Thank you for reading my stories this past two years. Feb. 16 is my last day with Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter. I will be joining The Baltimore Sun’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team starting Feb. 22. 

I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to work for Charlottesville Tomorrow. But, most importantly, I am thankful for so many doors that have opened since I joined the outlet. 

As a Black male reporter, I’ve felt lost so many times as a student and even as a professional for many reasons. But recently, I have not been feeling that way, in part because I have been meeting the “right people.” And that’s important.

For several years, I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I didn’t belong on TV because someone in a position of power told me I sounded too foreign to ever work for an American news TV station. 

At one point, I considered hiring a speech pathologist. But then I was like, what the hell? I grew up speaking French and Haitian creole. That’s my accent. That’s who I am. 

When I was at the University of Florida pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and even after graduating, I doubted that journalism was the right fit for me although I developed a passion for writing at a young age.  

I felt lost not because I got bad reviews for my writing. In fact, I had a stint at The Gainesville Sun as a law enforcement intern, where I reported on crime happenings in Gainesville neighborhoods. I wrote a profile on a victim advocate, in which I interviewed several victims that made the front page of the paper.

It was summer. I was not in town at the time because I went home to be with family. My friends texted me, and made sure they took plenty of hard copies. At the time, I felt like the most accomplished writer of all time.

Still, I felt lost for many reasons, including the fact that I was always one of three Black students in my upperclassmen journalism courses. 

It can be overwhelming to navigate journalism as a Black male journalist. But it can be even more challenging to navigate the industry as a foreigner because some people are xenophobic.  

But I’ve been so happy lately about how things have been worked out.

In addition to winning two first-place awards for my education reporting as well as a feature piece detailing the work of local activist Zyahna Bryant, the Education Writers Association (EWA) has invited me to multiple conferences, which have helped me become the best journalist I can be. 

I was among about 23 young reporters that EWA tapped to be in its New to the Beat program, which paired up young journalists with experienced writers for mentorship. 

And, eventually, I was featured in EWA’s member spotlight, in which I discussed my Haitian upbringing and my drive for journalism. What an honor to have the opportunity to be featured in a national outlet!

When I told my friends I had accepted a reporter position in Charlottesville, the first thing they mentioned was the 2017 riot. But when I got to Charlottesville, a community leader told me to find a network. 

I am confident to say that I was able to find a network of people who’d help me with finding people to interview for stories. 

I had the chance to document how Charlottesville City Schools revamped its gifted program to diversify its student population, as well as report on Albemarle County Public Schools’ high school center, which I discovered had no Latino students in the program. I didn’t get the chance to follow up on the high school center story, but I learned that the director there had made efforts to recruit Latino students more rigorously, such as visiting a Latino student club to talk about the center. 

Lastly, I documented the renaming of Paul H. Cale Elementary School. The process of whether to rename the school was set in motion in October 2018 after a presentation on segregation in American schools.

Back at my new chapter in life, I am thrilled to be joining The Baltimore Sun. It is bittersweet to part ways with Charlottesville Tomorrow. This is not a goodbye. It’s more of a see you later.

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Man in gray jack looks at camera with slight smile

Billy Jean Louis

Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.

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