Category Archives: race

Members of “Minority Majority” Gather to Discuss the State of Black Boston

Hundreds attend a town hall meeting focused on a new report from the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, the NAACP Boston and the Trotter Institute at U-Mass Boston.

As a precursor to this week’s 2011 National Urban League conference, many gathered a day early for a town hall meeting prompted by a new report, The State of Black Boston.  

During breakout sessions devoted to sections of the report, panelists drilled down on topics such as the currently bleak outlook for Boston’s Black press, housing and economic development and civic disenfranchisement among the city’s minority majority. One panel was devoted to the exploration of Boston’s modern cultural scene, “since Boston is evolving demographically, and leaving behind, however slowly, the perception that it is a white-bread place wary of outsiders.”

Dr. James Jennings, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy & Planning at Tufts University, authored the report. It is based upon census and business data used to create a demographic profile of a city.The Urban League describes it as ” .. a tool to assess, measure, and understand the nature of racial inequality among Bostonians.”

“@titojackson: At the Hynes convention ctr with @MassGovernor and over 1000 others for the State of Black Boston. #mapoli #bospoli”
July 25, 2011
Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick kicked off the day with a morning address.
The following are comments are made by attendees at today’s pre-conference meetings.
Patrick on being 1st black MA governor: “Being the first doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t a second.” @massgovernor #2011sobb #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011
Patrick says he was still in school in 1976 when Urban League conference last came to Boston #2011sobb #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011
There is much discussion about Boston’s racist reputation (school busing and Charles Stuart) at #2011sobb #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011
There are some concerns by some attendees that there aren’t many young adults here today. Who are the future leaders? #2011sobb #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011
Lol…I love hearing grown black men say fashionista and quote lady gaga. #2011SOBB
July 25, 2011
Dr. Ogletree says we do not talk enough about mental health in the black community #2011SOBB #NUL11
July 25, 2011
#2011sobb executive summary is being discussed. Health care has improved for black residents #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011

Investigative reporter Soledad O’Brien gave the keynote luncheon address. O’Brien is known for hosting CNN’s In America series and is an acclaimed writer, covering topics from gay couples adopting children to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

@soledad_obrien is speaking about her “In America” series. “My goal is to move the needle in discussing diversity” #2011sobb #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011
Obrien says she is “disappointed” about the lack of racial diversity on prime time cable. #2011sobb #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011
RT @YPNULEM: “How are we attacking age old disparities in the high tech industry within the black community?” @Soledad_Obrien #2011SOBB #NUL11
July 25, 2011
Inspired by the words and life of Soledad O’Brien at the State of Black Boston at Hynes Convention Center. Her focus was on solving social issues in our community by economic empowerment and justice.
Tito Jackson
July 25, 2011
RT @YPNULEM: “I want to talk about Diversity in the Nation and where we are headed” @Soledad_Obrien #2011SOBB #NUL11
July 25, 2011
Wrap up: Most #2011sobb discussion was on economic justice, entrepreneurship and why blacks need to take back their wealth #nul11 #fb
July 25, 2011
@Soledad_OBrien said “when people want something more, they will win”. Yes!!! #2011sobb
July 25, 2011


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How to Grow NPR: Longer Roots

From the two decades I spent living in the Bronx, I know it to be true what Karen Everhart says in her article, “Study sees growth if NPR loosens up, sounds less elite” in

The researchers found that barriers to entry for public radio listenership are rooted in what they called “accessibility”— listeners’ perceptions of the NPR brand, their ability to relate to the content…

I became an NPR listener at the young age of 23. I was just settling in to the Bronx from Seattle, and I had little in common with WNYC’s morning news host, Steve Post. Yet one early morning in July of 1992, at home with my 18 month old and surrounded by freshly opened moving boxes, I flipped on the radio to hear, “It’s already 85 degrees in disgusting New York City.” This struck a chord in me as I struggled to acclimate to my new home. I let out a laugh, glad to know someone in New York didn’t take things so seriously, and I became a public radio fan.

I had no clue then, as a young mom lost in a concrete jungle, that I would someday sit in a producer seat in a public radio station. In fact, at first a lot about public radio annoyed me. I never listened to pledge drives. I became angry and embarrassed once when a DJ on my local college/NPR station, WFUV, called their early folk/singer-songwriter music programming (which would later become their bread and butter) the “indigenous music of white people.” I didn’t have the patience to focus on mid-day news shows, as I was often interrupted by toddler demands for apple juice and attention. But I never missed Steve’s  morning satire, which went perfectly with my coffee.

