Welcome to carol jenkins:media, a blog about media–especially media by and about women and girls and people of color.
This Blog: Media is my family business. Both my father and stepfather were journalists; my daughter is a writer. I spent a full career as a television journalist–anchoring, reporting, producing the news. The highlight was standing outside Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto the morning after he was released from prison. The sight of him waving to the schoolchildren, skipping along in their brightly-colored uniforms, took my breath away. Impossible to top that–but as funny as life is, being included in the Superman comic, above, was a real thrill.
These days , in addition to developing media projects, I am writing and speaking about the media–as well as advising companies, organizations and individuals on their media needs.
I also continue to speak about the economic status of Black America, based on the book my daughter, Elizabeth Gardner Hines and I wrote about our uncle: Black Titan: A.G.Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire.
We need media that includes everyone’s story–and everyone’s voice. Thanks for joining me here to help create that media, Carol.
I am still thinking about Jesmyn Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped. The title comes from Harriet Tubman, one brave Black woman abolitionist who led hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, and was a spy for the Union during the Civil War:
We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.
The dead men Ward is referring to are four young men, including her brother, who died in her hometown, rural, poor DeLisle, Mississippi. She paints a terrible portrait of the forces that claim their lives, one after the other, in her still young life. She is in her mid-30′s.
I was thinking particularly of the democratization, if you will, of the memoir: just as social media has taken away the privilege of corporate media to decide what’s “news,” writers like Ward have re-defined whose story is worth telling. And the skepticism that would accompany so young a person writing about her life, is absent in the reviews of Men We Reaped. Ward tells a darn good story, and it is hard to say that plenty of living (as well as dying) hasn’t already been done.
Readers will respond to her own emotional struggles as she emerges from DeLisle to get degrees from the University of Michigan and Stanford, to carve out a writing life for herself–and to win a National Book Award for her novel, Salvage the Bones. They will also identify with her decision to move back home.
And although the book is about Black men dying, it is also about Black women surviving. Jesmyn Ward had, as a child, absorbed the hatred she felt others had for Black women and turned that into a devastating self-hatred. Jesmyn Ward the grown-up has another view:
My mother had the courage to look at four hungry children and find a way to fill them. My mother had the strength to work her body to the breaking point to provide for herself and her children. My mother had the resilience to cobble together a family from the broken bits of another. And my mother’s example teaches me other things: This is how a transplanted people survived a holocaust and slavery. This is how Black people in the South organized to vote under the shadow of terrorism and the noose. This is how human beings sleep and wake and fight and survive. In the end, this is how a mother teaches her daughter to have courage, to have strength, to be resilient, to open her eyes to what is, and to make something of it. As the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter, and having just borne a daughter, I hope to teach my child these lessons, to pass on my mother’s gifts.
With apologies to Jesmyn Ward for the long quote, but as I’ve said, it’s just so darn good.
The most fascinating potential alliance announced this week: newly-elected New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and the conservative Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. While holding true to his reputation and threatening to block Janet Yellen’s appointment to the Federal Reserve chair–Paul has made some interesting statements about mandatory drug laws. He sees how generations of men of color have lost the chance at life within prison walls. Booker says he wants to work with Paul to eliminate these laws.
I came face-to-face with the workings of mandatory sentencing recently–called to jury duty in New York City. It had been years since I served. Back then, after spending an inordinate amount of time trying to dodge service–the rumor was that reporters didn’t or shouldn’t serve–when I finally got on a case, I learned so much about our judicial system that you can’t learn from books. For instance, one has to experience the machinations of the collective mind of a jury to fully understand the sometimes whimsical results. The law, like life, can be unfair.
Last week I was somewhat surprised to find myself being interviewed to sit on a jury that would decide a drug sale case. The charge: the sale of crack cocaine in the 3rd degree on the lower east side. of Manhattan, The defendant: a Black man. The potential witnesses, as read out by the judge: a virtual army of undercover cops who participated in the buy. Sitting in the jury room: about 50 New Yorkers, the selected of whom would spend, as the judge predicted, at least the next week determining the defendant’s guilt.
In the voire dire, the process by which potential jurors are selected, we were asked if we held any views–or knew anyone who influenced our views–that would prevent us from judging fairly, based strictly on the law. I responded that I vehemently opposed mandatory sentencing, and furthermore objected to the wildly discriminatory results of Stop-and-Frisk as employed by the NYPD. As for who I knew, two of my heroes are Christina Swarns, (left, below) of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who (successfully) represents death row clients, and Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project, whose work has freed many the innocent person wrongly convicted and imprisoned in this country.
