TV journalist Tamara Banks strives to be a voice for the voiceless

An Anchor with a Conscience. For Tamara Banks, reporting the news is about much more than looking great on the airwaves. Granted, her natural beauty makes her a standout, but it’s her energy, her zest for life, her dedication to righting the wrongs that separate her from the pack. “One of my passions is being the voice for the voiceless,” Banks says. True to her words, she is making it her life’s work to help the less fortunate — both at home and across the globe — realize their own dreams and reach for the stars. Banks’ career in journalism took wing when she was a young child, a girl who wrote furiously in her diary and harbored aspirations of becoming published at the ripe age of 10. “I grew up on 60 Minutes and was a huge fan of Ed Bradley. I thought broadcast journalism was the answer to so many ideas, and I knew early on I wanted to be in that industry,” she says. Perhaps it was Banks’ own lively heritage that helped shape her determination to show the world that diversity is a concept to be embraced, rather than shunned. As the daughter of a black father and French mother, her childhood extended from Mexico to Louisiana and Iowa and places in between.

“I think being raised in a racially mixed household helped shape my ability to think differently and to look at the world in a different light,” she says. “But that’s not always a blessing.Sometimes the things you want to do, the changes you want to make, can become absolutely overwhelming.” When Banks’ father was told he could not attend the Ivy League school of his choice, her parents moved to Mexico City, where he went to medical school, while her mother taught at the American Embassy. Banks was born in Mexico, and her family moved to Denver when she was 6. After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in broadcast journalism, Banks landed her first real job as an early morning on-air reporter for KFKA AM radio. “Yes, that was me. Every morning at 3 a.m., I gave the agricultural report — one of the more glamorous jobs I’ve had,” she says. Glamorous or not, this first job launched her career, as she moved around the state, eventually landing a coveted anchor job for an affiliate TV station in Colorado Springs. “My favorite part of this job, and probably any reporting job, is when I can be a part of an ongoing story and follow its progress. It’s really fun in that regard, but more than just the story is the bigger picture. Newspeople can create fun just about anywhere. Get a group of them together, and you’re never going to be bored,” she says.

On the local scene, Banks rode a huge wave of success as the popular news anchor at Denver’s Channel 2. “I enjoyed working for the station because we were a little smaller than the others, which gave all of us the opportunity to do more and to feel a sense of ownership in our work,” she recalls. Tamara BanksAfter nearly 14 years in the broadcast business, she was summoned by Mayor John Hickenlooper to work with him as a neighborhood and community advisor. “This was a wonderful job, and it afforded me so much. It was like getting a Ph.D. in city politics and issues and provided me the opportunity to look at the issues I’d covered as a reporter, only this time from the other side,” she says. Following her work in the civic realm, Banks returned full force to broadcasting, focusing her efforts in a variety of arenas. Her boundless energy has her committed to a multitude of projects, ranging from Studio 12, a weekly PBS program she co-hosts with KOA radio’s Stephan Tubbs; Issues and Options, a monthly program she hosts that is broadcast on Denver’s Channel 8; and Clearly Colorado, a local radio public affairs show she also hosts. In addition, Banks conducts media training and continues to work with the mayor’s office, facilitating community town halls that cover a span of topics ranging from graffiti to safety to historic preservation. All these endeavors enable her to discuss issues and concerns that affect the community and provide a forum for discussing events that might not otherwise receive their much-needed due.

TamaraBanks2While her work on the local scene embodies her commitment to educating the public on issues that affect them on a daily basis, her face takes on a deeper earnestness when she discusses the concept behind her newest venture, Taz Media, a production company she founded just over one year ago. Using this venue, Banks hopes to translate her experience and skill to educate others, both domestically and abroad, on issues facing the less fortunate around the globe. “Some time ago, I developed a wild idea to work with emerging democracies and to better understand how they can benefit from the concept of a free press,” she says. “There are so many groups working with these countries, helping them to build governments and infrastructure, but there is a lack of understanding regarding how free press can help with these efforts. If you look at it practically, in terms of health, education, government and politics, all of the information surrounding these infrastructures is available through the free press. Without it, the system can’t work as well.” Currently, Banks’ spare time is spent drumming up grant money to support her project. Yet despite being the brains and driving force behind so monumental a task, Banks appears surprisingly undaunted by the prospect: “I’m trying to do this in manageable bits. My strength, and what I excel in, is in telling the story. If I keep that focus, the story can unfold.”

