Black Texas news anchor calls out racial inequality: ‘You can’t be afraid to stand on what is right’
EXCLUSIVE: DeJonique Garrison, evening news anchor for KBMT, is taking a stand against racism and discrimination
It’s been more than 100 days since protest erupted nationwide after the untimely death of George Floyd. The 46-year-old Black man died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds as Floyd lay on the payment in Minneapolis. The outrage over the deaths sparked global protest about racial inequality and police brutality, and it pushed forward a renewed agenda to fight racism.
The scope of the fight crossed barriers from healthcare to education to media. Black news anchors and reporters across the country are reporting the facts of each story of racial injustice objectively, while also fighting their own racial inequality battles. What’s not being reported is the trauma of the experiences once the cameras stop rolling.
Take the case of DeJonique Garrison, evening news anchor for KBMT servicing the southeast Texas region known as the Golden Triangle. Garrison was hit with her own wave of racial discrimination after she filed this editorial shedding light on racial injustices in June. Garrison–while looking into the camera–laid out an undeniable case of inequality for Black people and, in the aftermath of the editorial, the ugly side of America was brought forth. She was harassed and mocked, including a call for her employer to relieve her of her job duties.
“People often look to me to be that voice and so I never shy away from speaking up on racial inequalities, whether it be hair discrimination or very weird, nuanced racism that we see in the state of Texas. I’m very vocal in that regard, but I didn’t know what to say this time,” Garrison tells theGrio.
For historical context, Beaumont, Texas is situated near Vidor, which has its own storied place in history when it comes to matters of race. It was known as a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan and a “sundown town,” in which Blacks were not allowed in city limits after dark. As recently has the early 1990s, there was an ugly and bitter fight over a federal effort to desegregate public housing in the city. According to the latest census numbers, Vidor is 97% percent white, leaving three percent that includes people of color from all other races. Conversely, Beaumont is 47% African American and for Garrison being a Black woman on television in a small town carries weight.
“It is very important to me that we highlight these very highly charged events that are happening on the ground with local journalists who are trying to be a voice within this fight,” Garrison says.
There’s been an overt push from organizations like the National Association of Black Journalist to get newsrooms across the country to be more inclusive in their hiring process. Small towns are no exception. “Black viewers have told me this moment, for them, is like the first time they felt a sense of pride in our race because they are used to keeping their head down and going with the flow,” Garrison explains.
Meanwhile, Garrison isn’t taking for granted that her editorial sparked what some might perceive as race baiting. Many believe the attacks on journalists like Garrison have been partially fueled by the president of the United States. President Donald Trump has openly criticized and belittled the press throughout his time in office, but journalists have pushed forward in pursuit of fair reporting.
“We are unafraid. Yes, you have Black Lives Matter on a large platform, but you’ve got to have these foot soldiers in place to continue to beat the drum,” Garrison says.
She admits that her editorial was a bold move and she also admits that it couldn’t have been done if she didn’t have the full support of management at KBMT-TV and its parent company Tegna, Inc. (a publicly broadcast company). On a personal note, my career has taken me to place where I was the minority in the newsroom. It is often met with trepidation from other people who have spent their lives in certain communities without others. The small pockets of community that include people of color, however, look to people in the industry as their shining example of belonging.
Garrison’s editorial gave people of color in southeast Texas an open invitation that they too belong in the community, that they no longer have to put their heads down and just go with the flow. In her words, she hopes that other young journalist can take from what she has done because, as journalist, it is important to use your voice to amplify the voices of those within the community.
“You might be in the minority in your beliefs, but you can’t be afraid to stand on what is right,” Garrison says.
Kelsey Minor is a 2x Emmy-awarding winning freelance journalist based in New York City. He can be followed on Twitter @theKELSEYminor.
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