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'Black narratives matter' focus of Detroit forum

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Veteran journalist Vince McCraw, president of the National Association of Black Journalists Detroit chapter and a web producer at The Detroit News, welcomes attendees to the forum held at Wayne State University Law School.

Detroit — Atpeace Makita, an activist and mother of five, wanted to share her story of having her water shut off in 2014. But when she spoke to local media, she says, they kept twisting her words. 

"Local media kept setting me up asking 'well do you think water should be free and shouldn't people just pay their water bill?' Instead of the good work we were doing to help others with water shutoffs," the Detroiter said. "Then when national media like the Associated Press picked it up, I forced them to tell my story: 'If it's not about delivering water and helping people, I have nothing to say.'"

Makita was among nearly 100 people who gathered Saturday at the Wayne State University Law School to discuss how the media portray African-Americans. 

The forum was one of two dozen in the nation on Saturday as part of the "Black Male Media Project" of the National Association of Black Journalists.

The Detroit forum, hosted by Detroit NABJ, was titled "Everybody v. Black Men: How The Media Views Us." The national association, formed in 1975 and boasting more than 4,500 members, will hold its annual convention and career fair in Detroit Aug. 1-5.

Organizers held a panel discussion on Saturday with local journalists addressing the issues with how black men are covered in the media.  

Detroit City Councilman James Tate, middle, answers a question about pitching black-related stories in newsrooms from Andrew Humphrey, right.

"Social-media generated video has been huge in uncovering how black men are attacked for simply existing,” said Vince McCraw, president of Detroit chapter NABJ, in a statement. “This year, we addressed how media needs to change and new ways we can use to tell stories, to help build trust with and about black men.” 

McCraw is a veteran journalist and a web producer at The Detroit News.

Members of the panel included James Tate, a Detroit city councilman; Yusef Shakur, an author and activist; Kenneth Reed, spokesman for the Coalition Against Police Brutality; Odis Bellinger, founder of the Building Better Men mentoring program; and LaMar Price II and Trevon Martin, both from the Detroit City Youth Opportunities Magazine.

The forum was moderated by Andrew Humphrey, a meteorologist and reporter at WDIV (Channel 4). 

Tate, a former assignment desk editor at WXYZ (Channel 7), spoke on how he influenced newsroom coverage to promote diversity.

"During the weekend it was slow, and I could send reporters to graduation parties and community events for feel-good bumper stories in the neighborhoods that wouldn't have been covered during the week," Tate said. "We don't shy away from the crime but we have to get people like us in executive positions so they also understand what's important to cover."

Alicia Nails, director of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State, talked about why "black narratives matter," focusing on how there must be standards for reporting on suspects.

Alicia Nails, Director of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State University and secretary of Detroit's NABJ chapter, welcomes guests to the university law school.

Often, she said, the standards are overlooked. 

"I had to call WWJ the other day because they reported a suspect was a black male with hardly a description," said Nails, who teaches a class on reporting on race, gender and culture. "We can't report that all black men are suspects. There needs to be enough description to paint a picture of the suspect." 

Reed, with the Coalition Against Police Brutality, also is a community mentor for 370 young men. He talked directly to the young African-American boys at  the forum.

"We know we're going to see negative images of black men portrayed on the news, but to these young men, (I say) 'don't create the story, be the story,'"said Bellinger. "Get yourself into the position where they can only report on you getting a $100,000 check to college."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_