In 1994, AAJA Florida began as an idea among two journalists in South Florida. Joe Newman and Maggie Tai Tucker were both working for The Palm Beach Post when they realized there were a large group of Asian American journalists throughout the state.
“I had never heard of AAJA but I think Maggie who had recently moved to Florida had been involved in another chapter. I looked into what we needed to do to form a chapter and sent out some feelers,” said Newman.
Newman and Tucker gathered with several other local reporters and contacted the national office about starting a chapter. Unbeknownst to the group, there was already a Florida-based journalist on the national board as an at-large member: Gail Rayos, a journalist for the Orlando Sentinel.
Newman attended to the next spring board meeting in 1995 to pitch the Florida chapter to Laura “L.A.” Chung and Dinah Eng, the executive director and AAJA president at the time. It was there that he met Rayos, who “jumped on board of our effort and put her influence behind our bid.”
“We were told to keep organizing and they would take up our application at a future meeting,” said Newman.
A year later, the group officially passed probation and Florida became a chapter at the annual convention. Newman was elected the inaugural president, while Rayos became the chapter’s first board representative.
The first major fund-raiser was the Asian Film Festival at the Enzian Theater in Central Florida. Longtime, former chapter treasurer Karen Cody helped AAJA Florida established close ties with the University of Florida. She also helped coordinate the AAJA Career Days at the UF College of Journalism as a joint event with the student group, the Association of Asian Communicators for years. The event brought several chapter members to Gainesville to critique student resumes and portfolios. Among those volunteers was long-time member and former president Carol Reynolds-Srot, who was working for the Miami Herald at that time. Reynolds-Srot and the chapter recruited several college students into the organization. Some of those students would eventually become chapter officers themselves: the University of Miami’s Ivette Yee, and UF & ACC alums Ferdie De Vega and Belinda Long-Ivey.
In 1998, Rayos was elected as chapter president and Florida was awarded AAJA Chapter of the Year. In 1999, the chapter held it’s first dim sum and Unity mixer in South Florida, a tradition that would continue until 2011. It was also the only fundraising and social event for years due to sparse membership throughout the state.
In 2001, Rayos also received the ELP National Excellence in Leadership Award. And in 2007, the chapter hosted its first national convention in Miami. In 2008, AAJA Florida began to revive its membership outreach in Tampa and Orlando. In 2009, AAJA Florida sold its first cookbook — its most successful fundraiser to date. The chapter has plans to update the cookbook and release a possible sequel in 2013.
Today, the chapter has about 20 members throughout the state, down from the average of 40-50 members. Several members have passed through Florida’s alumnae since its inception, including former national officers Janet Cho, 2013 vice-president-elect Niala Boodhoo and 2013 president-elect Paul Cheung. AAJA Florida still strives to serve its members, reach out to the Asian American community and work with student journalists throughout the state.
If you are interested in joining AAJA, please visit our Membership page for more information. If you would like to work with AAJA Florida on an upcoming event or project, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.