Banks admits to a particular affinity for Africa, a place she says has stolen her heart. “I organized a trip to Kenya with other black journalists, and the purpose was to build a bridge between the continents and between black and African journalists. We held symposiums throughout Kenya and met with governments. The goal was to find ways to support the press in the region, because it’s still largely government run. As Americans, we went over there with this idea of demonstrating how the free press works, but there’s so much work to do,” she explains. As committed as Banks is to enlightening society and the world about the perils faced by others, she admits she harbors no illusions of heroism. “I want to work in countries where I’m invited,” she says. “I’m not a crusader, trying to change what people are comfortable with. I’m not interested in shoving change down their throats or expecting them to embrace something different from what is working. This is the epitome of being the voice for the voiceless, because then they become their own voice. And by being able to hear and read what they choose, this then makes the world a better place.”

Banks’ passion for providing people with the information and letting them make judgments based on that information stems from her dismay at how a lack of information — or indeed, misinformation — can affect a society. “Take China, for example,” she says. “There is a group of Chinese immigrants that does not believe Tiananmen Square really occurred. There is another group in the Middle East that does not believe in the existence of Bin Laden. If people could be better informed, they could work to better their world.” Tamara BanksIn this regard, Banks believes that just because people are different does not mean they are evil. “This is why the free press is so important,” she explains. “Without this autonomy there can be no true democracy.” Using these beliefs, Banks is now aiming her sights on telling the story that is unfolding in Sudan, a country besieged by corruption and terror. Her inspiration for this distant land comes in the form of a minister, Pastor Heidi McGuinnes, who has been working in that country for more than a decade.

“I want to tell the story through her eyes and provide her spiritual perspective. Through all the atrocities she has witnessed, her determination has never wavered, and I want to show how her courage can make a difference,” she says. Banks first met McGuinnes, a woman she describes as “remarkable,” when the pastor was in Denver attending a meeting for the Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action. Banks is on the board of that organization, which works to eliminate genocide around the world. “People such as Heidi are so committed to righting wrongs,” she says. “One percent really can make a difference, and if I ever get the chance to write my book, that’s going to be the title!” Another story that has grown out of her work with McGuinnes focuses on the eight steps to genocide, a sociological phenomenon that begins with isolation from the rest of the world and grows to horrific proportions. “If people could realize the sequence of these steps and their significance, they could be empowered to prevent their outcome,” Banks believes. While stories such as these have yet to be told, Banks is confident that through Taz Media she can produce the documentaries that will educate and inform others. “I will do more than just tell the story,” she says. “Through these documentaries and videos I will provide action steps. So many times viewers see these stories, and although they may be affected, they are left feeling helpless. These documentaries will tell them how they can help and what they can do to make a difference.”

As a journalist, Banks has seen more than her share of atrocities, sadness and pain. To counter the oppressiveness she sees every day in her line of work, she turns to polo, a sport she says helps her relax, stay in great physical condition and remain focused. An avid horseback rider since the age of 4, Banks began playing polo around 10 years ago. “I love this sport. I love working with the horses because they’re smart, and they love the game. It’s fast, it’s competitive, and I love scoring against the men!” she declares. When her schedule permits, Banks tries to play and ride every day. Her passion for the sport began when she did a story on up and coming sports in Colorado, and the trainer she had interviewed invited her to take a class. After that, she was hooked. “You always know when I’m playing a lot,” she says. “I’m eating a lot of Top Ramen to support my polo habit.

“Polo is the greatest sport. One day I’d love to have even more time to play it, but that means I would be done saving the world,” she muses.

Written by ELLEN GRAY
Photography by KIT WILLIAMS

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