I came to Asheville, North Carolina as media guest for the Kellogg’s Foundations ‘America Healing’ conference, which focuses on racial equity. They paid for my transport and accommodations to experience and possibly cover the conference. I was a bit unsure about what to expect, even what to cover, if any at all. After all, I didn’t think it was right for me to highlight the conference, even if they paid for the accomodations, unless there was something worth sharing—something that inspired.
First of, I’ve been to several diversity conferences or workshops before and it usually goes like this: 1) diversity warriors chat about the issues and problems of race and diversity, but the people who should really listen and learn about diverse issues (mostly ignorant and racists ones) usually aren’t represented 2) We (a whole bunch of do-gooders and world changers) sit in the muck of our problems, discuss them until we’re blue in the face, but we don’t really come up with action plans. Solutions are tough, when racism and inequality (or any other world problem) continue in a cycle that don’t end.
Daniel Beaty performs “Emergency” play
What I got from the conference was the term “America Healing.” Sounds corny at first. Who came up with that wanky title? But as I met other activists, listened in on non-profit organizations speak, snuck into a ‘healing circle’ where people shared of themselves and their experiences, I realized that as a journalist of color I too, needed to be healed. I joined a group of activists and organizers in a healing circle and shared our stories of obstacles and empowerment.
Emil Hill chats with fellow journalists about objectivity
As minorities we all experienced our share of racial tension or inequality. As a woman of color, its a double whammy, not only must we deal with sexism, but racial inequality too.
I shared in past that I was a student at DePauw University in Indiana. At the diverse starved school, minorities made up only 10% of the student body. And my environment constantly reminded me that I was different. Sometimes I’d forget that I was Asian American that I was just a student, but someone else would point out that I was different. I remember a particular event when a professor would call me out in front of the class. I didn’t even raise my hand. But this professor wanted a minority perspective so as the only minority I was their representative. I took pride in the beginning, speaking, sharing my culture. But after awhile, it got annoying. A pinnacle racial moment was when the KKK threatened to march in our school grounds 2002. As a free speech believer– I felt everyone had the right to express themselves, regardless of my disagreements, but in that context I was terrified. The school administration even called every minority in their rooms and told them to stay indoors. Eventually, the KKK’s right to march was not approved, but it already had its affect. While our school protected us and the majority of our school were supportive of diversity, it was a wake call for me. I felt like I was transformed in the 60′s. In that moment I knew that some parts of our world wasn’t ready to take on equality and change—that some people were O.K. with leaving things the way things they way they used to be, even if the past was frightening.
And so at DePauw, I eventually found my calling—telling diverse stories and sharing them as a journalist in hopes of making an impact somehow.
When I first started this blog ‘Frustrated Journalist’, I wanted to create a website dedicated to journaling my experience as a journalist. It was supposed to be a diary of sorts about my experience–the good and bad. But I got lazy and didn’t really want to tell the bad parts of my struggles. Why? Because of my need to look good to others. I didn’t want to share stories of my failures, because I didn’t want others to know my failings. But now, through this conference I realized that we are all bigger than ourselves. That our struggles and our strength to overcome is what makes a difference.
Listening to everyone else’s experience recharged my motivation. I cannot discussed what was said in the ‘healing circle’ since individuals shared with the understanding of confidentiality. But I did meet amazing activists who were changing our communities through various works in immigration, women’s rights, voting rights, etc.
Outside the ‘healing circle’ I ran into a young man, probably in his late teens,early twenties who started an organization which brought after school math literacy to underserved schools. His name was Albert Sykes from The Young People’s Project. I also met Rinku Sen and her organization Applied Research Center who pushed to ban the racial slur term “illegal” when describing undocumented immigrants. Her organization helped shape Associated Press’s updated stylebook which dropped the “I” word.
All of these amazing activists were fighting a cause much bigger than themselves. And I too am now inspired to do the same. I am even more motivated to tell stories outside the mainstream media. I’d like to share stories of triumph and real stories about diversity warriors who despite their surroundings still try to make a difference.
I hope to highlight some of those inspiring stories and feature other Frustrated Journalists impacting the world.
For more on Kellogg’s Initiative ‘Healing America’: http://www.wkkf.org/what-we-support/racial-equity/america-healing.aspx