Outstanding Class for 30th Multicultural Journalism Workshop Wraps Up 10-Day Experience in Tuscaloosa

Multicultural Journalism Workshop students reflect on their 10 days in Tuscaloosa for the 30th year of the program at University of Alabama.

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Students in the 30th Multicultural Journalism Workshop each gave short presentations Sunday at their closing program, attended by members of their family.

So proud of all of the students who we hosted here this past week at The University of Alabama for the 30th Multicultural Journalism Workshop.

This Dow Jones News Fund workshop is one of the longest-running in the nation and brings together some of hottest prospects for diversifying  journalism schools around the nation.

This afternoon, students unveiled their web-based product — the MJP Journal 2013 edition, which featured stories on the 50th anniversary of key events in civil rights history, including the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” here at the University and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”

The reporting, based on two days of reporting in Central Alabama, provided students some life-changing (and potentially career-forming) experiences.

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My cousin, Kelly Royster of Henrico High School in Richmond, Va, shares her high points and biggest challenges of the Multicultural Journalism Workshop at the University of Alabama.

I was proud of see among this year’s class, my cousin, Kelly Royster, who hails from Henrico High School in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

But, there were so many other outstanding students in this class.  Just impressive in their thirst for knowledge, their depth of understanding of issues and excitement about possibly studying journalism after their finish high school.

I’m glad I had a chance to work with them in some of the broadcast news sessions and incorporate them into one of my college journalism classes this past week.

IF this year’s MJW students are indication,  our future as a journalism profession is VERY BRIGHT.

Speakers from UA’s Communication College take prominent roles in 50th anniversary program

While current communication studies student Tyler Merriweather told his story of his freshman year at the University of Alabama, alumni Andre Taylor and Zaneta Lowe recalled their experiences years ago at UA’s 50th anniversary of the school’s integration on June 11, 1963. All are connected to UA’s College of Communication & Information Sciences.

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Andre Taylor speaks at 50th anniversary program June 11, 2013 at Foster Auditorium.

For Andre Taylor,  June 11, 1963 is remembered most as the day he, as a boy, had  a thought about enrolling at the University of Alabama.

Then, he shared his plans with his mother, plans he made decades before he would go on to become the first African American president of University of Alabama Alumni Association.

“I am having a very serendipitous moment,” Taylor said.  “It took me eight years to set foot on this campus, but I did get here.”

Taylor was one of three alumni and current students of the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) who spoke Tuesday at the 50th anniversary observance of the integration of the University of Alabama.

The event drew nearly 500 people to Foster Auditorium, where the late Alabama Governor George Wallace made his infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” June 11, 1963. Today, a plaza has been erected to honor the black students who made the University of Alabama the last flagship institution in the nation to desegregate.

Before Taylor, a public relations graduate and Vietnam War veteran , took the podium Tuesday, Zaneta Lowe, a 1997 communications graduate and Tyler Merriweather, current communication studies major and  Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar shared their more recent journeys.

Each speaker was given just five to seven minutes to address a component of the THREE pillars of the University’s 50th anniversary THROUGH THE DOORS observance: Courage, Change, Progress.

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Tyler Merriweather tells his story as a first-generation college student as UA alumna and WREG-TV Memphis TV reporter Zaneta Lowe listens.

Courage

“I know what it took for me to get here,” said Merriweather, who will begin his sophomore year in the fall.  “I know that my being here I’m living the dream of many African Americans.”

Merriweather spoke of his role as a first-generation college student who is also mentoring two younger sisters even as he has maintained a 3.4 GPA in his first year as a University student, less than two years after an EF-4 tornado destroyed  his neighborhoods in both Alberta City and Holt, Ala.

“I refuse to ever be a victim of my circumstances, but always victorious in them.” he said.

Change

In sharp contrast to Merriweather’s experience, Zaneta Lowe, who today works as an investigative reporter at WREG-TV, the CBS affiliate in Memphis, recalled how both her parents and her husband’s parents had been students at the University.   As a second-generation Alabama student, she and her husband could see the change that happened in the two decades between when their parents were attending classes at the Tuscaloosa campus and they arrived in the 1990s.

Along with twice as many students, Lowe said could attend classes without worrying about many of the problems that confronted her parents in the 1970s when there were only a few hundred black students.

“Someone else had done all the worrying for us,” Lowe said. “This road we traveled had been paved by the blood, sweat and tears by all those who came before us.”

Much of Lowe’s experience focused on her discovering her career as a news reporter while taking classes in Phifer Hall.

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Zaneta Lowe graduated with a degree from what is now the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences in 1997.

“My career itself started right here on this campus,” she recalled as she was able to begin an internship at Alabama Public Radio in her first years at the University.

“Change is hard. Change is sometimes ugly.” Lowe said. “It’s what’s on the other side of change that makes it worth it.”

Progress

Asked to address progress, Taylor is quick to note that why he was the first African American to lead the alumni association at Alabama, there has been at least one other African American to serve in the post since he completed his term in 2005.

Perhaps the most scholarly in his remarks Tuesday, Taylor borrowed from African American Philosopher and Theologian Howard Thurman and Former Alabama Communication and Information Sciences Dean Cully Clark, who wrote  The Schoolhouse Door, which is regarded as one of the most comprehensive accounts of the desegregation of the Tuscaloosa campus. 

Taylor took a list of statements that reflect achievement in the status of African Americans at the University of Alabama and pondered the question of “What Does It really mean?”

“My list showed elements of progress the University of American made  in becoming a community open to all, ” said Taylor.

Along with Taylor, Lowe and Merriweather,  Judge John England, who in 1969 was the first black student admitted the University’s Law School, also spoke during the nearly 90-minute program.

“We have celebrated history through reaffirming the ideals and principles that led us to this place,” said Judy Bonner, the UA President, whose remarks opened and closed Tuesday’s event.

50th anniversary for University of Alabama integration brings chance for reunion with high school classmate

A memorable day for me as I ended up covering the same event at University of Alabama with Vasha Hunt, a classmate from high school more than 25 years ago in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

As much the 50th anniversary of the integration of the University of Alabama means to me as an African American faculty UA  member, an unexpected reunion after 25 years on June 11, 2013  meant much more.

Vasha Hunt (AKA photo v-man) is now a photojournalist based in Tuscaloosa, where I have been working at the University of Alabama as a journalism instructor for more than 10 years.

But from 1985-1989, he was a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in the West End of our hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

I can’t tell you all of the classes we had together.   But,  I know he was one of the smartest students in the school.  I always looked up to him, even though I recall he was a year behind me in school.  I graduated in 1988.

Yeh, we were in several classes together and there was always a high intensity of work and intellectual activity happening there.

On Tuesday, for a moment I felt like I was high school again as I was shooting photos at the same event that Vasha was shooting photos– the 50th anniversary of  integration of The University of Alabama at the now famous Foster Auditorium.

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This sign on the jumbotron is the best marker of WHERE I was shooting photos at the event on the University of Alabama campus, where I am on faculty.

His photos were better.  Check them out on the al.com photo gallery. After all, he does this every day for the largest news web site in the state.    I’m a broadcast journalist (TV guy) at heart.

Yes, I had seen Vasha once before more than five years ago when he was working at the Opelika-Auburn News  (also in the state of Alabama).   Now we’re in the same city again,  but under very different circumstances than our beloved Richmond.

June 11, 2013 will be remembered as the day two friends re-linked and realized they’re working in the same profession.  Vasha, I know you’re been here for months– Welcome to T’town!