Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Black in America 2: More Conversation, Reflections

Even though nearly a week has passed since the premiere of the much-anticipated "Black in America 2" documentary, the program is STILL sparking conversation in my world.

This week, I had a follow-up conversation with a friend who attended both nights of our local "Black in America 2" viewing party and discussion here in Tuscaloosa. We talked about some of this person's observations and found that we were on different sides of issues.

Different Sides

Both African American educators with terminal degrees, my friend and I were still looking at the African American experience through slightly different lenses.

Our different viewpoints about "Black in America 2" were just indicative of how different our lived experiences have been.

Our nearly hourlong phone conversation eventually moved from just talking about "Black in America 2" to the recent incident involving Harvard University's Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Recalling a personal incident of being harassed by police, this friend told me how one
could identify with Dr. Gates' experience.

I had nothing much to say about it. But, it illustrates how the "black experience" is hard to convey.

It's often been said that African Americans, like any other race of people, are not monolithic. In other words, we don't speak with one voice or have a single lived experience that can be represented in a single portrayal.

Black in America 2's Personal Impact

Even after TWO four-hour documentaries last July and last week, we STILL have not completely depicted what it means to be "Black in America."

While I conveyed the feelings of those attending the local viewing party and discussion, I never reported my own personal reactions.

In three words, "MOVED TO ACTION" are what I would use to describe my own personal feelings after watching "Black in America 2: Pioneers."

As one of the charter members of 100 Black Men of West Alabama and a member of a local school dropout prevention task force, I'm already personally involved and invested in some concrete efforts to deal with problems facing African-Americans here in Tuscaloosa.

The stories depicted in "Black in America 2" show me the potential of having an even greater impact.

On a deeper level, as an avid viewer of Tyler Perry's cinematic offerings (especially this summer), I am more educated about the "Man Behind the Movies."

I was raised at Howard University as a journalist with a conscience, empowered to OWN not just work in the media. Tyler Perry reminded me that ownership STILL must be a goal.

I enjoyed hosting the local events here at University of Alabama last week, in part, because they inform the research that I'll be doing in the next few weeks charting the progress (or lack thereof) that we've made in area of representations of the "black" experience in the news media.

Reclaiming the Dream

Still, I am looking forward to the discussions and debate that CNN Will be providing us this weekend (August 1 & 2) as "Reclaiming the Dream" panel discussion pre-recorded earlier this month at the Essence Music Festival will air.

One question we have is what is the true benefit of CNN and Essence teaming up? We've watched their "Making a Difference" segments. But, I believe the panel discussion will add an entirely different dimension to this media partnership.

Until then, I will continue to reflect on all I saw last week and how a television program like "Black in America 2" can shape the very dialogue one can have with a friend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Second Part of Black in America 2 Wins Praise at University of Alabama

After not-so-good comments on the first installment of Black in America 2, which aired Wednesday night, the overall documentary is being praised here at The University of Alabama.

Students, faculty and staff were generally positive about the overall effort, which includes another program to air on CNN August 1-- a "Reclaiming the Dream" debate

Lots of ideas and suggestions to process. We'll have a more complete posting on tonight's discussion on Friday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

University of Alabama Viewers NOT Impressed with CNN Black in America 2

After what I thought was an outstanding effort in CNN's documentary Black in America last year," I decided to invite students, faculty and staff at The University of Alabama to watch Black in America 2 with me. About 20 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff joined in the conversation tonight.

During the hour preceding tonight's premiere, we watched an excerpt from last year's documentary and identified some of the problems this multicultural crowd perceived as the "Biggest Problems facing African-Americans."

Once the documentary began, there was great disappointment in what was presented in the "Journey for Change" story. the students expressed a real lack of enthusiasm for the depth that was given to one experience and the overemphasis of one or two students.

What about the other students on the trip?

By devoting much of the first hour of the program to the "Journey for Change," CNN left little time to provide a more complete report on the type of leadership provided by Dr. Steve Perry.

The administrators, students and faculty in this group identified some holes in the story about the Capital Prep Magnet School. What happens to the 100 percent of students who go to college. Do they actually graduate from college?

While time limits what can be reported in one story, when so much time was devoted to "Journey for Change," it made other stories in tonight's installment incomplete.

As we prepare for Part 2 of CNN's Black in America 2, we are hoping the Pioneers that will be featured will be conveyed in a more COMPLETE fashion.

We'll be watching and discussing the second part tomorrow night here at The University of Alabama's Phifer Hall Room 323.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Discussion on CNN's Black in America 2 set to Wednesday, Thursday

We're less than a week away from the much-anticipated second year of CNN's highly-acclaimed Black in America documentary project.

