Sandra Dorsey Rice
Interview Date: December 1, 2017
Interview Location: New York City, NY USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Hauser Oral History Program
Seth Arenstein: Hi, I'm Seth Arenstein and I'm here for the Hauser Oral History Project for the Cable Center. We’re in New York City. I was about to say, Washington, DC, but no, we’re in New York City. It's December 1, 2017. We’re here with Sandra Rice, who is the SVP of National Recruitment and Leadership Development of the Emma Bowen Foundation. Welcome, Sandra.
Sandra Rice: Thank you, welcome. I'm happy to be here.
Arenstein: First tell us—some people might not know what the Emma Bowen Foundation is. What is the Emma Bowen Foundation? And who was Emma Bowen?
Rice: Well, the most important piece is let's talk about Emma Bowen. Because most people have never heard of Emma Bowen. Emma Bowen was a community activist in New York City back in the late 60s and 70s. Her story tells the story of a woman who could make a difference. One person can make a difference and change many, many lives, and that’s what she did. Her whole emphasis was on health, the health industry. And she basically combined her skill sets from the health industry to media. Meaning that, she didn’t like the images that she saw on television as it related to African-American males. That’s where it began. And she and three or four other people started something called “Black Citizens in New York for a Fair Media.” And they used to hold forums at the Apollo Theater and invited media companies; the three networks at that time—ABC, CBS and NBC—to talk about their diversity or lack of. In those days, there was lack of. She helped define the program that is Emma Bowen Foundation, which is a multi-summer internship program that helps students of color have internships all across America. And what started with what maybe nine companies is now more than fifty companies that sign on, financially sign on, to take students and be part of the partnership. And it's been going on for about thirty years. It started at ABC, and Fox TV stations added to the pot like $1.5 million back in the 90s to start this program. And it just kept growing and growing and growing because the end product, the alumni, are the most successful. There's more than 1,000, probably 1,500 of them out there. And they all work in the industry as a result of this program.
Arenstein: You said something earlier that’s important, too. I think you said, “multi-year internships.” Tell us about that.
Rice: It’s actually multi-year for us, because we never let go. For companies, it’s multi-summer and the thinking was, in the early days, the thinking was, let’s start an internship program, but let's make it more about relationship building. And at the pace of a minority student going in, most companies don’t get to know that student after six or seven weeks because they are different when they go into the workplace, and they are the only. But if a company knows that student is coming back, they have a whole plan for that student, and they take them all the way through college, until they graduate from college. It's not just on-camera. It's off-camera, all fields—
Arenstein: Writing, too?
Rice: Writing, too.
Rice: Directing. One of them yesterday just got a job for an unnamed HBO show that starts in the spring and he’s been waiting for this big job. He’s a writer, he is going to be a writer. I mean, we see it all the time. We have one who just got a job at “The Late Show,” with Steve Colbert. He starts in January. Then we have others who are, you know, at the top of their game. They're executives at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles, they are senior VPs running all production. This is the 30-year history of Emma Bowen…
Arenstein: So, thirty years old…
Rice: Thirty years, in 2019, it will be thirty years old.
Arenstein: And Emma Bowen herself, when did she die?
Rice: She passed in 1996, I believe. I came on in ’97, so I've been there a long time. But I was at ABC prior to that, so I did get to meet her at one of the board meetings because they brought me in to talk about whatever I was doing at that time.
Arenstein: So do you think Emma Bowen could have foreseen this kind of success?
Rice: Never. In a million years. Because I think her deal was to make sure they had exposure and built relationships and had an opportunity. Through our previous CEO, Phyllis Eagle-Olson, we took it in a whole other direction. That they would not just have the opportunity, but they would have the mentorship, and they would have a plan, and they would have skills. And that would carry them not just for that one network, but across the industry. It is a—I wouldn’t call it groundbreaking, but certainly, back in the day where she was coming I think it was the opportunity and the exposure that she was looking for, and the relationship. That all the things that come along with it, leadership development, and programs within the program, have really, really prospered.
Arenstein: How big a foundation is this? I mean, how many people on the staff? I bet it's pretty small, right?
Rice: It’s very small. We do a yeoman’s job here, I'm telling you. From East Coast to West Coast, because we have two offices. We’re at CBS in Los Angeles on the lot, and we’re at NBC in New York where we house probably ten staff, and maybe two or three consultants.
Arenstein: So here’s this Emma Bowen Foundation, somebody’s an alum of the foundation and there are moving up in their profession, but they still want to network, and they still want to give back. They absolutely want to give back. What sorts of things do they do with the Emma Bowen Foundation ten-fifteen years out of being an intern?
Rice: Well, thankfully the alumni started the association themselves about, I don’t know, eight years ago. And they have their own programming and they have their own officers and they do their own thing. So, we at Emma Bowen started something called the Alumni and Media Professionals Network so people of color who are in the industry, no matter what level they're in, even entry level, can join this group and have exposure to different industry events. Like Bloomberg had an event last fall where they hosted probably 70-75 AMP members and gave exposure to that company and those companies’ representatives. We look for companies to do that all the time. So, we’re looking to do another one in the spring.
Arenstein: I'm going to jump around a little bit because we've started with Emma Bowen. Sandra Rice is a media professional, been in the media back in the beginning of your career—we’ll go step by step. But what was the impetus for you to say, gee, I'm successful, I want to give back. I want to dedicate my life to giving back. That’s got to be a big decision.
Rice: It is a big decision and I think all of us, we give in our own way. So, when I was early in my career, I had the pleasure of being mentored by a few people who did this, senior executives, all the time. You know, in their off hours, they were on the weekends they were doing things in their community. So, I started doing small things like mentoring young girls in high school who wanted to be politicians, who wanted to go into government, through a program by the American Legion Auxiliary called “Girls State.” And Girls State is all over America, just like Boys State. It's been going on for like 60 years, and when I was sixteen, I was a Girls Stater representing the state of California and I was named to go to Girls Nation. That started my whole giveback. Everything I do is because of what I learned at that place in Squaw Valley, California. Every volunteer experience I ever had stemmed from that. Because not only did they teach you there about government and politics, but it was about other people, their struggles. I went to Girls State a long time ago, like 1972. And in 1972 there might have been, I don’t know, ten, fifteen people of color, girls of color who were at Girls State, which was about 600 girls.
So, my voice could have been lost but it wasn’t because it was treasured because I was different in 1972. And I had the big Afro as I walked into the White House representing California. I had a roommate at that time, she represented Ohio and her parents had problems with me being her roommate because of California and the liberalness of California. And it literally was like a little problem. We worked through it—anyway, that started my whole giveback and so as I went through college, I always found myself on the coat drive, or whatever there was. But when I got to ABC, somehow, some way, I was tapped to be part of something called “The VIP Program.” It was started by Dan Burke and Tom Murphy, Cap Cities. And I literally got in there and started painting classrooms and going to the battered women’s retreat on a regular basis in Harlem. Just giving back all the time. No matter what was going on in my 9 to 5, I did something that month somewhere. Through that, I was able to meet people like Bob Iger, Phil Meek. I can do down the row. There are so many people I met along the way who also were doing the same thing. So, it's just part of the makeup, I think.
And then in my own community, I find time to give back to the library, help young people. I still am in touch with the California Girls State program. Every summer I go back for that one week. We turn off the world and we create our own state on how we want to live, how we want to lead, and these girls are 4.0’s from all over the state of California. Everybody has one, New York has one. Bill Clinton was a Boys Stater. Michael Jordan was a Boys Stater. Leeza Gibbons was a Girls Stater. And the skills that you learn at Girls State go beyond running for office or government. It teaches you about life. And that’s where it really began for me.
Arenstein: That’s a great story, that something that you did when you were a teenager continues to this day and now you're still involved with this organization. What a great tribute to that organization.
Rice: I went back to Girls Nation three times to be a part of, like a speaker, and the last time I went was 2014. So, Obama was there. He meets with all the Staters, all the Nation Senators. We’re called Senators. So, Boys Nation is there, 50 states, and then you have Girls Nation, so two from every state go. Then I went before, previously, in Clinton’s administration, so I was able to go and meet him. One time when I met him—you are enamored with Bill Clinton when you meet him, and especially, I'm a very tall woman and he’s tall, we’re like eye-to-eye, and he says, hello, and he says my name, “Hi, Sandra.” Because the last time I was there. So, in my mind, as I'm talking to him, he knows who I am. As I walked away, I looked down, there was my name. So, he knew my name. But he didn’t know who I was. But I was enamored. I thought, oh my God, Bill Clinton knows who I am. It was amazing.
