Monica Kaufman Pearson, long-time television journalist for WSB-TV and Atlanta’s first woman and first African-American to anchor an Atlanta-area evening news program, will deliver the annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture at 2 p.m. Feb. 7, 2019, in the Chapel.
The lecture, held since 1985, is named in honor of Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes, who, in 1961, were met with riots and protests after becoming the first African-American students to enroll at the University of Georgia. The lecture focuses on race relations, civil rights and education, according to a UGA press release, and is sponsored by the Office of the President.
Upon hearing that she would be presenting the lecture, Pearson said she had “mixed feelings.”
“[I’m] honored, humbled but also apprehensive, a little scared because the message needs to be relevant, instructive, yet warm and memorable,” Pearson said in an email. “I want people to walk away with literally food for thought but also I want the audience moved to do something with what I share. This is going to take a while to write.”
Pearson worked as WSB-TV’s Channel 2 Action News anchor for 37 years, becoming Atlanta’s first woman and minority to anchor daily news programs when she debuted in 1975. During her career, she has profiled national celebrities and world leaders in her “Close-Ups” series, according to the press release, and has received more than 30 local and regional Emmy awards.
Prior to her time at WSB-TV, Pearson worked as a newspaper reporter at The Louisville Times, as a public relations professional and as a reporter and anchor at Louisville’s WHAS-TV, the press release said.
After her retirement in 2012, Pearson graduated magna cum laude from UGA in 2014 with a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication and was named one of UGA’s Distinguished Alumni in 2018.
Pearson said she hopes attendees of the lecture “realize learning is a lifelong process.”
“I didn't go to grad school until I was almost 65 and was determined to graduate magna cum laude, which I did,” Pearson said in an email. “You must continue to grow and stretch yourself.”
Pearson now hosts a weekly radio show, “The Monica Pearson Show,” on KISS 104.1 FM and guest lectures at numerous colleges and universities across the state including UGA, Clayton State University and Kennesaw State University.
Pearson will join a long list of individuals who have previously presented the Holmes-Hunter Lecture including co-host and weatherman of NBC’s “Today” show Al Roker, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Charlayne Hunter-Gault herself, who delivered the lecture in February 2018.
Ahead of next year’s lecture, UGA and the Athens-Clarke County School System will partner to bring students to hear Pearson speak, an opportunity that Pearson hopes to use to share her story of success and pass along words of encouragement.
“What I did for 45 years is something they can do … report the news but also learn that my success was not based on what I did on the air alone,” Pearson said.
Her success, Pearson said, is also based on contributions to the community.
“My involvement in the community, from speaking at schools, serving on community boards of directors, volunteering as a weekly reader to first graders for 10 years and countless other things, helped me stay grounded, provided great contacts and made me a part of the community,” Pearson said.
Ultimately, Pearson hopes to use the lecture to share what she has learned over the course of her career.
“I hope, in hearing my story, they will realize what my mother always stressed to me: ‘It's what you do with what you have that makes you what you are,’” Pearson said.
Tessa Green contributed to this article.