Soledad's Special

CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien took a fascinating journey over the last 18 months. She told SheKnows that making the multifaceted documentary "Black in America" was as important an assignment as she's ever pursued.

Soledad shines

When SheKnows caught up with O'Brien, the "American Morning" anchor was effervescent and enlightening.

Soledad O'Brien discovers deep perspective across AmericaShe was quick to credit the fine news culture at CNN with allowing her the opportunity to even broach the timely subject via a two-night look at "Black in "America." First, airing at 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. Wednesday is "The Black Woman and Family." The final instalment arrives at 9 p.m. Thursday, "The Black Man."

"We are free to explore what you want to explore," O'Brien said of her network's encouraging creative culture. "I felt very supported in having a strong voice in what I'm trying to achieve."

O'Brien and CNN (with the help of Essence magazine for the July 19 "Reclaiming the Dream" forum) delved into the heart of the country to discover what, if anything, has changed in the 40 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

Walking with the citizens across America spotlighting their experience is one mission of O'Brien's "Black in America" journey. Specifically, the documentary puts a face on a the everyday people across the nation and what the program's title means to them.

A startling truism

Traveling the country, quickly one issue permeated. "There were some things that were universally true," O'Brien said.

"We noticed the degree to which black people would talk about having to tell their sons at eleven or twelve how to deal with the police. It was a common theme. I heard it so many times. It just stuck out."

Geographic location, economic status, the sentiment was the same. "Across the spectrum they would say, 'When my son turned eleven, I had to tell him about if you are stopped by the police, this is how you need to act.' They all wanted to make sure he would survive," O'Brien said. "It didn't matter if you were the poorest in Detroit or the wealthiest Hollywood celebrity, those types of conversations white people do not have with their sons. People have discussions about respecting authority, but not about what to do with the police. After a while, it became breathtaking. It was a universal story."


A first name for news

"We have the most amazing editorial team," O'Brien said and smiled. "It's such a great team of people who are always saying 'That's great. Let's talk about it and flush it out.' I like that in any editorial team."

Having the luxury to traverse the nation searching for the truest representation O'Brien could report that would embrace her special's hefty moniker was a blessing she again credits to the news team at Turner.

From Hollywood to Harlem, CNN delves deep

"You know, it's more than having someone say yes to an idea. When you have projects that you are passionate about and they believe in you, they say they're going to write the checks that pay for these projects, it means so much," O'Brien said. "When they give you the hours you need to work on it for 18 months, I really found that the most wonderful thing about this project was the support I received from the network. I couldn't believe how much." 

An election of change?

"When you look at the Obama presidential campaign, a lot of those stories in 'Black in America' had some resonance through his progress through the primary season," O'Brien said.

A pivotal moment in American history looms large over 'Black in America'

Documenting life in 2008 in America while a black man was creating a groundswell in the Democratic primary provided a dimension O'Brien never expected.

"What's interesting is to interview people while this phenomenon of Barack Obama is going on. To interview in that context as we sat there watching his progress, was incredible," she said. "To begin with 'He can never get it,' to 'He might make it,' to 'Oh, my God, he's going to do it,' it was very interesting stages to go through."

CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien visits the Civil Rights Museum

One election will not change things too drastically, O'Brien says, even if the victor in that contest shares a personal history with those at the heart of her "Black in America" two-night report.

"There's such an incredibly long history in this country that one election, one day, is not going to change the fact that the history of this country is rooted in slavery," O'Brien said.

What has changed in 40 years?What to do? What will cause the change if even the highest office in the land still leaves America divided by race?

The truth

"What's more likely to change is the conversation where people recognize the need for a dialogue," O'Brien added. "That is what will cause the most change more than anything else."

"Black in America" is set to air and if there was any exhaustion present in O'Brien after an 18 month soul-searching trek, she's a better actress than a journalist because she lit up continually throughout our conversation.

"Over the last year, it has been a vigorous schedule and challenging subject matter," she said. Guess the old adage is true, making a change is an arduous process, but through journalistic endeavors such as O'Brien's, it is clear that progress is continually being made. "It's been 18 months really of a long, huge effort that is so deeply interesting."

"Black in America" is broadcast Wednesday and Thursday at 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. on CNN.

Don't miss the trailer, courtesy of CNN:

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Comments on "Soledad O'Brien discusses "Black in America," a CNN special report"

