The President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders released its report on Feb. 29, 1968, “condemning racism as the primary cause” of a recent surge of riots, according to History.com. Commonly known as the Kerner Commission, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed 11 people to uncover the causes of the riots and recommend solutions.
Fifty years later on Oct. 26, BYU’s student broadcast Newsline aired a special newscast as part of the Kerner+50 Symposium examining the state of race in America since the Kerner Commission. The Kerner+50 Symposium came out of an ongoing partnership between the BYU School of Communications and Morgan State University, a historically black university in Baltimore, Maryland, and also included West Virginia University. Both Morgan State University and West Virginia University also held panel discussions for the symposium, filmed at their respective campuses, and streamed to the other participating campuses.
The BYU Newsline broadcast included stories about black students’ experiences at BYU, the low percentage of black football players at BYU and about musician JTM, who previously went by James the Mormon. Immediately following the Newscast, BYU Radio’s Julie Rose interviewed UVU assistant professor LaShawn Williams, followed by a panel discussion filmed at the Newsline studio, moderated by former BYU Communications Professor Othello Richards and including BYU Professor Cameron McCoy and multimedia personality Tamu Smith, who recently helped produce the “Jane and Emma“ movie.
BYU Communications Professor Dale Cressman said the partnership started five or six years ago, with the intent that both campuses learn from each other. It began with faculty exchanges and later extended to student exchanges; it also allows students from both universities to work together on projects.
“We’re trying to build a culture that will make us more diverse,” he said.
Newsline reporter Karmen Kodia, who participated in the special newscast, said her experience as a black student at BYU has been “very interesting.”
“You feel like an outsider sometimes,” she said. “But I only see it as a teaching experience.”
She also said she feels this project has brought awareness to campus of an important issue, and she wants people to be more open minded.
“We’re still the same person. We have feelings. We’re a different skin color, but we’re still people,” Kodia said.
In addition, Newsline reporter Kadey Karras said since she and many of the other students are white, it almost felt inappropriate at times for them to be covering these issues. She also struggled with feeling unqualified to cover such an important issue she hasn’t experienced personally.
However, through her experiences working on the special newscast, she began learning that, as a journalist, it’s not her job to relate to the story as much as it is to provide information and bring awareness to the issue.
Newsline reporter Maren Cline said all the reporters put in a lot of hard work into their research and interviews, and they each tried to understand the issues as best as they could.
“I have learned so much, and one is just to listen to understand,” she said. “As we asked questions and we would listen, we just hoped we could open our hearts, open our minds … to understand the best that we could from our perspective.”
Newsline reporter Sydnie Storer said something that’s stuck with her from her interview with JTM is when he said people in the local community aren’t racist, simply ignorant. Storer, who is Hispanic, said in her experience at BYU, she’s seen people of various cultures sticking together, probably because they’re more comfortable that way.
“I don’t feel like people here are racist. I just think people of specific cultures like to stay with people of specific cultures,” she said, adding how that doesn’t mean people of different cultures can’t or won’t be friends.
“I feel like everyone generally is really kind,” she said.
Multimedia personality Tamu Smith spoke on the discussion panel with BYU professor Cameron McCoy. In an interview with the Daily Universe, she said it was great to be part of the conversation, but “this is a conversation that has never died down in black communities. I think it’s great that now institutions and people want to participate and re-examine themselves, but it’s a conversation that we’ve always been a part of.”
She also said she hopes the project shows people that unless they’re willing to be uncomfortable, nothing will change.
“They need to check their comfort zone, and if they are comfortable then that should tell them something,” Tamu Smith said.
McCoy agreed with Smith and said the people who need to hear the conversation are never around while it’s happening.
“You don’t want to have that reside in an echo chamber, but it needs to get out,” he said.
“If reform doesn’t occur, we’re just informing each other.”
However, he added the special broadcast was “a great opportunity” that both he and Smith were glad to be part of.