Ambassador Profile: Miriam “Mimi” Melvin
Together We Stand’s mistress of ceremonies is also a decorated journalist. Here, she discusses the importance of speaking out and standing up.
Together We Stand NC
Anyone who has attended a Together We Stand (TWS) event will know Miriam Melvin—even if it’s only by her nickname, Mimi, or as the mistress of ceremonies.
“I don't know if you can tell, but I love to talk. I love to get to know people—it’s why I’m in media and trying to get my other business off the ground. I feel like there is more for me to do,” she says. “And for me, I feel like this was part of my calling. I am an extrovert. I've never ever met a stranger. Even when I don't know you, I'm going to walk right up to you and smile.”
Add a microphone to that effervescent personality, and Melvin commands the room. While she might play down this natural magnetism by referring to herself as “the hype girl,” her role within the TWS team is so much more nuanced. It’s a delicate balance to pump up a crowd but also speak frankly of the tragedies and chronic inequities that TWS stands against, and yet Melvin does so with aplomb. This can be credited in part to her media background—she’s an award-winning television producer—as well as her upbringing.
The second of four children (and the eldest girl), Melvin grew up in Chicago in the 1970s and ’80s when community ties were especially strong. Her parents married young, and later, both would go back to school, with her father studying to become a history teacher and her mother to become a nurse. During this time, Melvin learned to do “what generations of Black women did; you step up,” she says. She helped her parents run the household and take care of her siblings. But she wasn’t alone. Friends and neighbors always pitched in where they could.
“We had people in the community who looked out for us,” she says. “And so that's why it's in me to always look out for other people.” And it’s important, she adds, that such support be given freely and without fuss; when her neighbors helped out, they never broadcast it.
“My parents made sure I understood that, yes, you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but if you don't have boots to begin with, what are you pulling on? And so you've got to reach and help the next person and then it’s like a chain reaction,” she says. “Everybody was linking arms, and that's how I grew up.”
Melvin’s father in particular also instilled in his daughter the importance of taking your education into your own hands. By the time she was heading to Northern Illinois University, Melvin had already read a number of more academic texts, including Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America. Written by the late scholar and former Ebony magazine editor, Lerone Bennette, Jr., the book, along with other work from Bennette, has been credited with ushering African-American history into the public discourse.
Melvin was eager to join in this mission of bringing untold stories into the spotlight. And that’s what she has spent her career doing, despite meeting resistance each step of the way. This March will mark 23 years since Melvin joined Capitol Broadcasting Company in Raleigh, which is now owned by NBC News. Over the years, it’s been a struggle to get stories about overlooked and often marginalized communities on air. That’s finally starting to change, albeit slowly.
“Growing up, I knew we needed people to hear our voices,” she says. “When I first came here, they weren't listening; they didn't want those stories. They wanted to play up Cary and Chapel Hill, and I would say, ‘but there's a great story here in Southeast Raleigh.’ People didn't want to hear it and now they're listening, but it took a lot of other things happening for them to listen.”
When asked whether this change was gradual or precipitated by events, Melvin says she thinks it was a combination of the two. For her, the murder of Philando Castile in 2016 marked a breaking point. Castile was shot seven times at close range by a police officer during a traffic stop. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, posted a livestream video immediately afterward, and the story was picked up across the world, including at NBC’s Raleigh station.
“I came to work and I was trying to just write the stories, but I couldn't write anymore. I literally broke down and cried,” she recalls. She kept thinking of her husband, who is a state employee, an Air Force veteran, a trustee at their church, a husband, and a father. “[But] the police would not know that. They're not going to ask him for his resume,” she says. “Something could happen to my husband. And then all of a sudden I'm a widow and my children have no father.”
Melvin has three sons, and many times, she and her husband have sat them down to talk about what they should do if they’re ever in situations like Castile’s, which have proved fatal for too many young Black men.
In the wake of the news surrounding Castile’s murder, Melvin posted about it on her personal social media accounts, and it caught the eye of a station manager. She came to Melvin and asked what they as a news outlet could do to improve their coverage of violence rooted in systemic racism. Melvin wrote a detailed outline for a project that would examine the relationship between police departments and communities of color in Raleigh, Durham, and Fayetteville.
In 2017, the resulting documentary, “Black and Blue” won the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation’s Service to Community Award, one of the highest honors in documentary education. Melvin attended the ceremony and was bestowed one of the awards, but she says her involvement in the project had been limited. The documentary was created using her proposal, but she wasn’t included in the process.
She admits that being boxed out stung, but she wasn’t especially surprised. She also wasn’t about to stop pushing for greater representation of people of color. With an established professional reputation, Melvin says she can run the risk of speaking her mind—something she understands young people just starting their careers might be afraid to do.
“I slowly started saying, ‘I’m going to do what I want to do. They can fire me if they want to.’ So I started infusing more Black guests and Black experts because I noticed we didn’t have anybody Black coming in here,” Melvin says. Some of her colleagues were surprised by how eloquent and insightful the guests were. Shattering those unfounded but deeply rooted biases is part of moving the needle. “So that's how the evolution has come about at my station. It's still a work in progress, but I'm grateful for the changes that have,” she adds.
Even beyond CBC, people have taken note of Melvin’s work to build more equitable coverage and lift up communities of color. One such person was TWS founder Tyrone Irby, who reached out to her in 2021. Melvin laughs when she recalls how he first got in touch: via a direct message on Instagram.
“I am not a DM girl,” she laughs. “It wasn't disrespectful, but I was like, ‘who is this dude?’ So I started researching; I got on a different browser and looked him up, looked up Together We Stand, and decided, OK, he's a real guy with connections to the community.”
An in-person meeting with Irby and his wife Crystal soon followed, and ever since then Melvin has been an integral part of TWS. Before donning the role of MC, she used her journalistic skills and media connections to get the grassroots movement on the news. In addition to spreading the word far and wide, the coverage also solidified TWS as an important voice within the Triangle and North Carolina at large.
Between her stage presence, media expertise, and communications prowess, Melvin could easily be a one-woman show. But ultimately, she enjoys being part of a team. Everyone brings different experiences, skills, and perspectives to the table—and Melvin wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Because I am a part of this movement, I'm always going be me, but I'm also going to represent Together We Stand in the best light. It's not just about the girl with the microphone; I'm representing what Tyrone, Crystal, and our team are trying to build,” she says. “We are a team, and everyone plays a part.”
To that end, Melvin is going to continue championing organizations and causes that align with her values.
Melvin jokes about getting herself fired one day for speaking her mind and continuing to push for more diverse and equitable news coverage. But as an established journalist, who’s also building a separate business, she’s okay running that risk. She knows that young people who are just starting out in their careers are understandably afraid to speak out, so Melvin is happy to bear the torch on that front. thought of how in these situations, a person is reduced to some preconceived idea of who they are because of their race.