Stillman College Inaugural Festivities Spotlight Service, Path to Eminence

While things were winding down elsewhere in Tuscaloosa with Spring Break beginning at the University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College and the local school systems, it’s been just the opposite at Stillman College as the school’s sixth president Dr. Peter Millet was inaugurated Friday.

The weekend of inaugural festivities that included a Gospel concert on Thursday evening, a prayer breakfast on Friday morning and a sold-out masked scholarship ball on Friday evening, gave the historically black institution that serves more than 800 students a chance to be in the spotlight.

Stillman’s Service Imperative

Saturday’s Burrell Odom Day of Service put the Stillman students in the community  in a way that President Millet told The Tuscaloosa News would be at least a once-a-semester event.

As a service learning instructor and community engaged scholar, I was pleased to hear that President Millet wants to make community service an official part of every Stillman student’s experience.

As an undergraduate student at Howard University 25 years ago,  I vividly remember my days of service in Northwest Washington, DC as a member of the Community Action Network.   I also did street ministry through my church, Metropolitan Baptist.  But,   my connection to the larger DC community was an important part of my development.  It also helped me be a better journalist.

Stillman President Peter Millet
Stillman President Peter Millet

Path to Eminence

Often those of us at the University of Alabama or elsewhere in Tuscaloosa hear secondhand what’s going on across town at Stillman College.  Fortunately, Friday, I got a chance to see firsthand some of the festivities formally marking the beginning of The Peter Millet era.

Even though he’s been on campus for more than a year, formally as provost and then as an interim President, this weekend was Dr. Millet’s chance to call the nation’s attention to what he is doing to take this institution established in 1876 to a new dimension in 2015.

He wants Stillman College to “Expeditiously Move from Excellence to Eminence.”

In his inaugural address Friday, Dr. Millet detailed how he would do that with academic excellence, community engagement, health and wellness and simply by “loving one another.”

Indeed, it’s a great day to be a Stillman College student and an occasion for pride if you are one of the thousands of Stillman College alumni.   Those of us in the Tuscaloosa community celebrate with the Tigers on the West side of Tuscaloosa.

Those of us at the University of Alabama stand with you in our common goal of helping our students be successful

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Thoughts On Selma From A NAACP Freedom Fighter Re-Educated On the Movement

Time to say what I learned today about civil rights as I traveled to Dallas County, Ala where the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march began in 1965.

Today's experience in Selma, Ala. will be remembered most because of the tens of thousands who came here to mark the 50th "Bloody Sunday" anniversary
Today’s experience in Selma, Ala. will be remembered most because of the tens of thousands who came here to mark the 50th “Bloody Sunday” anniversary

SELMA, Ala.–  I don’t believe it was a mere coincidence that my NAACP Youth Council Adviser called me on my mobile phone at the moment I was approaching the Edmund Pettus Bridge today.

Mrs. Ora Lomax is still the youth adviser for the NAACP Youth Council in Richmond, Va.  But, she didn’t know I was here in Selma.

My mother didn’t know I was in Selma as a faculty facilitator for more than 200 University of Alabama students traveling to the 50th Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

But, when I called her this evening, she said she saw the live coverage on the national news and asked my father “Where is George?”

Something told her that I probably was somewhere in the vicinity.

Only the good Lord could have orchestrated the chain of events that remind me of my upbringing as a NAACP freedom fighter, who learned about the hows and whys of civil rights marches and direct action as a high school student back in Richmond, Virginia 30 years ago.

The man who was once president of the Richmond NAACP Youth Council today is a life member of the NAACP and still actively seeking to change to world around me wherever it needs to be changed.

New Found Understanding and Context

As I approach my 45th birthday next week,  I am reflective on traveling here to the city that was both a flash point and turning point in Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.36.18 AM Why me, why now? What does it all mean?

Last week, I tweeted that my voting in a Tuscaloosa, Ala.  tax referendum was one of the best ways to honor those who were hurt on “Bloody Sunday.”

Now that I know who Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black man murdered not far from Selma in Marion, Ala. just before “Bloody Sunday,”  I can say my vote was for him.

If ONLY I had Known Then What I Know Now

Amelia Boynton Robinson in 1965 and recently on her 103rd birthday.  Photo Illustration Courtesy www.teabreakfast.com
Amelia Boynton Robinson in 1965 and recently on her 103rd birthday. Photo Illustration Courtesy http://www.teabreakfast.com

In my years as a working broadcast journalist,  I associated Amelia Boynton Robinson with Lyndon LaRouche and not with what happened here in Dallas County, Ala.

Seeing photos of Ms. Robinson this weekend at 103 as she was wheeled across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Saturday  gave me a whole new view of this significant freedom fighter.  I read recently about her experience and saw her depicted in the Eyes on the Prize “Bridge to Freedom” documentary.