Needless to say, I was the first person excused from serving–and was ultimately told, we’ll see you in six years.
At lunch break that day I was joined by a young software programmer who had somewhat agreed with me during the voire dire (and was also excused) and we talked about the sentencing laws. His question was, well, what can we, ordinary people, do?
I said, I think we just did it.
At brunch today with a friend, discussing local (the NYC mayoral outcome) and world (what to do about Syria) events, it occurred to me that what Russian President Vladimir Putin had done was somehow hire the fictional crisis manager of the television hit Scandal.
His now infamous and irritating Op-Ed in the New York Times had Olivia Pope’s handiwork all over it. In plain American-speak, the world leader who defends the despot Assad, had called our Secretary of State, John Kerry, a liar–and who was still now harboring leaker Edward Snowden– was lecturing the people of this country about justice, fairness, and what our president should or should not do. In our leading newspaper “of record,” no less.
It is clear that Putin had an expert crisis “fixer” at his disposal. The piece read well. It made him seem completely rational, if wrong. Someone had been paying very close attention to President Obama’s speech to the nation: Putin even, or especially, assailed the president’s use of the phrase “American exceptionalism”–okay, even I bristled at that when I heard it–I thought it an unnecessary provocation, since most people interpret it as “Americans think they’re better than everybody.”
As fans of Scandal and Olivia Pope (as played wonderfully by Kerry Washington) know, at the highest reaches of government, anything is possible–the President of the United States can strangle a dying Supreme Court Justice and get away with it (so far). There are no purely good guys, only the less bad guys–or the guys on your side, and that can change moment to moment.
With Putin’s surprising–some would say “amazing, unbelievable” brokering of a deal with Syria to destroy its arsenal of chemical weapons, we are deep in Scandal territory–the “red line” between the good and bad guys is suddenly blurred. God help President Obama–and let’s pray that he is busy looking for his own Olivia Pope. A great communications “fixer” may be the only “strike” he really needs.
This summer I am reading the nonfiction of James Baldwin–his essays, reviews, lectures, speeches. He was a masterful essayist, and while re-reading “Notes of a Native Son,” the essay for which one of his best known books is titled, I thought of Trayvon Martin and his parents–and all of us struggling for the way forward after the verdict. Baldwin is writing of his estranged father’s death and funeral–a man consumed–and driven mad– by the rejection of his blackness by the world:
It was the Lord who knew of the impossibility every parent in that room faced: how to prepare the child for the day when the child would be despised and how to create in the child–by what means?–a stronger antidote to this poison than one had found for oneself.
I learned in New Jersey that to be a Negro meant, precisely, that one was never looked at but was simply at the mercy of the reflexes the color of one’s skin caused in other people.
Jimmy Baldwin, in his novels, plays and non-fiction was a consummate voice of Black America in the 1950′s, 60″s 70′s, a critic of race relations with an elevated platform and megawat vocabulary. But while he held celebrity status as a voice, he was not considered, by civil rights leaders, as one of them–and is said to have been disappointed not to be invited to speak at the 1963 March on Washington.
As we approach the 50th year celebration of that landmark gathering, one of the largest human rights events in history, it is notable that another brilliant Black man was asked to keep a low profile there–Bayard Rustin, its chief architect.
Rustin, like Baldwin, was a gay man in a time of revulsion, illegality and unacceptance. His first formulation of the idea of a March on Washington, with A.Philip Randolph–that in the early 40′s–was enough to get President Roosevelt to make concessions. By 1963 the time was right for it, and as an adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr., within 8 weeks he organized a massing of nearly 300,000 people on the Washington mall.
Rustin’s life and work before the March were extraordinary: during World War II he worked on behalf of interned Japanese; spent 3 years in prison as a conscientous objector to the war (he was a Quaker); did time on a chain gang as a result of a 1947 Freedom ride; worked in India and Africa for democracy. It is said that Bayard Rustin, a student of Gandhi, convinced Martin Luther King, Jr. to engage in non-violence in the South, and helped create King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
It is also said that Rustin was denied public leadership positions–and the acknowledgement of his work–because he was gay.
So, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary this year at the end of August, I for one will be celebrating the contributions of two gay men who didn’t get the glory that day: the man who organized it; and the writer who would have added some fine fire–that time.
The progress being made in LGBT rights symbolizes for me the spirit of these two great humanists.
