Kamelia Kilawan: Journalism / Religious Studies

Kamelia KilawanKamelia Kilawan
Journalism / Religious Studies
B.A. anticipated June 2014
Home College: Baruch
Mentors: Prof. Carla Bellamy, Sociology and Anthropology, Baruch and Prof. Ralph Blumenthal, Journalism, Baruch
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
Baruch College Provost’s Scholar
Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, Class of 2014
CUNY Thomas Tam AAARI Scholarship
Blog: Cultureatkamelia.wordpress.com

What have been your goals as a CUNY BA student?

As an Indo-Caribbean, Hindu, young woman from south Queens who attended Catholic elementary, middle, and high school, the cross-cultural nature of religion has always fascinated me. I grew up questioning the faith and rituals I grew up with at home while learning even more about another religion at school.

Upon entering college I began to immerse myself in writing—authoring over 50 articles in my own column on culture for a local newspaper, The West Indian, circulated among Indo-Caribbeans in Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, and Jamaica, Queens. My articles and writing became a way for me to learn how my voice could amplify the minority voices in my community. Capturing the color of local events, interviewing Hindu priests, and traveling to meet creative youth in my south Queens neighborhood also gave me a sense of independence as a college student.

It took me a few meetings with my career counselor to finally muster the courage to pursue two fields of study that I was practicing in my Queens community, only now I was be able to test, learn, and refine my storytelling skills even more in the classroom.

Tell us more about your motivation.

What continues to drive me, as both an intellectual and academic pursuit, is understanding the thread that binds New York City’s ethnic communities. I have found in many circumstances that religion and politics each play a unique role in connecting communities. Being a part of a rising immigrant Indo-Caribbean enclave in New York City has challenged me to target my work as a young journalist to focus on the most exciting microcosms of immigrant communities, particularly my own. While working with both of my CUNY BA mentors, I have been able to use investigative journalism and anthropology to examine female devotees who attend a specific Hindu temple in south Queens.

Tell us what you have been working on this past academic year?

This past academic year, I composed a long-form narrative using feature writing, photography, and video to tell the stories of Indo-Caribbean women who attend the Adhi Shakti Maha Kali temple in Jamaica, Queens. The history of Kali temples has emerged from past traditions in the Caribbean blending fire-walking, animal sacrifice, and Shakti devotional worship utilizing Tamil mantras and have appeared in a modified form within my immigrant community as a place of healing, often where women attend to deal with issues whether financial or domestic.

In addition, communicating a message effectively and learning ways to tell a good story motivated me to become the first CUNY BA student to take a course at CUNY’s Graduate Center of Journalism. After taking a graduate course in Editing, I am proud to say I have learned a few of the many challenges in producing and managing an online publication alongside a team of ten graduate students.

In the spring I also received an editorial internship at The New York Observer in their section, “Politicker,” covering city politics—particularly, the mayoral race. I trekked throughout all five boroughs to report on eight campaign events and authored twenty-five blog posts. The highlight of my internship was covering the primary election night party for former Comptroller Bill Thompson. Among an assortment of print and broadcast reporters, I was able to interview Thompson supporters including pastors, community members, politicians, and elected officials and at the stroke of midnight I tweeted that Thompson would be staying in the race hoping for a runoff election, though he ultimately dropped out of the race. Ultimately the experience taught me to be flexible, adaptable, and independent.

Editor’s Note: Kamelia Kilawan has held these other internships, as well:
Girls Write Now (program intern), Gotham Gazette (reporting and editorial intern), and McGraw-Hill Education (communications intern).

What do you want to do after you graduate?

My ultimate goal is to become a journalist who can report earnestly and clearly while navigating within the multitude of ethnic communities and abstract policies of New York City. It is this goal that enables me to exercise my passion to understand and tell the stories of not just my small ethnic community but of those unheard. Right now I am in Ho Chi Minh City as a Jeannette K. Watson Fellow working with the VinaCapital Foundation to tell the stories of poor children who suffer from congenital heart disease in Vietnam. And later this fall, I will begin my graduate degree in Journalism at Columbia University with an ambition to find the best ways to find and tell a story. I have continued to surprise myself throughout my college career at what I can accomplish, and I hope to continue to do so in my time at Columbia’s J-School as well as throughout my career.