I knew about Alabama State University because it was an historically black college in Montgomery.    Until today, I didn’t know that it was the place that birthed so many civil rights leaders and where Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King stayed after their Montgomery home was bombed.

Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, President of Alabama State University
Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, President of Alabama State University

Alabama State President Gwendolyn Boyd told the “ASU Story” in her remarks at Brown Chapel AME this morning.

Her speech set the tone for others who followed in a 3-hour service that was played on a jumbotron on Dallas Avenue as thousands gathered for the Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

I knew the Rev. Jesse Jackson as the 1984 Presidential Candidate/Operation PUSH Leader who’s often over-covered in the media.  Today I saw him lift an offering and quipped about his own fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Inc.

I knew the Rev. Al Sharpton as the very outspoken African American leader who has his own show, PoliticsNation, on MSNBC.    Today I saw him “preach” for the first time at the Brown Chapel AME Church.    He took a Biblical text and developed it well even as he made some strong points about the current state of voting rights in America.

Crowds gathered on Dallas Avenue and watched the Sunday service from Brown Chapel AME as it was shown on closed-circuit television.
Crowds gathered on Dallas Avenue and watched the Sunday service from Brown Chapel AME as it was shown on closed-circuit television.

My journey to learn more civil rights history isn’t over yet.    But, I promise you it will definitely inform my civil rights present.

As a diversity instructor, who also teaches media literacy, there is an inherent social justice component to what we do.  It’s not enough to sensitize students to poverty or injustice if you don’t advocate for them to use whatever tools they have to do something about it.

I believe that comes through in my work as a faculty member at the University of Alabama working to inspire students of from all racial backgrounds, regions of the country and world.    It’s one of the GREATEST privileges I have.

Journalist and Freedom Fighter

You can be a freedom fighter and be a journalist.    You can use the power of the pen to tell important stories.

You can use your skills as a scholar to create knowledge and provide context, sometimes context to spur a reader to take action.

That’s my story.

At 44 years, 11 months and 20+ days,  I have learned at least that much.

Reporting on Weekend of Crossing Bridges With Students in Tuscaloosa, Selma

Between The Sustained Dialogue Campus Network Annual Summit in Tuscaloosa and The Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, I worked with college students in crossing bridges this weekend.

Thanks to a carefully-timed national summit for the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network and a University of Alabama field trip, I have spent the last 48 hours figuratively and literally crossing bridges with students from near and far.

As a campus partner for Sustained Dialogue, I was pleased to tell how we utilized Sustained Dialogue techniques in our classes and programs around campus.
As a campus partner for Sustained Dialogue, I was pleased to tell how we utilized Sustained Dialogue techniques in our classes and programs around campus.

It all started Friday afternoon as I addressed the more than 100 students from around the country attending the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network Annual Conference, which was hosted at the University of Alabama.

Dialogue on Bridges

What a great way to engage college students who are learning how to foster conversations that lead to inclusive environments on college campuses all around the country.

Summit attendees received these T-Shirts with a very important question.
Summit attendees received these T-Shirts with a very important question.

On Saturday, we wore t-shirts asking  “Are You Crossing Bridges”  as we participated in intensive planning and strategy sessions for introducing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, and ability to students in various models with the goal of enacting change.

The students attending the conference had a chance to screen the 1980s PBS documentary “Bridge to Freedom,” which was part of the Eyes on the Prize series.

Traveling to The Bridge

Then, this morning, we showed the film again, but to more than 200 University of Alabama students who were part of a caravan of buses traveling from Tuscaloosa to Selma for the 50th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

We heard speeches from those challenging us to “go beyond the bridge” and to “not stop on the bridge” before literally walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same place where voting rights demonstrators were beaten 50 years ago this weekend.

studentsSELMA
The Staff at University Programs did a fantastic job coordinating a field trip with so many students. Everyone arrived safely and made it back to our buses and home safely. Amazing feat. Way to go UP!

To see my multicultural crowd of University of Alabama students listening to the rally speeches, which were given at historic Brown Chapel AME Church and beamed via closed-circuit television out to the tens of thousands who gathered at the Bridge was something I will never forget.

Nervous as we were about taking 200 students on a field trip to a small town not used to 80,000 visitors, we were relieved that it all worked out.  Thanks be to God, we had perfect weather and wonderful interactions on the bus, during the rally and even on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

This weekend will truly be one of the highlights of my 12 years as a resident in the state of Alabama.

My Reunion With Fox News Channel’s Juan Williams As MLK Weekend Kicks Off At U. of Alabama

Juan_williams_2011
Juan Williams

It’s hard to believe it’s been 23 years since I first met Juan Williams, the legendary author of Eyes on the Prize, the book that accompanied the 14-hour award-winning television series with the same name a quarter century ago.

Tonight I had the opportunity to be his chaffeur as he visited the University of Alabama to give the keynote address at our Realizing the Dream Legacy Awards Banquet.