More about Bayard Rustin, including the film Brother Outsider at http://www.rustin.org.
When the president of the United States recounts his own experiences as a Black boy in America: suspected, feared,vulnerable to violence, just like 17 year old Trayvon Martin–it is a remarkable, even historic moment.
I was recently reminded by the brilliant feminist, activist writer Robin Morgan of a conversation we had years ago about raising our sons. She recalled that she said she felt she had done the best she could in cultivating in Blake the right values to take him into manhood. I responded that I really hoped that my boy Mike would still be alive as a man. Thankfully, he is.
But I remember one night that I–usually a rational, hoping for the best type–lost my mind. Mike was late getting home and despite what that rational mind should have convinced me–that he was out having fun–I was certain “something” had happened to him. No response on his phone, 2AM in New York City. I actually rushed into the street from my apartment and stationed myself at the corner, to be sure of his approach. I called my (truly rational) daughter who persuaded me that I was “way over-reacting”–and that I should go home. Giving it a few more minutes, to be sure, I do indeed see my son ambling towards home–and not happy at all to see his crazed mother on the corner.
That night the undercurrent of fear that rides in the chests of mothers of Black sons bubbled to the surface for me. I know women who have lost their boy children in the streets–to thugs, to drugs, prison or to the police. Immeasurable sadness. Unbearable grief.
I would hope that I would have the faith and fortitude and grace of Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sabrina Fulton. I doubt I would. Here she was today in New York City, a week after her son’s killer was declared innocent, defending her son’s character and declaring she would work to make sure no other children fall to Trayvon’s fate: a victim first of violence –and then faulty laws.
There’s no ‘Stand Your Ground” in New York City, but we have a police force free to “stop and frisk” anyone, but who mostly employ it against Black and Latino men, I am sad to say that my biggest fear for my son is his inevitable encounter with a “frisking” policeman. We have had the conversations–the why, and how to respond (meekly)–but I have not yet been able to break the pride and confidence of this young man who feels it is unjust to be targeted because of the color of his skin. I am afraid of the testing of wills in that meeting.
Like many others, I found President Obama’s unscripted and personal comments about the Trayvon Martin tragedy and trial profoundly moving. Yes, he could have been Trayvon Martin–but he survived and flourished and became this country’s first Black president. And I deeply appreciate his speaking up for the lost boys of our country, generations now of young men being taken from their mothers, one way or another.
I feel like rushing out into the street again, standing on the corner, frantically looking for our boys. We all should. We should be panicked. We’ve been rational way too long.
I am just emerging from a months-long journey through diapers and burping and kissing babies, courtesy of my daughter’s new twins, Sophie and Sam. They joined now 4 year old Avery to make for a happy family of five, and one extremely delirious grandmother. I’m in another phase of “having it all.”
So, I have missed much of the debate over Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In and all of the alternative prescriptions for bettering the status of women, and in particular, mothers. I see, based on new Op-Eds in the NYTimes and elsewhere, that there is still a big appetite for figuring out this problem. Good. The worst thing we can do is let our attention be diverted.
During my “time out” I did get a call to guest on a talk show to talk about Lean In, and curious about how they got to me, discovered that a blogpost I’d written here way back in 2011, when Sandberg first posited her theory, had been found. In it, I offered up the notion that the point to be most noted was that Sandberg had been “excellently mentored”–by a powerful man. Or, in fact, many powerful men. I happily declined the talk show opportunity–and went back to my diapering.
I did read the book, and gave a copy to my daughter (a writer) and her partner (an advertising executive), two successful women in their mid-late 30′s, mid careers, parents to three children under 4. They perfectly fit the demographic that causes so much concern to all of us as we try to figure out how to keep smart women in the workforce. In my daughter’s case, Yale & Harvard bred, she reports that most of her women schoolmates are at home raising the babies.
That’s a notion anathema to women like me, single mothers who don’t have the choice. I raised three children on my own: one I birthed, one I adopted, and a third I shared with his biological mother, who was unable to care for all of her children. My mother, number 13 in a family of 15 Alabama farm children, thought I was crazy. She had a strict China policy: only one child per family. But…I thought I could have it all. As a television reporter, I had a good income. It was still a scramble. And then I went through the caring for ailing parents phase. Now that was really a scramble.
It occurred to me as I finished reading Lean In, that I had a sense of great relief: thank God and Medicare that the enormous striving that goes into building a life and career and family are behind me. Not that I don’t have goals, plans, dreams (the big book, a couple of smaller ones, half the year working in an orphanage in Africa) but that the raw focus and energy required to “make it” are in the rear view mirror of this particular Smart car.
