By Sharon Dunten, SPJ Regional Director, Region 3; freelance writer and photojournalist
ATLANTA, Georgia – Black men, especially young black men, are having an identity crisis, or to be honest, a continuing identity crisis. It is nothing new to see young black men depicted in a negative light in the media, in their own communities and within the workforce. NABJ, the National Association of Black Journalists is doing something to change that image.
As part of 2017 Black Male Media Project actualized by NABJ, the local chapter Atlanta Association of Black Journalists (AABJ) held a program, Black Male Journalist Initiative, on June 10, 2017, at Paschal’s Restaurant in downtown Atlanta. SPJ Georgia was sponsor for this event.
Invited panelists for the event included James “Jay” Bailey, chairman, Phoenix Leadership Foundation; Kevin Shine, creator, Writing Sessions America ATL; Les Montgomery, seven-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and photojournalist for CNN and Atlanta’s WSB-TV; Anthony Amey, sports anchor/reporter for Atlanta WSB-TV; and Palmer Williams, Jr., actor, writer, singer and director. He has recently appeared in Tyler Perry’s “Love Thy Neighbor.”
“All of us are products of our role modeling.” – James “Jay” Bailey
In an article from the Huffington Post, NABJ president, Sarah Glover, said, “NABJ has created the Black Male Media Project to combat the blotter-to-mugshot images of black faces, to create a fresh and real view of black men in America and across the diaspora and to help build trust in communities nationwide.”
The panel had comments and advice ranging from lack of exposure in education, negative perceptions of the black male and how the misconceptions of the music industry can affect the idea of success.
“Our grades (young children’s) are about discipline,” said Palmer Williams, Jr. In a study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, the state of Georgia ranking 40th among black males students with a 55 percent graduation rate.
“Do we really want our income status to be a “D?” he said. Williams said too many of black youth are more interested in “wearing our wealth” in the clothes they wear rather than “encouraging our power and honoring our people.” This can be also seen in how black men are seen in the television and the media, he said.
“Do we really want our income status to be a “D?” – Palmer Williams
Whether it is portraying a black man on the small or big screen, it is up to us to be “part of the vision as how people see us,” said Kevin Shine, executive consultant/A&R, Creator of Writing Sessions America, a singer and songwriter network. “We don’t need to be caught up in impressions, views and likes,” he said. Accepting ignorance is promoting it, Shine said.
As an actor, director and father, Williams said a “great dialogue” needs to be created and how the black community wants black men to be seen. This begins with controlling the destiny of our children and encouraging our power, he said.
James “Jay” Bailey said that black communities need a better way that has never been shown before.
“It is about plugging for our kids, he said. Bailey is co-founder of the Phoenix Leadership Foundation, a foundation dedicated to funding and creating programs that create positive role models for young black men. He frequently visits classrooms and talks to students from predominantly black schools.
“I went to 10 (Atlanta) classrooms and placed a $100 bill on a table in front of the students and said it was theirs if they could answer one question,” said Bailey. He asked the students who is Andrew Young, Jr.? None of the students could answer the question. Andrew Young Jr. was an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. He became a member of Congress, the mayor of Atlanta and a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Next, Bailey offered $200 for any student who could tell him who is Andrew Jackson. No student could answer the question. Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837, and sought to act as the direct representative of the common man, although he did own slaves.
Another example is when Bailey visited the Maynard H. Jackson High School in Atlanta. “Immediately the students assumed Jackson was a white man,” he said. The New York Times wrote that “Mr. Jackson, a great-grandson of slaves who won the first of three terms as mayor in 1973, oversaw the construction of what would become the nation’s busiest international airport, endured a horrifying two-year spree by a serial killer and rising homelessness, and helped win the designation of Atlanta as the host city for the 1996 Olympic games.”
“It is about the human factor, human capital,” said Bailey. In a community where black men are not always present, it can deter young black men to seek guidance elsewhere. “80 percent is about showing up,” he said about fatherhood. “All of us (on the panel) are products of our role modeling.”
“We strongly believe that by exposing young men to opportunities, experiences and people beyond their environment, we will lead them to a better future,” states Bailey’s leadership organization’s website.
“It is up to us that these stories are told.” – Anthony Amey
Part of role modeling is seeing black men in positions of authority. Anthony Amey, sports anchor and reporter from Atlanta WSB-TV, said that more black men need to be making decisions. “We need more people in the room,” he said. Do journalists have more opportunities to portray black men in our community? “It is up to us that these stories are told,” said Amey.
He spoke of Falcon fullback Derrick Coleman who is legally deaf. “He overcame his disability and is a master of lip reading,” said Amey. Reporting on the human side of black men has given him an opportunity to show the other side of black men. “I am very humble when I am able to do my job,” he said.
Les Montgomery, retired journalists and seven-time Emmy Award-winning professional journalist and photojournalist for CNN and Atlanta WSB-TV, has broken the boundaries that many black men face to this day in journalism. “Name it, I had to cover it, including the Challenger explosion,” Montgomery said. His advice to young black men includes leading by example, be there on time and give the best effort you have.
“Name it, I had to cover it, including the Challenger explosion.” – Les Montgomery
His efforts have also led to Montgomery entering into the field as a NASCAR driver. Traditionally a white man’s sport, Montgomery, along with Wendall Scott and Bubba Wallace have entered into the world of auto racing.
Even so, Montgomery and other black men faced opposition.
In his 2008 blog titled, “NASCAR After Magic” he said, “After over 40 years of involvement in NASCAR racing as a fan, a professional journalist, and than a driver/car owner, I’ve come to the hard reality, that at this point in time, it’s black racism that is one of the biggest barriers to black people advancing and achieving in this sport.”
“But things are opening up,” he said. Number 43 car and Bubba Wallace (Darrell Wallace, Jr.) competes part-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
While success may have come to Bubba Wallace, many black males need to be cautious about entering into the music industry without good people behind them. “Be careful. Some people don’t come from a good environment,” said music industry expert Kevin Shine. The music industry is looking for immediate popularity, he said, and the industry only teaches them marketing but not necessarily the enhancing or advancing their musical talents.
“Our music comes from the streets, but now it is about making money in the gang,” he said.
“For example, what happened to R&B? It is about content and the numbers, not necessarily about the music,” said Shine. Many in the music industry “can’t see money in it.”
“Our music comes from the streets, but now it is about making money in the gang.” – Kevin Shine
In an article in The Atlantic, many black R&B artists support Shine’s claim of devaluing R&B music. “The problem, many black R&B artists say, is the way that in-vogue club pop sounds have infiltrated the genre they love. So called R&B radio stations play music that, save for tracks from the likes of Trey Songz or Mary J. Blige, aren’t actually R&B – yet labeled as such because the black artists are sing them.”
Are black men “using our power to talk about what we ain’t doing?” said Shine.
Recognizing the dearth of minority journalists in local television, radio and print, a group of African-American reporters and photographers formed in Atlanta Association of Black Journalists in the fall of 1976. Part of the group’s purpose was to collectively use its strength to push the mainstream media to diversify. AABJ’s traditional professional development continues with workshops and travel abroad opportunities throughout the year for its members.
Sharon Dunten is a freelance journalist and photojournalist based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She is also the SPJ Assistant Regional Director for Region 3 and editor of SizingUpTheSouth.com. firstname.lastname@example.org.