Conversation about race and law enforcement filled the Staller Center for the Arts on February 16 as award-winning journalist and Long Island-native Soledad O’Brien brought her Black in America Tour home.
O’Brien, whose father Edward O’Brien taught fluid mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook University, grew up in St. James and graduated from Smithtown High East.
“I’m excited to be back on the Stony Brook campus,” said O’Brien. “My dad was a founding professor, and I literally grew up on that campus. It’s been a thrill to come back over the years to meet with journalism students.”
Hundreds of students and locals attended the event, which included a panel discussion with New York feminist author Joan Morgan, Brooklyn-born former NBA player Etan Thomas and New Yorker Luis Paulino, who was featured in O’Brien’s recent CNN special on police tactics titled “Black and Blue.”
Video of Paulino’s 2012 run-in with the NYPD, which later went viral, was among a reel of relevant clips O’Brien played for the crowd to fuel discussion. Other topics included the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the police-related deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
“These killings [of Garner and Brown] have rightly galvanized national attention because of the strong public perception of the excessive use of force to a tragic and irreversible degree and because the legal system handed down no indictments,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, speaking at the event. “Yet these killings are symptomatic of a far broader problem that we are here to discuss tonight: the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities.”
O’Brien created the highly successful Black in America and Latino in America documentary series for CNN. For her work, she has earned the Emmy Award, the George Foster Peabody Award, the Alfred I DuPont-Columbia University Award, the CINE Golden Eagle Award and “Journalist of the Year” from the National Association of Black Journalists. In 2013, she launched Starfish Media Group, dedicated to uncovering and producing empowering stories about issues of race, class, wealth, poverty and opportunity.
To learn more about the tour, visit iamtheconversation.com.
— Brian Smith