DENVER (CBS4) - "I'm the kind of tired you can't sleep off."
The tweet from reporter Tori Mason on a Monday night stopped me cold. Like all newsrooms, CBS4 has been working around the clock to cover the protests demanding justice for George Floyd. And like all newsrooms, we're doing it in the middle of the pandemic. The entire staff is exhausted. But this was different -- this was personal, and far deeper than the sort of exhaustion that comes from endless days on the job.
I wanted to understand the pain that prompted Tori's tweet, along with the perspective of our other black journalists now covering this moment in history.
So for this article, I'm going to listen and I hope you'll listen, too. I asked the black journalists in our newsroom, who spend their days telling stories for CBS4, to tell their own story.
To be honest, I haven't done that much coverage on these protests. It started going into last weekend. I don't work weekends and I was off much of this following week. But I worked Monday. I did a story about bringing the protest back to its original message after a weekend of violence, after the message had been lost.
I crank out stories without a problem every day. But Monday, I stared at a blank page for three hours. For the first time, I didn't know what to write.
I can't explain how silly it felt for me to call around and find people who could speak to the cause of these demonstrations. Every question I asked, I could have answered myself. It felt wrong. I felt awkward asking questions because it made me look as if I didn't know the answer.
I love news, but it's tough covering these protests -- especially when they were violent riots. As a black person, I feel uncomfortable interviewing white people about why they're protesting for black lives. I feel like it almost puts pressure on them to be asked that question by a black person.
Protestors in the crowds Monday approached me asking why I'm not covering this corner or this street. A white protester asked me why I'm working, and not part of the march. I felt frozen.
As a journalist, I have to ask myself is it even appropriate to be in the march? I'm having to choose between being black and being a good reporter -- it's the worst feeling in the world. As a black person, it's mortifying to see broken windows in my building, caused by rioters taking advantage of what was meant to be a peaceful demonstration. Working in the garage Monday, seeing our busted out windows, made me embarrassed. Seeing tired co-workers, talking about being tear gassed made me embarrassed. Because more often than not at work, and in this city, I'm the only black person around.
It's the year we need an NABJ convention the most and we don't have it. I'm not the voice of diversity in Denver, but I spend a lot of time outside of work representing black culture at events with CBS4 under my name.
Journalists are never supposed to become the story. We're never supposed to let viewers know what side we stand on. But it's really hard to come off as unbiased when you're wearing your bias on your skin.
In this moment in time, with the death of George Floyd, the protests, the riots, and the renewed Black Lives Matter movement -- I am conflicted. I first saw the video early that morning before it went viral. The one thing that will stick with me is that he called for his mother.
I am a 60-year-old black male. I have been a photojournalist for nearly 40 years. And as a journalist, you think you have seen it all. But the events of the past weeks make me wonder "Why now?" Black lives have been lost at the hands of police for decades. Why now? The organization Black Lives Matter has been demonized in years past as being some sort of a terrorist organization. Why now? What makes this moment in time different?
I was asked by a colleague, "Have you experienced racism?" My first response, "Now? Or as a kid?" My answer -- both. Long story short: I was adopted, my adopted parents wanted the best for me, so I went to an all-white school from elementary to high school. And I lived in a white neighborhood. I guess you get used to having your house regularly egged, not receiving any Valentines, and just being treated badly.
As a journalist, I have always acted in a professional manner, no matter how I am perceived. In some cases I am dismissed until I say who I am, or arrive with TV equipment. I have traveled to almost all of the 50 states. Big cities and small towns. I still have the fear of being stopped and having to prove why I am in a vehicle with thousands of dollars of camera equipment. (The reason for the stop? I would be late, and speeding.)
As a black man, unfortunately these stories are too often common. As a photojournalist, I still strive to be the best, to cover the stories, and be a role model for my younger colleagues of color. As for this moment in time: I hope and pray that this time we can all understand what people of color have endured for a lifetime. And maybe this time we can all say "I can breathe."
There is a huge reason why I love covering sports. It's fun and it's something I can easily identify with as a former University of Colorado football player. I understand what happens in the locker rooms, spending countless hours going through game plans and practices before kickoff.
I also understand what's going on now with the George Floyd protest. When news of Floyd's death made the rounds on social media, I was anchoring sports for the evening's broadcast. Seeing the hashtag #GeorgeFloyd on Twitter, I clicked on the video and upon hearing Floyd scream "I can't breathe" I immediately shut it off and sat in silence. Not again.