Wednesday, July 22 and Thursday, July 23, the Time Warner-owned network's documentary unit will debut two two-hour treatments, which will be hosted by CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

Unlike the 2008 programs, which were criticized by some as being too heavily-focused on the problems of Black Americans and not enough on what's being done to solve them, the 2009 installments are mostly oriented to solutions, with particular emphasis on the next generation of leadership.

Subtitled, "Today's Pioneers," July 22nd installment will focus on community organizers across the country who are facilitating progress at a local level. These pioneers address health, education, and other critical needs of the black community.

Then on Thursday, July 23rd, viewers will see Tomorrow's Leaders" focuses on efforts to develop future African-American leaders.

But, what appears to be the common thread in both of these programs will be the forward-looking, solution-driven approach that they will take.

Early Reviews

Even though the documentaries don't debut until July 22, CNN has hosted a number of screenings of "Black in America 2" around the country.

One of the first reported screenings was at Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte where students participated in a town hall forum hosted by CNN Anchor Don Lemon. CNN Presents Executive Producer Jeff Reid also attended.

FULL Disclosure: Jeff Reid was my former executive producer at WXIA-TV in Atlanta, Ga.

Earlier this month, students and residents in Washington, D.C were a part of the screening that was reported on by THE HILLTOP, the student-daily at Howard University.

Yours Truly is a editor of THE HILLTOP 1991-92.

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry attended the D.C. screening, which was hosted by CNN's Chris Lawrence.

More recently, CNN.com streamed a panel discussion and screeening from the New York area and a similar community event was held in the Nashville area and co-sponsored by the Nashville chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Gathering at University of Alabama

Here's a preview of what we hope to accomplish with our viewing party and discussion on the University of Alabama campus

Our viewing party and discussion will be held in Phifer Hall Room 323, which is accessible from the rear entrance of Phifer Hall. Take the elevator up to the third floor.

Tuscaloosa's dropout problem takes centerstage at First Community Summit

Instead of an opening song or prayer, one man's story kicked off a daylong summit on what has been identified as Tuscaloosa Alabama's most critical problem-- the number of high school dropouts.

The opening story was that of Jerry Carter, a native of Tuscaloosa, who instead of graduating from high school received his G.E.D. and is making a living as an employee for a local freight company. Last October, his son was killed in a hail of gunfire outside a sports bar.

His experience as both a high school dropout and the parent of a murdered child caught the attention of this West Alabama's city's mayor.

"What a better place this world would be if we had more Jerry Carters," said Walt Maddox, who is running for re-election in an upcoming August 25th election. Even as his campaign kicks into high gear, Maddox is challenging residents of this college town known most as the home of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide to not be satisfied until there is a 0 percent dropout rate.

After Carter told his story, Maddox and a host of city leaders addressed a sparse crowd of community and business leaders, ministers and a few residents who gathered at the city's newest high Central High School.

Maddox challenged those in attendance to leave the summit committed to solving the problem of dropouts, which he shares with dozens of other Alabama communities.

Statewide, 39 percent of students do not finish high school. Tuscaloosa City Schools' most recent graduation rate was just 69 percent, compared 83 percent in the Tuscaloosa County system

Tuscaloosa City School Board Member Earnestine Tucker and Carter rallied the members of the Westside Community Action Council to present this first ever summit under the theme "Reclaiming The Future, A Call to Action."

The daylong summit took up other problems that are facing the city

Alabama's Best Solution to Dropout

One thing that Alabama has offered to surrounding states and, most recently as far away as Virginia, is its Inside-Out Bus Tour.

Developed by the Birmingham-based Mattie Stewart foundation, the inside of the school bus has been reformatted as half jail cell and half classroom. Students in grades four and higher are encouraged to come aboard the bus where they are shown a video about the consequences of dropping out of school and then allowed to go into the makeshift jail cell and see what happens to many who do not finish high school.

Today the so-called "Choice Bus" was in Tuscaloosa outside of Central High School. Next month, ten more buses are to be rolled out to travel to every region of the United States.

The Choice Bus and a documentary called "Inside Out" were developed by a foundation started by Shelley Stewart, who owns an advertising agency here in Alabama.

Stewart was the keynote speaker for today's summit.

"The problem is we don't admit that there' s a problem. We're comfortable, we're complacent," said Stewart, who challenged the summit attendees to focus less on building programs and more of building relationships.

More Than Dropout Prevention

Teen pregnancy has been cited as a major factor in the dropout rate. In Alabama, the teen pregnancy rate is at 90 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19. That's compared to just 84 per 1,000 nationally.

