I opened the mail last week and low and behold the package contained an author-autographed copy of “Alone atop the Hill, Pioneer of the Pioneer Press” an autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, the first African-American female journalist accredited to the White House.
Okay. Let me tell you why this is important. I used to be Washington Bureau Chief for The Detroit News at the turn of the millennium – in the early 2000s. I was one of six women and one of three racial minority bureau chiefs out of about 435. The odds were certainly stacked against me as a woman and as an African American.
The need for black voices in Washington, and in all media, is crucial. We tell our stories often better than anyone. We bring a perspective that is filled with history, understanding and, yes, empathy.
While black journalists are charged with remaining objective and fair in their coverage of everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to immigration and health care, we also carry a moral obligation to tell it like it is and to bring a certain perspective that white reporters may not bring.
That is why the story of Alice Dunnigan is so important. She was a trailblazer. Not only was she the first black female reporter accredited to the White House, but she was the first black reporter to travel with a U.S. president, to be credentialed by the House and Senate Press Galleries, to be accredited to the State Department and the Supreme Court, and to be voted into the White House Newswomen’s Association and the Women’s National Press Club.
Last week, the National Press Club honored another black icon – Gwen Ifill – for her work in covering politics in Washington. Even in 2015, we continue to blaze trails, and tell our stories.
Now more than ever we are telling our own stories – not only in the written press, but also on television.
Rapper, actor and producer Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) took seven years to get the movie Straight Outta Compton made because he wanted the story told with integrity.
Consider Lee Daniels’ portrayals of a King Lear-type family on the hit TV show Empire. Whether you think it is over-stereotype or not, it loosely resembles the lives of millions of black people around the world.
The queen of drama series, Shonda Rhimes, is the executive producer of the TV drama, How to Get Away with Murder, starring Viola Davis in her Emmy winning role as attorney Annalise Keating. And, of course, she writes the weekly pearl-clinching Scandal.
We need publications like South Florida Times, The Miami Times, Essence, Ebony and Vibe. While often times black TV – insert BET here – does more booty-shaking than news coverage, they remain an institution that represents some portion of our community.
The black press is committed to telling our stories. All of our stories – the rich, the poor, the Southern, the Northern, the HBCU-educated, the uneducated, the light-skinned, the brown-skinned, the passing-for-white, the middle class, the poor, the rich and famous and the Republican or Democrat.
It is our job to honor the legacy and work of women like Alice Dunnigan and Gwen Ifill and all of those that will follow. Our stories depend on it.
Alison Bethel McKenzie firstname.lastname@example.org is a veteran newspaper editor and former executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria.