PLEASANT HILL, CA (June 9, 2022) — As the Class of 2022 graduates from the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, some may wonder how their education will prepare them for the next steps in their lives and how they should decide what paths to take. Sarahbeth Maney, who graduated from College Park High in 2014, has some words of advice to share.
She is an up-and-coming successful photography fellow for the New York Times who gained national attention for her work after a photo she took of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and her daughter went viral during the confirmation hearings.
Starting July 6, Sarahbeth will begin working as a staff photojournalist for the Detroit Free Press.
In a poignant essay for “Today,” Sarahbeth wrote about her photo of Brown Jackson’s daughter beaming with pride as she looked admiringly at her mother, as well as her own experiences as one of few Black female photojournalists.
Sarahbeth said she hoped her photo would inspire more Black girls to follow in her footsteps.
“I want my visibility to show that Black women are fully capable of being photojournalists and achieving highs in their own careers, despite how much we have to fight for representation and respect,” she wrote. “I also want my picture to inspire other Black girls to turn their own lens onto the world. There are not enough Black women in photojournalism and I hope to forge a path for more to join our industry. When you’re the only one it feels difficult and I’ve experienced that — but I hope it will be different for those who come after me.”
While Sarahbeth was a student at CPHS, she studied photography in teacher Jen Kennedy’s Photography classes, which are part of MDUSD’s Career Pathways program.
“I think Jen’s class definitely impacted my decision to pursue photojournalism as a career,” Sarahbeth said. “Having the opportunity to take photography class in high school and explore shooting with film, developing my own work and experimenting with studio lighting deepened my interest in photography. It taught me early on how I could use different formats of photography to tell stories. Recently, my mom actually dug up some of my earliest work (from Jen’s class) that she held onto.”
“I don’t remember what the exact assignment was, but I remember telling my parents that I wanted to do portraits of people in San Francisco so they came with me. That was my first time approaching random strangers on the street and asking to take their photo. Now I do that (approach strangers) every day for work — so little did I know that assignment would be formative to my development as a journalist. Another thing that was really memorable was being able to display and sell my photography work for the first time. There were multiple exhibits that Jen had pulled together for the photography students and I remember making my first business cards to hand out to people. It was a really exciting moment for me.”
Sarahbeth said her high school counselor, Sheila Walsh, had a great impact on her decision to pursue higher education after graduation.
“I’m a first generation college student, so the thought of college didn’t even cross my mind until my senior year in high school,” she said.
“When I realized I had the grades to apply for colleges, I applied for any California State school that offered photography. My parents didn’t see how it would be possible for me to afford college, but the college counselor told us (students) ‘Don’t let money be the reason you don’t go to college.’ Being told that in high school truly changed my life because as a young person, you think money is not a situation you have any control over. After talking with the counselor, she gave me a flyer to invite my parents to her classes about financial resources and the prerequisites I needed to be admitted to college. In the end, I was able to graduate college debt-free with the help of FASFA, Cal Grant and scholarships.”
Sarahbeth received a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism from San Francisco State University in 2019, where she also served as The National Press Photographers Association chapter president. She worked as an intern at The San Francisco Chronicle, The Flint Journal in Michigan and the San Francisco Examiner, before landing her fellowship at the New York Times.
Words of advice
To seniors in the class of 2022, Sarahbeth offers this advice about sticking to your goals and not giving up:
“My words of advice would be for people to ask themselves what they care about the most,” she said. “Whether it’s storytelling, disability, policy, science – it’s important to find that thing. I’ve found purpose by pursuing a career that makes me want to keep going no matter how hard it can be sometimes. I keep going because I care deeply about understanding, learning about others and sharing their stories.”
“Journalism has forced me to be comfortable being uncomfortable, but it also taught me how to grow through rejection. I always knew I wanted to be a New York Times fellow so I didn’t give up on that dream. I applied three times to the fellowship program, but instead of feeling like I failed each time I faced rejection – I used it as an opportunity to ask myself, ‘What can I do better? How can I make my portfolio stronger?’ I think being raised by my mother and grandmother had a huge impact on me as a young person because it taught me how to work hard for what I want in life and accept the sacrifices that come along with that. I watched my mom work three jobs growing up, so that always motivated me to keep going.”
Before leaving her New York Times Fellowship, Sarahbeth was excited to meet Leila Jackson, and proudly displayed a photo of both of them holding her framed photo in a tweet, adding: “Such a gift!”