One solution highlighted during today's summit was a local program, "Dads and Fatherhood project"

After general sessions this morning, summit attendees broke out into smaller groups to tackle such issues as economic and credit survival, juvenile and adult violence, neighborhood and community organizing and the drug abuse.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Daniels meets with senators, senators' staffs on Journalist Shield Law

WASHINGTON-- Later this year when the U.S. Senate passes the Free Flow of Information Act, I'd like to think it was, in part, because the efforts of 12 people, including myself, from the Society of Professional Journalists.

It took nearly two dozen appointments over a two-day period to ensure members of the U.S. Senate and their staffs were aware of how important protecting anonymous sources is in 2009.

While 49 states have laws that allow journalists to avoid reveal confidential sources, there is no such law at the federal level. For the last four years, SPJ has been fighting to change that.

Clint Brewer, our immediate past president for the Society of Professional Journalists played a big role in what happened last year with the bill. Lately, he's been continuing the push as head of our SPJ Government Relations Committee.

It was a pleasure watching Clint and our current SPJ President Dave Aeikens launch our conversations with the various Senate staffers who were appointed to hear our concerns.

Last year a House version of the Free Flow Information Act (H.R. 985) passed the House of Representatives 398-21 vote.

Now, Senate bill 448 is soon to be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That's the same body that this week held confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

As soon as Sotomayor's confirmation proceedings have concluded,the Judiciary Committee may turn its attention to other matters. We hope S.B. 448 is one of those matters.

In the meantime, this week's lobbying trip was a chance for me to see the work that goes into makes legislation such as the Free Flow of Information Act a reality.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Soledad with Solutions, Don Lemon on Weekends-New Day in Media?

We're just a little more than a week away from Black in America 2. And, it seems CNN Correspondent Soledad O'Brien has picked up a new name-- "Soledad on Solutions" or "Soledad with Solutions."

That's how anchor Don Lemon referred to O'Brien in introducing an excerpt from the second year of this two-night documentary project focused on the state of black Americans. (See photos of the two broadcast journalists from the CNN talent Web site)

While tonight's piece on African-American males and mental illness was interesting, I've been particularly interested in the apparent emphasis on race & diversity topics in Lemon's weekend program.

Lemon's CNN Newsroom Line-up

Along with Barack Obama's visit to Ghana, the disturbing of Emmett Till's grave, the Michael Jackson death investigation, one might suspect that an usually high number of Lemon's stories (the ones in his newscasts) have to do with African Americans. Even in the interview with a young man allegedly turned away from a swimming pool because of his race, Lemon identified with the obvious racial component of this story.

One has to wonder if tonight's CNN Newsroom line-up is simply a coincidence or if there is some deliberate attempt on Lemon's part as an anchor to ensure that these stories get covered adequately.

It should be noted that a lot of these stories have been on the air all day, not just during Lemon's newscasts. So, it may be just a day for these types of stories.

I think it's "interesting" to note the line-up of stories tonight and even an extended interview coming up on the 10 p.m. (EDT) show with NAACP CEO Ben Jealous, about whom I've written here previously.

I will be watching this evening to see if the interviewer (presumably either Don Lemon or Newsroom Morning anchor T.J. Holmes, an African-American) makes a difference in the direction that interview on the 100th anniversary of NAACP takes.

Black in America: An EVERYDAY Story

A point that I made in my writing on CNN's original Black in America documentary last July was the importance of continuous "everyday" news coverage of the concerns of AFrican-Americans. In other words, the "Black Experience" is bigger than what can be contained in four hours of coverage (or eight hours, if you combine the 2008 and 2009 installments of Black in America)

As a television producer, I know firsthand, it's who's behind the scenes that makes the difference in what gets covered.

Until today I had not paid much attention to Don Lemon, especially since he was moved a year or so ago to the weekend shift (I believe he swapped places with CNN's Rick Sanchez). Some might view this shift as a demotion for Lemon. But, maybe not.

I recall the weekend evening- CNN Newsroom shows a couple years ago when Rick Sanchez would add an extra measure of "culture" to his view of stories that connect with his background as a Cuban American. (Sanchez somehwat pioneered the use of Twitter and Facebook during TV news programs during the most recent presidential campaign.)

Could Don Lemon's "perspective" as an African Americans do the same as Rick Sanchez has done for those of Cuban/Latino/Hispanic descent?

Lemon, who before his current job at CNN, worked as network correspondent and local news anchor in several markets, was written about earlier this week on The Huffington Post, for his defense of the over-abundance of Michael Jackson coverage.

