By Janine Rubenstein
April 6, 2016
Be it covering the upcoming election on MSNBC or talking pop culture on the Today show, Tamron Hall is rarely seen without her megawatt smile.
“I love my job and my relationship with the viewers who watch my shows, ” Hall, 45, tells PEOPLE, sitting down for an interview inside her chic Manhattan apartment on March 3. “The biggest compliment I get is when someone tells me, ‘You’re so real.’ Even if my journey isn’t exactly like theirs.”
Hall’s journey – from a modest childhood in rural Luling, Texas, to recently making history as Today’s first African-American female co-anchor – includes a heart-wrenching tragedy. In 2004 her sister Renate was found beaten and bludgeoned to death, floating face down in the small backyard pool of her home in Houston, Texas. The crime came after years of relationships with abusive men.
“No one deserves what happened to my sister, ” Hall says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “For a long time I was hesitant about sharing our story. I didn’t want to be another well-known person saying, ‘Look what happened to me and my family.’ But then I said, screw that. I can save a life.”
Once, Hall, herself was present for a brutal altercation between her sister and a male companion, whom Hall will not name out of fear of retaliation. After kicking the man out, “I said to her, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘You’re too beautiful. Too smart. You can do better.’ All the things I’ve learned now are wrong [from domestic abuse advocates], I did them all.”
It took time for Hall to overcome feelings of guilt. “I think Renate thought some part of me still judged her, ” she says. But now, Hall has managed to find the tragedy’s silver lining. Working with group’s Safe Horizon and Day One to end domestic violence and helping other families find closure on her ID Channel show Deadline: Crime, Hall says, “I’ve been given an opportunity to make a difference.”