At WGBH, we’ve always embraced our role of bringing awareness to inequities that exist in our society. But the COVID-19 crisis has shown how stark those inequities are. Black and Latinx communities are hit hard by the virus, both in health and economic impact. Asian Americans are experiencing discrimination and harassment.
Issues faced by communities of color too often fall outside of mainstream media. Now more than ever, media needs to represent diverse voices and tell everyone’s stories. Since the pandemic took hold, our program Basic Black, the longest-running live weekly program on public television focusing on people of color, has each week been discussing all of the ways that COVID-19 has affected communities of color, from unemployment, to economic disparities for black business owners and distance learning for children.
I am delighted that Basic Black, hosted by Callie Crossley, will be honored with the 2020 Governors’ Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Boston/New England Chapter next month. The series first appeared in 1968 as Say, Brother during the height of the civil rights movement and in the aftermath of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In It Together, WGBH’s radio call-in program launched at the beginning of the pandemic, has highlighted how COVID-19 has affected the homeless populations in Boston, the challenges faced by low-income and immigrant families (both documented and undocumented), people with developmental disabilities, and the growing numbers of people with food insecurity.
Our nightly TV news program Greater Boston has covered the disproportionate economic impact on black small business owners. Our daily three-hour live radio discussion program Boston Public Radio has featured the Boston Public Schools Superintendent on how kids can access meals amid school cancellations, and the Secretary of Public Safety on how prisons are adapting to the pandemic.
Soon after schools were closed, working with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, WGBH’s Education team developed resources for a digital Distance Learning Center, partnering with community-based organizations and food distribution sites to disseminate printed versions to highest-need families. We also are broadcasting a daily five-hour educational television block for middle and high school students that has reached 12,000 African American households and 8,500 Hispanic households.
And this month, in honor of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, we presented the five-part PBS series Asian Americans (available on the PBS Video App). This series highlights the enormous resilience and contributions that Asian Americans have made to our democracy throughout the last century. I am immensely proud that we are showcasing their resilience and contributions to American society. In fact, all month WGBH is presenting over 50 films devoted to Asian/Pacific American stories, past and present. And earlier this month, WGBH WORLD and Television General Manager Liz Cheng moderated a discussion with series producers S. Leo Chiang and Renee Tajima-Pena, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Vivek Bald and author Winifred C. Chin, whose father is featured in the film. If you missed the conversation, I encourage you to watch the recording here.
It is vital for communities of color to stand up, be counted and be heard so there is equitable distribution of healthcare, education and resources for every American. The 2020 Census is here. Communities of color need to be counted.
As WGBH has known for nearly 70 years, public media can bridge communities and cultures and it can be a unifier, connecting us all.