And Bush did the same thing. Every president will take the time to welcome into the White House this program, which is phenomenal.
Arenstein: You know, this kind of thing, I just have to ask this question. We’ll get back to the history. When you get up in the morning, the fact that you could be influencing somebody else’s life 20, 30 years from now, I bet that you get up in a good mood.
Rice: Seth, I start my mornings with prayer. I am on my knees, I think, I'm going to start my journey. I thank God for my journey because I didn’t know what was possible. And every day, I think over the job that I have, because it's more than a job.
Arenstein: Exactly. It’s a calling.
Rice: It's a calling. But I didn’t know the calling. It took many years and many people to tell me this is my direction. I kept trying to stay at ABC. “I'll be fine, I’m fine.” And then Dennis Swanson called me one day and said, “Sandra, there's a job for you.” I said, “I'm not going to leave ABC.” He said, “But you don’t have to leave ABC. We’re going to move you to LA. And you're going to open the West Coast office for Emma Bowen.” And that’s where it started. And I told myself then, I'll do it for one year. I'll do it for one year. And I've never looked back. It’s been the best thing.
Arenstein: So, let's talk about “early on.” Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Rice: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. My father was in the military. There were five kids; I was number four, the baby girl. We lived all over the world actually. Daddy took us everywhere. We lived in Germany, we lived in Japan, Puerto Rico. From Texas to Maryland to Pennsylvania to San Francisco—we moved a lot.
Arenstein: Where do you call home?
Rice: Sacramento, California.
Rice: Because those are my high school years and we settled there. So, when Daddy came home, he also kept working. He commuted like once a week to Oakland, California, and he was gone a lot of the time. And that whole thing with the American Legion and Girls State, was amazing for my dad. He was so proud of me, because it was something I wasn’t going to do. When the principal called and said I was picked, I told both my parents, “I don’t want to go there.” I said, “I don’t know those people,” and my father said, “You're going to go and you're going to do good.” I was like, “I really don’t want to go.” And when I got off that bus, with this huge Afro and overalls and about forty pounds overweight, and I saw all the blond and the blue-eyed people, I was miserable for that first 24 hours. And it took a counselor—because you have good counselors there, I'm a counselor now—to pull, to pull and make sure everybody’s included. And my counselor did. So, when I became the governor of California State, it was a big deal. It was all over the newspapers. My father was so proud of me. I always thought my father didn’t know me because he traveled so much. He was there for dinner and then he was gone. And then he traveled. And so I was like, I always want to make him proud. I knew my mother was proud, but this made him beam. He was just very, very happy about it.
Arenstein: And what did your father do in the military?
Rice: He was a telecommunications officer, and I think Daddy was a jack-of-all-trades. He did many different things. But he was a military man from whatever he did during his working hours to when he came home on the weekends. It was like, take a toothbrush and clean the bathroom. And it was learning how to make your bed to make that quarter bounce. Yes, all five of us. So, a lot of discipline comes from my father’s side. My mom, too, my mom was pretty active—
Arenstein: Tell us about your mother. I know you're wearing a brooch that your mother owned, it’s beautiful.
Rice: Thank you. It’s my mom’s and it gives me a lot of confidence. But my mom was from Texas. Daddy was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And my mom came from a very poor family; there were seven children, six girls, and she was the oldest. And she was my very first community activist, my very first role model. Everything she did, wherever we went, whatever base we were on, she was part of something. Either she was working and getting paid, or she was volunteering at the school or she was volunteering at the library, she was always involved. But when we moved to Sacramento and Daddy had gone to Vietnam, she started to take on more opportunities through the NAACP, the Urban League. She ran for office for the school board. She lost; she got close to winning. She was instrumental in a jazz festival in Northern California. When she died, they made a “Ruby Dorsey Day” in the state of California. She was on the governor’s aging commission. She did many different things, my mom. So, when her family, my aunts, and my sister, my brother, when they think of Mommy, they tell me how Mommy would be so proud because I'm in this way. And who knew? Who knew? I majored in journalism, thought I was going to have a journalism career. Who knew that this would happen to me?
