Over three dozen people of various ages and shades came to the October 19 opening reception of Normandale Community College Art Gallery’s Freedom of the Press exhibit featuring independent journalist Georgia Fort. The exhibit runs until November 12.
The exhibit also includes Leesa Kelly, who shared a few boarded-up-building murals from last year’s riots. The murals were preserved through her Memorialize the Movement organization.
The two African American women have been catapulted into the international spotlight because of how they responded locally to the uprising following the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“I’m absolutely all over the issues Georgia Fort covers,” said Normandale Gallery Director Brad Daniels when asked why it was important to host the exhibit. “We have a fractured society.
“We have people who have been pushed down way too long,” Daniels explained in an excited but somber tone. “If we can use the gallery to open conversation to move toward change, Normandale is all for it.”
Daniels heard about Fort from one of his colleagues who shared one of her Facebook postings and was instantly impressed. “She works from such a stance of integrity, a stance of justice, stance of equality… She is just a solid journalist, a solid individual,” said Daniels.
After the exhibit viewing, which consisted of large, framed photos of protest moments, audio, visual interviews, and murals, Fort spoke passionately to the attentive crowd.
“The only reason why I’m here right now is because what’s not being documented can be denied. Look at Rodney King. The only reason why our nation came to a reckoning is because there was footage—undeniable documentation of an injustice that happened. The same thing happened with George Floyd.”
She further explained, “As a former member of the mainstream media I knew the process that occurs when a Black person is murdered by the police—a press release is issued to the media and the media publishes it as facts!
“They don’t do any investigation, vet the sources, or fact check because the police department is supposed to operate with integrity,” she continued. “Unfortunately, the press report for George Floyd was no different.”
The audience gasped when Fort read the summary of the press release, which stated, “A man died from medical complications during an encounter with the police.” She added, “Had it not been for Darnella Frazier documenting with her phone, what happened to George Floyd would have likely been denied.”
Fort describes herself as a reluctant journalist. She started out as a DJ, affectionately known as Ms. Georgia at FM89.9 KMOJ Community Radio in North Minneapolis. Then she moved to Columbus, GA, where she transitioned to news broadcasting.
She then returned as a news anchor in Duluth, Minnesota, which abruptly ended when she was refused maternity leave. Undeterred and optimistic, Fort came to the Twin Cities and interviewed with all the major TV stations.
She came armed with a degree from Saint Thomas College, 10 years of news experience, and two Emmy nominations. Yet she was told she didn’t have enough experience.
Perplexed at first, Fort then had an epiphany. “After George Floyd was murdered, I decided I didn’t need their networks. I don’t need their platforms or permission. I just began to go out and tell our stories the way I know they’re supposed to be told.”
Fort’s hard work was rewarded when she was chosen as only one of two reporters allowed in the courtroom of the internationally televised sentencing of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed Floyd.
Fort noted how her independence as a journalist strategically prepared her for this moment to document events so they couldn’t be denied. Her goal is to always show another side of a community that’s been marginalized, criminalized and dehumanized.
Normandale Community College Art Gallery’s “Freedom of the Press Exhibit with Independent Journalist Georgia Fort” runs until November 12. For more info, go to www.normandale.edu/departments/humanities/art/fine-arts-gallery.
For more on Georgia Fort Media, go to www.GeorgiaFort.com or @GeorgiaFort on Facebook and Instagram.
For more on Leesa Kelly’s Memorialize the Movement, go to www.memorializethemovement.com.
Travis Lee is a contributing photographer and writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.