Bria Holness ’15 G’16

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Newhouse in television, radio and film (TRF) in 2015, Bria Holness went on to attain her master’s from the dual degree media and education program.

“Newhouse gave me the foundation and language I needed to understand the work that was already being done out there and how I could build on it, even change it, and create something new.”

Bria Holness ’15 G’16

Ambitious and hardworking, Holness made the most of her time at Syracuse University. She was a Newhouse Ambassador, an online columnist for Jerk Magazine, served in the Mentoring Committee for JUMP Nation at Syracuse, was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and volunteered with Colores and the Rescue Mission.

After graduating from Newhouse, Holness worked for two years at the Educational Video Center, a non-profit youth media organization based in New York City, first as development associate and then as development manager. She then earned the position of development manager at Epic Theatre Ensemble, an Off Broadway theatre company whose mission is to create bold work with and for diverse communities that promotes vital discourse and social change.

Currently, she works remotely in Philadelphia as donor engagement officer at Population Media Center. This media production organization uses the power of storytelling to change lives by addressing the interconnected issues of the full rights of women and girls, population, and the environment.

What’s an average day like for you on the job?

An average day on the job is hard to describe because my position is entirely new and my organization is in the midst of major strategic planning and change. Therefore, every single day looks different. However, with the power of storytelling, social justice advocacy, partnership building and donor engagement forming the foundation of my job, in the past seven months I have done the following: created a donor recognition program from the ground up, which includes building inspiring content for newsletters, webinars and livestream events; helped build a toolkit which includes editing testimonial impact videos and creating external-facing pieces to increasingly engage donors and encourage their giving; overseen the pilot phase of an in-home friend/fund raising program in which volunteers host events within their networks to increase awareness of my organization and raise our base of supporters; and lastly, developed and coordinated an employee giving campaign, It Starts With Us, amongst our headquarters staff, international teams, vendors and contractors which has resulted in the tripling of donations given last year. A lot of research, creativity, planning and implementation of initiatives has been involved in my day to day.

What are some obstacles or misconceptions about your field that students ought to be aware of?

Non-profit media is hard and not always glamorous because there aren’t tons of money to spend. Unfortunately, you will come across folks who are well-intentioned and are trying to do amazing work but aren’t necessarily cut out for the business aspect of it all. They end up making horrible mistakes administratively or financially that affect not just the work, but also staff and the communities being served. All to say, non-profit media isn’t Hollywood but it also doesn’t have to mean that a company should run itself un-businesslike or still find itself bootstrapping after 20 years in business. Watch out for folks who are visionaries and artists at heart and never set out to run a company, but find themselves in that position and won’t prioritize the need to hire the necessary help to put critical institutional structures and policies into place.

Another obstacle is that many folks in the non-profit social justice space tend to believe they “have arrived.” What I mean by that is, it’s easy for people who are working to positively impact and uplift marginalized communities to automatically think they are fully aware, unbiased and know all there is to know in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion. That is simply not true. Being aware of unconscious bias and doing the work to unfold and unravel those notions is an ongoing journey. In this space especially—where we are deconstructing harmful narratives, bringing marginalized people and their stories to the center and using the power of storytelling to challenge the dominant narratives with new stories—we have to be humble and willing to always continue learning. The savior complex is real, especially in the international development and philanthropic space so it’s just something to be aware of and prepared for.

What moments in your career have been most exciting or defining thus far?

Two most exciting moments come to mind. During my time at the Educational Video Center (EVC), I was tasked with planning and putting together the premiere screening of our students’ films at the HBO Theater in New York City. The event was such a major success with over 300 people attending and [it was] standing room only. The students were so honest and their stories so raw that it majorly impacted all that attended and left the students feeling empowered as youth storytellers and activists as they got the opportunity to present their films in a renowned space. Many people crowded around them, asking them questions and commending them on their bravery and vulnerability. What made it an even more exciting event was that I was able to plan it with my former boyfriend from ‘Cuse. Exactly a year prior, we attended this screening in which the Educational Video Center and HBO Corporate Social Responsibility were working together to put on. We tag-teamed that night and networked with both EVC and HBO representatives. After graduation, I was hired at EVC and [he was hired] at HBO and then were tasked as points of contact for the same event, now responsible for planning it together. It was really cool to see that come full circle.

Another exciting moment was this past November at my current organization’s staff retreat. I planned an Office Olympics kickoff event for headquarters staff and our international teams as part of our employee giving campaign. I was pretty nervous about how it would go because the company had never done something like this before and I didn’t know if it would be seen as unprofessional or if my colleagues were even going to enjoy it all. However, I did my best to set the energy level high with an opening Olympic ceremony, team bandanas, team captains, various games, Olympic medals, etc. People followed suit getting into the Olympic and competitive spirit. Kicking off the campaign like this engaged my colleagues in a new way that just focused on fun and participation as opposed to creating pressure to donate to the organization. The result? The most successful employee giving campaign yet, tripling the amount of donations than what we received last year!

What advice do you have for current or incoming students? Any classes or professors that you recommend?

  1. Grad school is hard. Pray, rest and make time to do the things that refresh you.
  2. Whatever you decide on for your capstone project, view it and use it as a career launching pad.
  3. Use the CDC, even if you just need a sounding board to talk through your thoughts and plans. Bridget Lichtinger is amazing.
  4. Advocate for your career goals and what you are looking to take out of your graduate program. Be humble and open to suggestions, but do not take classes just because the school says so. You know why you are going to grad school and although you will need direction, take the classes that you know will lead you to where you want to go. Particularly, for [media and education], take critical media literacy classes.
  5. Get in the corners of Professor Barbara Jones, Professor Tula Goenka and Professor Schoonmaker. They all have a lot of great direction, guidance and friendship to offer.