"Talking Entertainment with Multimedia Journalist Gia Peppers”
Gia is a multi-talented entertainment journalist and on-air talent from Washington, DC. At 26, the budding media phenom has worked on-camera and behind the scenes with BET, the NBA, Essence Magazine, Billboard, Complex, Hot 97 and more – usually at the very same time. When she isn’t in New York City, reporting on the biggest urban entertainment stories as a host of BET.com’s digital execution, “BET Breaks,” she is pumping up a crowd of 15,000 of Washington Wizards fans in her hometown or managing Ebro Darden’s brandsite, blameebro.com. But, it all started when she decided to believe that her gifts would never go to waste…
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Episode 6 Talking Entertainment with Gia Peppers
Written by: Sope Aluko
what was growing up was like for you?
Gia: Growing up was incredible because I grew up right here in D.C. and M.D .I’m from the DMV and always repping it. I grew up with black excellence and black love in Prince George’s County. Do you remember the show ‘Baldwin Hills’? It was just black people being excellent doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs and all I knew was excellence. It definitely shaped my vision of everything I could be from the time I was old enough to understand what achieving was about. My parents are always my number one reason to why anything that I accomplish happens. They raised me and have been married for 28 years and I am the product of real, not always perfect, Black love. My dad is a journalist and has been in hard news as a manager, as talent and as a reporter for the past 40 years. My mom is a dentist. I grew up everyday with an example of what “showing up” not only for yourself, but for your family and your dreams looks like. I went to middle school and high school here. It’s so great that we’re on Howard’s campus because I grew up on this campus. My mom would literally take us to every homecoming from the time I was a baby to 18. When I was allowed to go by myself, I started going by myself. This is love to me and home to me and it means so much to me.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Gia: First, I was going to be a veterinarian because I love dogs. Then I realized I couldn’t be prejudice to other animals so I knew it wasn’t going to work. My mom told me I would have to go to medical school and I was like, “I don’t want to take care of people’s lives though!” I didn’t understand. Don’t you just walk them and clean up their poop? That dream had to go because I don’t do well with blood. Everyday, my mom would ask me, my little brother and sister the five things we wanted to be and so everyday I would be thinking after school, “What do I want to be?” She would say, “Okay, so those are the five things you want to be. What are the five steps you need to take to achieve that?” My mom is the illest. She is the engine that all of us run on and we learned from her how to work hard and to enjoy the labor and the love of your work and what you get from your work. She’s my superwoman. I wanted to be a singer. I grew up singing, dancing, and acting in musical theaters and plays. I was dancing in college and took the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. I have a feeling I’ll get back on stage soon singing and dancing. That’s not a dream that’s lost. At the end of the day, I knew I wanted to be something that had something to do with entertainment and on TV. I used to watch 106 & Park every single day and was like, “I can do that!”
Let’s talk about your journey into entertainment and how you got started.
tell us about your roles and what your day-to-day looks like?
Gia: I do a lot but at the core I’m a freelancer. I don’t have an office that I go into every single day and I create my own schedule but that also means that you have to hustle to make sure that you are able to live and eat in NY and DC. I think that’s the easiest way to put [what I do]. I’m an on-air talent, entertainment journalist and I also manage Ebro Darden’s website, blameebro.com . I have an incredible team and we create content for what Ebro cares about and he cares about a lot from music to Black Lives Matter, politics and making sure people stay “woke.” I’m the in-arena host for the Washington Wizards so me and my co-host Rodney Rakai host all the home games. I love basketball and the NBA and I literally grew up in the Verizon Center, which is now the Capital One Arena. They work really hard and are a really young team and I wish the D.C. fans would come out a little harder for us. D.C. is a football place and the Redskins have had a difficult time, but people still ride for them. I’m on-air talent and an entertainment journalist for BET and I do digital and network stuff for them. I also worked with Essence and cover their press junkets. I go out and get to interview incredible people like Pharrell. He is one of those people you want to sit and talk with for years. Even in the way he dresses to the way he looks, you can see that creativity flows out of him. It’s been a fun and incredible ride. I also work with VH1 and did their Truth Campaign a few months back and i just started working with Aspire TV. I’m also on a podcast called “Black Girls Pod” where a lot of people love us.
