The New York chapter of the National Bar Association, the largest organization of African American lawyers in the country, was having a conference. As a young mother thinking of getting back to work, I was interested in networking. And while there, I found someone who was looking for me.
Of course, Stephanie Thompson, a producer for Court TV, didn’t know she was specifically looking for me, just as I had no idea who she was or that she would be at the conference. I used to say that it was sheer luck that she and I bumped into each other that rainy day. But someone recently said to me that luck didn’t have a thing to do with it. It was preparation meeting opportunity. I believe that now. It wasn’t a random, fortuitous twist of fate. I wouldn’t have been at that conference if I wasn’t eager to network. I knew there would be employers there. I had the flicker of a dream that was getting stronger. I was looking for something.
We started chatting and after a few minutes she said something that would change my life.
“You should be on TV,” she said, stopping me in my tracks.
Stephanie told me who she worked for and that the network was seeking lawyers who could analyze and explain the hot legal cases of the day to a cable TV audience. As a journalism major who had be- come a lawyer, I thought the gig she was seeking to fill sounded perfect. I sized up the situation very quickly and rattled off my education, my credentials, and my interest.
“I have a journalism degree and really want to combine that with my law degree, but I don’t quite know how to do it.”
Stephanie asked me if I had a head shot and a résumé. “Not with me,” I said quickly. But I took her business card and said I would get them to her right away.
I didn’t mention that the closest thing I had to a head shot was the senior portrait I’d taken when I graduated from Dominican Academy. That didn’t matter. My parents, who had juggled jobs, strategized to get a nicer apartment in a safer neighborhood, and worked overtime to send their daughter to an expensive school, taught me to never be ashamed to seize hold of an opportunity. I wasn’t about to play around.
I immediately looked up photographers and booked an appointment with the studio that could get me in the fastest. A day or two later, I headed to the shoot in the pouring rain, had the photographer print my proofs, and when I spotted a shot that I thought was fairly decent, I overnighted it to Stephanie at Court TV with my résumé glued to the back of it.
Within a few weeks, I got a call from one of the network’s bookers. She asked if I could come on a couple of days later to appear in a segment. I immediately agreed, then went into a mild panic.
When I showed up at Court TV for that first appearance, which was essentially my tryout, I felt confident.
I was interviewed by two of the network’s anchors, Ashleigh Banfield and Jack Ford, but most of my interaction was with Jack. He was incredibly warm and gracious, and our rapport was so strong that though I was supposed to be on for one segment, he asked me if I could stay a few more minutes. Then a few more, and a few more, until I looked up and the show was over. I’d been on air for most of it.
Throughout my academic and professional life, how comfortable I felt in a given place or space had really been my litmus test. If it felt like home, I knew I was in the right place, like I did when I went to SUNY Binghamton and Notre Dame, like I did when I clerked for Judge Bell, researching and writing briefs, and when I was in the courtroom, arguing a case. Offering my opinions and knowledge on that Court TV set, the studio lights shining above me, I felt at ease. I was in the right place.
When the show ended, Jack said to the thousands of viewers who were watching, “It’s Asunción’s first time here with us. But it won’t be her last.”
Jack later told me that he had never seen someone who was a total television novice be so perfectly on point and comfortable. He said that he knew that I would be doing TV for the rest of my life.
I felt triumphant after that appearance, elated that I had gotten the opportunity and made the most of it.
Excerpt from I Am These Truths: A Memoir of Identity, Justice, and Living Between Worlds by Sunny Hostin. Published by HarperOne. Copyright © 2020 HarperCollins.
Photo by © Heidi Gutman / Courtesy of ABC