GFW PRSA July Virtual Program – Unheard: Black Lives and the Fight for Justice

Mark your calendars! Join us for our next GFW PRSA Virtual Program on Friday, July 31!

Across the globe, protesters took to the streets after George Floyd died while in custody of Minneapolis police. People of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds marched to seek justice for Floyd and to support Black Lives Matter, a movement started in 2013 to “build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” The protests have awakened the consciousness of the nation, calling for an overhaul of the criminal justice system at all levels of government and a dismantling of systemic racism and white supremacy.

In addition to calling for systemic change, white Americans have been challenged to listen to African Americans and learn more about the racial injustices people of color face both at an individual and a societal level. At our June program, which happens to fall on Juneteenth, we will hear from the co-hosts of Blackbelt Voices, a podcast that “propagates the richness of Black Southern culture by telling the stories of Black folks down South.”

Through first-person narratives and in-depth conversations, hosts Adena J. White, Kara Wilkins and Katrina Dupins share the experiences of Black Southerners living in, loving, and reconciling with the region they call home. During this program, Adena, Kara and Katrina – all professional communicators –  will talk about how Blackbelt Voices came to be, the importance of media representation, and adapting messages to resonate with different audiences.

Featured Guests:

• Adena J. White, APR is an accredited public relations professional with more than a decade of experience in strategic communication and storytelling. She is the director of communications for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and the 2019 president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is currently the secretary of the PRSA Southwest District.

A strong believer in the power of storytelling for social change, Adena founded Blackbelt Media LLC in 2017, which produces the Blackbelt Voices podcast. The podcast propagates the richness of Black Southern culture by telling stories from and about Black folks down South.

Adena obtained a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and journalism with an emphasis in public relations from Arkansas Tech University. She later completed a master’s degree in applied communication studies from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

• Kara Wilkins is a solutions-focused communications and community engagement consultant, with an extensive background in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. She has over a decade of experience working with diverse communities to create innovative solutions to improve health and human equity.

Prior to her role as owner and principal consultant at KWilkins Consulting Group, Kara worked at the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, where she honed her skills in communications, outreach, public policy, development, and advocacy/government relations.

• Katrina Dupins is a professional communicator who writes features about people whose circumstances tend to change their perspective on life.

Katrina joined UAMS in 2013 as media relations manager. Before going to UAMS, she spent seven years at KATV Channel 7 where she worked in several positions, including video editor, production assistant and field producer. Katrina earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Arkansas Tech University.

She spends free mornings jogging or scoping out the best places to enjoy a quiet sunrise. She enjoys cooking, gardening and photography.

Minority Report

When President Kennedy found himself in a deep hole, he started digging.

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

This month, we take a break from the stress and controversy of the pandemic to talk about something lighter, like um, racial inequality. While it has been a topic of much discussion in recent weeks, it was also a bit of an issue in 1963.

That year, civil rights activists were holding sit-ins and marches, and MLK Jr. was arrested, prompting him to write his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In May, protestors were met with fire hoses and police dogs, and the hotel where King had been staying was bombed. And that’s just some of the stuff we know about.

It was a time of great turmoil, as well one that called for decisive leadership, and President Kennedy was eager to provide it – if only he could decide how. To his defense, it was a little complicated.

Blacks, who had overwhelmingly voted for Kennedy in 1960, were frustrated with his seemingly timid efforts to further civil rights. At the same time, those timid efforts were costing him support among whites in the North, who were beginning to wonder if the President had forgotten about their concerns. And you can imagine how many whites in the south felt.

To top it off, Kennedy was also keenly worried about how the civil rights struggle reflected on the U.S. globally, especially in contrast to the Soviet state. It’s not easy to sell democracy abroad when the cops are clubbing citizens back home. As Kennedy told one Senator, “Events are making our problems.”

And looming on the horizon was the 1964 election. As one historian summarized, Kennedy’s task was to “somehow generate a big turnout from white and black liberals outside the South, while not alienating too many white Democrats inside the South. Along the way, he had to avoid appearing to give in to southern segregationists, or seeming to take orders from civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.”

All righty then. But what to do? Vice President Johnson had previously suggested the President highlight the military service of blacks by appearing on television with an interracial honor guard. Legislation was another option, but as Kennedy had once privately lamented, “What law can you pass to do anything about [local] police power?”

But all the vacillating came to an end on June 11. That day, Alabama Governor George Wallace had briefly prevented two black students from integrating the university. The gesture was purely symbolic, but – at least in the eyes of the locals – a brilliant PR move. After “winning” that showdown, Kennedy decided it was time for the government to make a major statement on civil rights. That night.

The nationally televised speech Kennedy gave that evening was written in about two hours, and was still being worked on minutes before air time. It also was too short, prompting Kennedy to make some of his remarks extemporaneously. Even with his additional comments, the speech lasted less than 14 minutes.

But it worked. “JFK Asks Nation to End Race Curbs; Two Negroes Enrolled at Alabama U,’ declared the Washington Post. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called the speech “one of the major achievements of the civil rights struggle,” and Newsweek called it “the politics of courage.”

