In Its 8th Year, University of Alabama’s “Documenting Justice” Still Shining Spotlight on Injustice

April 15, 2014

When it comes to teaching students about diversity and difference, few exercises are more powerful than having students to research and produce their own films.

We are fortunate at The University of Alabama to empower non-media production students to do exactly that while at the same time bringing much-needed attention to cases of injustice right here in our state.

After eight years,  Andy Grace and Rachel Morgan deserve applause for sustaining a rather unique program known as “Documenting Justice,” where students labor for two semesters to learn the practice and process of making movies while  using the tools of an anthropologist to engage in indepth study of an issue or a community here in our state.

The end product of the two semesters of work is shared in a public screening in downtown Tuscaloosa at The Bama Theater.

This video previews the six films that were screened this evening at The Bama Theater:

The six films screened this evening provided SIX Important Lessons about Injustice in our own state:

  • Lesson #1  Birmingham’s Norwood community shows what happens when white flight collides with Interstate highway development.
    In “Norwood,” Filmmakers Myranda Bennett and Kelly Konrad took the ongoing discussion about urban blight to a new level by showing us what people in Norwood think about the abandoned homes in their neighborhood.  This could have been any community once on the cutting edge, but in latter decades has “gone down” as people have moved away.    The variety of interviews was what made the lessons in “Norwood” real.  I think this was the one of the top two films of the evening.
  • Lesson #2  Sexual assault is still a problem in 2014 and should be examined through the lens of those recovering from the assault.As unfortunate as sexual assault is, there’s been so much attention paid to it , you might think “Why is this still happening?” Abbey Pint and Megan Dillard didn’t just tell another story about rape based on the experience of the one who was assaulted.  They identified a range of female assault victims who focused on telling stories of how they are recovering, not just on the details of what happened.
  • Lesson #3 Disability and race are under-covered and can be depicted by looking at the experience of hearing impaired in the African American community.
    How do you negotiate the two types of difference of being black and not being able to hear?  Filmmakers Gabrielle Taylor and Johanna Obenda tackled this subject in an usual film with lots of sub-titles and silence.
  • Lesson #4- Alabama has a REAL PROBLEM with its laws for animal spay and neutering.
    My favorite film of the evening was “Fixed” where Connor Towne O’Neill and Kenny Kruse took their cameras inside the local animal shelter here in Tuscaloosa and the shelter in Shelby County.   But, they didn’t stop there.  They contrasted the situation in New England where many animals are transferred from Alabama and here in our community where there are not enough laws governing spay and neutering of animals.   I’m not a big pet lover.   But,  I found this particular film so informative.  It increase my sensitivity to a major injustice here in our state.
  • Lesson #5- You can tell a story with no interviews and narration.
    Filmmakers Kyle Leoparda and J.L. Clark may not have intended it.  But “Run of Mine” about the coal mining community is a good example of how to shoot a film and leave out the talking or the interview clips.   The natural sound of the coal mining in Brookwood provided an interesting twist on how to make a movie in a non-traditional fashion.
  • Lesson #6-  There is a ministry for an openly-gay Southern Baptist minister
    The final film, “Sanctuary” spotlights the difficult challenge facing Christians who are openly-gay.   Filmmakers Rachel Arnsen and Myah Wilder interviewed members of The Spirit of the Cross Church in Huntsville.   While a brief mention was of Leviticus, this film focused less on the theological debate and more on the spiritual lives of those who are living their Christian lives often away from their families.

Hats Off to the Chattanooga Times Free Press and Two-Time University of Alabama Alumna Joan McClane For Noteworthy Reporting

April 15, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 6.37.25 AMIt’s a pleasure to start the day by reading one of the top three examples of local reporting in all of journalism and to know it was produced, in part, by one of your former students.

Joan Garrett McClane completed her bachelor and master's degrees in journalism at The University of Alabama.

Joan Garrett McClane completed her bachelor and master’s degrees in journalism at The University of Alabama.