So, I think about the twist on the advice given to working women: you can have it all, but probably not all at the same time. This year I got to burp and pace with my colicky babies. When I had my own, I had to hustle back to work to make sure I wasn’t replaced. I had a long spell of good income. Now that I self-identify as a writer (and rejoice in it) I’ve embraced the “less is more” philosophy. Sometimes it even works.
So, where do I fall on the Lean In continuum? Useful for a breath of the thin, rare air at the very top of the workforce pile. But I’m solidly on the side that the burden of change, the global resolution of our problems rests with employers and our government. While women are working their hardest, corporations and agencies need to mentor them by putting polices into place to ensure equal pay–just for starters. And then policies like paid leave that allow parents to actually raise our country’s children.
But–back to diapering for me. Big smile.
“The family must release him so that God may have his own way,” Andrew Mlangeni, told the local newspaper, the Sunday Times. “They must release him spiritually and put their faith in the hands of God. Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow.” The Independent
I’ve been thinking about this statement today–issued by a co-defendant of Nelson Mandela’s, and fellow prisoner on Robben Island. For the fourth time since December, the 94 year old leader and soul of South Africa is once again hospitalized.
I realize that both as a former reporter and a person, I am not ready to release Nelson Mandela either.
Covering the story of the end of apartheid and the freedom of Nelson Mandela in 1990 was the biggest and best story of my career. Watching him take that glorious walk out of Robben; standing outside his home in Soweto the next morning, seeing him waving to schoolchildren; and sharing the thunderous cheers of thousands of black South Africans who gathered in stadiums to hear his voice, waiting for his orders about next steps…exhilarating.
I was back again, traveling with reporters following New York City mayor David Dinkins as he met with Mandela. And worked the coverage of the historic Mandela visit to New York City. I felt, and was right, that there would never be a story to match it in terms of earthshaking, fundamental, revolutionary change.
But to me as a person, Nelson Mandela symbolizes something particular, emotional, internal. I suppose it has to do with grace, second chances, using your best next self to do good. Twenty-seven years in prison, demolishing apartheid, and then attempting to govern the unwieldy mess it left behind…I’m not sure which took more courage.
Another reason I’m not ready to give up Nelson Mandela: I remember my country and its citizens as brave and insistent against apartheid, making corporations and government respond to the outrage of bondage. I’m not saying it was easy or quick, but it got done.
Just by chance, I spent this afternoon with Lenora Taitt-Magubane, the wife of famed South African photojournalist Peter Magubane. It was Peter’s photos of the violence of apartheid in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s that documented its evil and moved the world. As we looked through Peter’s published books: the murder and savagery of a ruling minority, with some relief we know we are not there anymore, in so many ways.
I suppose it’s too much to ask one man to do more. The rest is up to us.
Monday morning, February 04, 2013 will be the beginning of the next life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Famous for her staggering work ethic, she has been on the job, she says, from the time she was 13 years old. On Monday there will be–presumably–a reprieve.
In her latest incarnation as Secretary of State she visited 112 countries, traveling nearly a million miles to hold 1,700 meetings with foreign leaders. She concluded this heroic stint with a virulent bug and fall, a concussion, blood clot–and five hours of testimony in Congress on the Benghazi attack. By almost all accounts, she clobbered doubters in Congress–and her doctors predict the same for her lingering health side effects: complete victory.
This week’s farewell tour with the networks, beginning with an unprecedented joint interview with President Obama, has only served to polish up her already shiny reputation. She considers one of her main accomplishments to be the restoration of confidence around the world in America’s ability and readiness to lead–a reputation seriously tarnished during the preceding administration. For Clinton’s lending of her smarts and popularity (nearly 70% approval rating) she deserves, and is getting, the thanks of the American people.
During one of her televised interviews she seemed genuinely not to know that a SuperPac has already been established for her run for president in 2016. At this writing “Ready for Hillary” has almost 52,000 Twitter followers and over 30,000 Facebook fans –with the opportunity of throwing money into a presidential effort coming soon. Hillary Clinton insists that at this point all she knows is that she will write, continue to work for women and girls, and may join up with her husband’s global work.
Like the rest of the world, I am eager to know about the next Hillary adventure. As a reporter I sometimes covered the Clintons–from Little Rock on election night, at the conventions, through the bad times–and believe she has the best shot of becoming our first woman president, and could do it in 2016. Her famous quote about violence against women not being cultural or custom, but criminal, stands out as a line in the sand the world must adhere to.
