Just weeks following widespread racial turmoil on the University of Missouri campus, MSA and GPC were proud to present former CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien to speak on her views of diversity in the media. O’Brien, who is known as a social icon in broadcast journalism for her work on influential documentaries like “Gay in America,” “Latino in America” and “Black in America,” welcomed the diverse set of faces that formed the crowd in Jesse Auditorium on Dec. 3 eager to hear her story.
“I think I learned the most as a reporter on the documentaries I got to do over the years,” O’Brien said. “It offered an opportunity to have a conversation that we as a country, to this day, still struggle to have. To me it was an opportunity to continue a discussion that in some ways I had been born into.”
O’ Brien, who was born the fifth child of six, from a black/Cuban mother and a white/Australian father, grew up hearing stories of the hardships her parents had to endure, while fighting against the social norms of being an interracial couple in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1958. This was a time when interracial marriage was illegal. Her parents decided to get married in Washington, D.C., in 1960, but returned to Baltimore soon after.
“I used to ask my mom what it was like to walk down the street in the early 1960s, and she said, people used to spit on us in the street,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien described stories of high emotion, race and conflict, such as the Sandy Hook Shooting or even the recent conflicts at Mizzou,as “Sticky.” She expressed her disappointment on how the national media portrayed the Concerned Student 1950 protest as coddled and whiny.
“How do we tell an in-depth and granular, nuanced story of a community when we are leaving out large swaths of voices in that community?” she asked.
Shelby Parnell, one of the original members of Concerned Student 1950 who was in attendance that night, expressed her appreciation for O’Brien discussing the need for individuals, especially reporters, to remain un-biased and seek to learn both sides of the story.
“People need to broaden their lenses and take both sides of the story instead of the perspective that you came with, which is a big issue here,” Parnell said.
O’Brien is no stranger to issues of conflict. She has earned many national awards for her coverage of events such as the epidemic in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina, and she urged not only Concerned Student 1950, but aspiring journalists to get comfortable with discomfort. She challenged those who have a dream to understand that differences do have value, and if you are going to do something make sure you make a difference.
O’Brien quoted the words of her mother saying, “If you wait on people to get with what you’re doing, you might be waiting as long time.”