Black and White: Houston Public Media Tackles Race Issues in MLK Day TV Special

By Megan Wadding

Houston Public Media is exploring the issues that face black and white communities in Houston during a 60-minute TV special, “Houston in Black and White,” that airs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, January 16, at 9 p.m. on TV 8.

The special is airing as part of Houston Public Media’s DiverseCity project, a yearlong multi-media initiative looking at what Houston’s diversity means for the city and is being co-hosted by Ernie Manouse, arts and culture senior producer for Houston Public Media, and News 88.7’s “Morning Edition” anchor, Eddie Robinson.

The DiverseCity project was launched last November to explore race and policing, according to Manouse, but the idea was born in the thick of the summer, during the time of “presidential conventions, controversies surrounding police brutality and cell phone cameras,” says Manouse.

“It just became obvious that race was an area we should be exploring,” he says. “At the same time, the station was entertaining the idea of the yearlong diversity initiative, so the stars just aligned.”

Manouse says the real challenge was how to give a new, fresh perspective or at least a new way of covering the topic that had not been done before.

“We decided to take a look at how our two different communities understand and interpret a variety of topics and then discuss the differences or similarities,” explains Manouse. “[We] wanted this program to look forward toward solutions and the future, as opposed to simply exploiting the negative and looking backwards.”

Robinson, an African-American gay journalist who’s a native of Mississippi, says he believes that the topic of racism is particularly important in the city of Houston.

“If you ask anyone the question ‘Is Houston really a diverse city?’ one might receive a ton of different answers from a variety of people,” he says. “Some people believe racism in Houston is getting better. Some people believe racism is getting worse. Some people might think racism is more widespread. Some people might think racism doesn’t exist at all.”

The special will feature four civil rights activists and thinkers on topics ranging from racism and Affirmative Action to police and the media.

The panelists on the show include Natalie Arceneaux, a business consultant and conservative talk-show host from C+A Global Group; Andrew Hamilton, PhD, an associate dean from the University of Houston Bonner Leaders Program; Deric Muhammad, a Houston-based author and activist; and Rev. Hannah Terry, an associate pastor from Fondren Apartment Ministry.

“The four [panelists we selected] had to represent both racial groups and both sexes, so we ended with two men—one black and one white, and two women—one black and one white,” Manouse explains.

Manouse explains that they wanted the panelists to be involved in their community, but not be traditional elected or appointed community leaders.

“We were looking for community voices—folks who work within their communities every day, hands on, influencing change one person at a time,” says Manouse. “[We wanted] to have guests that were true to their ideals, and could give us all a launching pad to start these same discussions in our own homes and within our own communities.”

According to Manouse, the show is broken up into six segments—diversity, education and equality, affirmative action, racism, policing, and the media.

Each segment starts with an edited montage of thoughts on these topics from the two groups, followed by the panel discussing the topic further, explains Manouse.

Mayor Sylvester Turner will open the show with a special message.

“The special ends with thoughts on how we can all move forward together with better understanding—a segment we entitled ‘Healing,'” says Manouse.

Manouse believes that while Houston is doing well overall, there are still many issues that need to be addressed and work that needs to be done.

“We need to continue to foster understanding and appreciation between all our diverse communities and support them to build stronger bonds and a better future for all,” says Manouse. “Houston is in the unique position to be a model for all other major cities.”

It is Robinson’s hope that the show stimulates more conversation and dialogue for Houstonians, especially since it airs the night of Martin Luther King Day.

“I’m hoping viewers see the significance of the show airing on MLK Night, as it speaks volumes relative to the principles of what Dr. King stood for [and] what he represented,” says Robinson.

Robinson also hopes that the show has a ripple effect that stretches out possibly to include lawmakers who have the power to make real change in Houston.

“Perhaps this show can also bring about awareness for more policies to be examined and for city lawmakers to consider taking more action; for community organizers to start paying more attention to the needs of families, to the needs of children, to the needs of law enforcement. Perhaps it might persuade an individual to even run for office,” says Robinson. “Hopefully, this show encourages action—whatever skin tone a person has—in order to help transform our city to where it needs to be—more diverse and inclusive.”

Houston Public Media will host a live Twitter chat during the special with the hosts and panelists to talk about the show and answer viewer questions. The community is invited to join the conversation using the hashtag #HouBW.

For more information, please visit houstonpublicmedia.org/diversecity.


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