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The scar on Russell Contreras’s cheek comes from his high school days, when he tried to help a white classmate escape a pummeling. His school in Houston, Texas, had been integrated in the 1970s, and one unfortunate byproduct was a campus ritual called “white day”—the day that black and Hispanic kids would randomly pick on white classmates and punch them. Thus, for all its good intentions, school desegregation in Houston had backfired in a sad way. While the campus was integrated, there hadn’t been enough attention paid to how the students learned the larger life lesson of how to live, study and work together.
On Monday morning, I joined hundreds of family members, friends, journalists and funders in mourning the death of Dori J. Maynard, the president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and an unflinching critic of the news media’s treatment of African Americans and other minority groups. She passed away on Feb. 24 from lung cancer at the age of 56. Later that night, I conjured Dori’s spirit, values and teachings to help students in my media class at San Francisco State University understand the need to promote diversity in journalism.
A “Grand Bargain” dreamed up by a federal judge and funded by a covey of foundations has helped to rescue the city of Detroit from bankruptcy and $18 billion in debts. Now comes the hard part: rebuilding the public’s trust in government and the schools, repairing frayed relations among various racial and other groups, and wooing new residents, businesses and investors.
That means changing people’s perceptions about Detroit, making people believe that it is the place to be, rather than to flee. How journalists portray Detroit as it emerges from bankruptcy will have a big impact on the public’s perceptions, not just locally, but nationally as well.