Soledad O’Brien is Alabama’s Next Big Story

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien visits University of Alabama campus Wednesday night just days before her next Black in America documentary airs and two days after a diversity gathering of university administrators from around the state in Tuscaloosa.

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I hesitate to use the cliche “timing is everything.”  But, in describing CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O’Brien’s  7 p.m. address tonight at the University of Alabama, the matter of WHEN it is happening makes it a story.

For CNN, O’Brien’s address here comes four days before the worldwide premiere of the next “Black in America” documentary.    “Black in America:Silicon Valley, the New Promised Land” airs this Sunday, Nov. 13.

We are likely to see CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O'Brien build on some of the points from her latest book in tonight's address at University of Alabama.

For the University of Alabama, O’Brien’s visit falls in the same week as a statewide diversity enhancement conference involving administrators, faculty and staff from 12 of the state’s 14 colleges and universities.

Monday’s event was targeted at those responsible for such things as hiring faculty, allocating budgetary resources and improving the overall climate for diversity on our state’s campuses.

Tonight, our nearly 32,000 students will be the target of much of what we expect the former “Today Show” anchor and Harvard graduate to address in her talk entitled “Diversity: On TV, Behind the Scenes and In Our Lives.”

It’s been just over a year since the University of Alabama paid tribute to Autherine Lucy Foster, James Hood and the late Vivian Malone Jones, the three African-American students whose enrollment represented UA’s first steps toward desegregation.

We won’t soon forget the November 3, 2010 dedication of the Malone-Hood Plaza and Autherine Lucy Clock Tower.

But, across the country, Alabama’s been cast in somewhat of a negative spotlight the last few months because of HB 56, a law aimed at curbing illegal immigration in our state.   Governor Robert Bentley now says the law needs to be simplified.

As an Afro Cuban, Soledad O’Brien has brought authenticity to the discussion of the national debate over immigration reform.   Here in Tuscaloosa,  standing room only crowds gathered to discuss her 2008 documentary
“Latino in America”

While the numbers were much smaller for last month’s discussion of “Latino in America 2: In Her Corner,” the passion of the student panel of three Hispanic students who told their stories was just as strong as the central figures in the documentary.

Tonight’s much-anticipated visit by O’Brien allows us to the discussions about race and ethnicity outside of a single classroom and engage an entire campus, which itself has been mired in controversies that remind us that there is work to be done to promote the University as a welcoming environment for everyone.

Additionally, for journalists like myself who are charged with preparing the next generation of media practitioners, O’Brien will shine the light not only on the issues captured with her camera, but behind the camera to see the experience of the producers of these media messages.

It all happens just about 12 hours from now.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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