Saturday, October 4, 2008

Soledad Talks on Diversity

The 2008 22nd Annual National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC) Conference highlighted the strides made by the cable and telecommunications industries in embracing diversity, but speakers and attendees alike agree that there still is a lot of work to do.

Soledad O'Brien keynoted their luncheon highlighting CNN's Black in America documentary.

"My mother asked, 'What about Afro-Cubans in America?' I said, 'Can I get through this one first?'" joked O'Brien.

O'Brien's mother, a black Cuban, had to marry her white Australian boyfriend in Washington, D.C. in 1958 because interracial marriage was illegal in Baltimore where they lived. Her parents taught her and her siblings to persevere and to always find solutions around the obstacles that they would encounter in life.

Such determination, O'Brien said, was demonstrated by her elder sister, Estella, who fought against those who urged to abandon physics as a major at Harvard because women and minorities were not expected to do well in such an academic field. Her sister not only earned a master's degree in astrophysics, but doctor of medicine and doctor of philosophy degrees, eventually becoming eye surgeon.

And, while delivering the keynote speech during the opening ceremony for the University of Delaware's ninth annual Latino Heritage on Sept. 18, O'Brien noted that solutions for today's problems will likely emerge from diverse skills, experiences and backgrounds.
“Things are changing; we've seen it in this election cycle. Not only is the McCain-Palin ticket diverse, the Obama-Biden ticket is diverse. This is an opportunity to change the thinking. This is an opportunity to change the paradigm of what used to be to what we can expect to get - history will be made in this election cycle.”
O'Brien said the current climate is a sharp contrast from her own experiences years ago when she was denied jobs because she was either "not black enough" or wouldn't change her name, which was considered “tricky.”

The CNN team that produced Black in America was itself a diverse group. “High ability and high diversity gets you a bunch of smart people with very different experiences who can all add to the discussion,” she said.
“The time is now and the opportunity is now to have your voice heard. We have so many big issues we need to solve and they are not going to be solved by one smart person leading the way. These are problems that are going to be solved by everyone bringing their diversity to the table and throwing highly thoughtful and intelligent and wide-ranging solutions together. All of us, in our diversity, bringing solutions to the table. That is what's critical.”

O'Brien, who drew a standing ovation, also was honored by Newark Mayor Vance A. Funk III with a plaque naming her mayor of Newark for the day.

Soledad earned a bachelor's degree in English and American literature from Harvard University. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
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