That’s what I am doing this morning as I check out the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, which we learned Monday was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism.

It seems like only yesterday Joan Garrett (now Joan Garrett McClane) was sitting in my classes as part of the Knight Fellows in Community Journalism at the University of Alabama.

Now she’s spending nine months researching a story analyzing homicide cases and learning, among other things, that fewer than half of shooting suspects in Chattanooga are caught.

According to the story “Speak No Evil, ” 58 percent of open homicide and shooting investigations in Chattanooga are at dead ends because of witness silence.

This gives me a whole different impression of that community surrounded by mountains off Interstate 24.  You see it as you travel between Atlanta and Nashville or going from North Alabama up to Knoxville, Tenn.

The Pulitzer committee recognized    McClane, Todd South, Doug Strickland and Mary Helen Miller  “for using an array of journalistic tools to explore the “no-snitch” culture that helps perpetuate a cycle of violence in one of the most dangerous cities in the South.”

Today I recognize McClane, in particular, for developing the multimedia skill set as a student and putting it to work in way that brought national recognition to her news organization and great pride to those of us here in the journalism department at The University of Alabama.

Having done research at the Chattanooga newspaper several years ago, I know what a top-notch news operation they have there.  Now the world knows by another example of the work the staff there is producing.

I’m just excited that one of our graduates is among those producing such work.

Way to go Joan!


At University of Alabama, U.A. Stands for “Understanding Ava” DuVernay

April 14, 2014
Courtesy: Courtney Williams

Ava DuVernay did a master’s class with UA Students Sunday.  Dr. Rachel Raimist (left) facilitated the session. Photo Courtesy: Courtney Williams

I can’t claim to be a film enthusiastic or even a fan of award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

But after seeing Middle of Nowhere Saturday night and hearing the first African American woman to win the Best Director award at Sundance Film Festival in January 2013,   I am convinced there is so much to be learned about the intersection of race, gender and motion pictures.

The native of Compton, Calif. told the crowd at the Second Annual Black Warrior Film Festival on the University of Alabama campus that she embraces her identity as black woman filmmaker and her “organic closeness” to present an authentic view of the black woman’s experience, one she believes is too often less than well-represented on film.


“My gaze is very focused on untold narratives,” DuVernay said.  “If black women don’t tell our stories, who will?”

One example of one of those untold narratives is the process black women go through to manage their hair at night.

In Middle of Nowhere, the main character, Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) wraps her hair before retiring for the evening.

When she visits her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), at a maximum security prison, the viewer is not shown what happens inside prison.   Instead, the camera focused on the exchanges between in the crowded meeting areas.

“We’ve seen the guy in the prison story,” said DuVernay, who explained how she made a deliberate decision not to go inside and to focus on the woman outside.   In shining the light on the prison industrial complex,  DuVernay said the “untold” story is the one about the separation scores of women go through when their spouses and significant others are incarcerated.

DuVernay says she believes her film provided a “full-body narrative” of people who like me” without having a conversation about race.

Courtesy:  Ann K Powers.

DuVernay took questions for more than hour after the screening of her film “Middle of Nowhere” Saturday in Lloyd Hall on the University of Alabama campus. Photo Courtesy: Ann K Powers.


Even as she visited Tuscaloosa this weekend for the Black Warrior Film Festival,  DuVernay is only a few months from filming SELMA, a biopic on 1965 landmark voting rights campaign that is regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement.

The film, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, will coincide with upcoming 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the March 7, 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where demonstrators were met with tear gas and nightsticks.  The images of the seventeen people who were bloodied and severely injured made national headlines.

One of the actors from Middle of Nowhere, David Oyelowo, will play Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Selma film.

But, that situation of working with people she knows is not always the case of DuVernay, who recalls stepping onto the set as director of an episode of the hit ABC drama Scandal and into unfamiliar territory.


In one scene, she found herself directing two white male actors, something she had not previously done.

