Dear Soledad O’Brien,
On February 11, 2015 — exactly one year ago today — you traveled to University Park and spoke with students at Penn State University. The collegiate tour modeled after your 2008 “BLACK in America” documentary allowed me to reflect on important topics like police violence, racial tension, and unnecessary stop and frisk rules. Following your presentation and a brief question and answer session, you held a meet and greet, providing me with the opportunity to discuss issues of race and identity in detail.
After a short one-on-one conversation and a phone call to tell my parents that I had finally met our family’s favorite journalist, my friend, Adriana, and I discussed feelings of motivation, inspiration, and the urge to make a difference on campus.
The wounds of negative comments within social media regarding earlier campus die-in protests were fresh and emotions were still raw. At the time, tension filled our university along with discrepancies in coverage of underrepresented communities by traditional campus-centered news publications.
Questioning why this was considered the campus norm, Adriana and I invited friends to speak and share opinions on multicultural student life. One comment lead to another and we found ourselves thinking, “What can we do to get more student voices out there?” I jokingly stated, “We should have a website, like a multicultural student blog,” igniting the ammunition of what has turned out to be something greater than we ever imagined.
Consistently referring to your motivation and statements about making effective change, my group of friends decided to launch The Underground, an independent, multicultural student-run media site devoted to exposing the untold stories within the Penn State community. Founded solely to create a platform for students to showcase their creativity, the Underground encourages activism and the sharing of diverse stories. Since our official website launch, we have gained over 300 twitter followers and a growing staff of 22 undergraduate students, all of which we owe to you.
It is difficult to imagine what my passions and extracurricular life would be like had I not sat in the audience during your presentation. The Underground, at least in its current form, would not exist and many great friendships within Penn State’s campus and the surrounding community would not have been made. On behalf of the Underground team, thank you for visiting Penn State and provoking a mindset that encouraged us to take action and pursue our passions. Your countless efforts and determination to provide proper media coverage and advocacy of social justice continually inspire us to strive to be greater.
Co-Founder of The Underground