UNITY had its start more than 20 years ago in a conversation between two rival City Hall reporters in Philadelphia.
As they talked, Juan Gonzalez, a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), and Will Sutton, a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), were surprised to discover how much they had in common.
Their discussions of the issues they faced as journalists of color — and subsequent discussions with their associations and two others — culminated in plans for UNITY ’94, an unprecedented joint gathering of four national associations. This momentous gathering was a tremendous success, drawing more than 6,000 to Atlanta in July of 1994 for the largest known gathering of journalists in U.S. history.
A decision was made to hold another joint convention, and the stage was set for UNITY ’99 in Seattle.. . . to a national organization Planning for the first convention, and relationships forged there, also led to discussions about establishing a framework for ongoing collaboration. Representatives of the four associations decided that they shared common interests in:
- Improving the industry’s coverage of communities of color.
- Increasing opportunities for young and prospective journalists.
- Promoting diversity and helping others to understand its value.
- Fostering better race relations.
In 1994, they established UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc. as a permanent, not-for-profit, strategic alliance of journalists of color acting as a force for positive change to advance their presence, growth and leadership in the fast-changing global news industry.
The alliance includes the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association.
A pioneering model
UNITY Journalists does not merely espouse the virtues of diversity and cross-cultural understanding; it is a model of diversity in practice. No other organization or professional association can boast that it has attracted equal participation from all four of the country’s largest communities of color and worked to develop a fair and equitable system of governance. UNITY was recognized by President Clinton and the panel of his Initiative on Race as a model in the effort to “build one America.”
UNITY has become a vehicle for the different ethnic groups to work through differences while supporting and collaborating on a common agenda – a constantly expanding mission that is strengthening ties and understanding among communities. Given the importance of freedom of speech in a democracy, journalists play a crucial part in helping to shape American beliefs and actions; in UNITY, journalists learn from their differences and pool their resources in pursuit of common goals.
It may not always be an easy alliance, but it serves a vital purpose by modeling how different segments of our diverse country can participate equally in shaping the future.