In that experience, she also had access to resources as a director that were not necessarily available to one doing an independent film.

Even in winning the Best Director Prize last year at Sundance, DuVernay recalls how different it was being viewed as a director of a film and not just a publicist.

In understanding Ava DuVernay’s journey from publicist to one of the biggest new faces on the filmmaker circuit,  I have a better sense of what it is it to be black, female and totally immersed in telling untold stories.


Celebrating Two Journalism Educators Who Advocated For Diversity

April 7, 2014

It’s funny how important a single encounter with a person can be.

On Sunday, two retired journalism educators, with whom I had only a single brief encounter passed away.  But, regardless of how well I knew them personally, Marian Huttenstine and Chuck Stone are noteworthy models for the trails they blazed as journalism educators and for the diversity they brought to the media.

They both leave legacies for what it means to make “DIVERSITY” an action word.

Fortunately, two institutions where they taught– the University of Alabama and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill continue Stone and Huttenstine’s legacies today with initiatives aimed at high school students.

Much has been written about Chuck Stone, one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), of which I am a member.  He was our first national president.

But, many may not know about the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and Media, a summer workshop for rising high school senior that began in 2007.

Chuck Stone was the first president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Photo Courtesy: UNC

Chuck Stone was the first president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Photo Courtesy: UNC

Glimpse of Chuck Stone at Work

While I can’t call Mr. Stone a personal friend or even an acquaintance, I did have the occasion to see him at work at his office in the old Howell Hall (former site of the UNC School of Journalism) in the late 1990s.

At the time, I was just a visitor on the beautiful Chapel Hill campus checking out prospective Ph.D. programs in mass communication.   Seeing the legendary Chuck Stone as he worked with a UNC student in his office was a highlight of my visit.

Ironically, UNC also factored  into my path from working journalist to journalism professor through another person.

Dr. Huttenstine received her PhD. from the University of North Carolina.   She taught media law for many years here at University of Alabama, where a few years after she left, I ended up in my first full-time job as a faculty member.

Back in 2004, I had the good fortune of meeting her on the 20th anniversary of the Multicultural Journalism Workshop, which she started with then graduate student Marie Parsons, who went on to be the first director of the workshop and a member of the faculty.

Hundreds of students have come through this workshop that is now in its 31st year.  As a graduate of a similar Dow Jones News Fund workshop back in the 1980s,  I know firsthand what a difference it can make in a high school student’s career planning.

Huttenstine: Opening Doors for Female Administrators

The only photo I have of Marian Huttenstine was of her on our 25th anniversary program for the Multicultural Journalism Workshop.

The only photo I have of Marian Huttenstine (lower right) was of her on our 25th anniversary program for the Multicultural Journalism Workshop in 2008.

Even Stone and Huttenstine both passed away on Sunday, Dr. Huttenstine may not make the national headlines the way that Professor Stone has this week.   But, her impact through her creation of the Minority Journalism Workshop in 1984 had just as much impact as Stone’s as one of the founders of NABJ.

Huttenstine is credited with having the idea for MJW (now known as the “Multicultural Journalism Workshop”)   A decade ago, the editorial board of the Tuscaloosa News recognized the importance of such an idea, that has been sustained for three decades.

She’s also among those who opened the doors for women to eventually to serve as leaders of academic units like our own College of Communication and Information Sciences.  Long before the University of Alabama would have its first female president (Dr. Judy Bonner), there was the Capstone Women’s Network (CWN).

CWN was started in 1980 as one local effort here at University of Alabama to respond to the national call to expand and improve the opportunities for women to be in administrative decision-making posts.

After her stint on the faculty at the University of Alabama,  Huttenstine went on to become the first female chair of the Department of Communication at Mississippi State University.

Today incoming freshman in the MSU communication program can apply for the Marian Huttenstine Scholarship that was named in her honor.

More than once I’ve run into alumni from our program here at University of Alabama who vividly remember Huttenstine as a tough media law professor.

