Create Your Own Seat At the Table: Cathy Hughes Launches Women’s History Month at Howard University

Media Pioneer Shares Wit, Wisdom with Students


By Shayla Farrow, Tia Humphries and Rebecca Johnson, NewsVision and Howard University News Service

Washington, DC–Cathy Hughes reminded students to persevere, never give up and stay focused on their goals in life.

The first discussion was moderated by a senior journalism student, Amber Tucker. The discussion focused on her journey to owning the top African American owned media company. 

One of her first jobs was a lecturer in the School of Communications. Hughes was also the first woman general manager of WHUR. That came with its own set of challenges; with several people objecting to it. 

When she was building Urban One, she was turned down by 32 different banks, before she received her first $1 million loan. She said what kept her going were the odds.  

“Law of averages teaches you it is impossible for a ‘no’ to remain a ‘no’ indefinitely,” explained Hughes. 

Hughes said one of her greatest blessings (right after her son, Alfred), was knowing exactly what she wanted to do at a young age. 

“I knew I would be on the radio. At eight, I knew I was on an entrepreneurial venture,” she said. 

Most of the audience comprised college students that were unsure what life looks like on the other side of a Bachelors’s degree. To that, Hughes said to persevere through life’s obstacles. 

“Success is not a constant straight trajectory up. You’re going to have hills and valleys,” she advised. “It’s not just patience you have to exercise, its also determination,” she added later. 

In the early days of Urban Once, what Hughes lacked in resources she made up for in community. During that time, she used a $5,000 loan from her mother to build a kitchen and bathroom in the office, since that is where she was living. Since she was not able to provide benefits to her staff, she cooked for them and created a family atmosphere within the company. 

“Success, in my opinion, is based on how many people you’ve helped in your lifetime,” she said. 

On average, it takes a new business to three to five years to generate a profit. It took Urban One 7 and a half years. Hughes recently celebrated 40 years of her company at the Urban One Honors in January. 

“Oftentimes, the payroll didn’t include myself,” she shared. 

Part two of the event, she was joined by Karen Whitehart, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer; Michelle Rice, General Manager of TV One and Cleo TV; Janine Brunson-Johnson, Radio One DC Promotions Director; and Uy, Editor of TV One. 

The second panel was moderated by a senior journalism major, Kaprielle Trenard and echoed the same sentiments as the first panel. 

“Its really important for us to have a voice and be behind the scenes as well,” said Uy, who proudly pointed out three female students that were taping the panel. 

The panel discussed their experiences about working in a majority woman environment. 

“I always felt an obligation to replace myself, to clone myself, in particular, a woman of color,” explained Hughes. 

“I like to facetiously say this, but it is so true, that women have made more progress in the basketball industry.” “The WNBA has made way more progress than the media industry has in terms of women in particularly in ownership in this year.”

The panel advised the audience of young professionals to always bring their authentic selves to the office and to know their value, especially the women.

“Its important to say that there is no replacement for hard work,” said Brunson-Johnson. “When work really hard, sometimes people will have a perception of you initially, but it changes because they see that they absolutely need you.”

“There was a time when women wanted to dress like men and act like men because they thought if they walked in the room looking like a woman they would be treated differently,’ shared Rice. “It’s empowering being a woman and I am going to embrace my femininity and the power behind my femininity and I won’t let anybody take that away from me.”

“There are no shortcuts,” said Whitehart. “If you try to take a shortcut, if you don’t do your work, you don’t do your research, you don’t prepare, if you don’t go out there every day trying to be the best that you can be, then you’re not going to get to where you want to get.” 

During the ending question-and-answer portion 

“In my opinion, what you need more than a degree is an opportunity, and that’s what Howard [University] provided me.”