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U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings Will Headline NABJ Region 1 Conference April 29-30 at Morgan State Univ.

Friday, April 8, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Aprill Turner
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U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) will be the headline speaker at the National Association of Black Journalists’ Region 1 conference April 29-30 at Morgan State University

By Benét Wilson

 The event, “One Year After Freddie Gray: Navigating Social Justice in Journalism,” will be a major gathering of community members and journalists who will look back on the lessons learned over the past year since Gray's death. It will include a major town hall, workshops and nationally known speakers.

The circumstance surrounding Gray's was the spark for violent protests over police brutality in predominantly black neighborhoods of Baltimore. His death also brought to the forefront issues on police accountability and community relations and a call to increase diversity in the media.

Region 1 Director Johann Calhoun felt Baltimore was the ideal location for this event for several reasons. “First, Baltimore was formerly part of the old NABJ Region 2, which covered Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C., while Region I covered everything north of Delaware,” he said. “There was confusion as to who was a part of the new region. We thought choosing Baltimore would be the best way to bring former Region 2 members into the new Region 1 fold.”

Second, Baltimore is an important and historic African-American city, said Calhoun, who serves as news and special projects editor for The Philadelphia Tribune.

“It is a majority black city with a black city council and mayor, and it has many black historical areas that offered great potential for a regional conference or even a national convention.”

Third, the timing of the conference could not have been more perfect.

“The Freddie Gray killing made national news and touched hearts across America,” Calhoun said. “We saw this conference as a way to cover police brutality, an important topic in the African-American community, and couple that with the need for more diversity in news coverage. We need to see more people who look like those who live in cities like Baltimore covering news in their community.”

Nicki Mayo is the conference chair, president of the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists (BABJ) and a reporter for the Associated Press.

“This conference is a great way for everyone to get know others in the new Region 1,” Mayo said. “But it’s also important for attendees to hear from Baltimore’s newsmakers and journalists who were on the front lines of the Freddie Gray coverage.  After the national cameras left, local news organizations still had to cover the story, so it will be good to see what happened after the national media went away.”

Baltimore can represent any large city in the United States, Mayo said.

“It’s a blue collar town that had to revitalize itself after an economic downturn,” she said. “That downturn led to unemployment, increased narcotics use and a strained relationship between law enforcement and the community they were charged with protecting. And you will see the results of the breakdown of that relationship during this conference.” 

Zuri Berry serves as the Region 1 conference program chair and is the deputy managing editor for news and multimedia at the Boston Herald.

“My goal has been to offer attendees multimedia journalism training and top notch panelists to help our journalists better cover the news and at the same time better navigate the politics of racially charged incidents like that of Freddie Gray’s death,” Berry said.

Among the programs, there will be a social media panel moderated by April Reign, who created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag campaign. Reign and panelists — Michael Arceneaux, a writer for Complex and VH1, Candace Amos, the Daily News’s social media manager, Stacia L. Brown, a writer and radio producer and blogger La Janee Cosby — will discuss how journalists of color are using social media to their advantage and how social media is being harnessed to push stories that are often not covered by the mainstream press, Berry said.

There will be panels on becoming an effective freelancer, modern design, breaking into journalism, using Google Tools and a look at the role of the black press in the digital journalism space. There will also be a special panel hosted by the Baltimore Sun on covering the city’s challenges, particularly after Gray’s death.

“I’m hoping that people leave inspired, informed and ready to move to the next stage in their newsrooms,” Berry said 

Rep. Cummings will be on stage with Baltimore's leading anchorman, Vic Carter of WJZ-13 CBS, for a master class on interviewing high-profile politicians. There will also be an opportunity for conference attendees to ask questions. Cummings has said he will seek reelection for his House seat, passing on an opportunity to run for the competitive open Senate seat in Maryland.

Baltimore Police Chief Kevin Davis will also take part of the Together Baltimore Town Hall. Other panelists will include community organizer and radio host Faraji Muhammad, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple AME Church, NAACP Baltimore chapter president Tessa Hill Aston, Baltimore mayoral candidate and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson and  Korey Johnson, a member of the local activist group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.

“The town hall will discuss how Baltimore can continue to move forward after the unrest and after the trials of the police officers allegedly involved in Gray’s death,” Berry said.  “We want to have a vigorous conversation about the media’s role in coverage of the protests. And we also want journalists to take notes and go back to their newsrooms and classrooms and share where we failed.”

Why shoud Region 1 members come to the conference?

“Because it can be very overwhelming and expensive to go to the NABJ national convention, and you can miss something. We’re tackling the most current issue outside of the presidential election,” said Mayo. “In one day, you can learn how to cover municipalities after the powder keg of racial tension explodes. It’s also a great and quick way to see how one city handled it, and what lessons you can learn if it happens in your own city.
Baltimore is known as Charm City, for its quirky, but welcoming residents, Mayo said.

“Attendees can come and see the Inner Harbor, catch an Orioles baseball game and sample our world-famous crab cakes,” she said. “They can also check out the Morgan State University’s new School of Global Journalism and Communication, led by BABJ and NABJ Founder Dewayne Wickham. You can come and eat, drink and be merry, but also be fed a lot of professional skills that only NABJ can offer.”

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