Arenstein: Again, I have to ask the question. You had an interesting childhood to say the least. Moving around to all the different countries and continents. What did that teach you, or how did that influence you?
Rice: I know, being an Army brat, made me and my siblings versatile and able to talk to anybody. We didn’t know that we were getting those skills when we were young, but I know it's very easy for me to get into a room and be a part of the room, no matter what’s in the room. I'm always a part of the room. So, I think those skills early on helped me throughout my entire career. I also know that people say, “How hard was it for you to move all the time? All these schools you went to.” I think we were supported because there were so many kids. Even though there was an age difference, there were three of us who were always together—my sister and my brother, the last and the one next to me. So, we were always best friends. When we traveled, it would be with each other. So, it wasn’t like we were searching for new friends, but we always had people in the house.
That was very helpful, being an Army brat. I meet Army brats all the time, and I can tell in a room who has had a lot of exposure. It's usually someone young who has had military background. I remember being on base and Daddy, the alarms would ring at 5:00. And he would get out and have to salute. And my sister and I, we’d get out and we would do this. No matter where you are on base, you stop the car. You get out, and you salute the flag. That’s how I grew up. So wild.
Arenstein: So, tell me now how you go from being an Army brat—excuse me, you get your degree, you get an advanced degree, in what?
Rice: My undergrad is in journalism, and I worked at a—this whole career really, the whole career path, media, came from my high school counselor. And not television. She said, “Sandra, you're a good writer, you should be a part of this club. Sandra, you should do this.” And then my debate coach, she was like, “You should do this.” They sort of steered me. So, in the last year, my senior year, she had me apply for an internship at a TV station in Sacramento, California. It was KCRA, which they're still existing today. And that’s the same time, around the same time that Lester Holt, we were interns together at KCRA in California. Now he’s two years younger than me. I was there first. But every summer I would go back. So, if you look at my career, and what I do now, back then they had a multi-summer internship program in 19--, whatever it was, I'm not going to tell my age, it was out there. But it was a multi-summer internship. Now it wasn’t paid the same way as Emma Bowen’s. There was a stipend involved, but on your performance and your grades, you got to return every summer. So, my early on fascination with the media was at KCRA, and the mentors I had there, the news directors; there were many people there who helped us along the way.
Arenstein: And what was KCRA like, and what did you do there as an intern?
Rice: I was on a rotation, so I worked in the newsroom. Not until I was a junior though. But in the freshman year I worked in community service, I worked in creative services. I worked in traffic. People say, “What is traffic?” You have to know traffic. I worked in a lot of different ways, but I was also jack-of-all-trades. So, if nothing was going on in community service, they’d put me at the front desk. Wherever. I'm 18, 19 years old, new world, and meeting people. There were celebrities there, the stars. One of the people who worked there, too, was Joan Lunden. I don’t know if you remember Joan Lunden—
Arenstein: Of course. I've met her. I've interviewed her.
Rice: Yes, she was at KCRA. And she was actually—Joan’s name in those days was Joan Blunden. It wasn’t until she moved to New York they changed it to Joan Lunden. But her last name is Blunden. And she was a model. And no journalism experience at all when I was there, so you can imagine how the newsroom felt, people like myself, oh, my God, here’s this blond beautiful woman, she's not in college, but she gets to be picked. But she was picked, and she was also someone who was a good mentor. Because when I moved to New York, she actually took me to lunch. And she was like, “You know, it's a big city. Let me know how I can help you.” And all those things. I was like, “It’s a great world, this media world. I want to be a part of it.”
Arenstein: So, tell us about your first real job.
Rice: My first real job was in Sacramento. After I graduated, I got hired like the next day at KOVR, which was the ABC station in Sacramento. And I was there for almost a year until I came to New York. I was not, what can I say, welcomed by my family to come to New York. They didn’t want me to come here. They were like, “I can't believe you're going to New York. You have no family there.” I said, “I'm going to go there for a year. I'll be right back.” So, I tried to get into television with my production experience, and I landed a job at ABC Television, working in production. And then I worked in public relations and that’s where I really met a lot of the people who helped me along the way. I worked in awards and special projects. Who knew? That was a great place to be. We wrote bios and we submitted our talent for awards and got the check and everything. I remember one time John Stossel, he worked for 20/20, he got really mad at me on the phone about something, said we were harassing him about his bio, and he was not nice to me. But the very next day, a huge bouquet of flowers came to me from John Stossel. He said he was having a bad day. And that taught me a whole lot because he was way up there, and I was way down here. But he took the time to come back and apologize to me. I thought that was really nice. I still have the card that he gave me. He wrote on there, “I was having a bad day. John.”
