side of it I heard was “Well, that’s all he has to do he should make free throws,” but I think I can kind of give the other side of that moment … of all the stuff that goes into making that free throw. It’s more than just practicing your shot. Being a high-level athlete isn’t just physically draining, it’s also mentally draining and how it can affect an athlete is really interesting to me. I think my background gives me a unique take when it comes to that.


Q: Back to your current career, what made you decide to apply to the Diversity Fellowship Program?
A: I heard about (the fellowship) in passing a couple of years ago but moved around a bit for jobs and kind of lost sight of it, but when I got this new job back home I wasn’t here for very long and a night editor job came open and I applied for it. I knew it was a long shot but I still made it pretty far through the interview process and the feedback I got was that they admired my ambition and the skills I had but if my career was lacking anything it was a leadership-type quality and they suggested the Diversity Fellowship program through the APSE. And after the application process and the work I saw went into getting it I was really sold on the whole thing … it’s been amazing so far.


Q: You’ve been at some other places before The Advocate, so can you tell me a little bit about your career leading up to this point?

A: There’s been some highs and lows in my five years in the business, for sure. When I got out of college I was a sports reporter in Natchez (Miss.) and it was that kind of entry-level job that’s really humbling, but you have to get that experience. And I’m grateful for it because I learned so many different things. Design, shooting photos, taking phone calls and stats all under deadline … the experience was invaluable and it made me able to apply for a lot of different jobs. I went to go work for Tommy Deas at the Tuscaloosa News as a copy editor after that and, again, a great experience. Started to learn more about design, got big into photoshop and all of that done with Alabama football and Alabama sports as the backdrop. It was great to work in a place where they take a lot of pride in their paper and their work and they have an extensive amount of special sections … just expanded my horizons a lot. There was some restructuring with the design desk there, I ended up in Oklahoma City at The Oklahoman, where I was a sports designer/copy editor and we covered the Thunder, OU, OSU … loved the job, loved the city but they outsourced that job, too. I spent some time at the Nashville Design Studio for Gannett and that was hard because I’m a big fan of actually being in the newsroom opposed to where you’re in a hub.  Lo and behold, I get my wisdom teeth taken out so I’m off work for a week and my mom is there taking care of me and I’m kind of complaining about this or that and she’s like “Well, hey, there’s this posting for The Advocate…”


Q: So how is it being home?

A: I’m living with my parents right now so I didn’t have to break my lease in Nashville, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting my own place. It’s been nice to rekindle some old friendships from high school because when I went to college I’d come back for the summer but even then there was always basketball so it was hard to come home for extended periods of time … and I graduated on a Sunday and I was at my first job on a Monday. I have some close friends (in Baton Rouge) and I definitely see myself living here.


Q: What’s your dream job?
A: I think the better answer for me is that there are definitely certain jobs I would love to have, like at Sports Illustrated or at ESPN, which is more working for that company and wherever it takes you, that’s totally fine. As far as place to live, I’ve always been really attracted to San Antonio. It just seems like a great place to live and there’s a lot of opportunity there. It seems like a big city with all the pros of living in a big city but without a lot of the problems that some other bigger cities have.


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