Taking it back to high school and college at Rutgers, what steps did you take to get involved in the industry?
Gia: In high school, I knew I wanted to start the track to become a journalist early. They had the newspaper and the morning news and I did both. I was on the morning news once a month and I really liked it. I started writing for the school newspaper and really liked it. I thought “Journalism is cool because my mom will pay for this degree!” She said I will not pay for you to go play on some stage. My mom’s mindset was that you go to school and go to work but it’s a different mindset and grind to be a journalist. It’s about your network. How many internships did you have? It’s about creating relationships where people remember you, and if they remember you did they liked what they remembered? Are you working hard enough to the point that if you are walking down the red carpet, will somebody know your work? That’s how I met Ebro. He was like, “Oh you’re that girl Gia. I think you’re dope and have seen what you do.” Ebro and Essence were before the Wizards. He’s been my big brother for a minute.
In college, I started interning. The best part about being a journalist is that I can call my dad and be like, “Today was rough!” but he understands why it’s rough. Who wants to talk about the imbecile running things? It hasn’t even been a full year. It gets crazy but it’s dope because I get to talk to my dad. When I first started out, I was like, “Duh, I have a mentor in my dad!’ so I would talk to him about what to do. When I first started, entertainment wasn’t that big of a field. It is very real how much social media has created this new lane for not only income, but a new way of living. No one had phones out at concerts 10 years ago. We were all enjoying in the moment, seeing celebrities singing the song. My dad said “The one thing you need to do is get an internship and to start as soon as you get into college.” My first summer outside of Rutgers, I came home for the summer and interned with Donnie Simpson. It was his last summer at WPGC and he taught me I could be a really nice person. You always hear about people in the industry that everyone is sheisty and crazy and there are those people, but you don’t have to be one of those people and Donnie taught me that. He is one of the nicest, most incredible person. He’s one of those people that makes everyone feel like you’re a millionaire. He has all the character in the world which is why he’s been on the radio since he was 15. After that, I did my internship with Big Tigger and his style is a little bit different. He’s younger, fun and really friends with these celebrities. His relationship with the entertainment industry taught me that you can make friends but it’s a line that you have to watch. Danella was there and she’s been a personality for a while and then Free came. That was incredible because I was like, “That’s one of the reasons I even started.”
After that, I did two seasons of the Wendy Williams show in New York, and I did Live with Kelly and Michael. All of these were internships. All of these were apply online and they hit you up, and you show up for the interview. My thing was be willing to learn. Never go to an interview thinking you know everything. Don’t go being arrogant because no one wants to work with that. As an intern, 90% of it making sure that they’re good, 10% is where they expect you to shine and they ask you for a creative idea and you have something that you’ve been waiting for, you shine there and then they give you more responsibility. It will go from 90/% “Make sure I have coffee and my papers are on my desk so I know what the latest stories are” to 70%. I was on the air with Donnie Simpson talking about Beyonce. The hard work really helps. I always knew that if I was going to do entertainment journalism, I was going to do it right. “Right” to me was making sure that I tried every single side of journalism- producing, writing, researching, on-air, editing, video directing. I wanted to try everything to make sure that I could do it and to make sure I knew how everything worked. I knew then that I wanted to be on-air talent.
What’s one lesson you learned from the industry that still sticks with you today?
Gia: What’s for you is for you is my number one thing. It’’s a competitive industry and there’s no other way to put it. I have friends that are on-air talent that will go out for the same jobs and it’s like, “Hey I hope you get it!” and you genuinely mean it, but whoever needs to be picked has to be picked. What God has for you is for you so at the end of the day if you go out for something and seven of your friends go out for it, if it’s your job it’s your job. On the other hand, if someone gets that job and you don’t get it, don’t beat yourself up. It just wasn’t your opportunity. “No’s” lead to all the “yeses” in the world that you didn’t even see coming. Also I learned the work works. Instagram is great but people lie so much about what they do, and who they’re with, and who they know. Half the celebrity posts you see where people are like, “That’s my bro” they probably just took the one photo for two seconds. Don’t believe what you see. Believe what they create and what they are about. If you really want to make it work, don’t let anything that you think is cute be the reason you’re doing this. Don’t be on air-talent because you want to be cute.