So, I started there and then I ended up working corporate PR and then from there, I started working in international distribution. I was on a street corner one day, tap, tap, HR head, “Sandra, didn’t you used to live overseas?” And I was like, “Yeah. Yeah.” “You speak any languages?” “No, I speak English, English and more English. That’s what I speak.” And she says, “I don’t care. You should go meet so-and-so.” And I did. And I got a job working in international sales. Everything I did for like, I don’t know, five or six years, was international. I went to Europe many times during the year. I went to Latin America, because that was my territory. Speaking English, and selling ABC programs to broadcasters and video operators as well. I did that for a while. And then after that, I ended up getting a job in daytime, soap opera land. And working with “All My Children” and “General Hospital” and “One Life,” and helping with “The City” and these other shows, “Loving,” other shows. Then I left at the time when daytime launched “The View.” And that’s when it happened with Emma Bowen in Los Angeles. I went from there.
Arenstein: Tell me a little bit about going from international sales to daytime. A little bit of a different thing.
Rice: Someone told me—I don’t know if you ever interviewed her. Her name is Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin, I don’t know I you know that name. She told me that along the way, you're going to collect skills. In my mind, I was like, “OK, I have this imaginary backpack. So, I'm going to throw it all in there. From my writing, to my selling, to knowing how to market and promote.” So, everything’s all in my backpack. So that was just another piece: marketing. At the time, Disney had purchased Capital Cities/ABC and sort of put the marketing efforts of all daytime programs on the map. Because they were the ones when the TV was off, how do you keep it going? That’s basically what they taught us. So, I took whatever selling and marketing and mixed it up. That’s also what’s helped me in my Emma Bowen career, the selling and marketing of Emma Bowen. So, when I came in, I think we had 16, 17 companies. Now I told you we have like 50.
So, marketing for me, and selling and writing and PR is all in there. But I never knew because I'm thinking in college, I going to be a journalist, I going to be a journalist.
Arenstein: And how does that need for journalism express itself today?
Rice: Well, it's not fake, I can tell you that.
Arenstein: It's not fake news.
Rice: It’s not fake news. It’s real news. Because of what I do I have a lot of alumni, like I said, who are on-air and who are producers all across America. Even from my Girls State years, a lot of my Girls Staters, students that I had in that program, who aren’t of color, they’re in the newsrooms. And I know how hard they work. They are not creating stories. They are telling stories. So it’s not fake. Journalism is vital, it’s truth. I can’t even imagine, when people say it’s fake. Are you kidding me? So I’ve been looking at fake for like 20 years? No way, it’s real. And people don’t get paid sometimes to tell their stories, they just want to tell their story.
Arenstein: I guess you'd call yourself a “news junkie.”
Rice: I am. I hate to say it. My husband says, “Let's turn it off now, Sandra. Let’s turn it off on the weekends.” It's OK. Because I want to make sure I stay current and I just have this need, like a lot of us do, to know what's going on. I don’t want to see the same things all the time, but I want to know what's happening in the world. And Sunday is the best day for many of us. I don’t know if I can say it on here, but I read the New York Times, all of that, on Sunday, with my coffee. Then I turn on CBS at 9:00 on Sunday, and I watch CBS Morning Show. So that’s my news.
Arenstein: Yeah, but I mean of course, working with all these people in the news, and all these professionals from Emma Bowen who are—you have to be on top of the news.
Rice: You do. You have to know what's going on. At our board meeting yesterday, we had three journalists out of the ten alumni who came back. And one, she works at CBS News, she told her story about representing CBS in Puerto Rico for the hurricane. She said she started in Houston, she went to Florida, and then they sent her to Puerto Rico. And she was down there for month. She was the only one on her team that spoke Spanish. So, there you go. We talk about diversity, telling the stories. And I thought, I said, “I wonder how many stories didn’t get told? Because they had the wrong voices to tell it.” Back when I was growing up, the stories that we all knew were on ABC, CBS, NBC. And if there weren’t people of color behind the scenes, helping to move that along, we wouldn’t know the stories. There are so many stories out there. So now because of the diversity of the media, the Internet, people at home can tell their own stories and put them out there. So, opportunities.
