Karsonya Wise Whitehead accepts the Vernon Jarrett 2021 Journalism Award

Whitehead, broadcaster, journalist, and professor received the Jarrett award for her coverage of Black communities in Baltimore. 


Trae Mitchell

“We [Whitehead and those working on her show] believe our job at the end of the day [is to] educate African Americans and anyone else who is listening, is to be, that by working, we are saving lives,” said Whitehead, recipient of the Vernon Jarrett Award.

Trae Mitchell, Managing Editor

Karsonya Wise Whitehead sat, shifting in her seat as her husband dropped his arm over her shoulders. 

Whitehead, a renowned journalist and radio host of Today with Dr. Kaye, of Morgan State University’s WEAA FM 88.9, was accustomed to covering others’ moments, but this moment was for her. 

Whitehead accepted the Vernon Jarrett Medal for Journalistic Excellence this Thursday in the Washington, DC National Press Center.

SGJC’s board of visitors, Morgan press, family, and friends attended the ceremony to witness Whitehead receive her awards for her reporting on Black communities in Baltimore and the wealth gaps for Black people in the nation.

In addition to the medal, Whitehead was also awarded $10,000 from the School of Global Journalism and Communication. 

“This is a good moment, but sometimes the spotlight makes me a little uncomfortable. I try to lean into it, but sometimes I’m like oh, it’s gonna be a bit overwhelming,” said Whitehead.

At the awards ceremony, she listened to speakers talking at length about her achievements.

Whitehead is well accomplished in several aspects as she is the founding director of the Karson Institute for Race, Peace, and Social Justice, associate professor of communication and African American Studies at Loyola University, host of Today with Dr. Kaye, and author of four books.

Whitehead’s family, whom she said sacrificed for her to get to this place in her career, sat beside and behind her. Their presence grounded her through the ceremony.

Pictured left to right: Robin Wise (elder sister), Wanda Bamberg Tia (aunt), Karsonya Wise Whitehead, and Labonnie Smith (younger sister) (Trae Mitchell)

“We have this saying in our family […] that when one of us receives an award, all of us win it,” she said. “Everybody has to sacrifice to make sure that person is able to get to the next level.”

The judges for the Jarrett Award, composed of prominent journalists outside the university, were impressed by Whitehead’s work, and awarded Whitehead as the first broadcaster and first in-house choice.

“They [the judges] said that her work was outstanding, that she really had a real impact, that her work was scholarly as well as professionally done, and that the person who nominated her really spoke very well and very detailed about her work and what she had done,” said Jaqueline Jones, dean of the School of Global Journalism.

Jones said although she is usually a part of the board that determines the award recipient, she didn’t involve herself since Whitehead works for WEAA, the campus radio station.

Jones and Whitehead embrace each other after Whitehead receives the medal. (Trae Mitchell)

As the recipient of numerous accolades including the 2021 Edward R. Murrow Award, 2015 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award, 2014 Letitia Woods Brown Book Award, 2021 Leaders in Diversity Award and 2019 Collegium Visionary Award among others, Whitehead is accustomed to high accolades throughout her career. 

Hearing the news about the Vernon Jarrett award, however, was the first time she was brought to tears.

When she first received the news, Whitehead immediately called her father.

Whitehead’s father, Carson Wise Sr., introduced her to Vernon Jarrett’s work at a young age. When Whitehead was the head of her high school newspaper, she kept Jarrett’s work in her periphery and continued to do so through her work at Lincoln University’s college newspaper.

Wise, a pastor in the D.C. area, always reminded her to hold herself accountable for the legacy that she leaves.

Whitehead said, “My dad used to always say when we get to heaven and St. Peter’s at the gate, and he asks you ‘What have you done to have us to open up the gates and let you in’ what have you done?” Through her professional profession, Whitehead kept this question in her mind.

After graduating from Lincoln with her bachelor’s in history in 1991, Whitehead went on to earn her master’s in International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 1993, and her doctoral degree in philosophy, language, literacy, and culture from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2009.

In her professional broadcasting career, Whitehead reported on Baltimore’s Black neighborhoods and encountered one of her steepest obstacles. 

When Whitehead first started on the radio, someone called her show voicing a complaint. They believed Whitehead shouldn’t talk about Baltimore because she didn’t know the community.

“He said very clearly ‘Dr. Kaye, you don’t know Baltimore,” said Whitehead. “[he said,] ‘Come over here and spend time in our community so you can understand what we’re talking about.”

Whitehead took the caller’s challenge seriously. She spent extensive time in these communities, visiting churches, schools and other gathering areas, and the work that she did eventually culminated in a column in the Afro.

Whitehead’s research carried her into the heart of the community, and in 2015, Whitehead participated with her sons in Baltimore’s 2015 protests against police brutality after the murder of Freddie Gray.


In 2020, during the most restricted parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitehead continued her reporting on Baltimore and her talk show was one of the first in the region to interview Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president of the United States, on COVID-19 while the pandemic’s full scale was still on the horizon.

She continued advocating for issues affecting the Baltimore community on her radio show and in her Afro column.

“When there’s an issue and we amplify it on the radio, we will talk about it every day until they change,” said Whitehead.

“You [have to be] very clear about whether you are part of the fabric of Baltimore City or whether you are a carpetbagger,” she said.

Whitehead continues to cover the communities in Baltimore that are underserved and who remain largely uncovered.

“I’ve come to love Baltimore city as my adopted city and my home and I do everything I can being on the radio, showing up after hours of preparation […]” said Whitehead. “We [Whitehead and those working on her show] believe our job at the end of the day [is to] educate African Americans and anyone else who is listening, is to be, that by working, we are saving lives,” said Whitehead.