TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Attracting more than 140 journalists, students, academics and community members, UNITY: Journalists for Diversity held a successful regional media summit Friday at the University of Alabama in the heart of the historical civil rights movement.

IMG_3304A diverse population of attendees took advantage of workshops on investigative reporting, social media and opinion writing on the campus where former Gov. George Wallace once tried to stopped two black students from enrolling in school. Attendees heard from veteran journalists who covered the civil rights movement, activists still fighting for voting rights and a former racist who now works for racial reconciliation.

“I had on iron bar in my hand and iron in my heart,” said S. McEachin Otts, author of “Better Than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist,” who spoke at the UNITY luncheon.

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The idea of media summit was launched after UNITY president Russell Contreras began his term and immediately reached out to University of Alabama Department of Journalism chair Wilson Lowrey and instructor Meredith Cummings. “When I contacted them, they immediately asked, ‘when and where? Let’s do this’,” Contreras said. “They opened the welcome mat for UNITY and got the whole community involved. Their level of commitment for diversity is outstanding.”

The Asian American Journalist Association and AAJA board member Tomoko Hosaka organized the programing for the regional summit and secured important sponsors. Contreras said AAJA set the bar for future UNITY regional summits.

Among those who presented or hosted panels were CNN’s Johnita P. Due and Alabama Media Group Director of Content Development Roy S. Williams.

EveryBit CEO Eric Ortiz, who spoke on UNITY’s NewU panel on media startups, also put together a multimedia report on the gathering:

Contreras said UNITY chose Alabama because of its historic links to the civil rights movement and because the regional is often overlooked by other journalist organizations. “This is where the fight is and this is where we all need to be,” he said. “I hope this encourages other groups to come to Alabama.”

Eva Walton, ‎Alabama Faith Organizer at Human Rights Campaign, said she was glad UNITY came to her state and urged attendees to examine Alabama’s present with its past.

“When we talk about economics in our state, we have to talk about its history,” she said.


UNITY Journalists for Diversity is a strategic alliance that:

  1. Advocates fair and accurate coverage about diversity — especially race, nationality, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  2. Aggressively challenges that industry to staff its organizations at all levels to reflect the country’s diversity.

The UNITY board is made up of representatives from the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, and NLGJA: The Association of LGBT Journalists.

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