Arenstein: Tell about a couple of good stories or a couple of good examples of Emma Bowen alums that you're proud of.
Arenstein: It's hard to pick.
Rice: It's hard to pick. It's so hard to pick. I'm sure you had the problem—
Arenstein: That’s a good problem to have, right?
Rice: It's the best problem. I don’t even know how to begin with you because I think that in the early days, it was a push on journalism. It was a push on newsrooms, and let's change, and make sure they get the exposure and all that. But throughout the years we have started tracks. Even since Phyllis, we’ve started a business track, so it helps kids who want to go into even HR, finance, marketing. We still have our journalism track. We have a tech track, which took off like three years ago. It’s unbelievable, that track. Most companies request tech students, even more so than journalism, broadcast journalism. So, our alumni are in all these different tracks now. We see them in PR, so I can pull a star from there, Weber Shandwick, big stars who work there. Gio Benitez, who’s on Good Morning America. Joel Martinez, who’s at NBC, at Dateline. There’s so many of them, I can't even begin to tell you. One time—I don’t know where she is—we had the co-head of HBO Studios, was one of ours, too. This has been thirty years, and you can really see the trajectory of it. I don’t know where she is now, but they're all over the place. One of the highlights, though, is that I am still here to see one of our board members who represents Warner Brothers; they picked her to be a part of the board. She was sixteen when I first met her. She was an intern at ABC Entertainment. Now she's like EVP of all production for Warner Brothers around the world. So, she's also our board seat for that company. So that’s a big deal. That’s a big deal when they come back. She went all the way around and now she sits on the board. Very active, too, on the board.
Arenstein: This is going to be another hard question, I bet. But maybe not. What's the favorite thing for you at Emma Bowen? What do you really love to see or do in your job? Tough question…
Rice: It is a tough question, but there's many different things I like. The thing that gets me going when I get in there, is to be able to help someone solve their own problem. So, if there’s something in the room where they work, there's a supervisor or there’s an employee or an intern manager who's not mentoring properly, I think, or not giving the right opportunity or the right guidance, I'm able to help that young person solve their problem without even having to go in. That’s really helpful. Because we’ll go in sometimes if we see a problem. Not all the time. But it's always been official to teach the student how to solve the problem, how to face-to-face with the manager or take the HR path, but not for us to go in there like mom and pop. We don’t want to do that. So, one of the things I like the most is when I hear something that is not right, is to help from within.
Arenstein: From the time you started your career in media to now—I mean, I could say, the landscape is completely different, but then I might also say, well, in some ways, it’s not changed at all. Talk about the state of media today for people of color coming out of college, coming out of grad school, and why Emma Bowen and foundations like this are still important?
Rice: I always say that we know we’re successful when Emma goes away, and when T Howard goes away. When our programs go away, we’ll know we've made it. We’re a long way from that. We get better every day and I've been able to see it since college to now. I also, during my career, was the president of the American Women in Radio and Television, which is now the Alliance for Women in Media. So, in those days, we talked a lot about people of color in the workplace, but also women, more importantly, women in the workplace. So, I look at what’s on television now, and I see representation, I do. But I don’t see a lot of it behind the camera. When we do see it, we see shows that are brilliant, like “This is Us.” Brilliant. If you look at their list of writers and people who contribute to that show—it's diverse, and that’s all that really matters. It doesn’t really matter really what’s on camera; it matters who’s in the room making the decisions about what goes on. Because even the show doesn’t have people of color, it's nice to know that people of color in the room can help to make the decisions. More diverse voices.
So, I've seen change, but I know there's so much more. We’re a small internship program. We have probably, I don’t know, maybe 2,500 applicants every year who apply and we have less than 100 who will get the opportunity to intern through Emma Bowen. So, on one hand, it's really sad, because most of them are qualified, but on the other hand, it gives us an opportunity to pull the cream from all of that. That’s what makes us so outstanding; I think that we have such a large pool and we can pull the top candidates for our company. So, 100 students will get an opportunity through Emma Bowen.
