Shawn P. Williams is the nationally acclaimed president and editor-in-chief of DallasSouthNews.org, a hyperlocal website and nonprofit news organization that uses technology, social media and journalistic principles to empower and inform underserved communities. Williams is also a Poynter National Advisory Board Member, recognized social media expert (@shawnpwilliams) and author of the book "Blogging While Black."
The following is excerpts from a speech delivered by Shawn P. Williams at the Keynote Luncheon for the Society of Professional Journalist’s Region 8 Conference. The event was held on March 23, 2012 in Ft. Worth, Texas at the Downtown Hilton Hotel.
I would be remiss if I did not spend the few minutes you’ve been gracious enough to give me today to share a few thoughts on the situation with Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African-American male who was shot down in Florida after a trip to the convenience store.
You know when I started DallasSouthBlog.com in 2006, I thought maybe I would be able to help portray positive images of African Americans to combat the negative images we often saw (and still see for that matter) on television. My hope was that we might reach a point where we as a community in Dallas and we as a nation would not automatically judge a young black man by the fact that he’s wearing a hoodie.
I must respectfully disagree with a journalist who I once greatly respected. Geraldo Rivera said on Friday he would “bet money” that Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been fatally shot if he had not been wearing a hoodie. Geraldo went on to say that “when you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid the confrontation,” Geraldo says.
Back in 2006, there were very few outlets where African Americans could go to express their outrage at comments like Geraldo’s or injustices like what we’ve seen over the last few weeks with Trayvon Martin, where a neighborhood patrolman cold pull the trigger on a kid walking down the street and hide behind a Stand Your Ground Law.
The plight of Trayvon’s parents have been greatly helped by social media. It serves as a reminder that African Americans were the first to use the internet and social media as an effective tool for social change.
The reason why I wrote my book Blogging While Black was because I wanted to make sure the history of the Black Blogging Movement was not forgotten. Before the Tea Party, before the Arab Spring, before Occupy Wall Street, African Americans used the internet to express generations of frustration with the media.
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