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Alumni Profile

Student organization honors Emmy Award-winning alumna

Sonja Steptoe

Sonja Steptoe, BA, BJ ’82, center, meets with students in Respect Hall before the 2012 Black Women Rock ceremony March 10, 2012. The building’s fourth floor was named in her honor. Photo by Rob Hill

By most definitions Sonja Steptoe, BA, BJ ’82, is a success. An Emmy Award-winning journalist, she has directed operations at Time and People magazines. Her new title is deputy director of public affairs at the U.S. Commerce Department in Washington, D.C.

But her humility shone through before an audience brimming with fellow Tigers in the Conservation Auditorium March 10. She stuttered slightly, fumbling through a bout of nervous energy before she settled into her speech.

“A record of achievement is colorblind, and it makes you competitive in any arena,” Steptoe said.

She addressed mostly black undergraduate students as she accepted a 2012 Black Women Rock award. Students at MU established the student group and the honor to highlight the achievements of black alumnae, students and community leaders.

When Steptoe envisioned the black women who have molded and inspired her most, she listed notables such as first lady Michelle Obama. But she emphasized the personal influence of the women sitting beside her in the filled auditorium -— mother Rosa Steptoe and sister Natasha Collins. 

“I’ve learned the value of hard work, and I’ve tried to learn their lessons of graciousness,” Steptoe said. “I’m still trying to absorb them and apply them.”

When she earned her Emmy for outstanding sports journalism in 1999, she couldn’t believe it. “Can I really tell people that I won an Emmy?” Steptoe wondered. “Then it arrived in a box.” 

She didn’t mention the Emmy during the Black Women Rock ceremony. Instead, she expressed honor and excitement. “You just have no idea that people are paying attention,” Steptoe said.

She ended her acceptance speech with the words of historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” 

“Be fearless,” she advised. — Lauren Foreman