Creator of ‘Girlfriends’ show receives Medill Hall of Achievement award


Alec Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

Medill senior Louisa Wyatt, Director of Sports Journalism J.A. Adande and Mara Brock Akil speak at McCormick Foundation Center on Thursday. Adande said when he met Brock Akil, she was “just a girl from Kansas City” wearing overalls.

Lauren Bell, Reporter

When Mara Brock Akil (Medill ’92) first met Medill Prof. J.A. Adande (Medill ’92) during their new student orientation meeting, Adande said she was “just a girl from Kansas City” wearing overalls.

“What strikes me about it is I remember when we were in college and we went to a Bulls game and we literally were at the top of Chicago Stadium,” he said. “(Now we’re) courtside among all the celebrities at the Staples Center, and I thought about how far we both had come.”

Now, Brock Akil –– creator of the show “Girlfriends,” which ran for eight seasons on UPN and The CW –– is being honored for her success in TV production. Brock Akil received the Medill Hall of Achievement award at the McCormick Foundation Center Forum on Thursday and later spoke with Adande about her career and diversity in the media to an audience of about 50 people. Brock Akil will also receive the Northwestern Alumni Medal from the Northwestern Alumni Association during Homecoming weekend.

In addition to “Girlfriends,” which depicts the life of four cosmopolitan black women, Brock Akil also created “The Game” and “Being Mary Jane.” She said transitioning from journalism to fiction storytelling allowed her to better represent black culture in the media. Brock Akil said she was disappointed to discover the stories she wanted to tell were not being told in journalism when she first graduated.

“I never stopped believing that those stories were valuable, that they were needed, and I just found a different way in,” she said. “Now, my whole career is about telling stories and adding people into the landscape. I wanted to get to the table to help tell that story that reaches wider and further than even sometimes we were doing as journalists.”

The industry is transitioning to include more diverse perspectives, Brock Akil said. Audiences are driving this change because they are less interested in stories of exclusion or “watered-down” inclusion, she said.

Brock Akil said it is important to have different voices and stories about inclusion represented in her work because it opens the door for others looking to do the same. She added that these stories are largely missing from current media.

“If we’re not creating space for other people to tell stories, then I think we have kind of failed,” Brock Akil said. “We should be reaching back as we lift ourselves up and making space and including people.”

Brock Akil said she has been successful in following her vision because she constantly listens to herself to find strength and direction. She said her advice to others is to take the lows in life and turn them into assets for future use.

Communication senior Elizabeth Zerihun said she attended the event because Brock Akil is one of her idols.

“Her career trajectory is something that I would really aspire to because … I would like to write a show for HBO about young black women and their experiences in school and in life,” Zerihun said. “The things she has done has been inspiring and just opened doors for people like me.”

Email: [email protected]