Cheriss May

Cheriss May

Cheriss May (B.A. ’94) always had a love for photography.

When she was a kid back in Kansas City, Missouri, with her Kodak camera, she would take pictures everywhere she went. Her parents were very encouraging of her and would upgrade her camera, motivating her to take photography classes in high school and eventually when she came to Howard University.

A family friend saw her work and asked her to photograph one of his holiday parties.

“I didn’t tell him I was scared. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, but I said, ‘sure,’” May said. “After that job, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I could totally do this!’ It opened my eyes to [photography] as a possible career.”

Her passion soon became a career, and through her mentor Fred Watkins, who opened her eyes to photojournalism, she was given the opportunity to travel to South Africa for a Black journalists’ tour of the North West Province. May knew she had to pursue the trip while she had the chance. Being an African-American woman never stopped her from taking advantage of the opportunities presented to her.

“There are challenges, because I do feel that [photography] is a heavily male-dominated field,” May said. “But, I guess I’m just one who doesn’t like to give up. If one door was closed, I just went around to another one. I do recognize that there are less women in that career path. Sometimes when I go out to events, I’m the only woman photographer.”

Through that perseverance, she made a series of connections as a member of the National Press Photographers Association, and she began taking pictures of White House events. Once she familiarized herself with working at the White House, she began to think of a way to bring others with her.

“I’m an adjunct professor and I bleed blue; I’m a proud alumna of Howard,” May said. “I’m always thinking about ‘how can this benefi t my students?’ and ‘how can this benefi t the school?’”

May proposed a White House initiative that would give Howard students in the School of Communications the opportunity to cover events at the White House alongside her. She paired that initiative with broadcast news and print journalism professors, and the program has given students the opportunity to bring their stories to a national audience.

“It’s a great journalistic experience, but also it’s an opportunity to cover something that the average person doesn’t get the opportunity to cover,” May said.

“It’s something about when you can cover major events and major people that’s very empowering,” May continued. “I saw it as a way to empower them to know they could do great things, and that they could go beyond maybe what they were thinking they could do. It’s opened some eyes and also probably triggered some passions that the students had.”

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