Today, in one of the final exit appearances, she gave a wide-ranging summation of her tenure at State before members of the Council on Foreign Relations. A guest in the speaker series “Remarks on American Leadership,” Clinton spoke for more than a half hour in a formal address, urging that we must understand that “leadership is not a birthright. It has to be earned by each new generation.” And that what we must do now is build a smart, flexible structure for it, “more Frank Gehry” than the classical Greek architecture we’re accustomed to; that reservoirs of good will will not last forever, they need to be replenished.
The four operative levers as she sees them are: “widening our aperture” to include the people of countries as well as governments, because they increasingly drive the economics and politics of a country; engage civil society in the nuclear non-proliferation agenda; recognize “the new Silk Road” of creating jobs here at home from countries abroad; and finally, what she calls “the unfinished business of the 21st Century”: equality for girls and women, and their inclusion in peace , security and economic building.
And, interestingly, Clinton had much to say about the media: correcting erroneous statements about our country, protecting the freedom of the internet (“the country that built the internet should protect it”), building a 21st Century state of the art approach to social, and all media.
Hillary Clinton had a very big close to her work at the State Department, one that left her in probably the best position of anyone thinking about running for president.
If she is thinking that.
Like many in these United States–and around the world–I am tuned into the second inauguration of Barack Obama: a time of assessment, a time of re-set of goals and hopes. The last time around I was on the Mall, one of the 1.8 million who wouldn’t have missed that historic moment for anything in the world.
Much has changed because of this man’s leadership. There is so much more to do. The question for those of us tuned in this time from the comfort of our homes: how can we help?
Here’s a piece I wrote from Washington, DC for The Women’s Media Center, my thoughts on the first swearing in of the first African American president.
REMAKING AMERICA, January 21, 2009
In the darkness of predawn, we walked silently through the streets of Washington to take our places on the mall. As the day began, there was no noisy jubilation, only the sound of forward movement, a determination to secure a spot to witness history. Mine was about midpoint among, we believe now, a million and a half witnesses.I stood next to a middle-aged man wiping tears from his face as his wife leaned into him; behind a mixed group of young men—black, Asian, white—in awe of the spectacle; in front of a group of older black women, quietly insisting the younger, taller ones stoop down so they could see. They responded quickly with a smile. I’ve never been in a more congenial, optimistic, unified throng.
I’m sure the others were like me: carrying our ancestors on our shoulders for a good look at what was about to happen. I carried my late mother, born on a farm in deeply segregated Lowndes County, Alabama, one of 15 children with a not atypical heritage: parts slave and slaveowner, even a few confederate officers tossed in. My late father was there, too. Born in a time when black men were denied first-rate educations, he and my mother nevertheless carved out a successful life in the old America, needing to fight every inch of the way against discrimination and unfairness. Because of that fight, their granddaughter graduated from Yale and Harvard.
I had that daughter with me, too, courtesy of texting—from the mall to New York City and back, our expressions of incredulity and celebration. A president that reflected our life experiences was now being sworn in: the crowds cheered and waved flags—American flags that belong once again to everyone. My daughter’s late father was with us: an immigrant from Jamaica who came to America as a dishwasher and created two signature New York City restaurants of his own. My son was on my mind: adopted as a baby, his heritage is Latino, his biological parents from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. But most essentially he is a black man in America. Suddenly, possibilities for him seem improved. And I thought about my granddaughter—due in April, a biracial child who will come into the world with a biracial man as President of the United States. The world for her will never seem alien. She arrives at a moment in history when she is actually a part of the narrative, not the subtext.
Barack Obama, in one sense, remade America by taking the oath. But the most important messages of this historic inaugural were not words—they were acts. On Monday here in Washington, D.C., we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Then still President-elect Obama took a paintbrush to the walls of a shelter for homeless teens—part of the declaration of a day of service in memory of the slain civil rights leader. Thousands more across the city did the same.
This is our true mission as we leave the scene of great celebration: to remember the homeless we saw sleeping in doorways as we made our way to the fancy inaugural balls last night. To determine acts to accompany the words that will counter the deepening economic distress we woke up to this morning—affecting, increasingly, not only the anonymous buried in the statistics, but people we know, perhaps even ourselves. To remember the women, still the poor and vulnerable of the world. And to remember that ever more importantly, we must tell their stories—tell them straight and strong so we move people to act, as well as think and feel.