UK Student’s Project Places Top 20 Twice in Hearst Awards in Multimedia Narrative Storytelling

Akhira Umar’s project, titled “Black Hair: Back to Their Roots,” focuses on the often-politicized subject of African American hair.
Akhira Umar’s project, titled “Black Hair: Back to Their Roots,” focuses on the often-politicized subject of African American hair.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 6, 2021) — December 2020 journalism graduate Akhira Umar tied for 13th place in the Multimedia Narrative Storytelling Competition of the 2020-2021 Hearst Journalism Awards Program. She also placed 17th in the team category — along with Kendall Boron, Isaac Janssen, Amber Ritschel and Rachael Courtney.

Umar’s project, titled “Black Hair: Back to Their Roots,” focuses on the often-politicized subject of African American hair and the experiences that having such hair brings. From University of Kentucky students and hair stylists to a model and even a Kentucky state representative, the project explores the internal and external consequences of going against Eurocentric standards to wear one’s hair in its natural state.

“Black hair has been a subject near and dear to my heart for as long as I can remember,” Umar said. “After all, I live that story. My Black hair has a story of its own.”

“Black Hair: Back to Their Roots” consists of a written article, a YouTube video, photographs and social media posts. The project can be found at

Though her project was initially intended to be her capstone project for Associate Professor Kakie Urch’s JOU 498: Advanced Multimedia course in Spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed Umar’s production process until the following semester. Instead, she produced the project for Assistant Professor David Stephenson’s JOU 367: Mobile Journalism course and KRNL Lifestyle + Fashion’s Fall 2020 magazine, where she served as an editor.

“While Kakie helped me plan my story, suggesting which bases to cover and who to talk to, David helped that vision come to life,” Umar said. “He allowed me the creative liberty to really let the story speak for itself. It’s much more artsy than a typical journalistic story, and I think it really benefited from that.”

“I think that when a student who came into my multimedia storytelling class saying that she is a ‘print person’ wins, within a year, one of the top national honors for multimedia and helps her school place Top 10 Overall in the Hearst competition, that it's a testament to that student's individual brilliance and to her smart strategy and courage in applying in-class and student media experience and mentorship under pandemic conditions,” Urch said. “And it brings a view of Black hair — a major workplace, education and cultural issue — to the parts of the audience who are in need of learning about this key element of daily life.”

Although placing in the Hearst Awards was gratifying for Umar, she said she is just happy that people are hearing, and liking, a story that truly matters.

“This story was my baby, but more than that it gives voice to an issue that too often people don’t know about or disregard,” Umar said. “I hope my story opens peoples’ eyes and, hopefully, leads to some change and some good.”

The Hearst Journalism Awards Program was founded in 1960 to support and assist journalism education at the collegiate level. The program awards scholarships to students with outstanding performance in writing, photojournalism, audio, television and multimedia competitions. To enter Hearst Awards competitions, students must participate in campus media and have published articles, photographs, newscasts, podcasts or social media posts that can be submitted.

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