Alumni Profiles; KTN’s Grace Kuria

You will probably want to move straight to her career journey, her childhood, and how it informed her career path. You will want to know the incredible story of how her dad nurtured her into Journalism by always insisting she takes languages seriously, and how it developed her confidence in public speaking. You probably want to know how at 23 years of age, she had commenced her anchoring journey in one of Kenya’s biggest networks. How she is a visionary, a relentless hard worker, and what she does to stay on top of her game in a competitive, dynamic and ruthless media industry. What lessons has she learnt so far, and what advice can she give others perhaps? But I don’t feel like venturing into all that cliché of a chronology. It won’t be just. And literary injustice is the worst of all. The cruelest. Because it has a permanence to it, the instant it’s written and the ink is dry.

Grace Kuria. The air turned black all around her. The sky above her, the world around and beneath, took the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. She wanted a full stop. Lights out. End of story. She made plans on how she was going to do it, how she was going to follow him in death. She had tried praying, but how do you pray to a God of love with your heart full of resentment and bitterness? How do you pray to the very God you blame for your predicament? Her mind was her least favorite place to go to, and she wanted out.

Behind closed doors and out of the public eye, she still cries for him. Away from the little brother of course. She’s the first born. She has to be the strong one. But when Bob Collymore died, she cried. When Governor Gakuru died, she cried. When Kobe Bryant and Gianna died, she cried. Not for them, no. For her dad. Her dad who left them at 49 years of age, in the cruel month of May, 2016. It was a month to her graduation. A month to her birthday. A month to his birthday. You see, daddy and his sweet baby girl were born just a day apart. And so she lost her greatest cheerleader. The man who would make sure he watched every story she reported, just to hear her sign out. The man who had predicted that by 2017 she would be on the screens doing great things. The man who never lived to see that happen.

“Sometimes I wish I could have had the chance to negotiate with God to let him die in July, to at least get to 50 you know, and see his baby girl graduate. But, I don’t know. God knows best,” she posits. But she’d still like to know this best that God knows, to at least understand why he had to leave. When you lose a loved one, people say it is well, that it’s God’s plans. But it’s never well, not in Grace’s experience. So God’s plan was for her dad to die?

“You see, my dad was a believer, born again. The Bible itself proclaims in Psalms 91:16 the covenant of long life and God’s salvation. So my question was, God, I’m hearing you on the covenant of long life, every single Sunday…so long life for my dad is 49? No, it is not. Long life is when your son is 10 years old? Is long life when your daughter just concluded her studies? To date, I just don’t understand. What method do you use to pick some and leave others? It still feels unfair to me.”

In her dreams, she always wanted to be a news reporter and anchor, and so when she got an opportunity to intern at K24 as a camera person, she clutched at it. She knew it wasn’t what she wanted, but that it would be her way in. And so she put in the work, and gradually expressed her interest in working in the newsroom, soon backed the expression of interest with a proof of concept. A story idea here, a voice demo there. Constant nagging of producers, editors, and senior reporters, doing all she could to sharpen her journalistic art. At the Camera Department, her supervisor told her she wasn’t serious, that she never knew what she wanted in life. Why couldn’t she just stick to being a camera intern? He said he wouldn’t even write her a recommendation letter. How could she dare dream to be more, huh? But she was unstoppable. Atta girl. On she pushed her way into news reporting, just in time for her dad to watch her on TV and hear her sign out, with the name he gave her.

A past photo of Ms. Grace Kuria reporting in the field while working for K24
A past photo of Ms. Grace Kuria reporting in the field while working for K24

When we meet for this interview at JKUAT, the University that molded her, she asks about Mr. Edward Miringu and Dr. Joan Gathoni, the two lecturers from the School of Communication and Development Studies (SCDS), whom she says were most instrumental in shaping her career and putting her on the right path, even after finishing her studies. She is grateful for the mentorship and training she got here. She is grateful for life. She says one of the things people take for granted is life, that it’s never guaranteed, and that she’s thankful for good health, and for her family. But she’s still afraid of darkness, and silence.

