CNN Soledad O’Brien Draws Attention to the Need for True Diversity and Acceptance

Af-Lat-Am commemorated 40 years of history with guest speaker Soledad O’Brien and a series of panels featuring Af-Lat-Am alumni this weekend. O’Brien, a CNN broadcast journalist, spoke in the Chapel last Friday about her personal experiences with diversity and social acceptance. O’Brien recounted her experience reporting on Hurricane Katrina, the misrepresentation of minorities in the media and the changing nature of politics and minorities. She said, “It’s not easy to be judged in one glance, either because you’re a person of color, a woman, a mother. It’s exhausting to continually have to prove yourself again and again no matter what you’re track record is, but perseverance is essential.” In her speech, O’Brien said that true diversity and acceptance could yield a new perspective of “multiple visions woven together.” O’Brien also spoke about her early struggles in breaking into journalism. According to O’Brien, an interviewer for a television anchor position asked if she would be willing to change her name. O’Brien said that she refused. O’Brien left the audience with a quote about her view of diversity as a shared responsibility. “The time is now. The opportunity is now. We have the opportunity to bring diversity and push for change, to open up the discussion for a ride range for solutions,” said O’Brien. “All of the giant issues that we face today are going to be solved by all of us, using diversity as a plus, to bring big solutions to these issues,” she concluded. Many audience members said that they believed O’Brien’s message conveyed the values of Af-Lat-Am as an organization. Patrick Wolber ’11 said, “Knowing that her speech was organized by CAMD, I figured the speech would about race or identity. She did talk about these things, but her points had a lot of depth, depth that went beyond minority, biracial and feminine struggles.” He continued, “All the things she talked about—persevering, pursuing what you are passionate about, the advantages of diversity—were presented in ways that applied equally to all people.” Ziwe Fumudoh ’10 said, “O’Brien’s speech definitely reflected the values of Af-Lat-Am. Her whole point was that little things make a difference. [Linda Griffith, Dean of CAMD,] pounds that into our heads, and that’s why we have things like the Af-Lat-Am mentor program– to help new students with their transition into Andover, making their experience just a little bit better.” O’Brien’s speech initiated an entire weekend of Af-Lat-Am anniversary programs and discussions. After O’Brien’s speech, Af-Lat-Am members attended an opening reception at the home of Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, and Elwin Sykes, Instructor in English. The reception was followed by a special dinner in Uppre Left with Jay Rogers, former Instructor in History. Almost 150 alumni participated in the Af-Lat-Am panels and events on Saturday. These anniversary events focused on the evolution of Af-Lat-Am over the years. Current students and alumni together discussed Af-Lat-Am’s role on campus from the 1990s to today. Kyle Ofori ’09, a participant in one of the student panels said, “[Af-Lat-Am] used to be an affinity group back when there were fewer black and Latino students at Andover, and no real resources to help them settle in to the school routine.” He continued, “Andover is now better able to accept minority students, and there is a lot more dialogue amongst students and teachers about what everybody needs.” David Brown ’95, an alumnus, said, “The series of panels on Saturday enabled us to interact with current students. It was very much a feel of past, present and future.” Chidozie Ugwumba ’99 said, “One of the things I got from the program is that the challenges students of color face change and evolve over time. I’m really impressed at how CAMD and Af-Lat-Am have evolved to address these challenges.” Andover’s stepping group, SLAM, also performed a routine at the anniversary events. Af-Lat-Am members established SLAM in 1994, and some of the founding members attended the events this weekend. Aniebiet Ekpa ’11 said that “the purpose of the [performance] was to demonstrate how SLAM has changed over time. Since 1994, the group has become a lot more diverse.”