One of the biggest complaints that I heard regarding last year’s groundbreaking spcecial Black in America on CNN, was that it painted the African-American community with a negative brush.
Struggling fathers and mothers, Black women who can’t find a man, people in prison, the argument was there for the making. But it was also the place I remember hearing that White Americans with a felony have a better chance of getting a job than African-Americans without one.
This time, CNN is touting a solutions oriented approach with Black in America 2 that airs Wednesday night at 8 PM Central, and Thursday night at 7 PM. Without directly responding to criticism of their generally well received first attempt, marketing for the program has promised something more.
Last night my family and I sat down to watch the 40 minute screener sent to us by CNN. There were five impactful segments which were included:
- The story of “Journey for Change,” a youth empowerment program founded by activist Malaak Compton-Rock
- A segment on Black Marriages and one couple’s fight to stay together
- A look at the Tyler Perry phenomenon and the success of his studio
- Steve Perry and Capital Prep, a school he founded in Hartford, Conn. Capital Prep has mostly African-American students in an urban setting and 100% of the students go on to attend a four year college upon graduation.
- John Rice, brother of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and his program which grooms minority executives
I was captivated by the stories of Rice and Steve Perry. These two young men identified a need and are working to meet that need. It’s a route that more individuals are going to have to take if our communities are to succeed.
The same can be said for Tyler Perry. For people like me familiar with Perry from his stage play days, there really wasn’t anything new here. But it was still good to see the model of a man not just complaining about lack of African-Americans on T.V., but employing African-Americans on camera and behind the camera.
Rock’s program didn’t strike me the same way, but some of the kids highlighted in the piece did. One young man (I think he was 15) was a tall and outstanding basketball player, yet when Rock interviewed him for the program he was barely audible. He constantly looked down and mumbled as he spoke, a far cry from the confidence he displayed in clips shown of him on the basketball court.
Similarly I was impacted by a young lady from Capital Prep who said when she was 15 her only goal was to get her G.E.D. and move into an apartment. How many African-American girls across the country have also set such a pitifully low bar for themselves? She’s now on track to attend college due in large part to her time at Steve Perry’s Magnet School.
I applaud CNN and Soledad O’Brien, as I did last year, for attempting to highlight the unique challenges that face African-Americans. I also welcome their decision to focus on solutions and highlighting those who are out busting down walls, myths and stereotypes.
It’s easy to forget that prior to 2007, a show like Black in America barely made it to the idea phase, less known onto the screen. NBC Nightly News kind of got it rolling in November ’07 before Black in American in ’08. Now show’s like TV One’s Stand in 2009 don’t not seem like outliers anymore. Now that we see a Black President on TV everyday, it’s easy to forget that just a couple of short years ago -before Jena 6- Black folks on television was a rarity.
I will be locked in tonight (after the President’s Press Conference) at 8 PM Central to support CNN’s Black in America. I hope it will inspire people to do more than just keep score, but to also get in the game and work to make a difference.