My kids were a little older when Starbucks, another business that had to deal with perceptions of elitism, came to New York. It was a breath of espresso-infused air for my husband and I, who had grown accustomed to good coffee in Seattle. No, really. That’s not a cliche. Quickly the green siren signs popped up everywhere in Manhattan, and finally, one appeared on Fordham Road in the Bronx. What a treat. Now we could enjoy good coffee near home. But that shop didn’t last long on Fordham Road, despite the morning Manhattan-bound traffic and the youth Bible study that took over one corner. The reality of economics–the Bustelo drinkers were not gonna drop $3.50 on a cup of coffee–won out and another affordable fashion store filled the gap.

Quoted in a presentation on the study is a young adult Latino user of new media: “NPR, I feel, is mostly for educated adults from middle class and up. That is my impression.”

Pay attention here, all of you NPR peeps who so badly want diversity among your audience. This Latino young adult, if he’s like any I know, wouldn’t have had a problem slipping in the adjective “white” if that’s what was really going through his head. Rather, he chose “educated” and “middle class”.  If I were to interpret this comment, based upon my experience living in the Bronx for almost two decades, what I think he’s saying is: “Why should we pay attention to what you think is news or culture when we don’t have access to your schools, your housing, your jobs or your government?  We don’t matter when it comes to affecting change.”

I had a chance once to talk to a group of young adults who represented many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I wasn’t giving a lecture. I was sitting among them as a fellow student, a returning adult student, defending my comment that they should vote. Not one of them believed they had any political influence, yet when I told them a story of state and local government officials choosing our district as a site for the creation of a water filtering plant, in part because it was an area of such poor voter turnout, I got their attention. For the first time, they realized that their action and their inaction would affect them directly.

I’ve watched people who don’t believe they have a voice–my neighbors and friends–create their own spheres of influence in order to cope with the belief that they are powerless. Where there was little education or opportunity to be creative, time and money were devoted to creating status, through pure white sneakers, immaculate Timberlands, pagers, cellphones, 2″nails, knock-off handbags, bandannas, guns. Not coffee. Not a subscription to the New York Times. For God’s sake, not a public radio tote bag.

The study — shaped in part by Station Resource Group’s Grow the Audience project — sought to define the best prospects for expanding public radio’s news audiences.

Ok, it’s understandable that the study would frame the task at hand this way, given the economic climate we’re in, but what if we flipped it? Instead of figuring out how to make a public radio listenership larger and more colorful, what if we sought growth by expanding our news coverage? What if more producers of public media began by believing people like my neighbors in the Bronx are the public and we already work for them? What if we actually visualized them mailing in their tax checks, or paying that sales tax, and understood that they already support us? Would we then notice new ways in which our work could empower those who don’t believe they have a voice? Could we report to a larger public, earn their trust and then look for growth?

I agree with Margaret Low Smith, VP of NPRs programming, when she acknowledges, “it’s critical that people at the editorial table reflect a range of economic positions in life, a range of political views and a range of color.”  It’s why I keep trying to sit at that table. Yes, I’m white, but diversity comes in many, many flavors. I also appreciate her stating that, “Now NPR seeks to diversify its audience base not only as a means to expand listenership but to also fulfill its editorial responsibility to reflect all of America.” I understand Public Media’s mission to be giving the public the information they need to act and to make a difference in their lives. That requires the people involved in public media to not only employ more people of color and varying background, but to cultivate sources and invest in relationships with people outside the well educated and affluent sphere of influence.

My suggestion for NPRs action plan: throw your resources farther afield. Renew reporting beats in neighborhoods with low donor ratings. Help broadcast the unique coverage of independent producers. Look beyond the wall that separates many artists from the inner circle. Don’t forget Public Media owes something to the Strugglers as much as it does the Dutiful Aggregators and Voracious Voyagers.

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More on Detroit

Me/ JTM content/church window. Flickr image by Sally Garden.

I’ve had a lot on my mind since I spent a few June days in Detroit. To process what I learned and keep some of my promises, I’ve participated in a group forum, introduced colleagues, talked and tweeted with other media makers and filled out a survey explaining what made the time “powerful” for me. That’s a good word to describe the four days that journalists and media people “conspired” (to quote one of the organizers), in the formerly holy space of St. Andrews on the Wayne State campus. In a church without its pews or pulpit, we journalists talked about our survival.

Now my ideas have stewed a bit, the dust kicked up has found new places to settle and in a few forthcoming posts I can share with some clarity a few of the more potent lessons that I took away from the conference titled, “Create or Die”.

First, the welcome. The greeting from the director of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State, Alicia Nails,  caught my attention. I later told Alicia that I could listen to her all day. Her presence and her voice filled the space.  She took the microphone with a gracious nod,  looked at each of us seated in a circle surrounding her and told us we were in a city with a global reputation.  She charged us to be mindful of whose town we were in and asked us to be open to learning things about Detroit that might challenge our perceptions, built with images and reports from an unfair news media. Later, at our gathering on day four, she  asked that we perform acts of journalism in the memory of our time together. That became my benediction. Before I left, I asked her to repeat part of her welcome, just to give you a sense of her poetic style.