Arenstein: You’ve talked about a lot of mentors. Are there other people you want to talk about in terms of mentors to you?
Rice: Yes. When I worked in international sales, the president of international sales for ABC was a man by the name of Archie Purvis. And Archie is a man of color. For me to be mentored by him, was incredible. Because he went beyond everything. It wasn’t just typical. It was another man by the name of Phil Meek—I don’t know if you know who Phil Meek is, but he used to be the president of ABC’s publishing arm. And I was part of a women’s mentoring program that they started. There were about nine of us women back in the early 90s, and he was my mentor. You're mentored with senior executives. And he was inspirational to me because he told me—I kept saying, “How are you going to—?” He said, “You can't stay after six. You can't stay after six unless you’ve got something really big going on. You have to balance.” A man told me this. I wasn’t even paying attention. I was like, “I've got to be in there, I've got to work hard, 9:00.” He said, “Those hours don’t matter because you’ve got to sleep. And you’ve got to rest so you can tackle the next day.” He used to tell me this all the time. He was a good mentor, Archie was a great mentor, and I was able to learn a lot about marketing through Archie. Bob Iger told me what's possible. He said, “Remember what’s possible.” It's almost like knowing that—I think Martin Luther King said something about faith is taking the first step not understanding the whole staircase. So, I think in terms of what Bob was saying to me was like you have to know what's possible. I was always like this until I had the direction of these mentors sort of widen me and let me know what the opportunities were. I just never saw it.
I also went to a program that ABC started called—they took like 20 women in the country to Boston to Simmons College once a year. I was part of one of those classes. And at the end of the class, women sit around, and they tell you what careers you might be good at. At that time, I was working for daytime in marketing. And it was interesting that at least eleven of the women—and I hope they're watching this—because they told me, “You belong in a not-for-profit center. You're really good at helping kids and people and young people. Maybe college teaching or professor.” They were telling me that direction. And literally three or four years later, I'm at Emma Bowen. So many of them wrote to me. I'm still in touch with some of them. They were like, “Now you're a part of the not-for-profit world.” Because Emma Bowen is not-for-profit. But I never could see it. When I was in television, I'm like, “Oh, I have a journalism degree, I work in television. I'm never leaving the media. Are you kidding me?” And then this job comes along, and it changed my life. The kids say, this program changes their life. They say it all the time. But they have no idea what they’ve done for me. Changed everything, Emma Bowen.
Arenstein: You have an advanced degree from right here in New York. Tell us about that.
Rice: From the New School. Yes. That whole—it was three years, went at night.
Arenstein: While you were working.
Rice: While I was working. ABC paid 100%.
Rice: As long as you had good grades, you’d give them the bill and they took care of it. So, my mentor at the time had said to me, it's an added salary. And so, in my little young mind, it was like, it wasn’t so much the degree, it was like, oh, get this for free. Get it for free? So again, I go into this program, my Master’s program, and didn’t realize the gift. The gift was to meet all these other people in different—they were going at night like I was. And they had jobs in the industry. So, I was able to network and meet people. And one of them was a very close friend of mine, Amelia Mellus. I don’t where you are—I've looked for you—who is from Greece. So I, through my international travel, visited her in Greece, her and her family, several times. She got married on an island called Andros, there. Mykonos, Santorini, all of Athens, because she lived in Athens. But I would never would have been on that path had I not. And during the same time, I was able to meet a famous African-American author who lived in France: James Baldwin.
Rice: And I stayed at his home. All these events happened around the same time because I got my degree and met all these fabulous people. One of the best classes I took there was in production, putting together pieces like this actually. We would meet people from different industries and we would talk about their careers. Not so much in depth but learn how to edit and how to set up, and stuff like that, so that was good, too. Three years, at night.
Arenstein: I don’t want to get past James Baldwin here. What was that like?
Arenstein: I bet.
