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From TMZ to Access Hollywood Live: Nina Parker Is Proof That It's Never Too Late To Follow Your Dream

BOSS UP

It was 2007.


Nina Parker—depressed and tired of answering phones as a call center agent for Verizon Wireless—cashed in her two weeks worth of vacation the following day, and drove to Los Angeles from Sacramento with a few thousand dollars in the bank and no place to live.

At 27 years old, she was starting over.

“My mom was like, 'You know you don't have to do this. You're in your 20s. You have a degree'," Parker says. “I wasn't married nor had kids. She was like, 'I don't understand why you're suffering everyday.'"

It's not that she was completely unsure of her passion in life. She grew up turning cardboard moving boxes into television sets, interviewing fellow classmates about their thoughts on drugs, and gaining valuable experience as an intern at a local news station. The San Francisco State graduate even had a job offer right out of college at NBC in Las Vegas, but turned it down in hopes of snagging a coveted gig as a MTV VJ. She packed her bags for New York City but quickly learned that a degree isn't a guarantee for immediate success.

Photo Credit: Nina Parker

“I was fresh out of college, arrogant, and they were like, 'Girl, you don't have any experience to do anything like that'," Parker says. It's hard to believe that the Access Hollywood contributor who got her big break as one of TMZ's first on-camera talent once struggled to find a job and shied away from the camera.

Hustling Hard

Parker arrived in L.A. with a dollar and a dream and was working as a temp in television when she got word that a new celebrity gossip site was hiring. Without hesitation, she submitted her resume despite her lack of experience working in entertainment news, and was offered a position as a runner. At the same time she was also up for a full-time opportunity with Paramount, who she had been temping for, but despite the pay being more, she chose the position that appeared to be less logical.

"I had to go where I felt I was going to be the most true to myself."

“At the time it was half of the money that I was making being in a corporate job, and I was like I want to do this because it spoke to my spirit to be there. I had to go where I felt I was going to be the most true to myself. I had decided when I moved to L.A. that I wasn't going to let money be a deciding factor for anything. I was okay with struggling for the short term to get a long-term goal that I knew would pay off later," says Parker.

A couple of weeks into her new gig, Parker was fired. “I was a horrible runner," she says. “I was really late with tapes and I didn't know most things Angelenos knew so I was really slow. Harvey [Levin] basically fired me and said that I didn't know where I was going, so I went to the bathroom and I cried."

Her instinct—and her ego—told her not to give up. After apologizing to the managing editor and expressing interest in writing and producing, she was brought back on as the writing PA, and within four months was promoted to producer. But it didn't come without its sacrifices. Working in a start-up entertainment company meant 12-hour workdays, including weekends and holidays.

“I didn't have a line for how hard I was willing to work," says Parker. “Sometimes people turn that switch off like I only want to work 40 hours a week, and to me if you're chasing a dream, you're always working on your craft. If you're not at a job all day, you should do something that day that benefits your craft. If you can outwork people, you're already winning because there are a lot of people who are really smart that aren't where they're supposed to be because they refuse to put in the work, and it's not going to be 40 hours a week."

While she excelled in her new position, Levin had another plan for the humorous and outspoken Parker, and found her to be a perfect candidate for the TMZ pilot show that they were shooting. But Parker, still battling with the insecurities of her 70-pound weight gain during her time in Sacramento, politely declined.

“I was very insecure, and basically you have this little Jewish man giving me this Black power speech where he's like, 'You have a voice, there's other black women that need to hear you, I think you can relate in a way that people understand. You're not afraid of me. You like to debate, and we need you on the show so I'm not really asking you that was just a courtesy, you're doing it.'"

Photo Credit: Nina Parker

As Levin predicted, Parker was a star in her own right, breaking stories and being a part of a new wave of reporting where people no longer relied on traditional television for their entertainment news—even if it meant spending 12-hour days outside of courthouses and hospitals hoping to be the first to catch a celebrity-sighting.