Mark S. Hampton December 05, 2009 | 10:22 PM

Soledad -- This conetnt needs to be on your Black in America Series I continue to hear conversations like these and I tire of them because our debate remains interesting which only serves to stimulus us rather than be compelling which would drive us to action. The enemies of advancement are never concerned with ideal conversation especially when there is little movement behind it. In the last 40 years African Americans have engaged in a conversation of social politics and as we do this we continue our rapid decent into mediocrity and insignificants in America. The "cause" of leadership has been replaced with the person or position of leadership. Dr. King had a "cause" and that cause made us better, now we have leaders who do better as the followers do???????? Our challenge as African Americans is "BRANDING" WE HAVE A MARKETING PROBLEM. Right now our BRAND is very bad and until we change how we see ourselves education can't even help us. For example: We are more educated than every yet we have the worse statistics from education, the criminal justice system and of Corse intact families. In my estimation the most significant “cause” African Americans should engage in -- in the next 10 years is "RE-BRAND OURSELVES”! The BRAND CALLED BLACK must return to its prominence and significance if we will continue to making strides in our communities, homes, businesses, churches, American and around the world. Do you remember our BRAND? It is the BRAND that was non-violent; it was the BRAND that fought with sophisticated strategy for our families and future generations. It was that BRAND that treated women with the utmost in respect, it was that BRAND that sacrificed and dreamed dreams as we became that BRAND of invention after invention for the good of its people and man kind and we did it while we lived a night mere. This is the BRAN CALLED BLACK! It was a respectable BRAND, a dependable BRAND, and influential BRAND and a motivated BRAND. This is our real BRAND and it must return! I have much more to say...... Feel free to engage me in this conversation Mark S. Hampton Lecturer / Author Email: askmark@ftlleadershipgroup Http//: www.ftlleadershipgroup

Jonna August 30, 2009 | 4:23 PM

Whoa...seriously Naji where you got your info from is beyond me and Soledad Obrien. First and foremost please do some research on her family background before you come out with these ridiculous comments. If you had so you would have found that her mother whos name is Estella is Afro-Cuban. Now if you know anything about afro-cubans they are simply Africans who migrated to Cuba and carry the Cuban part because they are spanish speaking once they have lived there and family generations have lived there. Where you got Austrian from I dont know, Soledad's father is an Irishman who moved to Australia and also where he was brought up, but he himself is not Australian. If you ever heard Soledad speak of her childhood, which im assuming you have not since you came up with these ridiculous claims, you would know that she stated how when growing up she was told from both her mother and father she was simply a light-skinned black girl who just happened to have a white father. She also talked about how in highschool she knew she would never date because she was different trapped between two races and other races didnt know how to respond to that, and she stated on numerous occasions how her youngest daughter's hair is more like african textured hair and how her husband caused it to frizz up once because he didnt know how to deal with that kind of textured hair. And if that wasnt enough prove, simply lookup how her parents had to get married, because her mother was of african decent it was illegal for her to marry a white, and if you know anything about American history you know not to long ago interracial marriage was illegel here.

Ortiz May 20, 2009 | 6:59 PM

Soledad's mother is a black woman born in cuba, the black people in cuba are more African than the blacks in America are. Soledad was raised as a black American so be quiet.

Naji March 28, 2009 | 11:46 PM

Soledad Obrien, is not of African decent, it is a sad state of affairs when we let anyone join the Black Writers guilds when they aren't black; she is indeed without identity neither being from our bloodlines nor strictly from theirs (Austrian) yet she wishes to be. we must understand the danger here, she wishes so she feels she is. This gives her no license to comment on nor poke her nose into our business, We would like her to fully and completely disown her supposed shady claim of being African American or decent in any way, and to let go of any journalistic lapel felt obligation to comment or mention anything about our community. To my knowledge none of 'Us' have neither invited nor requested nor appreciate her tainted contributions towards our communities. We as African decendents have a great and mighty heritage which if her mother wanted to preserve would have married into this culture and closed the gap and question of ambiguity of her nationality. But instead the half breed desired to be even more among the strange people of Austria who hurt our fathers while in Africa. Her mother was a sellout and her sad attempts to straddle the fence is scene and taints all of her perspectives which should be at the center of our protest. some how we must reach the one who controls what she speaks on and have them get the message that she is offending all respectable African, and African Americans who hold fast to our heritage. Finally, she gives a number that is supposed to represent the number of mixed bloods and melados as being 7million yet the United states does not even diliniate that type of American in its sensus tracking. Also she indicates that wite male americans should be choices for African American women and makes no mention that perhaps if their is a shortage that Africans would be the best candidates for marraige, when she doens't even know that African American Men never marry black women who have been dating outside of our culture; nor that they are scene as comforting our enemies who mock and hurt us who inherited the wealth from their parents who ripped off our parents and who make no apology to keep the money but ignore the debt owed to our parents. some one reading this should contact CNN and have her stifled from discussing our affairs and stick to Austrian needs. leave us alone we are able to handle our own problems they are ours for crying out loud not yours, Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Daniel Lang February 15, 2009 | 2:18 PM

I watched the second half of the report and could not stop watching it. I found it as an honest a piece of journalism on black culture that I have come across. It took the broad scope of the subject and presented it a way to be grasp. I think it greatest benefit will be the conversation started among blacks. Great work. I think it matters, so I will say I am a white.

Brian M. Parks January 17, 2009 | 1:55 PM

I would like to see this report. Would someone kindly send me a link where I too could view this report "Black in America" please?

phyllis b jaeger July 29, 2008 | 1:28 PM

two questions why do these women keep having children with different men and never getting married, if i cannot get the father of my first child to support it why would i have more children? also why do light skin black me (as spike lee always seem to only mary or date light skinned black women? i would like to see the women the good professor dyson dates.

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