Soledad O’Brien to speak for equality


In every push for progress, there must be envoys able to voice the stories of millions. 

In coordination with USF’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Week, Soledad O’Brien is speaking tonight at 8 in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom.

Winner of Peabody and Emmy awards, O’Brien will use her journalistic experience exploring racial divides in the U.S. to challenge the audience’s understanding of the state of equality.

Premiering in 2008 on CNN, O’Brien hosted the “Black in America” series that delved into the challenges African American culture faces in the U.S. today, 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. 

The documentary series explores issues such as racial disparities in education, the workforce and economic class. Other episodes discuss the heavy concentration of African American men in the prison system, the absence of African American entrepreneurs and the criteria in which society defines being black.

With seven episodes so far, the series has become one of CNN’s most watched programs. The first two-part documentary drew in 2.4 million viewers. 

Though some criticized the series for an overly simplified narrative, other critics praised it as a sincere attempt to dispel prejudiced misconceptions surrounding racial disparity in the U.S.

Before “Black in America,” O’Brien’s work in journalism first received national recognition for her report on the Hurricane Katrina aftermath in 2005. 

Her interview with the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, won a Peabody award for questioning and exposing the organization’s competence under crisis.

After leaving her anchor position on CNN’s flagship morning program, “American Morning,” in 2007, O’Brien released a documentary titled “Latino in America” that set the model for her series on African Americans the following year.

These days, O’Brien continues to contribute to CNN as a reporter and occasionally fills in for Anderson Cooper on “Anderson Cooper 360.” 

Most recently, O’Brien released the latest episode of the “Black in America” series in November, coincidentally in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

The documentary portrayed the attitudes and actions of police toward African Americans and the resulting psychological effects on their communities.

According to O’Brien’s documentary, 80 percent of people stopped by police since 2002 have been African American or Latino. The episode also discussed the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policies in New York that seemed to target a disproportionate amount of young African American males.

According to an interview with Diversity Women, O’Brien said her career concerning diversity was shaped by her childhood. Raised in a multiethnic family, O’Brien became familiar with the societal lines that divide race in America.

The Irish, African American and Hispanic communities have been proud to call O’Brien one of their own. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus publicly praised her work in 2009. The Irish America magazine, in the same year, listed O’Brien as one of the U.S.’s top 100 Irish-Americans. Then in 2010, the National Association of Black Journalists named her Journalist of the Year.

The lecture is open to students and the general public. According to her contract, O’Brien’s lecture will cost $50,000, paid by the Center for Student Involvement, host of the University Lecture Series (ULS).

O’Brien is the first of three ULS speakers this spring semester. Scheduled for Feb. 19, the second speaker is John Bul Dau, who was featured in the 2006 documentary “God Grew Tired of Us” about the Lost Boys of the Sudan.