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Movers & Shakers: Jessica Z. Brown-Billhymer Honored With St. Louis Press Club's Catfish Award

Movers & Shakers: Jessica Z. Brown-Billhymer Honored With St. Louis Press Club's Catfish Award

Movers & Shakers - jessica brown.jpg

Jessica Z. Brown-Billhymer enjoys the thrill of bringing people and institutions together by working behind the scenes to make things happen. The founder and president of Gateway Media Literacy Partners, she has forged relationships as a newspaper reporter; as a television producer, talent and writer at KSDK-Channel 5; in management at Southwestern Bell (now AT&T); in a myriad of volunteer positions; and as a higher education educator and media literacy education proponent and consultant.

Brown-Billhymer is the most recent recipient of St. Louis Press Club’s Catfish Award, which goes to a member who has made exceptional contributions to the field of communications and to the club.

“It’s a humbling honor, indeed, and I am eternally grateful for group recognition of my work from an organization that supports something I’m seriously committed to: journalism scholarships,” she says.

Brown-Billhymer took the lead as the producer and host of the club’s “IN THE NOW” initiative. “Our ‘IN THE NOW’ conversations are available for free at stlpressclub.org,” she says. “It is a series of more than 30 conversations with a variety of area communications professionals who talk candidly about their unique professional and personal experiences early on in the unfolding [COVID-19] pandemic.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Brown-Billhymer says she is a product of “a great public school education.” She attended the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism for three years. “Those foundational journalism roots are forever with me,” she says. She earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in journalism from Northeastern University, Boston, and a master’s degree in communications – interactive media, with an emphasis on content management and media literacy, from Webster University locally.

Brown-Billhymer has worked as a Webster University adjunct professor for 19 years, with adjunct stints at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and University College at Washington University in St. Louis along the way. She says of her online teaching this year: “The pivot went smoothly thanks to Webster’s excellence with that transition. Some students exhibited unusual stress, but a little hand-holding goes a long way. The term ended positively. I asked the students to actually download their work to keep as a piece of their history, since we focused on the unfolding pandemic.”

She has been married to Curtis P. Billhymer for 35 years, and the couple has two daughters, Leslie and Jacqueline, and one granddaughter.

She is a lifetime member and former two-term national board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, a member of FOCUS St. Louis and a board member of the Citizens Education Clearing House, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

She says her “aha” moment relating to media literacy came in the mid-’90s when she was the board member in charge of the Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts’ Creating Critical Thinking program, “where we became known nationwide for our exemplary effort pairing television stations with schools to help them master critical thinking about media. I realized quickly that this combined much of what I was all about: education and media.”

Soon after, she imagined a community organization focused on media literacy and media literacy education. In 2004, Gateway Media Literacy Partners was born. In 2007, having been acknowledged by the national and international community for its regional efforts, that organization hosted the national conference on media literacy education and, that December, became a nonprofit, with Brown-Billhymer serving as its first president, a position she held until 2015.

U.S. Media Literacy Week and UNESCO’s Media Information Literacy Week is Oct. 25 to 30. “We urge all citizens to always have conversations about how we can better deal with the barrage of media messages, both as consumers and creators, and to making sense of media in the digital age,” Brown-Billhymer concludes. 

An innate storyteller and award-winning photographer and writer, Alice Handelman provides Ladue News readers with a glimpse into lives that enrich St. Louis.

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Alice Handelman is a contributing writer and Movers & Shakers columnist. Her stories in Ladue News have won three, first-place awards in the Missouri Professional Communicators annual communications contest.

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Dan Bindler has served as a committee and board member of multiple professional and civic organizations, both in the St. Louis area and across the nation.