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Meet Karen Graham of Sign1News

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Graham.

Karen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Ten years ago, God told me to merge my talents — journalism and sign language — to start a major network-affiliated news network specifically designed to serve the Deaf and hard-of-hearing population.

My first response: Who me? My second response (after seven years of procrastination): Okay God, Clearly You don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Let’s do it!

I took all 20 of my years in front of the camera and convinced five business partners and ten staff members that this never-been-done-before kind of newscast would work. And what’d ya’ know? It is!

Is it easy? Oh heavens no! I can’t even begin to name the umpteen obstacles Sign1News has faced since the first day of its launch — many, if not all of them, associated with trying to fit a Deaf-centric network into a hearing-dominated culture.

But slowly we have garnered the world’s attention (and its respect) by consistently doing what we do: changing the news game forever and having a lot of fun while we’re doing it!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Oh boy! Where do I begin?

As I mentioned earlier, trying to get people to just understand the *why* of Sign1News has been the toughest. The first thing many prospective business partners and investors say is “But they have closed-captioning.” And that’s when the short educational course entitled “Deaf Culture 101” begins. Lesson #1: English and ASL are not the same. ASL is the first language of the Deaf culture, not English. And while captioning, thankfully, serves its purpose of inclusion, Sign1News providing news in ASL has been overwhelmingly received with gratitude by our audience.

And of course, being the CEO of a start-up presents its own set of challenges. The biggest is balance. Sign1News is the closest thing to a child I will ever have. And when I gave “birth” to her (yes…Sign1News is a girl!), all of a sudden her life became my life. Tennis, hiking, cycling, dancing, traveling and eating regularly became distant memories — understandably. Sign1News is only two years old. These are her formative years. Thankfully I am not a single parent. I have amazing business partners who are helping to make sure her foundation (i.e., cutting edge technology) is solid, her growth chart (i.e., Z-score and SGR) are viable and she is mature enough (two years feels like 20 in the business world) to handle numerous suitors (i.e., investors and sponsors).

Still…I keep my tennis racquets and dancing shoes in the trunk of my car for the rare moments I get some “mama time.”

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Sign1News story. Tell us more about the business.
Sign1News’ mission: To provide equal access to up-to-the-minute news and information in American Sign Language, to provide a job skills pipeline for Deaf students, to change the news game forever — and to have a whole lot of fun while we are doing it!

I have so many proud moments there’s not room enough on this template to list them all. But I’ll try:
* I am moved to tears every time I watch my anchors (who, by the way, had no broadcast or journalism experience before we hired them) stand in front of the world to present the news like seasoned professionals.
* I am beyond proud to see them become authorities on news and information and role models in the Deaf community.
* Every time I raise the bar, my staff surpasses even my own expectations.
* Sign1News beat every news outlet on the planet last year when our feature story on the first Starbucks signing store in Washington, DC went viral, reached over two million people…and counting.
* Sign1News is the only network able to provide live coverage of major events (i.e., Royal Wedding, State of the Union address, emergency severe weather press conferences, breaking news, Super Bowl LIII NFL Honors red carpet, etc.) in American Sign Language.

Quite honestly, that list doesn’t even scratch the surface. But I’m afraid if I go on and on, I will become one of those “mothers” that insists on showing uninterested strangers a thousand baby pictures. (“And here’s Sign1News in her new onesie…”)

But she is unique and one-of-a-kind. I can’t deny that.

What sets up apart? No one is doing what we’re doing at the level we’re doing it. Our little start-up network is the only Deaf network in CNN’s global family of affiliates.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
As you can probably guess from sentence number one of this interview, I don’t believe in luck.

I believe in and have witnessed first hand God’s blessings — both personally and professionally.

Meeting my business partners, getting the CNN contract, securing a production studio, discovering the best raw Deaf talent this side of the Mississippi, attracting interest from Fortune 500 companies as potential investors and sponsors — all of it — divine intervention.

That doesn’t mean I’m sitting on my laurels, twiddling my fingers waiting for manna and quail to miraculously fall from the sky.

It just means I give God my natural; He makes it supernatural. I give God my ordinary; He makes it extraordinary.

There is no way to explain how far Sign1News has come and the obstacles we have overcome other than the grace of God. I trust His plan. He hasn’t let me down yet.

(Faith is not ‘believing’ God can. It’s ‘knowing’ that He will.” (Source: Anonymous)

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Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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