Michelle Singletary, SABEW’s Distinguished Achievement Award winner – SABEW19

Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post accepted the Distinguished Achievement Award from SABEW president Mark Hamrick. Singletary credited the financial and life lessons she learned from her grandmother, “Big Mama,” for setting her on her career path.











May, 2019

By Deagan Urbatsch
The Cronkite School

SABEW president Mark Hamrick described Michelle Singletary, a syndicated personal finance columnist for The Washington Post, as “known for helping people – real people” before conferring the society’s Distinguished Achievement Award to her on Saturday.

Singletary became the first woman of color to be honored with the award since its inception in 1993. She spoke to attendees at the spring Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing conference about her lifelong journey in finance.

SABEW’s highest honor, the Distinguished Achievement Award, is given to someone who has made a significant impact on the field of business journalism and who has served as a nurturing influence on others in the profession.

Hamrick attested to Singletary’s genuine interest in helping her readers with their finances, due in part to the guidance of her grandmother, who Singletary affectionately calls, “Big Mama.”

“The most interesting thing to me about you, is that you are truly authentic,” said Hamrick. “You didn’t set out to be a personal finance columnist, this is a realm that, to some degree, was handed to you by your grandmother.”

Singletary described her grandmother as a combination between a drill sergeant and a guardian angel.

“My grandmother, she has just been my inspiration for how I wanted to communicate personal finance,” Singletary said.

Singletary described early childhood memories of her and her four siblings being taken in by their grandmother at great risk, and how their sweet but alcoholic grandfather often caused problems with finances.

“This woman who took five grandchildren in, who said no to state welfare and told them, ‘No, sir,’ that she could raise those kids on her own with a nursing assistant’s salary… I have three kids, and it’s still hard for me to imagine,” Singletary said.

“For her to do that, and still not have debt, still own her home at the time she retired, and still teach me financial principles, I thought, ‘This is who I want to write for,’” she continued.

Singletary was brought up in Baltimore, and today, in addition to maintaining her column, “The Color of Money” and her weekly live chat online, she provides in-person financial counseling to couples and prison inmates through her church, the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland.

Singletary described her experience working with inmates as a positive. She explained how a large percentage of inmates are there as a consequence of selling drugs, and how oftentimes they end up in these situations because of poor finances.

Singletary reiterated that business journalism is valuable, especially to those who weren’t taught the correct financial principles like she was by her grandmother growing up.

“I remember a time when things that we did weren’t valued, that if you were in the business section, that was the entrée to retirement,” said Singletary. “And now, people are going to school to study it, and I’m just thrilled… I see that we matter because the things we report on affect real people, even the macroeconomic things.”

Singletary is the 26th recipient of the SABEW Distinguished Achievement Award.

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