Multiple barriers hinder vaccine response, HBCU grads preside over major news networks

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Kim Godwin, left, is a Florida A&M University alumna and is now the president of ABC News and Rashida Jones, right, is a Hampton University alumna and is now the president of MSNBC News.

By Wayne Dawkins
Special to the AFRO

In Maryland, the fifth Blackest U.S. state, 31% of Whites, but only 15% of Blacks were vaccinated, said Steve Pickett, a KTVT-Dallas anchorman and moderator of a virtual session last week at the National Association of Black Journalists convention. 

Hold up, interjected one of the 275 members at the session in the chat box. Actually, the numbers this summer improved to a 29% vax rate for African Americans here.

Still, the coronavirus vaccination numbers need to be better and the presenters and virtual attendees tried to offer solutions from multiple angles.

Associated Press correspondent Kat Stafford called the coronavirus pandemic “the greatest story” of our lifetime, and the story is about race. “COVID-19 has laid bare what is true about the pandemic,” added the Detroit-based writer during the back-end of a two-part plenary session Aug. 19. Stafford also said access to transportation in order to get vaccinated has been an issue in Detroit, where she is based.

Virtual audience member Denise Clay-Murray said in Philadelphia theCOVID-19 story had intersected with gun violence. Because of social distancing fewer case workers have been out on the streets to calm youth who might be prone to violence, reported the local NBC affiliate. 

In Los Angeles, journalist Bev White said she and colleagues reached out to faith leaders in order to find more diverse sources and anecdotes, the people feeling the pain most, for example first-responder service workers.

In a Global Village moment, the morning opened with Dr. Ian Smith moderating a virtual session from Kenya, interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Cameron Webb, the latter a member of the White House covid-19 response team.

What went wrong during the evolving pandemic? Asked Smith. Physicians and scientists gave the public guidance, then had to revise their statements.

“This was unlike the flu,” answered Fauci.

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” said Webb. “The science evolved over a year. At the end of the day, it was the science as we know it.”

Fauci, the most public medical source, also said, “Those who wanted to be mischievous found a target. I’m a scientist and director of an institute. Someone needed a villain. People of a certain bent want a bogeyman. It was me. 

“The misinformation being spread is unprecedented. I am part of a team. Politics have been thrust into this and has clouded the truth.” 

“Science is not linear or black and white,” said Ian Smith.

Cameron Webb advised journalists to engage local doctors because “they also know what they are talking about, and will chip away at the misinformation.

“Messengers matter. Sometimes, that narrative left communities behind.” 

* * *

TWO BLACK WOMEN, both graduates of HBCUs, are now presidents of TV network news divisions. Both barrier breakers spoke about leadership styles and career-building strategies at a noon Aug. 19 session. Don’t let naysayers slow your career climb was their advice.

“I was told I was good at writing, producing and presenting, but I would have to wait 10 years to become a manager,” said Rashida Jones, Hampton University alumna and now president of MSNBC News. “Don’t let anyone keep you down because of your age.”

“Keep moving,” as in don’t allow naysayers to discourage you during the career journey, said Kim Godwin,” Florida A&M University alumna and president of ABC News. She previously was a longtime CBS News journalist. Jones meanwhile advanced within NBC-Universal ranks.

Both women said the George Floyd and Breanna Taylor incidents were personally traumatizing and personalized their direction of news coverage.

Wayne Dawkins is a writer, and a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

“I had to embrace the fact that I was hurting. The fear was real,” Godwin told 160 attendees. “I was stopped by police for driving a BMW. Pause, acknowledge our pain, and cover the stories.”

Jones said “Yes, I have a Black teenage son at home who may see a traumatic video before me on Tik Tok. “We have more license and had to bring our authentic selves to the table.”

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

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