Award-winning journalist discusses diversity in television

Anthony Cornwell

Soledad O’Brien, award-winning broadcast journalist, philanthropist and chairman of Starfish Media Group, told an audience of around 450 about diversity in television and everyday life.

O’Brien began his speech with where it all starts, the parents. “My parents were true inspiration,” O’Brien said.

Her parents got married when interracial marriage was illegal. They went on to have five children during that time and moved into an all-white neighborhood.

“Despite judgement, if you live life with dignity people will follow,” she said. “They taught me that no matter what I look like, there are opportunities.”

She told the crowd that shared experiences is what she looks for in storytelling and that it could be powerful.

“What I found interesting, other people found uncomfortable,” she said. “That is what I think journalism needed.”

More of her inspiration came from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I learned that Dr. King was inspired by the moment,” she said. “But what I realized most is that he was just a man, a man that believed in doing a great thing.”

O’Brien told stories of visiting Dr. King’s memorials and holding his first sermon that he wrote at age 25. She said that it gave her another view of journalism.

“Once you figure it out, go do it,” she said. “Don’t wait.” 

After speaking about King, O’Brien went on to pieces of her work to show the audience that diversity is possible.

The first clip that she presented was a documentary on the Rand family.

The Rand family was a black family who traced their ancestry back to a white slave owner. Members of the family found that there was a white side to the family as well.

The documentary concluded with cousins of the opposite race reuniting after years of not knowing one another.

“The story shows that the Rands are a symbol of the step in the right direction,” O’Brien said.

After the clip of the Rand family, she continued on to show another clip of a company. Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is home to many of the world’s largest high-tech corporations and thousands of startup companies.

This documentary displays many of the companies in silicon doesn’t have black engineers. It displayed that the technology world is ran by whites and asians.

The purpose of the clip is not to show that there is racism in technology, but that the backs were working own their own instead of working in a team.

“This shows you that color wasn’t an issue, but many people think it is,” she said.

After the Silicon Valley presentation, she showed one last clip. This clip was a 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

This clip presents that there were many women rescuers during 9/11 that many people did not know about.

“We wanted to do another story,” she said. “Not the typical ticktock story.”

O’Brien explained a tick tock story is when every news organization does the same story.

“We told an interesting story about people,” she said. “It wasn’t about them being, it’s about showing others that they are people no matter what they look like.”

O’Brien went on to tell audience of her kind of journalism.

“So much of our news is about negative things,” she said. “I take that negative and look for a positive, and that’s how I created Starfish.”

O’Brien wrapped up with the story of how she got the name for her company.

She said she received a story about a about a kid walking the beach with a bunch of starfish in the sand. The boy threw as many starfish as he could back in the water. When asked why he was doing this and he couldn’t save them all, the boy responded saying, “at least I can save this one.”

O’Brien said that this was creating something meaningful.

She finished by telling the audience one final thing.

“Stand up for something,” she said. “Stand up for what you believe in.”

After the speech Janet Adams, a sophomore biotechnology student at Stark State, said she likes what O’Brien fights for.

“She actually cares,” Adams said. “Not only about her career, but she cares about America.”

Pam Ledden, a YMCA director, added that O’Brien was direct and funny at the same time.

“I felt she was open, passionate and informative about her career,” Ledden said. “I thoroughly enjoyed her speech, hope and her passion.”

Anthony Cornwell is the regionals/commuters reporter. Contact him at [email protected].