Mitzi Miller, editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine, shared a message about pursuing one’s dreams during ECU’s annual MLK celebration. Before her presentation, she interacted with a selected group of ECU students. (Photo by Cliff Hollis) 

Ebony magazine editor urges students to keep moving forward

Jan. 21, 2015

By Jamitress Bowden
Office of Equity and Diversity

Accept responsibility when it comes, the editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine Mitzi Miller told a crowd at East Carolina University Tuesday night. Even though a task may seem overwhelming, she said, “You accept it; you move forward.”

Miller delivered the keynote address at the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Wright Auditorium Jan. 20. She said that maintaining a commitment to success, seeking responsibility and loving what you do are all part of living King’s dream.

Miller was uncertain of her dreams in college, where she switched her major from biology to English. She was three weeks into her first biology class when an assignment required her to examine her own blood, and she knew biology was not for her. She thought about what things she liked to do, even if there was no salary. “I loved to read, telling stories and chatting…I could do that for free all day,” Miller said. So she pursued a degree in English with plans of becoming an elementary school teacher.

Her plans changed again at age 21, after a liver transplant left her with a weakened immune system unsuitable for her intended career in a classroom. Miller took a job in advertising for a magazine but found herself unhappy after a few months. She recalled thinking, “What’s the purpose of any of this, if you’re not happy?”
miller2 ECU student Kiera Huiel takes a selfie with Ebony editor Mitzi Miller during Miller’s visit to the ECU campus. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

After six months of unemployment, she convinced the editor-in-chief of her favorite magazine, Honey, to take her on as an unpaid intern. When the internship ended, she was offered a position as associate editor. From there she worked at Jane magazine before her big break as the editor-in-chief at JET magazine.

“I worked so hard,” Miller said. “I learned how to work with others. I learned how to find my own voice and how to quiet my own voice.”

But she wanted to continue moving forward. “As long as you live, you should be trying to do more,” Miller said. “In the third year, I got to redesign JET. Somehow I convinced them to let me do it.”

Her work revamping the 62-year-old brand in print and web design caught the attention of Ebony leadership – the nation’s oldest African-American magazine. She was offered the position of editor-in-chief at Ebony in April 2014.

“I was completely unprepared, completely overwhelmed,” Miller said of the job offer. “And I said absolutely.”

Miller’s message of determination resonated with ECU students hoping to pursue a similar career path. Ryan Harris, a senior in ECU’s School of Communication, said he gathered from Miller that his planned career in journalism is not going to be “an easy road.”

“She made it very clear that climbing a specific ladder is going to take some twists and turns. She told us how we can position ourselves,” Harris said.

But the message had a broader impact. Her message “wasn’t necessarily about Martin Luther King; it wasn’t about black, white,” he said. “It was about bettering yourself as a person. Go out and get the job done and keep your eye on the prize.”

“It was very empowering to see an African-American woman in such a high position of power and high status,” said Ebony Robinson, an ECU sophomore studying neuroscience and Hispanic studies.

“She talked about her struggles and what she had to go through, but in the end she triumphed and won.”

The ECU Office of Equity and Diversity, Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, Student Government Association, Student Activities Board and Eta Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity co-sponsored the event.

In addition to the Miller presentation, ECU celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a day of service in the community. Pictured above, students helped out at the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina and with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern Carolina. (Contributed photos)