CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien speaks about importance of diversity

Soledad OBrien, CNN News correspondent, gives a speech in the Kent State Student Center Ballroom about diversity and overcoming its challenges on Thursday. Photo by Lindsay Frumker.

Soledad O’Brien, CNN News correspondent, gives a speech in the Kent State Student Center Ballroom about diversity and overcoming its challenges on Thursday. Photo by Lindsay Frumker.

Leighann McGivern

CNN anchor and philanthropist Soledad O’Brien braved the weather Thursday evening to speak about the topic “Diversity on TV: Behind the Scenes and In Our Lives,” in the Student Center Ballroom.

O’Brien is an award-winning newscaster on “CNN Special Investigations Unit,” noted for her in-depth coverage of events such as Hurricane Katrina, the South Asian tsunami and the Iraq War.

She spoke about her struggles being a minority — from growing up as the daughter of an interracial couple to standing up to people who considered her to be an affirmative action hire and told her to change her name.

“That is the job of a journalist, to just stand there and be powerful,” O’Brien said. “People don’t have to like you; you just have to do your job.”

O’Brien shared a video clip from her CNN series, “Black in America 2,” about the principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., and one student who realized her dream of getting into college despite growing up with parents who abused drugs and alcohol.

“That story is a story about diversity, and yet it wasn’t a story about diversity,” O’Brien said. “It was a story about human beings and people living their lives. It was a story that could make anyone cry, whether you’re white, you’re black — you see yourself in that story.”

O’Brien closed the evening by taking questions from the audience and spoke about the importance of standing for what is right.

“We have an opportunity to do the same thing that (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) did,” O’Brien said. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What do we stand up for? What are we standing for?’ There are people who say Dr. King was like Jesus coming to Earth, and I would say no — and that’s the point, he was not — he was much more powerful being a regular man.”

Alascia Jones, president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and senior business management major, presented O’Brien with a gift following the presentation and inducted her as an honorary sister.

“I feel like it’s really important nowadays for people to be aware of things that happen in society culturally, especially being that there are so many cultures at Kent State University,” Jones said. “People are very quick to go to entertaining programs or parties or comedy shows, and people don’t want to come and hear an educational speaker, but it’s like, you came here to become educated, so why would you not want to be here?”

Eugene Shelton, professor of journalism and mass communication, said having speakers like O’Brien come to campus helps to make people aware of important issues.

“Most people think, ‘I don’t care about this; this doesn’t relate to me; I can’t identify with that,’ and therefore, they do not support it,” Shelton said. “But anyone sitting in this audience tonight gained some insight into what it is to understand media, to understand the importance of difference and certainly, as a broadcast journalist, the importance of telling a story.”

O’Brien said the most rewarding part of speaking with college students is knowing they have the ability to affect change.

“I think college students have a really great energy,” O’Brien said. “You’re at a time in your life where you’re actually in a position to think about changing the world, and really, the next step you take will impact your future steps in life.”

Contact Leighann McGivern at [email protected] .