By Jacqueline Holness
Monica Pearson, the 37-year Atlanta broadcast mainstay, is back on television — but things have changed. Instead of wearing a St. John suit, Pearson, who was known as Monica Kaufman for most her career before she married in 2005, is garbed in a blue blouse accented by a multicolored, African print, flared skirt. A print scarf frames her face and provides a foundation for her now grey curls, which have been almost any color of the rainbow and in various styles over the years.Gone is the WSB-TV Atlanta anchor desk where Pearson delivered the daily evening news to generations of viewers as the first woman and first minority to do so in the city beginning in 1975. Instead, Pearson is perched at a roundtable that she shares with New York Times best-selling author Denene Millner and entertainment attorney Christine White as a part of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s new weekly television show “A Seat at the Table,” which debuted in June 2017. Most notably, Pearson, known for being a consummate journalist, is free to add opinions to facts and is unapologetic about that change. “I love the show because it allows me to just say what I think without having to sit on it,” says Pearson with a laugh, “because I no longer have to be unbiased. I have earned the right, and I don’t have to please anybody.” The premise of the show is that black women from various backgrounds are able to dissect timely topics from civil rights to colorism and dismantle negative stereotypes. “We, as black women, literally hold up the sky, but in many instances, people don’t understand us. We’re either the angry black woman or the sex kitten, but there is much more to us than that.”
Although Pearson retired in 2012, her post-retirement pursuits amount to a career that rivals the careers of some still working journalists. To broaden her knowledge from an academic perspective, at age 65, Pearson went back to school, earning a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Georgia in Athens in 2014. While Pearson has earned 33 local and regional Emmy Awards, being a college student the second time around wasn’t easy. “The first paper I wrote in a class, I got a ‘B’ on it. I couldn’t believe I got a ‘B’ so I went to the professor and asked. She said, ‘Well, this isn’t television news.’” After the professor explained what she was looking for, Pearson earned an “A” in her class. “I think that’s the difference between a younger student and an older student. As a younger student, I would have never questioned a professor about a grade. As an older student, I had no problems questioning her woman to woman.” Since 2014, Pearson has hosted a weekly radio show on KISS 104.1 FM. “I wanted to do something in radio, and I mentioned it to Tony Kidd [Cox Media Group Atlanta Radio vice president of programming],” says Pearson, who worked in radio as a teenager in Louisville, Ky., where she grew up. “When I first came in, they were auditioning me for AM 750, the talk radio. When I discovered that is what he was doing, I said, ‘Oh, no, no, no. That’s too much like news.’”
During her three-hour show, Pearson is able to play “great R&B music” and “talk about anything I want.” Retirement has also enabled her to devote more time to the community. In 2015, she chaired the Go Red for Women Luncheon for the American Heart Association, amounting to a 115 percent increase in fundraising over 2014. “I had never been able to do fundraising before,” says Pearson. “As a part of my job, I couldn’t go around asking people for money, people you could end up covering.” Although she has been a volunteer for Meals on Wheels Atlanta for over 25 years, she was elated when people made contributions to the organization in memory of her mother, Hattie Edmondson, who passed away in 2016. Community involvement, in fact, is what Pearson attributes her staying power in the transient field of journalism, according to Pearson. “I think that is what saved my job because every time they would do polls, people knew who I was and not just from television,” says Pearson, who has had 55 speaking engagements and/or appearances this year, to date.
Whether it’s revealing that she is a two-time cancer (breast and liver) survivor to changing her iconic brand name when she finally met a man, John E. Pearson Sr., she could be “married to forever,” Pearson is open about all of her journey. “If I can go into people’s lives, asking them questions, I have to be open too. I can’t ask from others and not be an example myself.”