If you had to name three people on your Mount Rushmore of inspiration, who would they be?
Gia: I would start with my mama. Mom is literally walking inspiration for me seeing her work so hard everyday. Oprah Winfrey because she is the queen of this. There is no woman on Earth as powerful. What I respect about Oprah is that she used her platform not to take people down and not to out shame on America for being a certain way. She said, “I’m struggling and you’re probably struggling so let’s figure out how we can grow and be our best selves together.” She did that and came into hundreds and thousands of people’s living room every single day at 4 o'clock. I grew up watching Oprah. She was an aunt to me in my head before I even wanted to be a journalist. The imagery of her on TV as a woman who shows up and is confident in herself and is like, “ I am a vessel, let me be used” is incredible. Beyonce because I’ve been a fan of hers for 20 years now. The best thing about Beyonce is that she continuously reinvents herself to the point where they Beyonce we got in “Crazy in Love” is nothing like the Beyonce in “Lemonade.” It’s natural growth for her and her only competition is herself. She’s like, “Okay, I broke records last time, so let me go ahead and do a full film, make some money, make HBO free for everybody…” If you don’t like Beyonce, you don’t like yourself and it’s okay. Her continuously striving to be better and seeing that as a fan, definitely let me know that the sky is not only the limit but where I should be living. I should be up there living being excellent at all times. It’s possible. I would say the fourth person is Maya Angelou because I wish I could have met her. I really do. Maya is the moral compass that this world is missing. Just listening to her, not matter if I’m having a bad day, I’ll turn on Stevie Wonder and listen to Maya Angelou's Master Class she did with Oprah.
A major staple of this project is “Passion changes everything.” What would you say is your passion and when did you know?
Gia: My passion is being a prism for excellence and shining but my passion comes from wanting everyone to be their best selves. I’m really really so sick of seeing people level out at mediocrity and be like, “I got a check.” If we as a people stood in the power of how excellent we actually are...we change culture, we are culture. There is no culture without us. Jay-Z just said that on the RapRadar podcast. We get very “Crabs in a barrel” when it comes to “How did you do it?” You have to give the keys because do you think other races and generations aren’t giving keys? That’s how they have been able to make sure gentrification doesn’t happen to their neighborhoods. We have to make sure we’re responsible for one another.
What separates people who have made their dream a reality from those who haven’t?
Gia: Perseverance. That’s the one thing. They did not give up when they failed. That’s another thing I’ve learned in this business. Failure is going to happen. People think you wake up in the morning and post a picture on Instagram, use hashtags and you’re a journalist, or a chef, or a photographer. It takes time. Go take class. There is always something you can be better at. Master your craft. When you try and fail, take that as a lesson instead of something that makes you stop.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you?
Gia: The biggest challenge for me is that I’m a nice person. The challenge is balancing being a nice person that was raised right- that means you come into a room and you say hello to people, and you smile, and you are responsible for the energy that you bring into the room- but when you’re talking business, you’re talking business. Also knowing when to say no. I like to give There’s a way to make things work. My biggest challenge has been respecting myself enough to have what I’m worth and ask for what I’m worth. Letting other people tell me when I’m wrong is another challenge. I’m not bad at listening to that but actually taking it in. I’ve had a lot of mentors. Felicia Butterfield-Jones who is the head of diversity at Google is one of my favorite people on Earth. I’ve had a lot of mentors. So many people have poured into me on how not to make those mistakes. I love taking advice but sometimes when you think you’re doing something so great and you’re like, “I put everything into this and they tell you, “That sucked.” and it’s just like “I guess I’ll do it again.”
What inspires you to succeed?
