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TSU students visit Washington, D.C. for Democracy Summit

Written by on November 22, 2022

By Amber Land

On Nov. 15, after weeks of preparation, a team of Texas Southern University journalists traveled to Washington, D.C., for the Democracy Summit at Howard University.

Students Matthew Parker, Jayhlin Rodgers, Amber Land, and Mario Dunham stood proudly alongside their mentor and professor, Serbino Sandifer-Walker.

At the podium, Nikole Hannah-Jones stood before a large crowd of Historically Black College and University students, echoing a powerful message that the fight for democracy is not over.

“Black people have seen the worst of America, yet, somehow, we still believe in its best,”

Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project.

The New York Times investigative reporter looked out from the podium into an audience filled with aspiring journalists and let it be known that they not only have a newly built space to spark change but also one to call their own.

Hannah-Jones launched the Center for Journalism and Democracy [CJD], where the Summit took place, to provide a place for journalists at HBCUs to thrive. It was created to maintain the traditions of the Black press. In addition, challenge America to live up to its founding ideals—rights, liberty, opportunity, equality, and democracy.

“One of the reasons I founded this center is that I felt American Democracy was failing us,” Hannah-Jones said, “We were seeing an unprecedented effort to subvert democracy, which, of course, would harm people of color the most but would harm our entire nation.”

TSU students flew in from Houston to be a part of the historic moment and also shoot and write about the event. With their camera equipment and interview questions, the team filmed key moments from the room of scholars, historians, and expert panelists.

Some of the most respected leaders in journalism filled the CJD to discuss their unique perspectives. They touched on topics such as propaganda, foundational cracks, and threats to American democracy.

“I think they had a good diversity of opinions and lots of interesting people speaking,” Matthew Parker said. “My biggest takeaway is for journalists to really have courage in their convictions. Our profession requires that.”

The Democracy Summit brought in students from TSU and six other HBCUs, including Morehouse, Morgan State, Savannah State, Florida A&M, North Carolina A&T, and North Carolina Central University.

“Seeing people from different walks of life and from all other HBCUs showed me unity,” student multi-media journalist Mario Dunham said. “It connected me to people that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to connect with.”

Former President Barack Obama even shared a recorded message for those in the room about the vital role the free press plays in democracy.

With democracy seemingly under attack, his message resonated with many. Each KTSU2 student reporter watched from their seat with a deeper desire to be the gatekeeper for democracy.

“Democracy, no matter how much people lose faith in it, is still here. Us not having an opinion about it, us not really knowing about it is detrimental to the thriving of it.”

Jayhlin Rodgers, TSU journalism student

The CJD sets out to provide training programs and funding for journalists to continue thriving, standing up against misinformation, and challenging the status quo.

“Journalism is the engine to democracy.” TSU journalist professor Sandifer-Walker said, “The Center’s mission to prepare a new generation of HBCU storytellers is a monumental undertaking that ensures the guiding principles of democracy remain hallmarks of American culture.”

TSU’s visit to Washington, D.C., showcased the milestone and future of pro-democracy journalism.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones and TSU journalism major Amber Land (right)