“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality,” Dante.

Soledad O'Brien

This college town, Morgantown, WV (the college, WVU) sometimes surprises you. Tonight was the continuation of the WVU Festival Ideas, the same program when I went to see Byron Pitts a couple weeks ago.

The woman pictured above, Soledad O’Brien, is an anchor and special correspondent for CNN: Special Investigation.

Prelude: Her Roots

Her mother is black and Cuban and her father, white and Australian. She has five siblings and they’ve all attended school at Harvard, herself included. Her mother and father were in Baltimore, Md in the 60s and weren’t allowed to openly date. They were advised to not get married. (At the time it was illegal to marry outside of one’s race.) They tied the knot in DC, and lived illegally. They were advised to not have children, so they had a half a basketball team.

I. Race and Racism

This background has probably fed into her fascination with race and race issues. (She did the two-part series Black in America and the follow-up Latino in America on CNN.) One idea she touched on was, does race and racism still exist in modern-day society?

“A ‘post-racial’, America. It literally does not make sense,” she said, “Alright Black people, we’re living in a post-racial world now, you’re not black anymore. It’s just stupid.”

I agreed with her whole-heartedly. I contend people, who feel there is not race issue in America, probably don’t directly deal with it. They are unable to look outside of their social constructs to see what’s happening in other folks lives.

Sure, the neighborhood white pointy hat brigade ain’t coming over with their welcoming committee of nooses and burning crosses (at least not as often), but those robes still hang in closets. They’re just in the boardroom instead of on your porch. It’s a subverted racism more economic-based than just overt racism.

II. Economic Justice

She discussed how Martin Luther King Jr. talked about economic justice, and how this one of the points in his “I Have A Dream” speech that isn’t closely examined.

“The (Negro) has come to our nation’s capitol to cash a check.” The check isn’t for monies, it’s a check for freedom and equality. She discussed that part of economic justice starts with equality in education, and how despite what people may think, when there’s a high drop-out/illiteracy rate in one racial group, it effects everyone.

III. Frustration with News As Sound-bites and Useless Entertainment

She spoke long and hard about Dr. King. She sound frustrated when talking about the watered-down version of the sound-bites that people have made King’s speeches into. In fact, she preached against sound bites in general, preferring documentaries and having the time to tease out and craft a story. She said that’s why she got into journalism: the love of the story. She spoke disparagingly about how news programs give bits of useless info sandwiched between fluff. I found this a bit ironic, I mean, she does work for one of the sound-bite command centers.

IV. Dangerous Unselfishness

The Dante quote above her photo was the opposite of what she was trying to get across to the standing-room only crowd. During the question and answer session, a woman with steel-gray curls stood and said she often feels as though she is powerless, and how can she change that? O’Brien started talking about mobilizing, getting together with your neighbor, your friends, people who have like-ideas and not just “whine about it and forget about it.” It’s the power of the grassroots. Get enough voices together making noise, you will be heard. Throughout her talk, she talked about how the way to make change is *again quoting Dr. King* is to exhibit “dangerous unselfishness.” Recognizing that your part is small piece of the greater good.

V. Closing

The most interesting part of the night for me, was when a slight Asian young lady stood with her question. Three questions actually, the first one being could she ask three questions?  The question that I found the most enlightening was, “In 10 words or less, how would you define diversity?” She said she wanted it in less than 10 words so she could understand the answer.

And like many journalist when presented the opportunity, O’Brien waxed poetic excited to talk about one her passions. However, her 23,000 + word answer could be melded down to this phrase:

“Open up the table to more voices.”

Give everyone an opportunity to tell their story. Hear all the voices. And add your voice to the mix.