Being on TV is something she had always wanted, but if you told her back then that right now she would be a news anchor and a reporter, she wouldn’t have believed you. If you told her that by 23 she would be on KTN, with a boss who believed in her enough to hand her the anchoring reigns, she would have called your bluff. Other than anchoring news on weekends, Grace Kuria also hosts the program, “Beyond the Scars” which runs for an hour every Sunday morning. That’s a dream she thought would only come true in her thirties. But see God. And so she is grateful, and graceful.

What does she do differently to stop on top of her game you ask?

“It’s the kind of stories you do. I’ve always been focused on doing features. Stories are about people, and I’ve always wanted to do stories that have impact on people’s lives. I believe every story should have a ‘so what factor’, not merely he said, she said et al. When the audience is done watching or reading a story, they should be provoked into a thought, or action that can transform society. That is my guiding journalistic principle. Also in this field where you’re only as good as your last show, I’m always on toes. I have to constantly reinvent myself, be more creative, restructure if need be, stay unique, and most importantly do people-centered stories.”

At her age, there are people who feel she has risen ‘too fast’. That she ought to have waited maybe a few decades. To them she says, “There’s something called ‘wakati wa Mungu’. Honestly, I also didn’t think I would be an anchor at this age. I believe in God, and I believe His time is the best. Trust the process.”

‘Beyond the Scars’ is a show about people who have gone through difficult time and have gone beyond it, or are working on path towards regaining peace of mind. These stories speak to the fact that despite what people go through, they can always get up again and forge ahead with life. You can overcome anything and everything. It’s okay to be low, it’s okay to ask questions, to regret, but after all that, rise up, dust yourself, move on. From almost calling it quits herself, to hosting a show that seeks to show people that it can be done no matter what. That you can swim against the tides and not succumb to self-pity. That there’s always going to be another sunrise despite your darkness…That has been the most defining highlight of Grace Kuria’s career. Having walked that path herself, her experience has enabled her to connect more with her guests at a personal level. But is she herself beyond the scar of losing her dad?

“You’re never completely beyond the scar. You just learn to live with it. I get strength from knowing that what I’m doing right now is what he dreamt for me. Still, sometimes when I make milestones in my career, I imagine sharing with him, telling him to watch. I miss the support, I miss everything, but it’s fine. I still have my mom, my brother, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Portrait

In the murky waters of journalism, you need someone to hold your hand, someone to believe in you, someone to show you the way. That someone for her is her boss at KTN NEWS, Ms. Ellen Wanjiru, who she admires and is grateful to for believing in her, for always pushing her to do more, to be more. That someone for her was her former boss at K24, Mr. Franklin Wambugu, who was there for her when she lost her dad. Who taught her so much. Who was a father figure to her at work, who cut her some slack when she was not as productive as a result of her loss. That someone for her is Ms. Janet Mbugua, whom she doesn’t know personally but greatly admires for her trailblazing tendencies, personality and great work ethic.

Doing what she does, constantly being in the limelight, she has learnt the value of being disciplined. With daily advances and a stream of messages on her social media handles by those dazzled by her existence, she knows more than anyone that her yes has to mean yes, and her no has to mean no. “Other than discipline, it also really matters how grounded you are in Christ. I believe I have been given this opportunity to mentor other girls in various aspects, and that’s an obligation I consider sacred.”

Nothing gives her more satisfaction than spending time with her mum and brother, the two people she values the most. And it might interest your curiosity to find out what it took for Grace not to fall off the cliff. What it took to overcome suicidal thoughts. It took God’s grace. That and more.

“I totally credit that to my friends and my church. They stood by me at my worst. On my own I would have wavered into oblivion. Into nonexistence. At that time, I was already working, which means I wasn’t home with my mum. I was in Nairobi, and if I had been on my own, I wouldn’t have made it. It was friends and God. I didn’t have strength to pray. But they held me. Walinishikilia. I’m forever grateful.”

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