Journalist, Publisher, Talk Show Host and Author
If you’re looking for inspiration to get out there and shake things up, you need look no further than our February teafluencer, Karen Hunter. From her accomplishments as a journalist to creating an initiative designed to help young Black men find jobs in the tech industry, and many other accomplishments in between, Karen is the very definition of “getting the job done.”
Through our mutual friend Bill Telepan, I met Karen years ago. Bill had shown her the wisdom of drinking sencha tea. After we became friends, she invited me on to her show several times. It was always fun and thought-provoking. I should have known she was a professor! My job is to make sure I keep finding great senchas for her (and you). Read on to learn about Karen’s life which, of course, starts with a cup of tea every morning.
Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational background, where you live, family, etc.
Karen: I’m from East Orange, NJ, moved to Orange and West Orange, NJ. I never lived more than two miles from my parents right up until the death of my father eight years ago.
Harney: You’ve accomplished so much. Let’s start with your journalism career. You were the first African American female news columnist at the New York Daily News. When did you become interested in journalism, and how did it feel to be a trailblazer for other Black females in that industry?
Karen: I don’t think about blazing a trail. I focus on the task at hand and the vision. You can’t complete a vision if you’re looking back. I don’t spend a lot of time in reflection on what I’ve done. I’m too focused on what I’m about to do.
Harney: Eventually, you were part of a team from the Daily News that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. What was the work that earned the prize, and how did that huge accomplishment impact you?
Karen: It was for a series of editorials to save the world-famous Apollo Theatre. The best part was that I won as a member of a team. No one accomplishes anything great alone.
Harney: In addition to teaching at Hunter College, you’ve also been a morning radio talk show host. How did those career opportunities come about?
Karen: Being a journalist and then a columnist led to me filling in for a talk show host who went on vacation at an AM talk station in NYC. I filled in for a week, and they asked him not to come back. The rest is history.
Harney: As if what we’ve discussed so far isn’t enough -- and we’re just getting started -- you’re also a prolific author and co-author, with several books that were New York Times bestsellers. When did your interest in writing turn from journalism to books? What topics do you find most meaningful and important to relate to the public?
Karen: Writing books, particularly memoirs, was a natural extension of the work I did for the newspaper. It’s storytelling and revealing things about people and topics people don’t know. I started publishing when I was told “no” too many times when I pitched a project. I decided I needed to be in the seat to say “yes.”
Harney: For the past several years, you have been host of The Karen Hunter Show on Sirius XM, and you were named one of the “Heavy Hundred” or 100 Most Important Radio Talk Show Hosts by industry bible Talkers Magazine. How did becoming the host of your own satellite radio talk show come into being?
Karen: After my initial radio stint in the early 2000s came to an end, I was out of radio for 10 years. In between, I started my publishing house, and I was a paid contributor for MSNBC for three years. But during those 10 years, I still wanted to be back on the radio. I met a guy who had clients on SiriusXM. He set up a meeting…and a whole YEAR later, they called me in for a 30-day trial. That was in August 2014. The rest is history. FYI: I was a Heavy Hitter on the radio in the 2000s, and put that radio station in the ratings for the first time ever with my morning show.
Harney: Tell us about your #weOWNtech movement. What is it, and why did you start it?
Karen: I started #weOWNTech as a directive after I found out Prince (rest his soul) was putting his might behind getting 100,000 Black boys to learn how to code, because there are close to a 1 MM UNFILLED tech jobs in this country. This was my effort to help. It has evolved into me creating an app (The Party of Lincoln, which was No. 1 in the govtech sector), and I’m about to launch a new platform in February. You can’t tell people they should do something, you have to show them. I can’t code, but I push it, and I show people that you don’t have to code to start a tech company.
Harney: What role does tea play in your life? Do you have any rituals that involve tea? Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea?
Karen: I have several steepers and pots because I prefer loose tea over bags. I start my day with Ichiban Sencha. I like it strong. And I usually finish the day with either Ginger or now the Hemp Calm blend. I discovered Harney’s sencha at Oceana. (Actually, I was familiar with the tea from my days in Barnes & Noble.) Bill Telepan, the head chef at the time, introduced me to it. They would have my pot of tea ready for me every day I had lunch there.
You can learn more about Karen, watch episodes of her show, read more about #WeOwnTech, sign up for her newsletter and more on her website, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. We very much appreciate Karen’s time and passion for her work, something we totally understand! All photography was provided by Karen.