For many Twin Cities journalists, covering George Floyd’s death and the events that followed has been the biggest assignment of their careers. For Black reporters, it’s something much more.
News gatherers are conditioned to keep their composure in the field, even when tear gas fills the air or neighborhoods go up in flames. Stay objective, stay cool. But that becomes a bigger test when race is the core issue, when you’re related to someone who looks just like George Floyd. When you could be George Floyd.
“I’m trained to keep my opinion out of the interviews I do, but I have 52 years of experience being Black,” said Minnesota Public Radio host Angela Davis. “We’re witnessing the pain and trauma that Black folks have had to endure for generations. I can’t separate myself from that because it’s my story, as well.”
To help get through the sleepless nights, local reporters of color lean on each other for emotional support. It’s a small club, since minorities are underrepresented at major media outlets throughout the Twin Cities.
Six Black journalists recently opened up about the struggles they have faced the past few weeks, revealing the challenges they normally only share with each other.
Anchor/reporter, KARE, Ch. 11
When I was a little girl, my father, who is a Baptist minister, matched the description of a suspect. Dad was pulled over, thrown over the hood of a car and held at gunpoint with multiple squad cars surrounding. I’m blessed. My daddy came home. My cousin, an Army veteran, didn’t come home. He got pulled over with a busted taillight. Police shot him 16 times. He was 26.
I sometimes share these stories with victims I interview to illustrate that we, unfortunately, have something in common.
But you can’t afford to let emotions get in the way. I think about people who work in hospitals. They’re surrounded by death, but they have a job to do. They keep moving forward. My role is the same. And it’s tough. I used to get migraines back in the day. When Floyd died, they returned. That first week, I didn’t sleep much.
When I do birth children, I don’t want to bring a little boy in the world. My white friends might not understand.
During the Jamar Clark coverage [after a 2015 Minneapolis police killing], a prominent figure in our newsroom said to others, “What’s wrong with those people? Can’t they just all get along and have a ‘Kumbaya’ moment?”
Maybe now that person and others will listen to “those people” they failed to hear.
Minnesota Public Radio host
My 18-year-old son is leaving home for college in the fall. I’m about to release him into a world of uncertainty that greatly resembles the world my grandfather grew up in.
He used to describe to me how he would be feared and underestimated just by being a Black man in America. Now I’m having those same conversations with my son. It’s like constantly ripping a bandage off a wound that won’t heal.
But we walk in faith. I can’t live in fear and can’t expect him to live in fear. That will hold us back. I want him to be bold and confident. But I also want him to be smart.
Still, most days I wake up with a sense of dread. I do try to plan some kind of activity I can look forward to every day, like planning a landscaping project or going to the gym. I’m not ready to jump into social events. I worry about getting into deep discussions that I’m not ready to have. I feel like we’re all grieving and I need to sit with that grief a while.
What gives me hope and fuels my optimism is the knowledge that Black people are incredibly resilient.
Founder and executive editor, Sahan Journal
I’m the father of three daughters, all under the age of 6. The other day, I heard my daughter, who just turned 2, say, “I can’t breathe.” I mean, she can’t even form full sentences. I’m not sure where she picked it up from, maybe her cousins or aunts. But it hit me really hard. I simply can’t wrap my head around hearing her utter the same words that George Floyd said in his last moments.
My 6-year-old and 4-year-old are asking good questions, like “Do police kill Black people?” and “Why is this happening?” You have to tell the truth, but you don’t want to give them horrific explanations at their age. I’m not always sure I’ve got good answers.
I started jogging during the holy month of Ramadan, maybe once a week. But I’ve stepped it up since the killing of Floyd. I’m already up to 10 miles. It’s good to have that mental space where I’m not scrolling through social media updates.
Getting away from Twitter helps. When I was out on the streets covering the protests, it was inspiring to see a lot of young Somalis on the front lines, wearing their hijabs. That definitely gives me hope for my daughters.
Anchor/reporter, KSTP, Ch. 5
Our 7-month-old daughter was playing on the living room floor when images of a police officer on George Floyd’s neck appeared on TV. She happened to look away from her toys and toward the screen. My soul immediately collapsed. I jumped up to cover our baby’s eyes. While I know we won’t raise her in a perfect world, in that moment, all I wanted to do was protect our child.
Even though I’m a journalist, I’m still a Black woman married to a Black man in America. Floyd’s death, and especially the two weeks that followed, deeply affected every part of me. Generations of my family and relatives have shared with me stories about their life experiences. I have my own stories, too. They stick to you, becoming a part of you.
My experiences as a Black woman, I believe, allow me to be more nuanced in my coverage as a journalist during this historic moment. They prompt me to ask people deeper questions, so viewers can understand the long-standing pain and challenges Black communities face locally and across the country.
I hope to make the world better for all of our children. That’s the fuel that keeps me going.
Sports anchor/reporter, WCCO, Ch. 4
The most impactful experience I had with racism happened during my middle-school years. My younger brother and I were fortunate enough to go to a private school; we were two of the only Black students.
One day, during my lunch hour, I saw my brother sitting in the bleachers away from the rest of his class. I found out he was in detention because a teacher saw him struggling with opening a banana and assumed he was playing with it as if to imitate a firearm. When our parents came to the school the next day, rather than understand where bias played a major factor, an administrator tried (and failed) to coerce my brother into agreeing with the teacher’s accusation.
Typically, by now, I’d be preparing to attend the National Association of Black Journalists convention. This year, it’s happening over the internet. It’s hard to find people you can relate to as both a journalist and a Black person, who fully understand the duality and the tactfulness required to operate successfully in that space. I would offer this to fellow journalists of color: Your voices are needed across the country.It can be uncomfortable to go where diversity is low, but the newsroom and community have as much to gain from your presence and perspective as you do from them.
Metro reporter, Star Tribune
Last weekend was the first time I really was able to take a few days off and not be in full-reporter mode. It gave me time to step back and realize the enormity of the moment.
One of the things I thought about was this interview I had with an older Black man. He said he was advising all his Black friends to do everything they always wanted to do right now, like apply for a small business loan, because six months from now, no one is going to care about their struggles anymore. I’m not saying I’ve adopted that mind-set, but his words really stuck with me. Sure, there’s a lot of hope and optimism right now, but there’s also skepticism from those who have been through this kind of thing before.
Maybe the biggest burden I’ve felt is trying to show readers and my editors that what happened these last few weeks isn’t a reaction to one isolated incident. We need to capture the pain and trauma that’s been building up for a long time.
Newsrooms, often through no fault of their own, can miss the point. We end up covering the report, the riots, the backlash, without providing the context. With this national reckoning on race and representation, maybe the importance of that context will seep deeper into our newsrooms and get them to elevate the voices of people of color.