“I had gone from having to clock in and out to use the bathroom to being able to be free and do something that was entertainment," Parker says. “I'm bringing back this tape that's being watched by millions of people, so it was enough to motivate me to stay on that path. It was a crazy job to be coming out of Verizon Wireless, but it was refreshing to me after feeling like I wasn't in my purpose to now feeling like I wasn't doing what I wanted to do 100% but I knew I was on the path."

The Glow Up

Before hitting the set of Access Hollywood, Parker takes a few minutes to get her hair and makeup touched up, but she remembers when just a few years ago she couldn't afford to even get a touch up because her hustle was more important than her hair.

“Oh I died, I died!" she says with a laugh, sharing that she often sacrificed being social while living paycheck to paycheck. “It was hard. I had moments where I was at a check-cashing store."

Having a minimal budget meant that she had to get creative, such as hosting game nights with friends in lieu of going out, and finding side hustles to help make ends meet. “Ultimately I started getting involved in other projects and so it was like now I have multiple streams of income, so gradually it just got better and better. The buildings went from a bad neighborhood to a gated community. It definitely changed, but I had to be patient."

Parker's patience paid off as she began to build notoriety as a face of TMZ. But after five years, it was time for a change. She left the show in May 2011 without a job or an agent, but she did have valuable relationships that she had cultivated over the years. After taking time off for the summer she reached out to a Vice President at CBS through social media, who informed her that The Insider was looking for an Internet reporter. By the fall, she had secured a new contract.

"If you're good to people and they see you working hard, they give you opportunities that not everybody would have."

“This is why you have to network because in the real world you can't just hit up the VP of a network. If you're good to people and they see you working hard, they give you opportunities that not everybody would have."

While the position required Parker to be the face of their website, Parker made it her mission to also be involved in the television meetings, where her unique perspective as a woman of color caught the attention of the higher ups, who began booking her for shorter segments before offering her a television correspondent contract just a few months into working with the show.

“Sometimes you have to go in a place and if it's not necessarily the job that you want initially, you have to create it. You have to meet with the people inside and get them to respect you with your opinion and your work and you're able to translate that into something that pays off in the long run."

Photo Credit: Nina Parker

After a couple of years she left The Insider and went on to host the Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta reunion as well as begin contributing to Access Hollywood Live. But more visibility also meant more criticism. “They're like who is this girl think she is as if being curvy eliminates me from having an opinion? As if a gap in my teeth means I'm less intelligent. As if because I don't have makeup on means I can't be passionate about my people."

It forced the woman who was once too shy to be in front the camera to turn her insecurities into empowerment. “I was like I don't care what this person says. I'm going to be on your TV and I'm going to tell you how I feel," she says. “You can say whatever you want, but every time you turn on the TV at this time you're going to see my face and you're going to hear my take. I can't imagine allowing the opinions of people I don't even know to affect my day to where I can't function properly. I wish I would let a stranger have that much power over me to determine my success. You're going to watch me get all of these checks."

"I can't imagine allowing the opinions of people I don't even know to affect my day to where I can't function properly."

Standing her ground and being a voice in an industry where women of color are few has given Parker a new purpose.

“I didn't have a lot of black women in this industry, as far as television news, that I could look up to and be like I want to do that. So, for me, it was important to be like, 'We don't have to get on TV and agree with everybody else. We don't have to agree with mainstream media, we don't have to placate anybody.' You can come and say what you have to say if you have a strong opinion and not offend anybody and give them a different point of view to look at. My experience, that's all I can speak about. I can't speak about a white experience. I had people in the community tell me how proud they were that I held my own."

Staying true to who she is and her vision has opened doors in ways she only once dreamed about. This year, you can catch Nina as a guest host on E!'s The Daily Pop and covering red carpets at The SAG Awards, Grammy's and more.

For someone who pressed the reset button on her career at a time when many are just settling into their positions, Parker is proof that there is no age limit to finding and walking in your purpose.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
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