Bankole: Black journalists should tackle Detroit inequality

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

The late George Curry, a pioneering black journalist who clashed several times with former president Barack Obama’s administration over a range of issues, including what he believed was the administration’s unfair dealing with historically black colleges, used to remind us that black journalists have an obligation to tell the truth.

Curry, during our periodic Sunday evening phone conversations, would always talk about why blacks who wielded the power of the pen and microphone ought not to give a pass to black politicians. Some of the conditions in urban cities across the nation, Curry would explain, are not only a function of the vestiges of institutional racism, but also the result of black political leadership failing to deliver for its constituency.

Exterior of Cobo Center ballroom.

Curry’s message echoes even louder now as the National Association of Black Journalists prepares to come to Detroit Aug. 1-5 for its convention. 

The annual gathering of thousands of journalists from around the nation should be an opportunity to explain to a wider audience how and why Detroit is currently at a crossroads.

That means the convention should also serve as a forum to lay bare the complexities of Detroit’s recovery by presenting a balanced picture of how there is more to the city than what the public relations machine may want to produce for attendees, who likely will be greeted with refrains of a comeback. 

The NABJ, which last held its convention in Detroit in 1992, owes to blacks in this city a hard look at the causes of income and wealth disparities and the degree of inequality facing many Detroiters.

As journalists, we have an obligation to tell the story of the experiences of those individuals, some of whom have been driven to the margins as well as to explain why sporadic investments in some neighborhoods have not done much to stem the tide of inequality. 

Because at the center of the “other Detroit” that largely feels ignored are the stories of many who feel trapped in the city’s marginalized neighborhoods, where childhood poverty and deprivation persist. 

That also includes families who have had to contend with the difficulty of living with lead in their homes, as a Detroit News investigation recently reported.

But Vincent McCraw, the president of the Detroit chapter NABJ and breaking news digital editor at The News, assures me that these issues that are central to the revitalization of the city will not escape the convention spotlight. 

“The nuances of the revival in Detroit is not lost on the leaders of NABJ,” McCraw told me. 

Flint will not be forgotten either.

The fact is that NABJ was created by journalists who had a knack for reporting stories without fear and who were pacesetters. They distinguished themselves in their respective assignments. 

Among them was Chicago’s Vernon Jarrett, whose legendary work as a columnist and broadcaster anchored on asking tough and uncomfortable questions of politicians and making them squirm. 

But what Jarrett did was not misplaced. It is exactly what Frederick Douglass admonished in 1847 when he said, “In the grand struggle for liberty and equality now waging, it is right and essential that there should arrive in our ranks authors and editors as well as orators, for it is in these capacities that the most permanent good can be rendered to our cause.”

In Detroit, we expect nothing less from the meeting of the nation’s largest organization of black journalists.

In its 2017-20 strategic plan, the NABJ noted that it plans to work toward “greater coverage of issues relevant to the black community,” something that is needed given how some of those issues are under-reported.

It can start in Detroit, which is ground zero for the issues the group sees as important to blacks.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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