But, even if we don’t have those memories as students,  we can be students of hers and Stone’s way of marrying education with the ongoing effort to bring about diversity in the nation’s newsrooms and media outlets.     This week every journalism educator should remember them and re-commit ourselves as individuals to continue what they started as we do our part in preparing tomorrow’s journalists and mass communication professionals.

Marian and Chuck, we’ll miss you.  But, your work will continue!

NPR’s Michele Norris Teaches University of Alabama Community How To Talk About Race

April 2, 2014
Michele Norris takes questions from University of Alabama students.

Michele Norris takes questions from University of Alabama students.

Hours after learning her “Race Card Project” was chosen for  one of journalism’s highest awards ,  National Public Radio’s Michele Norris shared her strategy for starting a dialogue on race on a campus that’s been talking a lot about race lately: The University of Alabama.

“I understand the grace of silence, but I also understand the power of history,”    Norris explained as she showed students how to open up the conversation about race, which she admits is hard at a place like the University of Alabama.

While trying to gauge Americans’ views on race,  Norris discovered those in her own family had been silent about a history in her family, some of which she shared this evening at the 17th Annual Frank A. Nix Lecture, sponsored by The Blackburn Institute.

“The most important thing I do as a journalist is not talking,” the former host of NPR’s All Things Considered explained.  “The most important thing I do is listen.”

Listening was the goal of an NPR project with NPR Morning Edition Host Steve Inskeep where the two journeyed to York, Pennsylvania to engage 16 voters on their ideas about race.

Listening to Voters

Tonight, she shared her strategy for getting those 16 voters to open up for a deeper, honest conversation.    “The York Project: Race and the 2008 Vote” won an Alfred Dupont Award in 2010.

She talked about the effect of a fireplace (Inskeep’s idea) and food (her idea).

“I don’t know if it was the fireplace or the lasagna, but people really did get comfortable,” she said.

Blackburn Institute Director Philip Westbrook assisted Michele Norris during a book signing following the Frank Nix Lecture on April 2 at University of Alabama.

Blackburn Institute Director Philip Westbrook assisted Michele Norris during a book signing following the Frank Nix Lecture on April 2 at University of Alabama.

Timing of UA Visit

Earlier today on CBS This Morning, the Peabody Board announced winners of the 73rd Annual Peabody Awards.

The Race Card Project was among those recognized for excellence in electronic media. The Awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York next month

The Peabody judges said those six-word submissions “became the basis of compelling reports about race, pride, prejudice and identity.”

Norris’ visit to the University of Alabama also comes only a few months after efforts on the campus to integrate its Greek system made national headlines, during a year the University celebrated the 50th anniversary of its integration.

She commended the current students who were instrumental in leading conversations about race on the campus.

“I did not want to be the person who’s always talking about race,” Norris recalled as she shared a series of what she called “left turns” that her journalism career took.  “But I couldn’t be happier.”

Journey of Left Turns

“It’s good to have plan, but write your plans in pencil,” she told the students.

The former ABC News correspondent and staff writer for The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times has been called “one of the most respected voices in American journalism.”    In 2009 she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Norris shared an excerpt from her book, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, which came about after she learned some things about the experiences of her own family members involving race, some that those family members themselves were not willing to share.

Her father, who Norris called ” a son of Alabama”  was shot by a Birmingham police officer while trying to enter  The Pythian Temple, near the Alabama Theatre, on February 7, 1946.   He never told her about the incident.   Norris learned of it from her uncle and did her own investigation of the details by talking to other family members, some of whom were from Alabama.

“It’s really good to be back here in Alabama, ” Norris told the UA crowd.  “Alabama feels like home to me.”

Scan 6The Project Continues

As she closed her address tonight, Norris encouraged those in the sparse crowd of about 100 students, faculty and staff, to complete their six-word essays as the state of Alabama is under-represented among the  race cards that have been submitted, many through the Race Card Project Web site.

