Race issues prominent among NABJ conference offerings

Public session on race disparities in education planned for Saturday morning

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It seems that Minnesota in recent years has become the nation’s worst leader in educating kids of color. As a result, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) will hold an education town hall that will explore racial and ethnic disparities in K-12 public education as part of its 40th annual convention hosted for the first time in Minneapolis August 5-9.

Bob Butler
Bob Butler

The educational disparities issue not only affects Black students in Minnesota; it is also “an issue nationwide in many communities across the country,” said 2015 NABJ Convention Chair Rod Hicks during a MSR conference call with him and NABJ President Bob Butler.

NABJ is the nation’s largest organization for journalists of color. This year’s conference, like previous ones, focuses mainly on career development, workshops, training, and other sessions usually not open to the public. A career fair and exhibit hall and authors’ showcase events also are planned at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Saturday’s public town hall at 11:30 am at Minneapolis Convention Center is an exception, noted Hicks. “We know that [educational disparities] is a big issue [in Minnesota]. We hope the public will come out and participate in this very important discussion. This is a way to engage the community with NABJ.”

Harvest Prep Founder and President Eric Mahmoud, St. Paul Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Michelle Walker, and United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax are among the local and national education leaders on the Saturday panel.

Many sessions at NABJ ’15 will deal with race issues, Hicks pointed out. A “Race in America” newsmaker plenary will focus on the number of racial events that have occurred during the Obama presidency, and “Covering Race in ‘Post-Racial America’” is scheduled on Thursday, the convention’s first day.

The W.E.B. DuBois Plenary on the Bring Back Our Girls movement, the spread of terror in Nigeria, and the global efforts to respond is scheduled for Friday. And before the education town hall on Saturday morning, a panel discussion on the coverage of the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Eric Garner deaths will be held. A session on the Black Press’s present and future also is scheduled.

“All African American media, the Black Press, was created because we weren’t able to tell our own story,” explained Butler, who said he often reached out to the Black Press during his presidency. “I think it is real important that we work together.”

The NABJ annual Salute to Excellence Gala on Friday night will honor Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine as Journalist of the Year; Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille (posthumous) with its 2015 Chuck Stone Lifetime Achievement Award; Bryan Burwell (posthumous) with its Legacy Award; Carole Munroe of Walt Disney World Resorts with the Pat Tobin Media Professional award; and Brittany Noble Jones of St. Louis’ KMOV for Emerging Journalist of the Year.

(MSR Contributing Writer Isaac Peterson received NABJ’s first Emerging Journalist award in 2003 for his MSR stories.)

The NABJ Choir, made up of members, will perform at the annual Gospel Brunch that closes the convention on Sunday. “We’ve done it in the past, but not in a very long time,” said Hicks. Black journalists also will participate in a community service project with local veterans, providing new furniture and other housing items.

Among the invited speakers expected to attend are South Carolina U.S. Congressman James Clyburn, Actor Louis Gossett, Jr., and “Joy,” a Boko Haram escapee. WCCO’s Angela Davis, who will lead Saturday’s education town hall, and Fox Sports North’s Lea B. Olsen, on a baseball panel discussion, are among several local Black journalists expected to serve as moderators.

New NABJ officers also will be elected during the convention. The election results are expected to be announced Friday at 6 pm. Outgoing President Bob Butler told the MSR that he’s proud of his two-year term as NABJ head, including starting a fellowship for young African journalists “to come to this country and participate in our student project.”

A recent Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) article points out that there is at least a 15 percent gap between Whites and Blacks and other people of color college graduates specializing in print or broadcasting who found full-time jobs — 49 percent for Blacks compared to 66 percent of White graduates. Applying for jobs “doesn’t seem to be the problem… The problem is that these candidates are not being hired,” summarized the CJR article.

“It is something that we are constantly trying to fix, and one way of doing that is to have more people of color participating as journalists, particularly in management positions. NABJ is still pushing for these things,” says Hicks.

This year’s convention plans to “put a lot of emphasis” on digital aspects of journalism, including the growing use of smartphones for capturing videos and photos. Therefore it’s important “to keep our members on the cutting edge” as journalists “so they have the tools to do jobs that are emerging as our industry changes,” said Hicks.

“The exciting thing is that there are journalists who are beginning to use social media as a journalistic tool. There are lots of sessions that are trying to catch up our members on the changes in this industry so that they can stay in the game.”

However, there still is a need for proper journalism training for beginners as well as veterans, he continued. “All journalism and Black journalism is needed more than ever because anybody can declare themselves a journalist,” said Hicks.

Finally, Butler says NABJ ’15 will be more than workshops and meetings; current and future Black journalists in attendance this week will be networking as well. “People will be going out to eat and having a good time.”



Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

Read more on NABJ ’15 in this week’s MSR sports section. We will provide ongoing convention reports on our website as well as a post-convention report in next week’s MSR.

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