Media maven, event moderator, talk-show host and feel-good news proponent Ohavia Phillips is a Charlotte firebrand with an outsized personality and a passion for people.
by Michael J. Solender
Ohavia Phillips hustles up the sidewalk in front of Not Just Coffee in Wesley Heights, arriving for our appointment on a September afternoon. Tall and statuesque, Phillips could be mistaken for a model, her easy and vibrant approach to style highlighting a natural glow.
Phillips doesn’t merely command attention with her exuberant, megawatt smile and electric presence; she draws all eyes in the room in her direction. Phillips radiates enthusiasm and energy, and nearly everyone she meets wants a giant-sized cup of whatever she’s having.
The oldest of five siblings, Phillips, 29, moved to Charlotte from Brooklyn, New York, at age 13 with her single mother, a nurse who had taken a job with a large health care provider. A UNC Charlotte graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communications with a journalism minor, she received her master’s in communications in 2017 from Walden University, where she is pursuing her doctorate in organizational leadership.
Phillips began developing her media chops while at UNC Charlotte, covering arts and entertainment and anchoring Niner News, a student-run broadcast network. While finishing her degree, she landed a reporting and producing internship at Spectrum News (formerly Time Warner Cable). Phillips continued working post-graduation for the media company’s local affiliate as a producer/reporter until 2018, when she left to form her own company, The Oh Show LLC, a custom media and content-development firm.
Though her business plan wasn’t fully crystallized when she struck out on her own, Phillips was confident in her abilities and certain the media landscape in her adopted hometown was hungry for uplifting, positive news. She also longed for a platform to showcase underrepresented community members making an impact.
Since launching her YouTube-based talk series, “The Oh Show,” Phillips has consulted on diversity and equity issues with public and private organizations; hosted events for Belk, Blumenthal Performing Arts and others; and emceed at numerous local fundraisers.
Last month, she was chosen to moderate national political figure Stacey Abrams’ Charlotte appearance, and Phillips started a new chapter, joining the communications, public relations and marketing team at Central Piedmont Community College.
In an interview with SouthPark, Phillips shares her take on the media landscape, the power of positivity and dealing with doubters. Her responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you land a career in journalism and media?
I came into [UNC Charlotte] undeclared from the transfer program at Central Piedmont Community College. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, or what to major in. Somebody told me that you can get paid for your personality. I didn’t know what that meant. I recall thinking, “Get paid for your personality? What is that called?” And my guidance counselor at the time said, “Oh, that’s journalism.” And the rest is really history.
I started at Niner News, and that’s when the nourishment began. I finally felt seen — I felt heard. I felt like finally, this Afro-Latin woman from Brooklyn who moved to the South made sense, and she had a voice. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of women I could point to that looked like me and were anchorwomen, and I felt valued.
After graduation, at Spectrum, I was in a hybrid [producer/reporter] role: general assignments, shootings, fires, crime. Here and there I could do enterprise pieces on people and community, but those were very rare and far between.
How did the heaviness of the stories you reported on take a toll on you and shift your perspective?
Covering the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, covering the Pulse nightclub shooting, the rapper Young Dolph shooting — all this negative news began to weigh on me. I thought “What happened to the girl with the big personality?” And I felt like she was fading away. Also, I didn’t get to be in the community as much as I wanted to, or talk to people. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I was assigned the Keith Lamont Scott shooting. The tipping point was [when] CNN used one of my photos, and I was thinking, “Wait a minute. So, I can make this journalism thing something for me. I just don’t know how to do it.” I wanted to be more in the community and share different perspectives.
Describe how you took the entrepreneurial leap.
I jumped out on my own and established The Oh Show LLC. I wasn’t even thinking long-term. I just wanted it to be a talk show with positive media content, where we highlight community news. I had my very first live show in April 2019, and we packed the place out. It featured [diversity and inclusion speaker and author] Raven Solomon, and I remember thinking, “These people came to listen here.” It was insane. I didn’t have any backing, but it’s led to other opportunities.
I knew I had this big idea of creating positive media content. People told me I was crazy, because [in] my news background, “if it bleeds it leads.” But I love community, and I love this idea of teaching and empathy. What I love about the Queen City is it’s been my blank canvas. I’ve been able to meet amazing people, tell amazing stories and stick beside content I’m proud of. It’s all positive stuff; it’s none of the negative stuff. When I talk to people in different places, it’s all love. So, it’s been a place where I could just figure it out.
How do you cut through the pervasive clutter of negativity?
What I’ve found out is people really love positive news. It’s not hard to find. I stay up for it every day, stay up for it every night, and I wake up and it’s become my life. And I haven’t let up, and I don’t plan to. I believe that the world needs more of it, and so I just keep bringing it.
One of my favorite “Oh Show” episodes was surrounding police brutality. I had Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Capt. Brad Koch, artist Dammit Wesley and a local high school student, and we discussed the intersection of community and art and activism. And we made space for honest conversation around what is justice, what is equity for all people. I love that episode because we had an officer who was marching beside demonstrators, we had an artist who sat down with the officer to discuss, “Okay, well what does this look like?” and we had a student from Ardrey Kell High School, who was about to embark on her collegiate journey, and she wanted to know, “How can I continue to serve?” We didn’t run away from the topic but put a lot of the faces at the forefront that can at least explain why communities feel the way they do.
Who’s the real Ohavia and why is she such a force?
The real Ohavia is just a lover of people. I want to see people win, and I want to see communities understand each other. I’m so sick of cancel culture. I feel like we must create space for people to unlearn as much as they learn. We’re so quick to tell people, “Go four years, and turn the tassel, and get a degree.” Well, what is it like unlearning? If we’ve been so used to hearing things a certain way, that process is going to be double. So, Ohavia is all those things, but my favorite title is I’m a lover of people, and I create safe spaces. SP
“The real Ohavia is just a lover of people. I want to see people win, and I want to see communities understand each other.”