Of course, others were less overwhelmed. The Wall Street Journal’s understated headline read, “Kennedy Outlines Civil Rights Bill, Asks Public Help,” and ran the article inside. And Time magazine quipped that Kennedy had asked, “not what a Kennedy Administration could do for the Negroes, but what the Negroes could do for John F. Kennedy on Election Day.”

And some were not impressed at all. Georgia Sen. Richard Russell Jr., for example, complained that a civil rights bill would transform the U.S. into a “socialistic or communist state.” Russell would later go on to filibuster the civil rights legislation and help write “The Southern Manifesto.” As punishment for these outrageous acts, Congress named one of the DC Senate buildings in his honor.

But at least Kennedy’s remarks resonated with the black community. NAACP leader Roy Wilkins recalled, “For the first time in years, real change seemed to be at hand.” And that King guy said, “That white man not only stepped up to the plate, he hit it over the fence!”

In fact, Kennedy’s speech prompted the activists to revise their own tactics. Previously they had planned to march on Washington to pressure Kennedy; now they decided to put pressure on Congress.

Kennedy submitted his civil rights bill to Congress the next week. Ahead lay a difficult road: There would be much more violence, and Kennedy himself would be assassinated in November. LBJ was able to usher the bill through the following July, but the political cost was steep: All the Southerners who voted Democratic that year later met up to celebrate. At a Krispy Kreme.

While Kennedy did not live to see the passing of his legislation, his speech is widely considered to be a brilliant strategy. You can read a transcript here.

PR pros might disagree on racial issues, but there is one thing we should all be able to agree on: The right message, delivered at the right time, by the right person, and in the right way, can truly make a profound impact.

“Recognizing the call of history,” one historian wrote, “Kennedy made an abrupt turn and accepted the mantle of moral leadership King had urged upon him.” Another historian simply describes June 10 and 11, 1963, as “the 48 Hours that changed history.” But I’ll let JFK have the last word:

“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities. … One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. … And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free. … Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise.”

GFW PRSA June Virtual Program

Mark your calendars! Join us for our next GFW PRSA Digital Luncheon on Wednesday, June 3!

Our upcoming virtual meeting, “Digital Communications: What’s In Your Toolbox?” will feature a panel discussion on best practices, lessons learned, and 2020 trends related to ever-evolving software applications to help today’s digital communicators succeed.

Click here to register!

Bonus: The PRSA Digital Communications Committee will make an exciting announcement.

Media Landscape Amid COVID-19, Courtesy Of Kim Brown, APR

“As a former broadcast news producer, I never thought I’d see the day when interviews were primarily conducted virtually. I remember standing in the production booth at CBS 11, patching in Skype interviews after the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. The quality was poor, but it was breaking news. The kind where quality doesn’t really matter. We were on the air and needed the latest information. This was the exception to our ‘the viewers care about quality, so avoid Skype interviews’ rule.

Seven years later, here we are, in the middle of breaking news once again. This time, it’s a global pandemic and nearly everyone has been sent home. Who could have imagined a time when Chris Cuomo would be hosting his primetime show on CNN from his basement? It’s the same for local media too. Anchors, reporters, even producers and editors are all working from home. The thought of this makes my former producer brain spin. And I want to know, will their shift to online news reporting last? In certain aspects, I hope it does.

As a media relations specialist at Cook Children’s Medical Center, I see the doors of possibility opening amid the current news landscape. Things move more quickly now. Instead of juggling multiple schedules, arranging locations for filming, coordinating with the expert, department leaders, parking and security to ensure everyone is in the loop, now interviews can be done with the click of a Zoom link. It literally takes an hours-long process down to minutes. And it’s not just saving everyone time, it’s opening up opportunities for interviews that may have never occurred.

One example of how this new process has worked to our advantage is our recent stories about child abuse. About a week after stay-at-home orders went into effect in North Texas, Cook Children’s began seeing an uptick in cases of severe physical abuse. Seven children were admitted to the hospital in one week and two of those children died. We knew we had to do something, so we sounded the alarm and started speaking out. This strategy isn’t new to us, but what is different is the number of interviews we were able to line up for Cook Children’s child abuse pediatrician, Jamye Coffman, M.D. Normally, we would be limited in how many shoots we could schedule because of the valuable time it takes up. (And if anyone’s time is important, it’s Dr. Coffman’s.) But thanks to Zoom and similar platforms, we were lining up interviews back to back. Since mid-March, Dr. Coffman has been featured in nearly two dozen unique articles, from local outlets to the New York Times, regarding child abuse and the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. I have to believe this level of coverage would not have been possible without the media’s newfound comfort with virtual interviews. Yes, some of these stories were done with old-fashion phoners, but many weren’t. And if not for all of these interviews, I’m not sure this issue would be receiving the attention it deserves. After the initial stories came out, other children’s hospitals started reporting similar trends nationwide. Now, child abuse amid quarantine is something people across the country are talking about. I think virtual interviews are partly to thank.” Kim Brown, 

Senior Media Relations and Communications Specialist at Cook Children’s

May Program Presentation: How Public Relations Practitioners Can Help Organizations Adapt to COVID-19

Click here for our latest virtual program from this month’s presenter – Julie O’Neil: PRSA COVID 19 Presentation O’Neil.