Get to know the next generation of must-know names that are changing the game in the series Introducing, where Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are celebrating the Black women and girls who are emerging leaders and rising stars in the sports world.
Name: Pepper Persley
Profession: Student and sports journalist
Hometown: New York, N.Y.
Hobbies: Basketball, violin, taekwondo, Marvel comics
Pepper Persley is setting the world ablaze. While sports journalism is her niche, she has already managed to land interviews with illustrious figures such as First Lady Jill Biden, Michelle Obama and the Black Panther himself, the late Chadwick Boseman—all before finishing the fifth grade. But don’t let her youthfulness fool you, the 10-year-old is a seasoned professional that can hold her own at any press conference. Persley loves researching, playing basketball and Marvel comics, but she is a shero in her own right, as a proponent of anti-bullying and for bringing awareness to her dream league, the WNBA. Persley took a moment to step on the other side of the mic to tell us how it all got started.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Empower Onyx: How do you get to be a seasoned journalist at 10 years old?
Pepper Persley: Growing up, I was just very curious. I asked a lot of questions specifically about sports and the WNBA. I got my first interview with New York Liberty player Sugar Rodgers. I was six and I didn't really think of it as a career path, I was still a kid at that point. I really started doing interviews as a job during the pandemic. I wanted to do something to bring a smile to people's faces because this is a depressing time. I know a lot of people feel lonely and I want to be there for people. My dad was like, Well, you've done interviews in the past, why not that? So, I just started doing it more and more. I started going to press conferences and getting gigs and now I'm here.
EO: You seem very passionate about interviewing. What is it that you love about it?
PP: I want to be a WNBA player when I grow up, which obviously that's still my dream. I didn’t think of interviewing as something that I could do, especially at this age, until it just started happening more and more. I fell in love with everything. I really enjoy the research and getting to know people more. After doing all that work learning about them, to come up with all my questions, and to see that pay off, is cool. I enjoy learning from people. A question that I ask a lot is advice, which is something that benefits me.
EO: What’s the best advice that somebody has given you?
PP: To do whatever you're passionate about. Just figure that out and keep going. Don't let anybody tell you not to do it. Work hard and have fun while you're doing that. I would say that's the best advice.
EO: Other than interviewing people and the WNBA, you're also passionate about anti-bullying. Why?
PP: So, in second grade, unfortunately, I was bullied, and it was really challenging. Especially coming from two people I thought were my friends. One of the things I did to try to flip it on its head, I created an anti-bullying video, which I recently put on my Instagram.
I’m trying to spread the message: To a kid who is a bully, I try to convince them that they shouldn't be doing that; to somebody who has been bullied, I want them to know, whoever told you something that was mean or inconsiderate, that they're most likely just jealous of you or have something else going on in their lives. It has been an important topic, having it happened to me and just wanting it to not happen to anybody else.
EO: How do you deal with people not taking you seriously or treating you like a kid when you’re working?
PP: It's challenging, but I focus on the positive and the people who do support me. I love to prove them wrong by being good at what I do.
EO: You have some big interviews under your belt: First Lady Jill Biden, Michelle Obama, Chadwick Boseman... the list goes on. Do you have a dream interview at this point?
PP: Serena Williams would be incredible to interview. She's a GOAT. She's a legend. I would say Serena for sure.
EO: What gets you in the zone when you're getting ready to interview or play basketball?
PP: What I think a lot of athletes do, it's listening to music for me. Especially empowering music. My favorite song and has been for a very long time is “Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys. I love that song! I could listen to it 24/7!
EO: Fast-forward to Pepper at the age 18. If you had to choose between sports journalism and playing in the WNBA, which one are you going to choose?
PP: First being a WNBA player and then being a journalist, but who knows? Maybe by the time I'm 18 I could do both at the same time. I mean, it'll be kind of nuts. Maybe I could cover the game while I'm playing in it? Hmm, probably not, but that would be super cool.