Professor Nails, Flickr image by ScottKMacklin

With an even longer view, Grace Boggs, a 95 year-old activist from the motor city, echoes Nails. She has seen the waves of prosperity, desperation and hope visit her city. She tells Yes! Executive Editor Sarah van Gelder:

Detroit was once the national and international symbol of the miracles of industrialization and then became the national and international symbol of devastation of deindustrialization. Now it is becoming the national and international symbol of a new way of living-of great transformation. [article: Detroit’s Renewal: Can it inspire the Social Forum]

It was that same sprout of hope and renewal that brought JTM to Detroit. It was also a sense of justice. There are community leaders and journalists in that city who want to tell more stories that represent the residents. The people there want to see stories about what’s working alongside the important stories of  the car industry’s peril, the crime and the desolation. They want the corruption covered as well as the cultural events. Most importantly, however, they want the videos, articles, newscasts, broadcasts or podcasts to come from within the city limits. For too long, they say, journalists have parachuted into the hot spots of Detroit from the safety of their suburban towns or other major cities. Many locals attending the conference even consider the TIME Inc. experiment, a house purchased for reporters to use when they’re in the city, an epic fail. Attendees pointed out that no one actually lives there all the time. Certainly no reporters have stayed long enough to invite the neighbors in or become part of the local channels of communication.

There are journalists in Detroit who want that TIME house and want the megaphone to tell the world their story. What I learned in Detroit is that true understanding of a place comes from taking time to touch, smell, feel and hear that place and listen to the stories of its people.  I understand better now how different I am from a resident of Detroit, and I know there are ways to work with the people there to nurture Detroit’s sprout of hope into a towering tree with deep roots and branches that reach up with hope into heaven.

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Live Blog of a Lifetime: Watching Obama’s 1st speech as President-Elect

barack-obama-5-14-0811:57 p.m.  I have no words to put here, but saw an image that reflected perfectly my feelings: streaming tears on Jesse Jackson’s face. Way back in ’88 he planted the seeds in believing voters like me–that a black man could rise to the primary seat of power in our country.

“Anything is possible”–this is the message the whole world has wanted to hear for a long, long time. it’s as if we’re terribly thirsty for a leader who knows how to take us back to the mountain top.

12:02: while it’s totally appropriate to thank Biden as his partner, it seems in some way like Hillary Clinton has been the one who walked along the hard campaign trail with him the most.

12:06: Let’s hear it for those millenials!

12:04: NEW PUPPY?! Oh the names speculation that is about to hit the news. Oy!

12:07: Yes we can get there! Obama is always the pragmatist, but what better time to sober up exhilarated crowds than at your victory speech? He’s helping us cope with the election hangover we’re about to have come Wednesday.

12:09 “Let us summon a new spirit…” Obama must realize by now that he’s been doing that with every minute of his campaign, with every speech, every endorsement, every Youtube song. Neighbors have been reaching out to each other, voters have called and visited each other. Americans have remembered to hold their own campaign conversation.

12:10: WE ARE NOT ENEMIES BUT FRIENDS….he’s right to acknowledge he must earn the friendship of those who didn’t vote for him.

12:15 Ann Nixon’s story is everyone’s story. She was alive through so much that’s important to our history–all the things that we’ve learned about from parents and grandparents about what makes us Americans. That she came so far, from enduring overt racism to seeing MLK’s assassination to casting her vote for a black man, finally brings me to tears.

12:17 Oprah, dry your tears! Obama put the challenge out to all of us to clean up this country, work for justice and make this world better for our children. We have work to do!

Finally, my ownly nagging feeling: I wish he had smiled while giving his speech. I know, he needed to appear stern to start whipping this country into shape. Or perhaps it was his grandmother’s death. In any case this has been a long road for the now graying Obama, and his weariness makes the victory bittersweet.

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Did you hear about that black guy?

When I caught bits of the radio broadcast of this week’s Republican debate, I found it incredibly obnoxious for all the old, suited, white male candidates to mention the number of ways in which they could keep Hilary out of the White House, while not once mentioning Obama.

Sure she’s way ahead in the polls right now, but that hardly seems like a reason for Republican candidates to ignore speculation of who the Democratic party pick will be. A lot can happen between October 07 and November 08! Heck, by the time I cast my vote, I’ll be one month from finishing grad school!

It’s an old trick to ignore race , to deflate and remove it from public discussion. We’ve seen it for years, especially with the current administration. Seeing the candidates display the same arrogance is disappointing.

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