Black journalists gather, take stock

Participants watch the opening ceremony of the National Association of Black Journalists convention at the Convention Center. Story and another photograph, B4.
Participants watch the opening ceremony of the National Association of Black Journalists convention at the Convention Center. Story and another photograph, B4. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 05, 2011

During the opening ceremony of the National Association of Black Journalists convention on Thursday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. took the stage in the Terrace ballroom of the Convention Center and danced to the welcoming music of Earth, Wind and Fire's "Shining Star," cheered on by the swell of journalists.

At the lectern, Holder said, "I'm still Ricky from New York, you know." The humble revelation brought more laughter and applause for the Bronx native who is the first African American to hold that government position.

More than 2,500 black journalists have gathered in Philadelphia this week for the NABJ's 36th annual convention and career fair. This year's theme is "The Power of Now: Claiming Your Destiny."

The second day of the five-day convention featured a "Newsmaker" session Thursday with Holder and digital-media mogul Arianna Huffington, who both stressed the media's role in the lives, achievements, and struggles of African American communities.

In his remarks, Holder described the founding of the organization 38 years ago by a handful of black journalists, many from Philadelphia, as "a simple idea, but a transformative moment."

"Those of us with a few gray hairs and receding hairlines," said Holder, 60 - using the familiar quote of Acel Moore, an NABJ cofounder, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, and Inquirer editor emeritus - "can recall a time when, if you read a newspaper, the only black people mentioned were entertainers and criminals. Black people never died. Black people never got married. They were unremarkable. But the picture that was being painted was not an accurate picture. It wasn't a true story."

Those frustrations, Holder said, inspired the organization to go national in 1975, in an effort "to ensure that the full American story was told."

Holder encouraged those at the event to continue in that mission.

"Without your work," he said, "we would not have a starting point for progress - or, in many cases, for the pursuit of justice."

Holder said journalists are uniquely positioned "to help focus our national dialogue not on just those issues that occupy our 24-hour news cycle, but that really matter, on the challenges that will really determine our nation's future, and on the struggles that we quite simply cannot afford to ignore."

He urged them to question why the majority of children in the United States have been exposed to "crime, abuse, and violence," making them vulnerable to negative behaviors; why, on the average, black and Hispanic 12th graders are reading on the same level as white eighth graders; and why for black males 15 to 24, homicide is the leading cause of death.

In a question-and-answer session, Holder touched on items including his forthcoming meeting with 9/11 families affected by the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, saying, "I hope to reassure them we are taking the investigation seriously."

On why his department this year declined to investigate the possibility that there were additional suspects in the assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X, Holder cited "limited resources" and a "very small possibility" of unearthing evidence for federal prosecution.

He said ferreting out racial discrimination in public agencies is a priority of the Justice Department.

Huffington, cofounder of the Huffington Post, echoed the convention's theme. For many, she lamented, "the American Dream has become a game of chance," and "upward mobility is becoming a joke."

With her new AOL/Black Voices venture, Huffington said, she aims to tell stories about African Americans that "capture people's hearts and imagination."

"Throughout history," she said, "that's how we've changed everything."


Contact staff writer Kia Gregory at 215-854-2601, kgregory@phillynews.com, or twitter@kiagregory.

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