Sagal Ahmed, Contributing Writer
The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture kicked off its speaker series Tuesday with a discussion on race, media, and the 2020 election. Five panelists spoke in the event, moderated by VCU associate professor of journalism Aloni Hill and Robb Crocker, a podcaster, digital journalist and doctoral student in VCU’s Media, Art and Text Program.
Below are excerpts from each speaker. Responses have been edited for space and clarity.
Kym Grinnage, vice president and general manager of WWBT NBC 12 and member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, on coverage of protests and George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody:
“I don’t think anyone saw it coming, but I think that one of the blessings of COVID was that everyone was tuned into their TV set, and they saw for nine minutes what pain looked like. They were able to see for nine minutes, when someone says ‘I can’t breathe,’ what that looked like. They were able to see all of the things that had happened since the civil rights movement where they might have not understood.
Sometimes you are listening but not understanding. When you are at home and you are seeing it on all media in living color, you are seeing that story. … You saw it going internationally around the country because it was pure inhumanity to man but wasn’t the first time. You never know when the straw is going to break the camel’s back, and that was the moment. It wasn’t because of the media that it happened. It was because of young people.”
Samantha Willis, an independent journalist and writer in print, digital and broadcast media, on journalism’s contributions to discussing social justice:
“I would say that is important for journalists and for media organizations — to dig deeper than the surface issues. Certainly we have to report the facts. But I think there is a level of context that should be added, especially when we are talking about issues like racial and social justices.
It becomes difficult to not take sides, especially if you are a journalist of color, because you could have been raised to love this country but you can see the disparities. You can see it’s not liberty and justice for all, so I think it shouldn’t only be the job of journalists of color.”
Danita Rountree Green, an author and CEO of Coming to the Table RVA, a nonprofit committed to racial healing and social equity in Richmond, on presidential condemnation of white supremacy and ANTIFA:
“I really don’t even think either one of our presidential candidates right now are even mature enough to handle a conversation with that many borders. We need the kind of support from our candidates that see everybody, regardless of where you are on that spectrum … as Americans and human beings first.
ANTIFA, yes that is a percentage of the society. White supremacy, that is another one. But what about all of the rest of us here, who need the same things all the time? That’s what our candidates need to be looking at, and they don’t need to be condemning anything. They need to be about saving the American people from this system of total horrid adversity our leadership, in a lot of ways, brought us to.”
Calvin Anthony Duncan, pastor and founder of Faith and Family Church and VCU Hall of Fame basketball player, on professional and student athletes kneeling in protest during the national anthem:
“I understand that their actions and their body language of kneeling down could cause some people to think that they are disrespecting the flag, for those who fought for the flag, all our armed forces, every branch, male and female. However, the kneeling was never protesting the flag. The kneeling was never saying that ‘I don’t love my country.’ It wasn’t about that. The kneeling was simply this: You are not hearing our voices. We are seeing too many of our young Black men and women being murdered, and we need to … say something, do something.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that rioting is the voice of the unheard. Well, I want to say when they kneel, that is a very non-violent action to say this needs to be tended to. I’m not about rioting, but I’m about protesting, and there is a difference. The athlete was saying, ‘bring attention to this.’”
Elliott Robinson, news editor of Charlottesville Tomorrow, on Black political power in Virginia:
“For one thing, there is a lot more Black people who, in a grand scheme of things, have more political power in the Richmond Tri-Cities area than in Charlottesville, and it’s partly because there’s more of them here. In Charlottesville itself before the Civil War … more than 50% of the population was Black. Now, that’s down to 20%. And Charlottesville itself is that you don’t get that range of voices that you sometimes hear in the Richmond area because it is an overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Overall in the Tri-Cities area in Richmond, I felt there was a lot more political power in that area for people of color than compared to Charlottesville.”