Williams, formerly of National Public Radio and The Washington Post, now co-host of Fox News Channel’s “The Five, and fill-in host “The O’Reilly Factor,” spoke to a soldout crowd at the Hotel Capstone .

He used the occasion to share some of the comments from generations of readers of Eyes on the Prize who often are in disbelief about much of what Williams shares in recounting the Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.56.41 PMA year after the 25th anniversary of the publication of Eyes on the Prize, Williams says people still ask “is that really true?” what he reported happened in the period between 1954 and 1965 “was it really that bad?”

Even as he shared stories from his Eyes on the Prize readers, who he says get “younger and younger” he lamented how many want to analyze what he calls the “complicated story of race in America today” by drawing comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement.

COMPARISONS TO FERGUSON

Months after the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and the unrest following a grand jury’s decision not to the indict the police officer responsible,  Williams says with an African American in The White House, an African American United States Attorney General and an African American executive editor of The New York TImes, there is no comparison.

“People want this period now to be just like the Civil Rights Movement,” Williams said.   ” We have a different of problems.”

The 60-year-old Panamanian born political analyst says, instead of drawing those comparisons,  we should take inspiration from those who accomplished much a half-century ago.

“It’s not necessary to say we were back where we were 50 years ago,” he said.

MY REUNION

This afternoon, neither of us could recall The Washington Post story on Former Howard University President Franklyn Jenifer published in September 1992 for which he interviewed me as the editor-in-chief of THE HILLTOP, Howard’s student newspaper.

Malone_Hood_Plaza_University_of_Alabama_Foster_Auditorium_I
Williams visited The Malone Hood Plaza, located at Foster Auditorium where the late Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in The Schoolhouse Door.

The subject of that news story wasn’t important today.

What is significant is that 23 years after he sat in my office at THE HILLTOP in Washington, DC talking to me as I was weeks away from finishing my undergraduate degree in journalism,   I’d be an assistant dean at the University of Alabama and Williams would be giving the keynote address here, the same place that he wrote about as being one of the last institutions to integrate.

It was neat showing him Foster Auditorium where George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and today where the University has recognized the accomplishments of the late Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, the first blacks admitted to the University in 1963.

What a great start to our Martin Luther King weekend!

Stanley Nelson Rocks with “Freedom Summer” Documentary That Premieres Tuesday Night on PBS’ American Experience

Stanley Nelson, an award-winning documentary producer and leader of Firelight Media has a new documentary on Freedom Summer that premieres Tuesday night. Nelson taught me media production in the early 1990s at Howard University.

It’s Great When Your College Professor Can Still Teach You Something 22 Years After You’ve Graduated.

50LogoSquare_new_450On the edge of my seat tonight learning about what was known as “Freedom Summer,” an effort to secure voter registration for residents in the state of Mississippi.

Honestly, before watching two interviews about a new documentary on Freedom Summer that premieres tomorrow night, I knew little about this milestone in American history.

And, I’m especially proud that my Media Production Professor from Howard University, Stanley Nelson directed the project.

Stanley-Headshot_EDIT
Stanley Nelson

It’s been nearly a quarter century since I sat in Professor Nelson’s class learning the right way to tell a story with moving images.

Now Professor Nelson’s at it again–teaching– this time his pupils are the millions who will be watching what is destined to be an award-winning documentary.

Between now and next Tuesday, the 50th anniversary of the President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,  I expect I will be learning a lot of American history, the portion that often is relegated to the month of February for so-called “Black History Month.”

freedomsummer-film_landing-dateWhat we’re hearing this week is about the history of all Americans who were involved in ensuring that everyone has equal rights to public accommodations and in the case of Freedom Summer, is able to cast a vote and participate in the political process.

Looking forward to the Premiere of Freedom Summer tomorrow night on PBS’ American Experience.

Hats off to Professor Nelson and the documentary filmmakers at Firelight Media who tell stories about people, places and cultures that are underrepresented in the mainstream media.

 

Remembering My Toughest Journalism Professor- Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond Boone

Mourning the loss of one of the nation’s best advocacy journalists, Raymond Boone, Founder of The Richmond Free Press, whose funeral takes place Tuesday in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

(Sanra Sellars-10/16/13)
Raymond Boone

Just received the very sad news tonight that one of my former journalism professors and former boss,  Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond Boone will be funeralized tomorrow in my hometown of Richmond, Va.

My parents thought I knew that he passed away last week after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

They remember Boone as the very tough editor who gave me a chance to get started as a reporter right after finishing my journalism degree at Howard University in 1992.

Even before I launched into the world of broadcast journalism as a television news producer, there was the newspaper writing that I had learned to do as a news-editorial journalism major.

