Recalling colorful anecdotes from her life and career, journalist
charmed and enlightened her audience at MTSU Wednesday, March 26.
The award-winning broadcaster best known for her documentary work with CNN delivered the keynote address for MTSU’s National Women’s History Month celebration at the Student Union Ballroom.
O’Brien spoke of how being the daughter of a white Australian father and a black Cuban mother who united at a time when interracial marriage was illegal gave her an appreciation for standing her ground when challenged.
“I think there’s a special bravery in deciding that you’re going to sit firmly on the right side of history, and my parents were certainly my first examples of forging on in spite of disapproval, in spite of everyone saying ‘it can’t be done, it shouldn’t be done,’” she said.
O’Brien hosted and produced acclaimed documentary series on diversity for CNN as well, including “Black in America,” “Latino in America” and “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” which looked at the controversy surrounding the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
“I’ve had opportunities to tell stories of lots of marginalized people, and I think it really is where I began to find my voice as a reporter,” said O’Brien.
At CNN, O’Brien distinguished herself as co-anchor of “American Morning” and “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien” and with reports on the London terrorism attacks of 2005, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
O’Brien joined Al-Jazeera America last year as a special correspondent. She and her production company, Starfish Media Group, provide short-form segments to “America Tonight,” the network’s prime-time current affairs magazine program. Starfish also produces hourlong documentaries for the network.
She said she formed her own company in June 2013 after encountering corporate resistance to the kind of stories that she wanted to report for CNN.
“I wanted to tell those meaningful stories and wade through some of the garbage that sometimes makes up television news,” O’Brien said. “I didn’t feel particularly courageous. I did feel that I’m honest and that I could live with the fallout from honesty.”
With her husband, O’Brien created the Soledad O’Brien & Brad Raymond Foundation to help young women gain the experiences, education and resources to overcome barriers to success. The foundation provides scholarships for young girls across the country.
“She’s so inspiring,” said Rachel Harmon, an MTSU alumna who will become an adjunct professor of political science in fall 2014. “She’s someone I’ve followed and looked up to for a long time.”
Harmon also works for the Franklin, Tenn., office of Free for Life International, a nonprofit organization that fights human trafficking.
“Last year, we rescued 123 girls, but, unfortunately, that was out of 15,000 that were trafficked in the country of Nepal,” said Harmon. “So hearing what she had to say about making the difference for one person at a time really resonates with what we do.”
For information on upcoming National Women’s History Month events at MTSU, go to http://www.mtsu.edu/jac/docs/NWHMCalendar.pdf.