PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor underlined how journalism and activism mix heavily in her work in a Martin Luther King Day speech via Zoom sponsored by several colleges in Michigan, including Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapis Community College.
Citing the late Rep. John Lewis exhorting activists to make “good trouble,” Alcindor said journalism was her “good trouble.” She argued “Each and every one of us is tasked at this moment, to use our talents, our history, our art, our skills, our networks, our resources, to bend the moral arc toward justice. And it needs to be bent and molded continuously for anyone to get any sort of justice at all.”
It’s the task of journalists to bend us and mold us continuously.
The college newspaper The South End reported Alcindor said she became a journalist because of the brutal murder of black teenager Emmett Till in 1955, and the resulting activism of his mother Mamie Till.
“Emmett’s disfigured face, and the courage of his mother and the journalist carrying his story, they called on me to be a professional witness and I comply.”
Alcindor did not imagine that she’d be covering similar stories of young Black men and women whose lives were threatened by falsehoods, stereotypes and a systemically racist political system, she said.
“That is exactly where I find myself and where this country finds itself,” Alcindor said. “Our world is filled with injustices and inequality, and it’s really up to all of us to use our God-given talents to figure out how to change it in whatever way we can.”
Journalism is just another form of activism:
“As I reflect on Martin Luther King’s goals, and the time period in which he lived, I can only imagine what he would have said if he was living through these times because right now the world is really messed up,” Alcindor said. “We are being forced to grapple with the nation’s original sin —slavery— and the cascade of inequity that followed the decision to steal the land from Native Americans to create America, and to build the nation on the backs of African Americans.”
A Michigan TV station ran a few clips, including Alcindor saying “What we’re dealing with now is life-and-death situations. This period is really forcing us to look at the virus of white supremacy coursing through every aspect of our nation and making us reckon with what kind of country we want to be.”
She quoted King: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy in this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people,” King said.
She added “So many people are silent in the name of being comfortable, of being safe. The lesson of these times I think should be to call out what is wrong when you see it and choose to be a voice for good.”
Like many leftists, she warned against “romanticizing” King into a soft mainstream: “He was someone who wanted radical change, who made people uncomfortable, who was arrested, who was assassinated.”
It’s kind of odd for journalists to warn of kooks being “radicalized” on the far right, but being “radicalized” toward the Black Lives Matter crowd is an urgent task for journalism.