CNN came to N.C. Central University last week to ask students what it means to be Black in America.
In support of its upcoming series by that name, CNN partnered with Essence magazine and Time Warner Cable to reach out to young African Americans about their experiences with race. The network took a traveling show to six historically black colleges and universities, including a stop at the Durham campus April 10.
"It's not enough to just market, we also have to give something back," said Keisha Taylor, marketing manager for CNN.
The event, held mostly outside the Alfonso Elder Student Union, featured a DJ, giveaways, a poll and a graffiti wall for students to write their thoughts. One of the tour's highlights was a video kiosk in which students could record their answers to several questions about race, history and being black in America. These iReports will be posted on CNN's Web site.
Taylor said it was important for CNN to reach out to this collegiate demographic because these campuses would be the birthplaces of future leaders, movers and shakers.
The tour's stop at Central began early in the day, as weekend anchor T.J. Holmes addressed students in a journalism class. He shared his career path and his experience in a field in which minorities make up only 13.5 percent of journalists at daily newspapers, according to a recent newsroom census from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. That proportion has remained about flat since 2007, according to the report.
"I don't think they should ever feel that their race will hold them back," Holmes said. "I think the individual itself is more of a barrier than anyone's race."
Holmes said he was somewhat disheartened with the pessimistic tone of some students.
He noted that several of the students he spoke with felt they were black Americans first and Americans second. This sentiment—a mixture of immense cultural pride and racial resentment—was echoed by many of the students who participated.
"To be black in America means to be an individual. That's what I feel it should mean," said Christina Robinson, director of publication for the NCCU Student Government Association. "But my views and society's views are two different ones."
Robinson said she was curious to see how CNN would portray students in the footage gathered throughout the day, a concern some students had with such a large media outlet coming to their campus.
Courtney Robinson, the student body vice president-elect, said she hoped the event would raise awareness, both on campus and off, about the issues faced by young African Americans. She hoped CNN's presence would provide audiences with a unique view on the subject of race.
"I think just being an HBCU we're sort of a microcosm of the world," Robinson said.
Recent events such as the murder of UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson and the Duke lacrosse scandal have magnified long-standing and historical racial tensions.
Alexander Jackson, an N.C. Central student, said he was pleased CNN took the initiative to speak to college students and allow audiences to gain greater insight into what it means to be black in America.
"I think it's very important that our country gets a look at the black college experience," Jackson said. "Being black in America is being part of a long tradition. If it wasn't for us being here, this country wouldn't be what it is today."