Actively creating a brand new meaning for an existing word isn’t easy. But outgoing afternoon CNN anchor and Westminster Schools grad Brooke Baldwin is going to try her darndest to make it happen.
While working on a book about women empowering each other to make the world better, she came up with the term “huddle” to encapsulate the entire concept. The book “Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power” comes out today.
“I am trying to make ‘huddle’ a thing,” said Baldwin in a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after she recently finished her daily afternoon show on CNN in Manhattan. For many, the original meaning of huddle conjures up male football players in a circle strategizing on their next play.
But Baldwin, 41, decided to take this macho phrase and flip it on its head. “A huddle is where women can be energized, where success can thrive and amazing [expletive] can get done,” she said. “It’s where women lean on each other in a collective sense.”
She said these types of huddles have propelled the #MeToo movement, the increase in female elected officials nationwide and the rising influence of gun safety groups.
Baldwin interviewed a raft of women, including former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, as well as House representative and gun control expert Lucy McBath. She spoke to a group of Black judges who worked together in 2018 to win elections in Houston. She spent time with Karlie Kloss, a fashion model who started a camp for females to learn coding. And she visited the offices of Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon’s production company that focuses on women-centered stories such as “Big Little Lies” and “Little Fires Everywhere.”
“I want women to say, ‘Who’s in your huddle? Have you huddled today? What is your work huddle, your wellness huddle, your friend huddle?” Baldwin said.
She said she had a support system growing up, her own huddles that fueled her confidence while attending Westminster Schools in the 1990s. She was all over the place: gymnastics, soccer, art, dance, cheerleading, even shot put. While in college, she talked her way into an internship at CNN after being initially rejected.
But Baldwin said her huddles disappeared in her 20s while she was clawing her way up the broadcast TV ranks. While many of her friends were experiencing a “Sex in the City” life in major cities, Baldwin was moving around small-town America hanging out mostly with male photographers while awaiting a live shoot. “I was super, super lonely,” she said. “The hours were terrible.”
At age 28, she decided to move to Atlanta to try to get to nab a full-time gig at CNN. She did freelance work at first, living at her parents’ home and doing overnight anchoring for CNN International. While she had some great single girlfriends, she did not have a group of women to lean on. Once at CNN full time as an anchor, she began building up some of that female network within the company.
Baldwin says the election of Donald Trump shook her. But she was psychologically lifted by the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. that drew nearly a half million people a day after Trump’s inauguration. And as a way to salve her soul while covering the Trump administration, she put together a digital American Women project for CNN.com featuring interviews with groundbreaking women such as Diane von Furstenberg, Issa Rae, Betty White and Pat Benatar.
But she said she didn’t start thinking more deliberately about the “huddle” concept until she attended her 20th high school reunion at Westminster Schools in 2017 and hung out with three of her friends.
“The best part of the night was when the four of us ended up together at my friend’s house that night,” Baldwin said. “That was the beginning of me realizing, ‘We’re better together.’”
This seeded her book idea.
Baldwin believes many women have a huddle “right under their noses but don’t know how to activate that group and are seeking kindred spirits. They can find them through activism, through wellness, in their neighborhood. And now in this pandemic where we are physically separated more than we ever have, there has never been a greater need to find a huddle in your life.”
She tested different words to define her concept with her friends, and “huddle” worked best. “They were my test audience,” she said. “They dug it. It felt the stickiest to me.”
Aki Martin, one of Baldwin’s closest friends going back to Westminster and a marketer in San Diego, said she readily identified with the book’s thematics and how women in the workplace often came with a scarcity mentality, that there were a finite number of spots at the table, and they had to fight each other. Baldwin herself said she has grappled with women like this in the workplace over the years. “Women have sharp elbows,” Baldwin said. “Women can make it worse for each other.”
Credit: Rodney Ho
Credit: Rodney Ho
But she found plenty of examples for her book of women working together in a huddle and embracing the idea of an abundance mentality, that a rising tide lifts all ships.
The trick, Martin said, is “approaching your friendships and network with the intention to elevate each other. It’s something women innately have. We just have to practice it, leave space for it and not feel selfish about it.” She cited a quote from the book from Ava Duvernay, the TV and film producer known for OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” about building opportunities for other Black women in the entertainment world to follow in her footsteps and not wanting to be the only one at the party.
After the reunion, Baldwin intentionally brought Martin and two other high school friends into a specific huddle that has fed Martin’s soul. “I was already a close confidante to Brooke for 20-odd years. I feel like that has tripled in size with the support, the camaraderie and the trust of having three women in my life I can tell everything to and really lean on.”
Baldwin is leaving CNN April 16 after 13 years in part because of what she learned researching “Huddle.” She has no new job lined up. She wants to explore her options and see what other journalistic TV opportunities are out there for her.
“Writing this book changed my life,” she said. “Spending time with these trailblazing women, I came to the conclusion I cannot hold space with them and not be the bravest version of myself.”
“I want to dive into the deep end of storytelling,” she added. “I’m working with a production company to work an on unscripted documentary series on the concept of ‘Huddle.’ I am such a TV person. I interviewed all these women, and I didn’t bring a camera crew. So Netflix... if you’re listening...”
Not to say she’s isn’t grateful to CNN and the opportunities they provided her.
“I have grown so much,” Baldwin said. “I have become a better person just sitting in that chair for two hours a day. Whatever I do next, there is no way I will be able to do it without having had this experience.”
“Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power”
By Brooke Baldwin
304 pages, $27.99
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