Ebony Editor Shares Life Lessons at Claflin Convocation

Ebony Editor-in-Chief Mitzi Miller is introduced at the 2015 Spring Convocation at Claflin University.
‘You Are a Rock Star’: Ebony Editor Shares Leadership Lessons with Students at Claflin University’s Spring Convocation (photo courtesy Larry Hardy/The Times and Democrat)
Sharing experiences from her personal professional journey, Ebony Editor-in-Chief Mitzi Miller said every Claflin student can be a visionary leader and laid out some steps for success during her address at the University’s 2015 Spring Convocation on Tuesday, Jan 27, 2015 .

“The first step to being considered a visionary leader is to realize in your heart of hearts that you are a rock star,” said Miller, who began her tenure at the country’s number one African-American monthly publication last April after working three years as editor-in-chief at Jet. “Know your self-worth. Believe in yourself.” 

Miller recounted how she literally chased the editor of Honey magazine down the street to ask for a job.

“I had nothing, except that I knew I was a star,” she said. “After she stopped laughing … she gave me her card. She gave me a shot.

“All I needed was a chance, because I knew in my heart of hearts I was going to be a star.”

But getting that opportunity, getting her foot in the door, wasn’t the end of it – Miller said to become the leader she knew she could be, she had to be willing to put in the work.

“Anything you truly want and put your heart and mind into, the universe will give you,” she said.

Miller worked hard at Honey, where she was promoted from unpaid intern to entertainment editor, and later became an associate editor at Jane magazine and editor-in-chief of SET magazine.

When she arrived at Jet, Miller said she had to roll up her sleeves and work hard to revamp a brand that had become stagnant.

“When I got there, there was a lot of work to be done,” Miller said. “It was straight business. It was earning trust. I had to convince people that this brand was worth it.”

Under her leadership, the 62-year-old magazine was revised with its first and only successful cover-to-cover redesign, new website launch, improved social media presence and consistent media coverage.

“Even when you get in the door, the all-nighters are not done,” Miller said.

She said she has been able to accomplish what she did at Jet and throughout her career by following her gut instinct and taking chances, another step to becoming a visionary leader.

“No matter what people give you, you can always take it to the next level,” Miller said. “There is nothing worse than living with regret. You can be wrong, but you need to know it for yourself.”

And never underestimate the power of teamwork, she said, adding that putting together a magazine isn’t a one-woman job.

“You need to know that behind you, there are people pushing and pulling you up,” Miller said. “Never lose sight of who’s on your team, who has your back.”

Leaders must be willing to make tough decisions and understand that not everyone is going to like them.

“Sometimes you are going to have to hurt somebody’s feelings. Sometimes you’re going to have to say ‘no’,” Miller continued. “But you will find that most people will like you when they respect you.”

Focus on excellence, she said, not perfectionism – and be sure to leave a legacy of a life well-lived.

“I want to do a good job,” she said. “I leave it all on the table, but not at the expense of having a well-rounded life.

“It is bigger than you. This world gets smaller every day. … If you treat people well, if you are kind, if you leave a legacy of a life well-lived, doors will open and people will be there for you.”

President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale said Miller’s talk of being a rock star is what’s known at the University as the “Claflin Confidence.”

“We are about preparing men and women who will go forth to become leaders,” he said. “We hope that you will believe that you, too, can lead.”

Spring Convocation serves as the official opening of the spring academic semester. This semester, Claflin University continues its 145th anniversary – under the theme “Celebrating Traditions, Pursing Transformative Change” – with a series of events throughout the spring. For more information, visit www.claflin.edu.

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