As a young boy growing up in Tulsa, Okla., DeMarco Morgan had more than just a childhood curiosity of television news. He would run home to watch the evening news and sit so close to the television his mother would warn him about ruining his eyes.
“I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, but I still wanted to do what they did,” said Morgan, who is a CBS News Correspondent in New York. “When I was in middle school, if someone was fighting on the playground, I’d play like I was a reporter covering the fight with a brush or soda bottle in my hand (as a microphone).”
His curiosity was fueled by the coverage of the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. Morgan was fixated on the news reports, despite being only in the second grade. He was too young to understand the magnitude of the event, but was in awe of the journalists he saw on the screen.
“I remember being amazed at that little television set and how powerful it was,” he said.
Morgan’s mother, Joetta Morgan, nurtured his interest in television and encouraged him to speak publicly whenever possible. She also saw it as a way to help her son following the death of his father from a heart attack when he was 10. But despite his interest, Morgan admits he wasn’t the best student. Though he graduated from Booker T. Washington high school in Tulsa, he failed English and scored a 13 on the ACT college entrance exam.
“I did just enough and graduated at the bottom of my high school class,” he said.
Of the nearly 10 colleges he applied to, Jackson State was the only one that accepted him. So, Morgan immersed himself in his mass communication studies. He worked on improving his diction and grammar, as well as learning how to produce news segments. It was the boost he needed.
“Jackson State gave me so much confidence, which I still rely on today when I get discouraged,” he said.
Morgan graduated with honors from JSU in 2001, then earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York. He praised the “incredible” advantages and resources of Columbia, yet credited JSU with turning his life around. He also credited retired JSU professor Dr. Judy Alsobrooks Meredith, who spent countless hours providing counseling and feedback.
“I knew DeMarco was special when I met him,” Meredith said. “Every minute he was not in class, he took advantage of the TV station that I developed at JSU. DeMarco anchored, reported and [did] whatever it took to get the newscast done. So, while I’m proud of him, I’m not at all surprised by his achievements.”
Before joining CBS News in 2015, Morgan was an anchor for 11 Alive, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, and had previously worked as a reporter and anchor in New York, Miami, Milwaukee and Jackson. Ellen Crooke, vice president of News and Information at 11 Alive, described Morgan as “a tenacious and aggressive reporter and an engaging and effective news anchor (who) makes it his mission to be involved with the community he serves.” While in Atlanta, Morgan covered some of Georgia’s most important stories, earning a Southeastern Emmy nomination for best anchor. Morgan also covered national events, such as President Obama’s second inauguration and the first national rally held in the aftermath of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Among his most memorable interviews was one with actor, producer and playwright Tyler Perry, who spontaneously went into his “Madea” character during Morgan’s live TV interview.
“I lost it! And could barely bring it back,” Morgan said.
He also has interviewed politicians including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Africa’s first elected female Head of State, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Morgan said he was inspired by an interview with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about his battle with leukemia. “How someone so great could be dealt a blow in life beyond his control and still have hope, had me almost in tears. I learned how precious life truly is and how not to sweat the small stuff.”
Speaking of tears, Morgan admits he has shed a few tears of joy since he started working at CBS.
“I just couldn’t believe I was at the network. There is not a day that goes by that I’m not thanking God for opening this door. I get to travel and do what I love – reporting stories on a national level.”
Morgan also knew a trip overseas would help with his desire to be an international reporter.
“I always knew that toward the end of my contract in Atlanta, I was going to go after a network job,” said Morgan. “So I traveled to Europe and visited London and Paris so I could talk about traveling overseas in my interview. I wanted to show the network that I was serious about reporting and not just limited to assignments on U.S. soil. In my second month (at CBS) I was already putting my passport to use.”
Morgan has anchored the presidential election coverage for CBS on its digital platform, CBSN, and was a fill-in anchor for “CBS This Morning Saturday.” Recently, he reported on the latest version of the SAT tests, which are designed to level the playing field for minorities and students who can’t afford expensive preparatory courses. It was a fitting assignment, considering his struggles in high school. Morgan has taught classes at JSU, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta universities. In recent years, he has returned to JSU to speak to incoming freshmen. He said he enjoys speaking to young people about his work and how they can prepare for successful careers in any field they choose.
“I tell them the world doesn’t care about your excuses. I tell them your career starts now, not when you graduate, but now, so the people you hang with, the jobs that you have, all of the stuff you’re not supposed to be doing – all of that matters.”
Morgan is also a dedicated mentor of students and younger journalists.
“I have been notorious for giving out my cell number. There are hundreds of young people who have my number because I tell them if there is nobody you can call, call me,” he said. “I tell them you can do whatever you want to, but the challenge is to keep going when you hit the roadblocks—when you get those no’s. I tell them that every time I heard a ‘no,’ I always remembered that it only takes one ‘yes.’”
Morgan’s interest in community involvement is as strong as his passion for journalism. He has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters, 100 Black Men of America, Inc., the American Cancer Society, the board of managers for the YMCA and is also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. In 2006, Morgan received the National Community Service Award from the National Association of Black Journalists. While he was at Columbia, he helped start a student chapter of NABJ.
“I believe in giving back, especially to HBCUs and young people,” he said.
One of his most memorable experiences was being invited to address JSU commencement in 2010. His mother sat proudly in the audience.
“I had the opportunity that day to go back and say ‘thank you,’” he said. “I know for a fact, and there is no doubt, that I would not be where I am today had Jackson State not given me the chance.”