Internationally renowned journalist Soledad O’Brien, the Harvard graduate who captured the lives of minorities in CNN’s Black in America and Latino in America documentaries, delivered a rousing speech in the Fredrick C. Hobdy Arena Sunday evening. The event, titled “Pioneers Paving the Way for Tomorrow’s Leaders” was presented by the Grambling State University Lyceum and the Departments of Political Science and Public Administration.
It began unofficially with a conference room reception with local students, faculty and members of the community.
O’Brien walked into the reception cheerily, sans entourage, and greeted everyone in the room.
She sat with senior mass communication student Angela Casson, a former intern for O’Brien.
Casson presented O’Brien, her role model, to the audience during the discussion.
“Tonight we stand for a woman who stands for us,” Casson said.
O’Brien thanked everyone for standing, encouraged them to have a seat and said that she didn’t feel like a pioneer.
“I just do my job,” O’Brien said. She centered her talk on the importance of multiple solution to problems.
She emphasized that racial discussions are often “icky and uncomfortable,” but are vital.
When students asked her how to overcome biases, O’Brien asked listeners to think about how badly they want their goals and about the people in their circle.
“You can’t let the people around you define who you are,” she said.
O’Brien shared anecdotes about post-Katrina New Orleans, in addition to post-earthquake Haiti and Chile.
“Those bodies were not a top priority,” O’Brien said of New Orleans residents.
O’Brien, who told students that they are the future, made Casson a priority.
“Two years ago on the set of Black in America is when I met Mrs. O’Brien and I was her runner . Last year during the Essence Festival in New Orleans, I saw Soledad again and she asked me what were my postgraduate plans.
“I told her I planned to move to New York in hopes to becoming an associate producer… (She) invited me to come to New York as an intern.
“There was no pay involved, so my family collected $3,000 in order for me to travel to up there.”
During Sunday’s event Casson interviewed O’Brien onstage, and Casson’s O’Brien compilation video was shown.
Interim President Dr. Frank G. Pogue welcomed O’Brien and presented her with a Grambling pin.
“We create legends here,” Dr. Pogue said. He added that the Grambling community was “honored to have Soledad here and felt that it was important as well as memorable to have such a prominent individual here.”
Dr. Pogue joked that O’Brien should wear the Grambling pin on CNN and if she’s seen without it, write a check to GSU for $100.
O’Brien responded that she wasn’t allowed to wear any pins on CNN, but she’d gladly write the university a check for $10,000. The audience burst into uproarious applause.
O’Brien signed autographs and took pictures with the public after the event, but the O’Brien inspiration effect didn’t end there.
“It gives us hope, that people still recognize the university as a distinguished black college in America,” said Grambling State University freshman David Freeman.
The segment of O’Brien’s speech that left the biggest impact was when she said that the worst thing people can do about injustice is nothing, Louisiana Tech sophomore Justin Beasley said.
“(She) reminded me of my true purpose, to be a voice for those who are voiceless,” Beasley said.