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UNITY Executive Director
Opening a new chapter in the group’s history, UNITY: Journalists for Diversity hosted its first ever regional summit Saturday, attracting more than 70 people for an event on the homeland of the Oglala Lakota.
The free gathering, held at the new Allen Youth Center, pulled in journalists from eight different states and around 30 children from American Horse School. The children worked with cartoonists Lalo Alcaraz and Ricardo Caté on cartooning while adults attended workshops on social media, public records and starting a media business.
View photo gallery Alcaraz, a consulting producer on Fox’s new animated show “Bordertown,” raised more than $3,400 for the event and for art supplies. Caté also got area Santa Fe businesses to donate supplies.
UNITY President Russell Contreras said the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was a perfect location to launch the organization’s new effort to visit areas of the country facing challenges and that are often overlooked.
“We came to help the Lakota people tell their own story,” Contreras said. “I think in a few months, you are going to start seeing more stories originating from here and a more engaged community. This is just a start.”
The regional came after 57 children from American Horse School were racially harassed and doused with beer at a Rapid City minor league hockey game in January. Calls by the community and the tribe were made to get the story out beyond the usual stereotypical pieces.
Kevin Abourezk, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux and a higher education reporter with the Lincoln Journal Star, gave an emotional keynote address and told attendees it was important that Native American voices are heard in media. He said the story of the Lakota 57 hit close to home for him.
“I imagine my own children…being taunted and told they’re less than human,” Abourezk said.
Among the presenters were IRE training director Megan Luther, Associated Press northern Arizona correspondent Felicia Fonseca, Gazette.com site editor Dalton Walker and multimedia journalist Taté Walker.
Allen resident Justin Poor Bear, who helped get the Lakota 57 out of the hockey game, said he feared students would forever be scarred by the harassment. However, he believed the cartooning workshops and the event helped them heal. “For the first time since the incident I saw some of them smile,” he said.
A day before the summit, a group representing UNITY visited a number of Lakota sites and met with community advocates fighting poverty.
The group met with Nick Tilsen, executive director of Thunder Valley, a nonprofit who is building sustainable housing on the reservation near Kyle, South Dakota. The nonprofit offers financial literacy classes and wants to help residents build their own homes.
“We can end poverty on Pine Ridge,” Tilsen told UNITY, after staff showed the group plans for the development. “If we don’t allow ourselves to dream, what are we working for?”
UNITY is scheduled to hold its next regional event Sept. 12, at Wayne State University in Detroit.
UNITY Journalists for Diversity is a strategic alliance that:
- Advocates fair and accurate coverage about diversity — especially race, nationality, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.
- 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.