'I feel a sense of responsibility': Sheinelle Jones on being a black woman on TV

The "TODAY" co-host spoke candidly to Mika Brzezinski about the pressures felt by women on TV and about rising to the demands of being a black woman in the news industry.
"TODAY" co-host Sheinelle Jones chats with Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.
"TODAY" co-host Sheinelle Jones chats with Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.Know Your Value

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By Erin Delmore

As co-host of the third hour of NBC's "TODAY" and a former anchor of "Weekend TODAY," Sheinelle Jones is accustomed to presenting stories for a national audience. But one slice of the audience in particular is never far from her mind.

“I remember when I was, you know, in middle school, high school, when I would turn on [the TV], I didn't see anybody who looked like me, quite frankly,” Jones recently told Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski. “And now I get letters from girls who see me.”

Before joining NBC News in 2014, Jones spent nearly a decade working at a Fox affiliate in Philadelphia, first as a general assignment reporter for the morning show “Good Day Philadelphia,” then as the show’s co-host.

“I remember when I was in Philadelphia, girls would say, ‘You had on yellow today, so then I asked my mom, can I wear yellow?” Jones remembered. “You know, it seems so simple when you're talking about politics and all these important things. But for me, like, the little girl who says, ‘I could do that,’ I want to be that for her [because] I didn't have a lot of that growing up. So it's not lost to me.”

While Jones is quick to acknowledge that her career has reached heights she never imagined, she also spoke candidly to Brzezinski about some of the pressures felt by women on TV, and about rising to the demands of being a black woman on television.

Beyond the difficulty of the job itself, “[there’s] the stress that people don't see,” Jones said. “They think we just come in and put on some makeup and there's pressure there.” She said that she feels there’s an additional, different kind of pressure on black women.

Sheinelle JonesNBC News

“Being an African-American woman doing what I do, I feel a sense of responsibility that there's pressure on me that I didn't realize I had,” Jones told Brzezinski. “If we're talking about a story and you know, a lot of African-American folks will watch and say, ‘Okay, what’s she gonna say, will she represent me? Will she represent me well?’ And so I always feel like I carry this,” Jones said.

She’s quick to note that this is far from a burden. She considers it a privilege. “But I do feel like, when I walk into a room, I'm not just walking in as myself,” Jones said. “I'm walking in as my grandmother who rooted for me. I'm walking in as my ancestor's wildest dreams. So I gave myself chills just talking about it. But I feel that pressure.”

As a child growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Jones spent a lot of time with her maternal grandmother, who encouraged her dream of becoming a news anchor.

“I remember one day I said [to my grandmother], I want to be a news reporter,” Jones remembered. “She said, ‘I like that… What would we need to do to be a news reporter? What kind of young lady would we need to be?’” While Jones pondered the answers to those questions, her grandmother called the secretary of their church, who worked at the front desk of an affiliate news television station in town. They arranged for Jones to visit the station, and before long, Jones was running the teleprompter — sometimes even in her cheerleading outfit, after rushing over to the station from a game.

And now, Jones’ grandparents in Wichita get to watch her on the 3rd Hour of "TODAY" every morning. Sometimes, Jones features photos of her 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old twins.

“They don't text, but they can turn on [the show] every morning” Jones told Brzezinski. “I come on at 11 o'clock in Kansas, so 10 o'clock [Eastern time], and they can see me and I can put up pictures of my kids and they can see their great grandkids. That to me is everything.”