Today the National Association of Black Journalists is meeting for its annual convention in Philadelphia (I'll be speaking there this morning, after Eric Holder and a taped message from President Obama). In a nice moment of synchronicity, today is also the launch of our newest section, one that I'm particularly excited about: HuffPost BlackVoices.
Surveying the current national and international landscape, I often feel that we are living in a split-screen world. And depending on what part of the screen you are looking at, you will have a very different perception of where things stand -- it alters everything you think about the present, and dramatically affects your view of the future.
And nowhere is this split-screen reality more pronounced than in the African-American community.
On one side, it's a bleak picture: we see the African-American community besieged by crushing unemployment, rampant foreclosures, widening income and wealth disparity, and a disproportionate number of men in jail.
The statistics are undeniable:
The unemployment rate for African-Americans is 16.2 percent -- twice that of whites. For black men, the figure rises to 17.5 percent; for black teens, it leaps to a staggering 41 percent.
According to a new Pew study, wealth disparity is at a record high. African-American households now have 20 times less wealth than white households -- with blacks experiencing a 53 percent drop in median wealth from 2005 to 2009 (whites lost only 16 percent during that same period).
To these figures, add the fact that nearly 5 percent of the black male population is behind bars -- that's over 840,000 black men. America's prison population is 40 percent black, even though African-Americans are only 13 percent of the general population. Black men are almost 7 times as likely to be behind bars as white men. And in many states felons are barred from voting, and therefore permanently disenfranchised.
But there is an equally compelling reality on display on the other side of the screen, where we can watch our first black president, our first black attorney general, and the overwhelming influence of the African-American community on fashion, music, sports, and the rest of popular culture. We are also seeing a renewed focus on community -- and community-based solutions -- as people all across the country step up to meet the needs produced by economic hard times.
People like Omar Freilla, an environmental entrepreneur who is giving back to his South Bronx neighborhood as founder of Green Worker Cooperatives, dedicated to reducing waste and fighting unemployment. Among other things, Green Worker Cooperatives operates a retail warehouse for materials -- salvaged from construction sites around New York -- that would otherwise have been thrown out.
Then there is Hank Williams, the brilliant tech entrepreneur whose latest venture is the New York-based Kloud.co, a searchable cloud-based service that unifies users' tweets, emails, Google docs -- everything. And like the best thinkers, he's generous with his expertise and accumulated wisdom: this summer, he's participating in a Silicon Valley program dedicated to nurturing minority-led start-ups.
And Brandice Henderson, founder of Harlem's Fashion Row, which provides a free platform for young designers who otherwise wouldn't be able to fund their collections and runway shows -- and gets the winners of its annual competition on the runways of New York's Fashion Week.
HuffPost BlackVoices will profile each of them this week (and many others in the weeks to come) and report on the impact they are having as they work to find innovative ways to help their communities.
One of the biggest voids in our cultural landscape has been created by the traditional media's ongoing neglect of the issues most important to black America, and the dearth of black perspectives and voices.
Enter HuffPost BlackVoices, which will focus on current events and cultural trends from a black perspective, covering a broad range of topics -- from presidential politics to pop culture, from money and beauty to sports, music, fashion, books, and parenting. Featuring dynamic storytelling, comprehensive curation, investigative reporting, and real-time opinion, BlackVoices will spotlight the best and brightest black thinkers, writers, and cultural game changers with the goal of making issues important to the black community part of the national conversation, because these are issues that matter to everyone.
The tone will be authentic, candid, and inclusive. We'll ask the hard questions but we'll also have fun. And the BlackVoices group blog will serve as a platform for dialogue and engagement -- with ideas and discussions meant to inform, surprise, entertain and spark conversations within our highly-engaged community.
A trio of exceptional women is overseeing HuffPost BlackVoices: Rebecca Carroll, who has written several books, including Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America, is the site's managing editor; Christina Norman, formerly president of MTV and CEO of OWN, is its executive editor; and entrepreneur Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of BET, is a strategic advisor (don't miss her launch blog post on the role new media can play in amplifying "the rich multitude of voices that make up our diverse community").
Among the original stories by HuffPost reporters and editors we're featuring today: Gene Demby profiles the 12 Most Compelling Black Americans; Janell Ross looks into BET's decision to ban a music video focused on the foreclosure crisis, then reverse course after a mass Twitter protest; Peter Goodman examines the widening racial economic inequality; Michael Calderone reports on media coverage of black issues during the Obama administration; and Radley Balko writes about the exoneration of Cory Maye, the first black man in Mississippi to be convicted of killing a white police officer and then walk free.
Today's blog lineup includes posts from Issa Rae (Awkward Black Girl) on why black people don't like to be told they're not black enough; Heidi Klum on caring for the hair of her three youngest kids with Seal; Heidi Durrow on why fiction still matters in the digital era; Wes Moore on juvenile incarceration; Mellody Hobson on investment advice in times of economic uncertainty; Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins on the urgent need for reducing air pollution in communities of color; and Trey Ellis on his great expectations, deep disappointments, and overarching hope for President Obama.
And, in an effort to expand the range of diverse voices it presents, HuffPost BlackVoices has forged partnerships with an array of blogs, news sites, and personalities, including Awkward Black Girl, Post Bourgie, Kimora Lee Simmons, Jay Smooth, Steve Stoute and Madame Noire.
So check out HuffPost BlackVoices, and use the comment section on this post to let us know what you think. Your participation, engagement, and feedback are a vital part of what we want HuffPost BlackVoices to be.
On Thursday morning I was in Philadelphia to speak at the National Association of Black Journalists. A video of my speech is here.