While Norris has not yet traveled outside the United States, those from at least 45 countries have posted their six-word sentence thoughts on the web site.

In the years since the project started, tens of thousands of 6-word essays about race have been submitted.




SIx Reasons to Get Rid of Black History Month

February 22, 2014

I’ve been tapped to moderate a panel discussion at the University of Alabama this Monday, February 24  on the whole concept of African American History or African American Heritage Month.   And, I m just wondering what compelling arguments people still make in 2014 for continuing this annual observance.

Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson

As Wikipedia reminds us,  this whole thing started 88 YEARS AGO– with the celebration of Negro History Week, which was the second week of February designed to coincide with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays.   We have Historian Carter G. Woodson to thank for that.     As a nation’s we’ve been celebrating the entire month of February as Black History month for 38 years since our nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

But, most people have come around to the understanding that the history of African Americans shouldn’t be relegated to the shortage month of the year– 28 days.

Here are my SIX REASONS to do away with Black History Month:

  1.  We can’t decide on whether it’s heritage or history that we’re celebrating.  (Some years we call African American Heritage Month)
  2. Having just a one-month observance de-emphasizes the history of black folks the other 11 months of the year.
  3. Most students need to be encouraged to see black history as American history.
  4. Black History Month tends to focus on the same small or limited cast of characters.
  5. We’re in a “post-racial” society– where we’ve moved beyond talking about black people as a distinct sub-population.
  6. The greatest event in black history– the election of President Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012– both happened in November, not February

I’m certain those from the organization that created Negro History Week,  The Association of African American Life and History (ASALH)  are going to disagree with those who might say do away with it.

President Obama still believes there’s a reason to celebrate it.

“Our nation joins you in celebrating African American history,” Obama said in a statement released last month in advance of the 88th Annual Black History Month Luncheon, which was held today in our nation’s capital.   “Through centuries of struggle, and through the toil of generations, African Americans have claimed rights long denied.  This month we pay special tribute to the heroes, sung and unsung, at the heart of this journey.”

On Monday evening, the Capstone Association of Black Journalists at the University of Alabama is assembling a group of journalists and scholars to tackle this issue through a mass media lens.   We’ll look at how the mass media have presented the observance even as we ask questions about its relevance to WBMA-TV reporter Larry Miller,  UA English Professor Cassie Smith,  and UA Telecommunication and Film Professor Kristin Warner.     The event begins at 7 p.m. in Reese Phifer Hall.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?   Is Black History Month or Negro History Month STILL needed in 2014?   If so, WHY,  if not, why not?

Yes, Tim Steere and Ryan Phillips, You ARE Journalists!

February 22, 2014

In our work as journalism professors, sometimes we have to play the role of encourager and promoter.    Such is the case today as I learned that not one, but TWO of my current students seemed to question their affiliation with the journalism profession.

In a recent blog post,  West Virginia University Graduate and University of Alabama Journalism Master’s Student Tim Steere questioned whether we should call him a journalist

He was writing about one of his first interviews.  This comes from someone who also worked for On campus Sports, a site that says its site provides content produced  “exclusively by student journalists on campus.”       Steere tweeted earlier this month how excited he was to be interviewing the record holder for striped bass.

Sounds like something a journalist would say.    Tim, my friend, YOU ARE A JOURNALIST!    Embrace your role.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 1.58.41 PM

Steere is one of seven graduate students enrolled in our one-year community journalism master’s program here at The University of Alabama.   The program puts them to work during their last two academic terms in the nation’s first “Teaching Newspaper,” the Anniston Star.      The “COM-J” program, as it is affectionately called,  was hailed  by the Poynter Institute as one of the programs that had “bucked the grim trend.”

Steere’s  classmate, Ryan Phillips, who works as one of the editors of the Tuscaloosa- based alternative publication, Planet Weekly, identified himself as an “aspiring author.”

“I hate the term journalist, ” Phillips wrote recently.

