In The Know

PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor talks poetry, Gwen Ifill and her love of laughter

Yamiche Alcindor

Yamiche Alcindor says there’s a side to her that most “Washington Week” viewers have yet to see.

“I feel like I laugh a lot,” Alcindor tells ITK. “When people meet me, they’re like, ‘Why are you not a comedian? Why are you not Leslie Jones?’ ”

“But I’m not funny on TV,” she adds.

The “PBS NewsHour” White House correspondent — who’s settling into the “Washington Week” hosting chair after being named its new moderator earlier this month — says the news cycle doesn’t exactly lend itself to wisecracks and belly laughs.

“It’s the pandemic, it’s racial justice, it’s police killing, it’s immigration. None of this stuff is kind of light-hearted stuff that I could be light-hearted about.”

“I’ve always been a very emotional person, I lean into that,” says the NBC News and MSNBC contributor, with whom former President Trump would often clash over questions.

“That’s who I am in my regular life. In my regular life I’m loud, and I’m laughing all the time, and I’m crying when I watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ ”

“When I’m on TV or when I’m asking questions of the president, I really try to be focused,” she explains, “because I think it’s like a service to the viewers to not see me scrambling and kind of getting emotional. But I’m still inherently a very emotional person.”

When she first learned she’d be the ninth moderator of “Washington Week,” and the second Black woman to serve as host in the show’s 54-year history — succeeding The Washington Post’s Robert Costa and taking on the role formerly held by one of her journalism idols, Gwen Ifill — Alcindor says she was “both crying” and “also wanting to scream for joy.”

“I was just thinking, wow, this is like, way past my wildest dreams,” says the 34-year-old award-winning journalist, whose parents are from Haiti.

The moment of learning of her new position also reminded her of the words of wisdom Ifill offered her when Alcindor was just starting out in the media world. After meeting through their hairdressers, Ifill, who died in 2016, helped guide the budding journalist.

“I got booked for ‘Meet the Press’ in 2015, and it was my first time being on TV and I was freaked out,” Alcindor recalls.

The longtime “Washington Week” moderator told Alcindor, who had called her in a panic: “You earned this. You know just as much as other people around the table. You’re ready for this.”

“She affirmed the fact that I am where I should be, and that I should own every part of the things that I’ve earned,” Alcindor says.

We wanted to know more about the avid “Grey’s Anatomy” fan, who could be writing poetry one minute and hitting the dance floor the next — so we asked her to answer these questions.

Grew up in: Miami, Fla.

I tell people that I grew up in “Moonlight Miami” so that they know that where I grew up was a working-class neighborhood, filled with people who were trying to survive and thrive in America, who were focused on making ends meet.

I grew up with a mother who was a social worker. So for me, my upbringing was very much kind of working class. But also very, but also very grateful that we didn’t struggle in the way that that my mom was able to make enough money and we were always able to kind of survive, but it was the kind of upbringing that grounded me and still grounds me because I know what it means for people to really be struggling, especially immigrants in this country to be struggling, just try to make it.

College attended: Georgetown University

What did you want to be when you were a kid? When I was a kid, I wanted to be first a geriatrician.

I grew up with my grandmother, and she would always have to go to the doctor because she was like in her 80s. And I just, like, loved the idea of taking care of people like my grandma.

And then later on, I wanted to be a poet, because I loved writing and loved writing poetry.

How did journalism come into the picture? I loved writing and had been thinking of ways to potentially make a living with writing. And then I learned [in high school] of the story of Emmett Till, who was this 14-year-old Black boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by this racist, white mob of men. And I learned about how his mother chose to have an open casket funeral for him — how that image being in Jet magazine really was the catalyst in a lot of ways to realize the significant moments in the Civil Rights movement. And I instantly knew that I wanted to be a journalist and I wanted to be the kind of person who was bringing stories like that to America.

Favorite hobby: I love binge watching TV — “Pose,” “Handmaid’s Tale” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” And I love dancing. I love reggaetón, kind of just booty shaking dancing. I’m a big fan of Cash Money, “Back that Thang Up.”

Most liked/disliked thing about D.C.: My most disliked thing is people asking you what you do and wearing their IDs to the club. I remember my 20s being horrified by so many people kind of going around who they worked for. I never liked that kind of scene. I always like to just meet people to see who they are, not what they do.

My favorite thing about D.C. is how small it is. I love that we’re kind of this little village and I can be walking in Rock Creek Park and bumping into people that I know, or I can be going to a restaurant and seeing folks. I think especially because of the pandemic, we’ve been so isolated and not seeing a lot of people that to me, it’s just such a kick to be able to walk around D.C. and see people that you know and that feel familiar to you.

I have a fear of: Failing.

Biggest accomplishment/most embarrassing moment: My most embarrassing moment was when I once caught an interception in flag football and ran the wrong way in high school. I feel kind of mortified by that moment.

My biggest accomplishment maybe is just staying sane during this pandemic. This was the hardest year of my life, 2020, and I lost some people that I really loved. And it was just a really, really tough time. I’m just proud that I made it through it and that I’m here to talk about it.

Pets? No. I have like a pet-in-law. She’s my mother-in-law’s dog and I do love her, but she doesn’t live with us. But she’s kind of a family pet because I still hang out with her when I see her. My husband won’t let us get a dog because he’s worried that the other dog will get upset with us. So I have a pet-in-law.

Favorite food: Steak, like a good filet mignon.

Guilty pleasure: My guilty pleasure, and I’m so remiss to say this, but I watch [the Netflix reality competition] “The Circle” with my husband and it’s quite the thing. He, like, dragged me into watching this show and I just watch it. It is what it is.

After work, you’ll find me: Probably taking a walk. I like taking walks around my neighborhood, or around D.C., or around the monuments. 

I’m happiest when: I’m talking and chatting with my family and friends.

If I had a theme song, it would be: “Brown Skin Girl” by Beyoncé.

Dream interview: Oprah.

Have you ever met Oprah? No. And I probably would like, cry instantly.

Biggest pet peeve: People who take advantage of other people. I don’t like to see it on a granular level or on a large level. It bugs me.

My mom was a social worker for 35 years, and her whole life was trying to make sure people weren’t getting taken advantage of, and that people were taking care of their kids, and that parents would be taken care of by the school. So I think that was probably ingrained in me. I did a lot of “Take Your Child to Work Day.”

Something you can’t live without: Chocolate and my phone.

Best advice given: If you’re nervous, it’s because it means something to you. And it’s a good thing.

Hidden talent: Poetry. I feel like I don’t ever say poetry anymore. But I was a poet in college and a little bit after, and performed at open mic nights and stuff.

You have a memoir coming out called “Don’t Forget.” What’s something you always forget? That I can do this. I get nervous and like overwhelmed and think, “Oh my God, I cannot do this.” And I know I can.

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