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Monday, September 21, 2020

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‘Black in America’ tour brings racial experiences to light


Hundreds of students have signed up to see Soledad O’Brien’s “Black in America” tour as it hits Houston tonight. O’Brien will discuss issues like race, perspective and experiences in the African-American community and how those issues affect the community today.

“I had the pleasure of hearing Soledad speak at the NCORE (National Conference on Race and Ethnicity) last spring,” said Center for Diversity director Niya Blair. “She was remarkable. Her message that educates, inspires and empowers all was something that really stood out. She covers social justice issues and that aligns with the Spring Speaker Series.”

O’Brien, a broadcast journalist and philanthropist, started the Black in America project through a documentary series on CNN in 2007. The documentary focused on the state of black America post-Civil Rights through examining successes, struggles and the complexity of issues that face the black population. The series was deemed successful and relevant, and O’Brien expanded the series to document specific aspects of the black community, including “The Black Woman & Family,” “Almighty Debt” and “Who is Black in America?”

O’Brien’s campus tour comes at a time when the state of black America has become a controversial topic of conversation. With the recent killings of unarmed black men and the lack of indictments of the white officers that followed, it prompts the question on whether the black community has actually progressed over the past 50 years.

“We’ve progressed in terms of gaining certain rights, but currently, there’s a population of people that are waking up to the corruption and surface racism that still exists,” said Davis.

The argument of the progression of black Americans has been heavily debated. Poverty levels in the black communities are still at staggering levels, housing ownership decreased from 2005 to 2011, and while black enrollment in college has increased, the average amount of black students enrolled in college is 15 percent, in contrast to white students that are enrolled at an average of 61 percent.

“We’ve made progress as far as presence; however, we have not made nearly as much progress as a people,” said liberal studies junior Traveon Rogers.

“There are just too many dynamics that the country refuses to address, and it takes a toll on our community. I think O’Brien discussing it in a campus setting opens up the issues to people that can really make changes happen.”

While O’Brien’s series has received praised, some feel that documentaries could sensationalize the black experience for non-black viewers.

“You’re selling the black experience to the media, but at the same time, a lot of these people watching it won’t even engage with the black community,” said Rogers. “I think that documentaries and media are certainly steps, but I think that until America as a whole knows the actual history of this country, and how the effects of that history has integrated itself into the black community today, we will not have true progress.”

Still, O’Brien’s efforts are still seen as an overall benefit for getting the conversation going.

“I think she sheds light on issues others may not be aware of,” Blair said. “She paints the multidimensional picture of what many Blacks face.”

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