WHAT?  You’re in a community journalism master’s program.   But, you hate the very label of which we should be most proud?

Starting with incoming freshmen, I work every day to encourage a new generation of journalists even as they are learning the tenets of our most noble profession.

Starting with incoming freshmen, I work every day to encourage a new generation of journalists even as they are learning the tenets of our most noble profession.

Time for some Cheerleading

As a long-time member of the Society of Professional Journalists,  I am one of the biggest proponents of us journalists identifying with a profession that has practices that are unmatched.

In almost every class I teach at the University of Alabama,  I have become a cheerleader for our profession, which is much-maligned by those who hear the horror stories of newspapers laying off reporters and news outlets that get the story wrong.

But, our unwavering commitment to accuracy, integrity, balance, fairness and ethical reporting is one of the things that separates us from just ANY author.    We are not just writing words.  We are writing the news and reporting the news in a way that communities need to move forward.  Our readers are citizens who depend on our professional work product to exercise their role of citizen in a free democracy.

I know there are those who have left black marks on our profession.   But,  every time I write here on this blog or produce a video for my YouTube Channel or when I was producing one of the hundreds of live TV newscasts more than a decade ago, I was (and still am) doing journalism.  And, I’m darn proud of it.

I just wish great students like Tim Steere and Ryan Phillips could share my pride.

imagesloveJNA Love of Journalism

Fortunately, just as there were two of my students shunning their journalism labels,  three other students were embracing their journalistic affiliations and recently inspired another generation of students– mostly those in high school– to learn and perfect the craft of feature writing.

Elizabeth Manning, in fact, wrote about teaching on Valentine’s Day some important skills about writing.

“Going back to the basics reminded me yet again that a writer cannot divorce journalism from feeling,” Manning noted in reflecting on the experience at the recent Alabama Scholastic Press Association Winter Convention here in Tuscaloosa.

One of her co-presenters, Laura Monroe,  reported that their session was so good that it sparked lots of questions from the up-and-coming journalists, one of whom noted “I want to be you guys one day.”

Wow!  Now THAT is the reaction we want to elicit from folks when we talk about what we do as journalists.

The theme for the ASPA Convention was “Spread the Love” and thanks to Monroe, Manning and their Elizabeth Lowder, we have some other young people who have the potential to be proud what we do in journalism enough to join the profession.

Here’s Why I’m Wearing White Today in the Middle of Winter

January 27, 2014
As part of the White Ribbon Campaign, I'm joining other men on the UA campus wearing white today.

As part of the White Ribbon Campaign, I’m joining other men on the UA campus wearing white today.

What’s my least favorite color to wear?   WHITE

Why?  It’s blah.  It’s too formal.  And, it looks like a uniform.

In my world of TV news, we know that white shirts are a “no-no” on-air.

Esquire has established some “New Laws of Wearing White.”

For professionals (and church ushers), a white shirt is a staple.  And until my wedding day comes, you won’t see me in a white suit.

TODAY– I’m wearing all white or off-white because it’s a show of unity, part of the White Ribbon Campaign that we’re waging at The University of Alabama.

Such campaigns have been going on around the world for nearly a quarter century.

The ” Dress for Unity” is designed to honor those who have passed due to dating/domestic violence.  We wear white in memory of those individuals.

As a journalist, I’m not much of a joiner and rarely take advocacy stands on issues.

But, violence again women is one thing that every male journalist can support without crossing the line of objectivity in our reporting.

As a diversity teacher here at the University,  I cannot address the media’s role in portraying images of women without talking about the incidents of domestic violence that come from how women are presented in the media as objects or less than human.

To combat the cases of dating violence, it takes men like me to stand up and call attention to the problem.

On Tuesday evening (Jan. 28), I will join some other males colleagues on the University of Alabama campus for a white ribbon forum to talk not only about street harassment, dating violence, but also how important it is for men and women to update our notions of masculinity.

