There will be a UNITY 2020.
I end 2015 with confidence in that dream.
When the year began, few of us could have said that. UNITY: Journalists for Diversity had just announced it wouldn’t hold a conference in 2016. Some alliance partners had moved on. The group had named a new president and its revamped direction had yet to be set. A new executive director also took the helm with the task of helping reshape the organization.
But as 2015 closes, I can say I believe the new path UNITY now walks can, and will, led to a UNITY 2020 convention — new and improved, revised and updated, welcoming and vibrant. To get there, the journey which UNITY now travels must continue. New leaders, most who have not yet emerged, must be invited and engaged. A UNITY future must take priority over a UNITY past.
This year, UNITY changed its direction by holding its first ever regional media summit. We didn’t go to a resort. We didn’t go to a large city that regularly hosts journalism conferences. UNITY went to the heart of the poorest community in America — the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — where we held workshops on media engagement, public records and starting your own media startup. Nationally known cartoonists Lalo Alcaraz and Ricardo Caté raised their own money and got art supplies donated to hold art workshop for Oglala Lakota children, some who had just been victims of racial harassment.
After Pine Ridge, UNITY went to Detroit for a regional event at Wayne State University. Again, we held workshops on public records, covering poverty and race. We also held a town hall meeting at the National Arab American Museum on Islamophobia and anti-Arab American sentiment. Then, we went to the University of Alabama where we heard from journalists who covered the Civil Rights Movement and talked activists about current voter ID debates and treatment of immigrants in the Deep South.
We were assisted by our UNITY partners AAJA, NAJA and NLGJA. The Investigative Reporters and Editors partnered with UNITY on workshops, as did the Public Radio News Directors Incorporated. We also engaged in production conversations with the National Association of Black Journalists and envision more collaboration in the future.
Financially, UNITY ends 2015 with more than $200,000 in the bank and our financial outlook next year looks strong. But we have fundraising challenges in the future and can use your help to keep going. (You can donate here: https://goo.gl/dDqm6x )
In 2016, UNITY has its eyes set on possible events in El Paso, Oklahoma, Phoenix and Chicago. Again, our media summits will be focused on coverage of inequality, poverty and communities facing challenges. We hope to have conversations on the 2016 presidential election, covering LGBT refugees, and how communities can use media to craft their own stories. This is another ambitious effort and we are up for the task because this is not about us; it’s about the communities we pledge to cover.
If UNITY continues down this road, and we can convince new and old friends to join us, a 2020 UNITY convention is not a farfetched idea. Yes, much needs to happen until then, we need to craft a plan that makes good business sense and we need to show we are committed to our mission, but it is possible.
I look forward to my last year as your UNITY president and promise to do my best to fulfill our mission. We have begun the process at looking for UNITY’s next president and we will keep you informed on our progress. On behalf of UNITY executive director Eloiza Altoro, we thank all of you and hope to see you next year.
Russell Contreras, UNITY President