CNN journalist tackles diversity and her obstacles in media

By Nicole Schladt

“An Evening with Soledad O’Brien” began with CNN anchor and correspondent O’Brien slowly making her way across the stage in the Singletary Center for the Arts on crutches.

However, once she sat down before a full audience of UK students and community members, the evening took a fast-paced turn as she began to recount her struggle to achieve recognition in the broadcast television industry.

After all, “being slowed down is a new experience for me,” O’Brien said.

Introduced as “one of the shining stars on American TV” by Student Activities Board Director of Multicultural Affairs Jasmine Whitlow, O’Brien spoke Wednesday about her role in the journalism world as a multi-ethnic female reporter. Her talk was part of the SAB Leadership Speaker Series.

The daughter of a black Cuban mother and a white Australian father, O’Brien has faced cultural prejudice since her childhood days in Smithtown, Long Island.

Despite encounters with overt racism and sexism, O’Brien graduated from Harvard University and went on to become an award-winning anchor for CNN and NBC News.

Throughout the evening, she tackled the theme of diversity “on TV, behind the scenes, and in our lives,” according to the SAB program. She stressed the power of the individual to bring about change and the importance of overcoming obstacles on a daily basis.

“If there are obstacles, you have to work around them,” O’Brien said. “Just because someone says it cannot be, does not mean it cannot be.”

O’Brien shared several clips from documentaries she has produced, including “Latino in America” and “Black in America.” The interviews and stories found in these documentaries, she said, highlight the challenges involved with embracing culture and diversity in the community.

Many of the other stories O’Brien told during the evening were personal anecdotes from her new book, titled “The Next Big Story: My Journey through the Land of Possibilities.”

She mentioned her early years in the broadcast business as the designated staple remover in one newsroom, in charge of removing staples from bulletin boards around the station.

She also discussed her approach to being recognized as a minority in the journalism world: “Keep your mouth shut, do your job, and show them what you can do.”

When asked about her journalistic role models, she pointed to Latina reporter Gloria Rojas and CBS anchor Katie Couric.

“The role of the journalist is to stand still, take notes, and tell what happens,” O’Brien said. “I’m not in (public relations). I’m here to do news stories.”

Many audience members appreciated O’Brien’s straightforward approach to diversity and journalism.

“There is a high number of African Americans and Latino Americans in Lexington and at UK,” said senior Priska Ndege, member of the SAB Multicultural Affairs Committee. “Her talk empowered us all as minorities and students.”

Others said “An Evening with Soledad O’Brien” was truly an inspiration.

“I see people being looked down upon on a daily basis,” music education sophomore Rachel Arrastia said. “Her talk made me ask myself: how can I change students’ lives?”