The 7:30 p.m. panel takes place in Room 205 of  Gorgas Library

Breakfast On Martin Luther King Day With An 83-Year-Old Freedom Fighter

January 20, 2014

On this day when the nation pauses to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, I am excited about meeting one of those freedom fighters who marched with Dr. King.

This morning here in Tuscaloosa, I had the pleasure of sitting across the breakfast table from Willie Wilder, an 83-year-old native of Alabama who participated in the March on Washington and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.    For about 20 minutes, I just listened as he told his story.

Willie Wilder

Willie Wilder

Wilder and I attended the Unity Day Breakfast, the first three special events sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization which King founded.  We were among more than 200 who gathered at the Hay College Center on the campus of  Stillman College.    A Unity Day March and Mass Rally were planned for later today.

Wilder’s mother moved him and his siblings first to Cleveland, Ohio in the 1930s. Later they moved to Philadelphia, where his mother died.   About four years ago,  Wilder moved back to Alabama, where his family still owns land.

Even though more than a dozen ministers, elected officials and government leaders addressed the breakfast crowd today,  none of them could have more impact on me than Wilder.

The Day He Skipped Work to March

Wilder recalled taking the day off of work to travel down to Washington to participate in the August 1963 March and how he was discouraged from doing so by many of his black friends.  But, his white employer was supporting his activism.  He says when he returned from Washington, his white employer asked him “how was it?”

He vividly recalls how non-violent the march was.   The peaceful way that hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall was something he’ll never forget.

For Wilder, the experience contrasts sharply with the way the police in Selma, Ala. responded to marchers who tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge into Selma.  He recall having  snakes nearby as he and thousands and others slept in fields overnight on their historic march from Selma to Montgomery. He was among those who  walked 12 miles a day and four days later reached the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.  The demonstration lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Willie Wilder was a little upset that many of the elected officials and ministers who were speaking this morning were not going to participate in today’s Unity March from Tuscaloosa’s Martin Luther King Elementary School to Tuscaloosa City Hall.   Dressed in his overhauls and a turtle neck sweater,  he came to breakfast with the goal in mind of marching today.

He’s a year older than my father, who over the years has shared countless stories of traveling through the segregated South as soldier in the army and later as a student at Hampton Institute.

Something in Common

Wilder and I didn’t just talk about the good days in terms of being a freedom fighter.  He’s also a veteran photographer.  I had my digital camera taking photos today and know he probably had a few things to tell me about what I was not doing right.


L. Douglas Wilder

But, our mutual interest in photography pales in comparison to the fact that Wilder is the cousin of former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, for whom I worked as Senate Page in one of Wilder’s last years in the Virginia State Senate.  That was some 30 years ago when I was a mere 9th grader back home in Richmond, Virginia.

What a small world!

But, what a big impact one breakfast can have.

We didn’t exchange business cards or contact information.  So I don’t know if I’ll ever see Willie Wilder again.   I just know that God orchestrated today’s encounter JUST FOR ME.

I took Willie’s picture and will always remember our breakfast for the wisdom that I gained from this freedom fighter.     As a 43-year-old, I learned some things from one 83-year-old that I will never forget.

That’s why we participate in events like those that are part of the National Holiday Observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   It’s a day ON, not a day OFF.    And, this one has been a good one.    Later this evening, they will culminate with an old-fashioned mass meeting at the site of the only Tuscaloosa church Dr. King visited when he was alive, First African Baptist Church.

10 Things I Learned from Wes Moore’s Keynote Address

December 8, 2013

ATLANTA–  I have a lot of memories of Atlanta, but few of those memories are of keynote addresses.

The fact is many  speeches at academic conferences are not especially memorable.  That was not the case earlier today as more than 4,000 attendees at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) gathered for their annual meeting.

wesmoore-largerpixTonight, Best-Selling author Wes Moore left me with several things that are worth sharing, many of which are included in his book, The Other Wes Moore.

Read the rest of this entry »


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