Roland Martin on ‘Urban One Honors’ and the state of Black media

The journalist, author and pundit will co-host the 2021 show dedicated to the accomplishments of Black women

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This year’s Urban One Honors, which airs on TV One on Sunday at 9 p.m., has a different twist. The 2021 theme is “Women Leading the Change” and the show’s honorees are all Black women. 

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Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, groundbreaking journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, health equality advocate Dr. Ala Stanford, Walgreen’s CEO Rosalind “Roz” Brewer, Martha’s Table CEO Kim Ford and reparations advocate Robin Rue Simmons will all receive recognition for their accomplishments.

Journalist, pundit, and author Roland Martin is one of the few males on this year’s show. The accomplished media personality is co-hosting with gospel singer and radio personality Erica Campbell. Via his Roland Martin Unfiltered show on YouTube and his appearances on CNN, MSNBC, and other platforms, his career has been about advancing the voices of Black America.

In the last year, with everything from the coronavirus to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and more police shootings in 2021 along with nationwide voter suppression efforts, Martin remains busy. He also has a six-episode Facebook Watch show, We Got Next that brings together different generations to discuss contemporary issues and a new book, “White Fear,” coming in 2022. 

Roland Martin (Provided)

We talked to him Friday about Urban One Honors, Black women at the forefront, and the state of Black media. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)

theGrio: What can people expect from this year’s ‘Urban One Honors,’ which is dedicated to Black women?

Roland Martin: Last year, [Urban One founder and chairman] Cathy Hughes’s mother passed away. Her mom, (Helen Jones Woods of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm) was a history maker in her own right. And so Cathy wanted to honor specific women.

2020 was a banner year when you look at what happened in politics, when you look at what happened in social justice, and in so many areas. And so we are seeing significant achievements by Black women, so to be able to honor them specifically, I thought that was smart. The band is all-women. All of the entertainers are women and all the honorees as well. So that was pretty cool.

NMAAM's Celebration Of Legends Red Carpet And Luncheon
Cathy Hughes, TV One/Radio One Chairman speaks onstage during NMAAM’s Celebration Of Legends Red Carpet on May 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for National Museum of African American Music)

Cathy Hughes is a Black woman who owns one of the biggest Black media companies that still exist. Is part of her legacy doing a show like this?

This is what happens when you are in control…then you’re able to do these things. One of the things that I’ve always said is that when you’re in Black-owned media, you don’t have to ask someone else for permission because you can do it yourself.

I think what’s also critically important is the ability to use that power to affect change. And, you know, a lot of us don’t necessarily do that. So I think the ability to control the narrative is really, really important. And that’s why I’ve always been an advocate of Black-owned media, because, again, we’re not having to ask permission to tell our story.

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Stacey Abrams is one of this year’s honorees. And what she’s done in Georgia and across the nation in terms of advocating for voters of color has been just completely significant. What’s your take on her role and what she’s been able to do for not just Black folks, but really, for America?

There are a lot of people who talk about what we need to do, there are a lot of people who preach about what needs to happen. There are people who tweet and post on Instagram and Facebook about what somebody needs to do one day. Stacey Abrams and other folks; they did it. People need to learn to stop going, “Oh, my God, Stacey’s great, Stacey’s wonderful,” but it’s what she and others did. Too often people don’t want to do the work. They only want to celebrate when things pay off.

stacey abrams
Stacey Abrams speaks to Biden supporters at Turner Field in Atlanta in 2020. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

You obviously have a platform. Do you think that specifically African-American media is more important than ever?

First of all, let me be clear, there is a difference between Black-owned media and Black-targeted media. The first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, was published on March 16, 1847. Our survival has been chronicled and contingent upon a vibrant Black-owned media. The issue that I have, is that Black-owned media has to absolutely elevate itself with technology because folks don’t always distinguish between what is Black-targeted and what is Black-owned.

There are issues that we cover that don’t make it to the mainstream. I’ve always been a major advocate of Black-owned media because I know what it means to control the narrative. And so what we should be focused on now, is how we are building scale to be even more influential.

We’re in a distraction-filled society. Out of the news stories that are making the rounds, which one do you feel at this moment is the most essential for us to pay attention to as a community?

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There’s no one, because we have multiple issues we’re concerned with. So we have to be dealing with the wealth gap. We have to be dealing with voter suppression. We have to be dealing with criminal justice reform and police accountability. We have to be dealing with housing. I’m born and raised in Texas, and I’m in Houston right now. We’ve got a 12-lane highway. That means that there are cars that are moving in two different directions on a total of 12 lanes. Yes, there’s some cars moving faster than others, but they are all moving in the lanes. So we’ve got to be operating in different lanes, in different stories, at different speeds.

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