Gia: My mom is still working. My dad is still working. Everybody I know is still working. I don’t want that. I can’t wait for the day that I can call my mom and be like, “Hey girl! I have two tickets for you and Dad. There’s a villa in Roundhill, Jamaica with your name on it and I already called all your jobs and you don’t have to come in.” I can’t wait for that moment I can call both of them and be like, “The PJ (private jet) is outside... Go have fun!” They have poured so much into the dreams of me, my brother and my sister. My brother is a D1 basketball player. My sister is in medical school right now. They poured so much excellence into us. We don’t have a choice but to be excellent. Also, my favorite part of being a Wizards host is the young girls the come up to me and are like, “I want to do that!” Teenage girls are incredible but the babies mean something to me. You see that you can be that. I live in New York in Brooklyn and there are a lot of kids who have never been outside of the borough and they never seen someone other than a drug dealer or a stripper that’s trying to live paycheck to paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that but expose your kids to excellence and believe in their dreams. My parents did that with me and now I’m living my dreams. There are so many lanes. Your job might not even be a thing yet. We are the generation of lane creators. There are so many lanes right now people can’t even drive. I think it’s so dope that there are tools for Instagram and Twitter that you can brand yourself every single day. Be careful what you tweet and post.
socially and politically, What would you say frustrates you the most about today’s culture?
Gia: Donald J is the number one. I can’t believe someone can be so incompetent. He did nothing to deserve the presidency. It should be sacred and it used to be. That’s the number one thing that frustrates me about the world we live in today. Nothing is really sacred. Marriage isn’t sacred, friendships aren’t sacred, lives aren’t sacred. Sometimes seems like everything is fake or everything is just for likes. Also racism is frustrating because our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents fought so hard for us not to have to go through this. I don’t have the answer to that. I have a little brother. I am a Black woman. I have Black friends and family. It’s crazy to know that you can walk outside, see the wrong person and lose your life because of the color of your skin, not because of something that you did to somebody. It’s sad that we still have to go through that.
What can we do as a millennial generation to be activists? How can we push the culture forward?
Gia: I am a fan of anyone activating their activism by doing what you are doing and doing it excellently. I’ve been to a lot of incredibly moving conversations with Tamika D. Mallory. Valeisha Butterfield Jones is very close with them so she leads a lot of those sessions, with Tamika as the helm. Brittany Packyetti and Deray [McKesson], who I actually met two weeks ago, are all incredible voices. There’s also my friend Darius Gordon from right here in D.C. and works with the Justice League. They always say that you still have to show up to your workplace and show up in what you want to do and be excellent at it, and use your conversation to create the dialogue that will open up the minds of the people that are around you that might not know. Don’t be afraid to speak how you feel on it. There are a lot of celebrities tied up in endorsement deals that can’t say things. I will never sign a deal that will say I can’t speak on what I believe. I think it is important that we see our leaders speaking on it. Be excellent where you are and show up when it’s time. If you can’t show up physically and protest because you don’t feel safe, donate. Donate your time. It all starts in our communities. Tell the young boy outside he doesn’t have to be on the corner.
What advice would you give a student that wants to shine in entertainment?
Gia: Be smart. The same skills you would use in strategizing your budget, strategize your plan. Know that your plan might change. Be open to that. I had no idea I was going to be the in-area host for the Washington Wizards. It just came out of nowhere. Be open to the opportunities that come. Be smart with the ones that you have. I know a lot of kids don’t like to work for free, but internships are everything. Even if you’re not getting money out of it, what are you getting out of it? Five new contacts who believe in how hard you work. They could be the people who get you a job when you do graduate. Showing up ready and willing to learn. You don’t know anything. Get your ego together. You might have some poppin’ followers but do you really know what this game is like. Pay attention, be observant be and speak up when they’re ready to hear you. The one thing I hate is a cocky intern and its like you belong in the building. That is the easiest way to get fired from a free work situation. Your job is to make sure you are taking care of your duties well and then going above and beyond. You might only be there one day of the week, but let that one day be their favorite day of the week because you’re coming in there. If I meet one more girl who tells me she wants to be an on-air talent and she doesn’t have a Youtube or any type of series, I’m going to have a problem. There are so many ways to create content right now that if you don’t, it’s on you. Start now. There is no reason you can’t have your own show. Everyone and their mamas have rapper cousins, brothers and sisters. Interview them about their song process just so you know when you get the chance to interview Pharrell how your voice sounds and what it looks like when you use your body. There’s no reason you can’t start now and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.
Interested in learning more or connecting with Gia?