I'll have to admit how surprised I was last Saturday evening to see so much emphasis placed on Jackson. Last Saturday (July 4), I tuned in to CNN looking for live coverage Nashville police neweers (news conferences) about what turned out to be Steve McNair's murder.

Instead, Lemon was tossing to interviews with people at the Essence Music Festival (Queen Latifah to be one) talking about Michael Jsckson.

Now that I've read Lemon's comments on CNN's Reliable Sources, I can see why. Either he's touting the company (CNN) line about a decision to emphasize Michael Jackson or he REALLY sees Michael Jackson as an "accidental civil rights leader." Really?

As a life member of the 100-year-old NAACP and a former NAACP Youth leader, I would take issue with this characterization. It will be interesting to see if Michael Jackson comes up in Lemon's interview with Ben Jealous.

The Bottomline on Lemon and O'Brien

My point in this long, somewhat rambling, post-- Don Lemon and Soledad O'Brien seem to be (however unintentional it might be) taking seriously the goal of reflecting the black experience in "everyday" presentation of the news.

Make no mistake-- O'Brien is all about drawing viewers to the project on which she and her army of producers have worked for more than a year, Black in America 2.

It's a business folks.

And, the data show that we African-Americans watch more TV than other racial groups. So, it's probably not a bad idea to give us a little bit more attention.

More on "Black in America 2" in the next few days as we set the stage for an event related to Black in America 2.

Heading to the Hill With a Purpose

In just about 24 hours, we'll begin a three-day trip to the nation's capital NOT for a social visit. Yes, Washington, DC is my SECOND favorite city (behind my hometown of Richmond, Va.). But, I'm going there this week with a goal of encouraging members of Congress to take a vote to protect journalists and their sources.

Not since the early 90s have I walked the halls of the verious congressional office buildings. As a reporter for THE HILLTOP, Howard University's weekly newspaper on the Local/National beat, I was assigned to cover stories on the Hill.

Now as a subscriber of the print edition of POLITICO, I am given access to what's happening there through this thrice weekly publication (when Congress is in session).

Nearly two decades after my days as a HILLTOP reporter, I'm a full-time journalism professor and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the organization that is leading the fight for the Free Flow of Information Act. As chair of SPJ's Journalism Education Committee, I was asked to participate in this unique opportunity to meet face-to-face on legislation that directly affects the profession I know and love-- journalism.

On Monday and Tuesday, I'll be joining a dozen other colleagues from SPJ in paying visits to members of Congress to talk up S. 488 and H.R. 985.

“Making this visit to Capitol Hill sends a strong message to Congress that we believe America is not a place where journalists should be compelled to give up their confidential sources,” SPJ president Dave Aeikens said.

You can read more about our trip in this media release produced by our SPJ headquarters this week.

Look for updates on this experience starting tomorrow (Sunday).

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Georgia Cousins Turns 100 Years Old Today

Today is not just a special day because it's the Fourth of July-- Independence Day. It's special because of a special lady-- Georgia Cousins!

100 Years Ago TODAY Mrs. Georgia Cousins came into this world.

She shares a birth year with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

Even though I'm a member of both organizations and will celebrate their 100th anniversaries, I count the birthday of Mrs. Georgia Cousins to be just as important.

In her own way Mrs. cousins has touched hundreds of people with her writings. As a child at First African Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, I used to hear the pastor talk about the writings of Mrs. Cousins.

In recent years, Mrs. Cousins has served with me on the First African Baptist Historical Commission. This is a group that is dedicated to producing a historical volume on our church, which will be 229 years old in November.

I had the distinct honor to pick up Mrs. Cousins and bring her to our house for lunch in December 2008.

Even then, she was talking about her 100th birthday coming up. Well, it's here and tomorrow the membership at First African Baptist Church will celebrate it in a big way.

Mrs. Cousins joins Calvin Coolidge, who was the only U.S. president born on the 4th of July. The nation's 30th president was born in Plymouth, Vermont on July 4, 1872.

It is worth noting that three other U.s. Presidents are often associated with this holiday not because it was their birthday, but because it is the day they departed this life. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died hours apart on July 4, 1826 while James Monroe died on July 4, 1831.

Today we're not celebrating death, but life. We celebrate the life of this country.. and more specifically the life that began in Georgia Cousins. She is a fantastic lady and I am glad to call her not only a church member, but a family friend too.

I will miss not be at her birthday party tomorrow at Richmond's First African Baptist Church. But I wanted to share her story with the rest of America, who happens to be reading this on my Web site. Happy Birthday Mrs. Cousins!