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12 Black Leaders to Know: Kerri Forrest

To celebrate Black history The Post and Courier is presenting a series of video interviews and podcasts featuring 12 dynamic South Carolina leaders to know. Reporter Adam Parker talks with Kerri Forrest.

Ask Kerri Forrest how to tie a bow tie and she’ll show you. She learned this particular skill early in her TV career at NBC. It doesn’t often come in handy.

But her TV skills do.

She’s a good listener, and a good talker. She knows how to ask the right questions. She can figure out who to contact for this or that. She can manage her time and get things done quickly. She can improvise. She can learn fast.

So when she transitioned from television to the nonprofit sector, she brought these capabilities with her and helped revitalize the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation’s Lowcountry operations. And then, after four years with the foundation, she went to work for MDC, a community development nonprofit based in Durham, N.C., that focuses its efforts on the entire American South.

More on that in a minute. First, let’s consider how Forrest got from the Westchester neighborhood on James Island, where she grew up, to her role as a senior program director who specializes in leadership development and philanthropic engagement.

Westchester was a Black middle-class community, tightly knit. Neighbors looked out for one another. Forrest had a Catholic education, attending first the Nativity School on James Island, then Bishop England High School when it was still in downtown Charleston. She participated in Christmas and Easter plays, gaining confidence before an audience.

In 1990, she went to Clemson University, majoring in biology. She was pre-med. But she was also interested in exploring the school’s various opportunities. She took up fencing. She became a DJ for the college radio station.

During the summer before her senior year, Forrest went to New Orleans to participate in a pre-med program for minority students designed to prepare them for the MCAT exam and pair them with doctors in Tulane University’s public health program. When he heard about her trip, a record label friend told her: “You gotta meet Jeff B.”

“So I would spend all day doing the pre-med thing, then all night doing the college radio thing,” she recalled.

And she soon made a fateful decision. She would not be going to medical school after all. In January 1995, Forrest moved to the D.C. area and, thanks to an introduction facilitated by her sister, landed a job at an NBC affiliate. She was a page, fetching coffee, delivering mail, making photocopies. But she was inside the broadcast news world, figuring out how it worked.

She’d bump into Tim Russert, Gwen Ifill and Andrea Mitchell in the halls. She made small talk with interesting people. Irving R. Levine, the economics correspondent, graciously taught Forrest how to tie a bow tie.

She also learned how news broadcasts were created.

From The Post and Courier, February 12, 2023.

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