By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
For the last 150 years, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played a pivotal role in American higher education. From Kamala Harris, the country’s first female vice president, to Oprah Winfrey, one of the world’s richest people — these institutions have awarded degrees to students who have gone on to become some of the nation’s finest leaders, innovators and revolutionaries.
A native of Tampa, Florida, Avery Jacobs is a product of that system by way of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU), which he credits for his top-notch, multimedia and journalistic skills.
“HBCUs are smaller. … You have more opportunities because you’re at a small university,” he told the OBSERVER after a recent Kings home game. “I probably would not have had the opportunities I have received if I came from a PWI [Predominately White Institution]. But you have to know how to take advantage of those types of opportunities to further your goal.”
Jacobs arrived at the doorstep of the Kings’ organization before the 2021-2022 NBA season.
Working as a media intern, his determination, dedication, and passion have made him stand out in his first year with the team.
A card-carrying member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Jacobs graduated cum laude from FAMU in 2019. The school in Tallahassee, Florida, is the only HBCU in the state. It’s journalism/communications department is a seldomly-known force to be reckoned with in the digital age.
While there, Jacobs served as the sports editor of the school’s newspaper, program director of the school’s radio station, and sports director of the school’s television station. Before leaving FAMU, Jacobs also interned with ESPN.
He got his first opportunity by covering the Florida State University Seminoles as a correspondent for the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. Jacobs held that position while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in journalism.
A 14-month stint at The Black News Channel, based in Tallahassee, further sharpened Jacobs’ video editing experience. But he eventually left that position as other opportunities emerged.
A proud member and devoted brother of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., where he served as both president and vice president to the Alpha Xi Chapter, Jacobs accumulated some miles and perfectly landed on his feet at every given opportunity.
Before his arrival in Sacramento, Jacobs was a member of the WALB-TV news team in Albany, Georgia where he served as a multimedia journalist and fill-in sports anchor, picking up the occasional standard news story when the need arose. Jacobs is a prime example of how HBCUs have repeatedly excelled at preparing their students for careers in mainstream media.
Since its inception in 1982, FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication (SJGC) was the first accredited program of its kind among the nation’s HBCUs, leading as the torch-bearer in both fields.
SJGC has produced a plethora of journalistic talent over the years including Pam Oliver, a sports anchor and NFL and NBA sideline reporter; Tiffany Greene, the first African-American woman to serve as a play-by-play commentator for college football on ESPN; and Kimberly Godwin, president of ABC News – the first Black person to lead a major television network.
Dr. Alan Rowe, who co-founded the local nonprofit United College Action Network, Inc. (U-CAN) in 1989, is keenly aware of FAMU’s educational leadership. U-CAN has helped many Black students from the Sacramento region and Northern California enroll at HBCUs across the country.
U-CAN provides outreach, resources, and college preparation assistance to students that aspire to matriculate in four-year postsecondary colleges, with admissions to over 100 HBCUs in the country.
“I would estimate we have conservatively sent between 150 and 200 students to FAMU,” Dr. Rowe told The OBSERVER.
Now, Jacobs is on a trajectory to become one of the next great products to graduate from FAMU’s SJGC.
“Going to an HBCU was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” said Angeline J. Taylor, who graduated from FAMU’s SJGC with a bachelor of science degree in public relations. “It prepared me to show others the way.”
Taylor — who also has a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University and is in the process of completing her doctorate through Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication — returned to FAMU years after graduation to teach journalism. One semester, she says, Jacobs’ name kept crossing her radar.
“In his freshman year, I think it was his second semester, I asked him, ‘What do you want to do after you graduate?’ He said, ‘I’ll be a sportswriter or I’ll be working in sports in the NBA or NFL. I gotta do it.’ I was like, okay that’s a good dream. He’s serious.”
At FAMU, Taylor said, “the motto is excellence with caring.”
And she cared enough for Jacobs to help see to it that he excelled after changing his major from criminal justice. A long-standing fascination with journalism led him to take a couple of classes, and Jacobs became more interested when someone suggested he pursue reporting as a career.
“Avery has always been driven or always had a good idea of what he wanted to do,” Taylor said. “And I’ll say this for years to come, the biggest thing that I am most proud about Avery is that when he got his footing, wherever he was, he made sure that others got their footing too. When he learned something he wanted to teach others.”
Taylor said it was Jacobs and his FAMU classmate Robert Rimpson that started a new wave of SJGC students drifting into sports journalism and “being prepared as well as they worked for it.”
Rimpson is currently a sports producer for WDAF-TV FOX4 in Lenexa, Kansas, an assignment he took after working as a night editor for SB Nation. Jacobs and Rimpson, who followed behind him, both wrote for Florida A&M University’s Famuan newspaper.
“They worked each other’s sports systems, they set their own pace, they learned their weak points, created their own podcast, and built up their own popular radio sports shows,” Taylor continued. “After a while, I just opened my office door so that they could practice their delivery, and what they were going to say on the Saturday radio show. It was amazing to see these young people supporting each other, but it was Avery who set the trend.”
Working through journalism and communications can open doors to a variety of opportunities. Jacobs is currently using sports journalism to explore what it takes to be a sports management executive, to also possibly becoming a major professional sports general manager, which would mean overseeing day-to-day operations, hiring head coaches and administrative personnel, and having the final say in constructing the team roster.
Before his brief stint at WALB-TV, Jacobs spent one season with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams communications department. While there, he spent numerous hours discussing the position with the Rams’ GM Les Snead.
To date, the NFL currently has two GMs who are Black while the NBA has four.
“I’ve learned that a lot of GMs started as interns or communication guys. I saw all types of different routes to the position,” Jacobs said. “But when I took the communication job with the Rams it was to intersect myself on paths that land me in the scouting department and work my way up from there. That’s what NFL scouts told me to do.”
One of Jacobs’s customized tools to understand jobs that interest him is his ability to “research and study individuals who have been where he is now,” Taylor said of her former student.