Years before I was an on-air talent, I was a video editor. I remember editing the video of Eric Gardner being put in a chokehold when he said those same fateful words: I can't breathe. As an editor, it's possible to do your job without much emotion. Make sure the pictures match with the script and off you go. But this was different. A black man being the victim of police brutality shook me to the point I wanted to leave and go home. But I stayed and did my job.
Just like I did while anchoring sports that day. It's easy to smile and read the words on the teleprompter. No one needs to know that behind your smile you're actually hurting from what you saw from earlier in the day.
So, I decided to put my pain into progress and pitched a story in hopes of helping parents explain to their kids what was going on in their community. (It was also a chance to talk as the father of a 1-year-old boy.) Speaking with Dr. Rosemarie Allen, an Associate Professor at Metropolitan State, we covered several different strategies parents could use to explain racism and social injustice to their little ones. Those were to celebrate differences, eliminate colorblindness, understand fairness, and address secondary trauma.
I knew the article -- Talked With Your Child About Racism Lately? Denver Expert Recommends Doing It Now -- was a delicate topic and I selected quotes which would best help parents as well as myself put in words what I was feeling.
Doing an article like this doesn't happen without the support from people you work with inside the newsroom. That's the biggest point here, we need support. Support from our workplaces, our friends and our communities. As a black journalist, this isn't just another story, unfortunately this is a lived experience.
My hope is that we continue to be a voice for the voiceless and help bring light to any injustice happening in our communities. Sure, I cover sports, but it's also important to know that you have the backing of your bosses and colleagues to cover stories that are closest to your heart. For that I'm grateful.
As a little girl, I always saw race as something that unified us. I didn't think twice about my mom's brown skin, or my dad's fair white skin. I didn't notice the stares and whispers from people as we'd walk through shopping malls or, more commonly, the assumptions that we weren't part of the same family.
At that time, the view I had through rose-colored glasses was all I knew. Over the years, the differences would become more apparent. A blatant racism didn't rear up until later on.
My mom is the strongest woman I know. She would often share stories about growing up in the South, something that seemed far removed from the suburbs of Colorado Springs. I remember them as the "cotton picking" stories. She'd tell my brother and I tales of laboring in the fields, segregation in the late 60s, and being treated differently, almost sub-human. "That was then," I would subconsciously think. "We've come so far."
It's clear that's not the case. And it's heavy.
More than ever as a black journalist, I feel a fierce commitment and pride in using my voice to empower others fighting the good fight. Those who are demanding change to make this a more United States. Those who want to simply be viewed as equal. Those who are, much like myself, tired. It propels me. I'm grateful to wake up at 3 a.m. every morning to tell stories I am passionate about. Often times, those shifts also continue into afternoons, and script-writing trickles into evenings. Reporting truth is a rewarding, honor of a profession, but it requires extra work and grit.
Recently, I covered a community cleanup, which brought out hundreds of people who wanted to do good. I had pulled out my camera, set up my microphone, and began asking questions of a volunteer. She happened to be black. Her curly hair bobbed as she excitedly told me how she couldn't wait to help beautify her community. "We're trying to make a difference in a positive way. I just want to be a part of it," I recall the woman had told me. A few seconds later, a man approached and yelled, "I hate black people!" The words stung and startled both of us, as well as members of the crowd. We proceeded with the interview, of course, but it was a very apparent reminder of the world we're currently living in. This type of ignorance is something we have to persevere through every day.
We are in a moment where we can address hatred head-on and unify hearts and minds all over this country. We all have a part to play in this. And I believe education is crucial. One conversation can spark a change in someone's mindset. It can inspire and make movement. My encouragement to you is to continue discussing it, no matter how difficult. Get involved. In doing so, you can change, and even save lives.
When working in journalism, I often have to remove myself from the story. I struggled to do that over the last two weeks. For me, it is not just George Floyd. It is Trayvon Martin. It is Ahmaud Arbery. It is Philando Castile. It is Emmett Till. I cannot remove myself from the story when the color of my skin is the story.
My father is black. My brothers are black. During our family Zoom calls, my brothers said, "I woke up angry this morning" and "I just have to accept that black men will never be seen the same in society." I tried to rally them, but as the days went on, I became just as hopeless and defeated. Searching for encouragement in a world that continues to show the worst of itself is exhausting.
This is a race issue. America has a race issue. As journalists, we cannot be objective about racism. There's a right and there's a wrong. That's it. I am at fault, too. In the past, I failed to speak up about something that bothered me. I would not share my story because I did not want to make someone else uncomfortable. Not anymore. I believe that healing cannot begin until we are willing to have those uncomfortable conversations.
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