Rice: I don’t even know what to say. Because when I was in high school, I used to read all about him…and here I am, meeting him at a restaurant through other people and we just started talking. And I told him I worked at ABC and that when I started out when I was young, I wanted to be a writer, too, and doing all this stuff. And he said, “Let me see some of your writings.” I was embarrassed. But I did show him, and he said, “You’ve got it. What it is with writing is you have to show your passion on the paper.” And from that moment, I developed a friendship with him. I used to hang out with him a little bit. And got invited to his home a few times in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, and when he wasn’t there, I would shop in the town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, which looks like a castle actually, you're going through all the cobblestone streets and a big castle place. And he said, “Use my name when you go into stores.” And I would say, “I'm his god-daughter.” And they would give me a discount or hand me something that was for free because he said, “I have to go to Russia. I'm doing something with somebody else.” So, it was interesting. Those were very special years. And then he passed away in ’87, I think he died. I met Maya Angelou through him, and some other very famous people. Meeting James Baldwin was all so pivotal.
Arenstein: I’ll bet. I'm sure you talk to a lot of young people, that’s part of your job. Somebody comes up to you, not during working hours and says, “My daughter (or my son) wants to get into media.” A lot of people today would probably say, “Stay away from media!” What do you say to them?
Rice: I say, if you're passionate about it, and you want to be a part of it, from telling your stories to working in business to working in any part of the industry, you should pursue. And you must absolutely have an internship. Whether it's through Emma Bowen or some other company, you have to have an internship. And not to have one, but if you can, have four or more. Many of our students have more than four. How does that happen? Well, they do many during the school year. The winter break, the spring break, they're working all the time to build the resume. Kids always think that you have to have a degree, you have to have a resume. No, you need a relationship. You have to have a relationship with companies to be able to survive in this industry. You can't do it alone, and as many people you know, the better.
And I also want to tell them that where Sandra didn’t bring her authentic self to work as an intern—I did not—that the most important piece you can offer to a company is to bring your authentic self. Bring who you are. Your diversity matters. What you say, your story, how you tell it. From the white person to the black person to the brown person to anybody in the room, the age, the size, geographically wherever they lived—all that factors into what you bring to the table. And I tell students, “If you're just going to get a degree and that’s all there is, you have nothing to bring to the table. No one cares about that academic stuff. They care if you have a relationship and you have other pieces to bring. But what's your skill set? Anybody can learn how to edit, anybody can learn how to be on camera, but your authentic self and who you are and how you talk and how you represent yourself, that’s what’s going to get you hired.” And I would tell a young person that today. Start working on it early. If you're in high school, find out how you can be a part of something. If they don’t have a media center, a lot of schools today don’t have newspapers anymore, then find out what’s in your community. There's a community organization out there that needs PR, that needs writers, that needs people to do their newsletter. Those are early skills they can get. Because kids say to me all the time, “Well, they don’t have it at my school.” Then you're not really a visionary because you're in a community; somebody needs your skill set.
Arenstein: When we talked to Phyllis Eagle-Olson a few years ago, she told us that she had 1,000 children—she thinks of all the Emma Bowen alums as her children. Of course, I said, “You look great for somebody who has had 1,000 children!” (Laughter)
You have two children besides all the Emma Bowen. Tell us about your children.
Rice: We've been blessed. My children are exactly what I wish I was. Their story is different because they have a mother who is in the industry who has contacts and they can use them. Not once have they asked me. And they both work in the industry on their own. Now they were Emma Bowen fellows. They got in. The funny part is, Tyler is my stepson. We share the same last name, so I would think the company we sent him to would think, “I wonder if he’s Sandra’s son.” Never did. And he is the one they selected. The board member called me, “Oh, we made our selection. His name is Tyler Rice.” I’m like, “My God, that’s my son!” She said, “Oh, my God, Sandy!”
But Kelly, who was interning at ABC, for local ABC, got hired, and both of them—Kelly went to Spelman College in Atlanta. Tyler went to Syracuse University. He majored in business marketing, Kelly majored in English. They both have maneuvered and worked at many different companies already. Kelly now is at HBO and Tyler is at HGTV this year. And both of them are thriving. They have the skill sets and they know how to find mentors and be a mentor. That was the most important piece for me to tell them. But they also need to mentor someone else. Not just pulling them up, but helping. Kelly is part of Big Sisters Big Brothers, but she also helps kids in our Jack and Jill group and Tyler’s the same way. So, I'm very proud of my two children who are early on in their career and doing very well.
Arenstein: I think their mother is a very good example.
Rice: Thank you.
Arenstein: It's been a pleasure to talk to you, Sandra.
Rice: It's been wonderful talking to you. My pleasure. Thank you so much.
END OF INTERVIEW