If I look back at those Free Press stories now, I will see that almost always my lede (the first paragraph of a news story) was rewritten.   Mr. Boone made sure that I “nailed” the point of the story in that first paragraph.

The heavy editing of my copy did me some good, a lot of good.

The fact is Raymond Boone was well-acquainted (perhaps too acquainted) with my writing as he was a member of the journalism faculty at Howard University, before launching The Richmond Free Press.

The One Journalism Class I Had To Repeat

Even though I graduated cum laude  from Howard U.,  there were two classes I had to repeat.   Professor Boone’s Copyediting class was one of them.

Apparently, I was not acquainted quite well enough with the Associated Press Stylebook.

Yes, as a veteran campus reporter (and later editor-in-chief) for THE HILLTOP, I was insulted when I saw a “D” on my grade report  (You have to make a C- or higher for a journalism class to count toward graduation).

Professor Boone and my father were friends long before I ever stepped foot on Howard’s campus.  But,  that didn’t mean Boone was going to cut me any slack.

Here is the very first edition of The Richmond Free Press, which was published in 1992.
Here is the very first edition of The Richmond Free Press, which was published in 1992.

A Stalwart for Advocacy Journalism

When we talk about what it means to do advocacy journalism,  I will always point to Raymond Boone and his editorials as the best example how it’s done.

He was critical of many of those in power and even his rival newspaper publisher in town.

Boone was proudest of his effort to move the Free Press offices to a location that was within a few feet of the Media General headquarters (former owner of Richmond Times Dispatch) where the “corporate brass” for Times Dispatch worked.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a college intern at Media General’s now-defunct afternoon newspaper, The Richmond News Leader, in 1991.

In a story published last week in the Richmond Times Dispatch, the local daily newspaper in my hometown,  Tom Silvestri, publisher and president of the Times Dispatch, called Boone “a passionate publisher, a hard-charging editor, a frank editorial writer.”

Boone took strong stands on issues through the Free Press’ editorial pages.

To this day, I still receive copies of the weekly newspaper here in Alabama, via the U.S. mail.

Each edition is that good.

Sad, but Stronger

So tonight I’m saddened by the loss of such a strong voice for journalism that “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

More than a decade ago, after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication,  I had a chance to have lunch with Professor Boone and tell him about my plans to join the journalism faculty here at The University of Alabama.

So I’m glad he got a chance to see one of his students whose journalism career he helped launch become a journalism professor.

I’m a stronger writer, a better journalist and a better journalism professor because of what Raymond Boone did a quarter century ago.   He will be missed.

Mixed Results in This Week’s Media Coverage of 60th Anniversary of Brown Decision

WIS-TV gets it right when reporting on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Media must help resident see local relevance of anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decision.

On this 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, the mass media have done an ok, though not outstanding, job of explaining the key issues still at play in public education today.
The 1954 decision declared that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.  It eventually led to desegregation (but necessarily integration) of public school classrooms.

In a story that ran on the front page of my local newspaper here in Tuscaloosa this week, Associated Press Reporters Jesse Holland and Kimberly Hefling mostly focused on Gary Orfield’s “Brown at 60” report, which was released this week.

ABC News also published this same AP story.

Gary Orfield
Gary Orfield

Among other things, it found that in places like New York, California and Texas, more than half of Latino students are enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more.  Orfield is a perennial expert on the issue of school desegregation.

The report is one of the few that gives a comprehensive look at where we stand as a nation.

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA is definitely to be commended for its work in this area.  I just have read an executive summary of the report released this week.

But, in reporting only on this “national” picture of Brown, the media may not go far enough.

These stories do little to make the issue of school desegregation (or in some cases “resegregation”) relevant to most Americans, in terms of their local schools.

With smaller news staffs,  most local news outlets probably didn’t bother to “localize” Holland and Hefling’s story.

While not as recent as the UCLA study,  the Brookings Institution looked at the overall issue of segregation in 2013 and examined the issue of class, which has to be included in any retrospective look at school desegregation.

Many of the pseudo-events  (i.e. rallies and press conferences) staged this week on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Brown called attention to the issue of resegregation.

For example, US News and World Report, on its web site, provided coverage of a rally by the National Education Association (NEA) among others.

 

WIS-TV recognizes Direct Beneficiaries of Brown

WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.
WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.

I haven’t seen many television stations like WIS-TV, which features Oveta Glover and Millicent Brown, who were among the first South Carolina students to attend all-white schools.

The NBC affiliate in Columbia, SC and perennial top-ranked Raycom-owned station included not only those from their market, but also someone who lived in Charleston (“the low country”) who was involved in desegregated schools there more than a half-century ago.

WIS-TV reporter Meaghan Norman gets a star for her story.

In spite of thin reporter ranks in, local news outlets, especially TV stations in the midst of May ratings sweeps, ought to be enterprising stories that make today’s discussion of race, education and equity relevant for their local viewers and readers.