Black In America Tour 2015 – Houston, TX

This past Tuesday evening I was invited to attend a press conference for Soledad O’Brien’s Black In America tour at the University of Houston. First I was surprised to see Houston on the tour. Most people bypass Houston and go to Dallas instead. Anyway, back to Tuesday evening.

Prior to the start of the press conference I had an opportunity to speak to a few of the other media outlets present. Most were affiliated with UH or Texas Southern University. It was nice to see college students and even a 12 year old take an active role on such an emotionally evoking topic.

Soledad O’Brien entered accompanied by Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Alderman Antonio French from Ferguson, MO, and Dr. Leonard Baynes, Dean of UH Law School.

The first question asked was by my business twin Vannessa Wade of Connect the Dots PR. She asked what was the takeaway from tonight’s conversation. Soledad said it was to tell a story. I loved that response because it’s what we do on this blog. She wanted to start a conversation. To follow the threads where race conversations began. Black In America is facilitating a complicated conversation. 

A student from TSU who is interning at KCOH, Houston’s oldest black owned radio station, asked if Black In America was to help other enthnicities understand African Americans? Soledad said, “yes.” The goal is for everyone to hear each other in conversation. Not for it to be a one-sided conversation. Or the two extreme sides of the conversation not hear what the other side had to say. 

Another question asked was how this tour is helping to move black people forward? Soledad stated “you can’t get home without doing the hard stuff first.” What this means is you must face what’s going on. We must not only acknowledge and talk about the problems but work to find compromises and solutions so we can move forward. 

Ruth Munoz, a student at UH and reportor with El Gato, asked if President Obama being in office caused more racial tension to be even more pronounced and in the open. Soledad said, “no.” President Obama didn’t enhance unstable race relations. He being in office is a symptom of a conversation that needed to be had. Dr. Malveaux said President Obama being in office has freed some people to speak with racial resentment. In other words, people feel no restraint to say what they want or how they feel about America’s first family. 

I wanted to ask why they choose college campuses to host these talks but before I could ask they already answered it. Soledad said they talk at colleges to give the complete story to people who may not know it. This makes sense as history is rarely taught in public schools anymore. And if it is taught, it’s a watered down version of the truth missing a lot of key facts. 

A student from Coog Radio, a student run radio station on the campus of UH, asked what was the message? Soledad said there is power in blunt conversations. I couldn’t agree more. Alderman French said the world is changing. Dr. Malveaux said we should encourage people to become involved in the political process. To see themselves as change agents

The last question was asked by 12 year old Victoria Baynes Lopez. Essentially she wanted to know how to keep children involved when they feel left out, discouraged and tired from advocating? Soledad said not to ever become apathetic. Dr. Malveaux said children were the active ones during the civil rights movement. Their parents couldn’t protest. They would have lost their jobs. She told Victoria to keep encouraging children to be involved. Soledad said you may not win a lot of fights but the ones you do win have to sustain you until the next victory. And that’s a great way to leave this press conference. 

After the press conference, we headed to the Cullen Theater for the presentation. It was a packed house. There were a couple of introductions by the Center for Diversity. Then Soledad spoke for about 45 minutes taking us through the history and key highlights of the documentary film series, Black In America. There were many aahhhs throughout as stats were shared about the gap between whites and blacks as well as how whites and blacks perceived certain aspects of society. 

After that a 30 minute Q & A with Dr. Leonard Baynes, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Alderman Antonio French and Chuck D via Skype. The one person who moved me the most was the mother of Jordan Baker. He is a man here in Houston killed by police. She wanted to know what could she do that she wasn’t already doing to get justice for her son. Honestly I don’t think any of the responses were much help. 

To me all of the questions asked were more or less the same ones always asked at these types of events. Not to say the panel didn’t make poignant remarks. One remark by Alderman French was on point. The movement won’t acknowledge you unless you are over the age of 50. We need the older generation to work with the younger generation so we can move progress further. 

But Black In America tour is just a conversation. It’s not going to hand us solutions. That must come from the local level. Soledad mentioned solutions would look different in each city. So we, as Alderman French said, need to become more active and involved in our local communities. 

I enjoyed the evening and do feel solutions cannot be created unless conversations have been had. 

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Photos courtesy of CAllen Photography

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