Students Debate Obama’s 1st Year, Haiti and Katrina

Eight communications students from North Carolina A&T State and Howard universities analyzed leadership in African-American communities during a media roundtable on Friday afternoon. Topics ranged from the earthquake in Haiti to President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

The panelists included four A&T students: Syene Jasmin, Felicia Lawrence, Kevin Moore and Dexter Mullins. Christopher Bridges, Kendall Givens-Little, Brittani Moncrease and Zelena Williams represented Howard.

The moderator, Janae Brown, a junior Journalism major at A&T, started the 30-minute discussion by asking the panelists to define activism.

Bridges, a film production major, said activism “comes in information, sharing and teaching the information, and then doing.” Jasmin, a senior public relations major, stated that activism could be as simple as writing a blog.

The discussion then moved to the earthquake in Haiti and the relief efforts. Givens-Little, a graduate student in film, told the audience how Howard’s commercial radio station, WHUR-FM, and other organizations on campus are collecting money, food and clothes to send to the people of Haiti.

Givens-Little explained that it takes more than just food, money and clothes to help them: “It’s necessary to realize that the people of Haiti are in need.”

Lawrence, a sophomore journalism major, agreed with Givens-Little. “It’s imperative to pay attention to the deeper issue, which is poverty, and the deeper issue is within Haiti,” Lawrence said.

The panelists all agreed that while Haiti can use immediate relief, it would be a long time before it can become a truly independent nation.

“It saddens me, but I’m glad that the world is watching Haiti,” said Jasmin who is of Haitian descent. “As Americans, we tend to be selfish and self centered.”

During the discussion of Haiti, the topic of Hurricane Katrina surfaced. The panelists were faced with the question of whether rescue efforts came faster to Haiti or New Orleans. Mullins, a senior journalism major, said that it is irresponsible to compare the two rescue efforts because the situations are different.

“We have a social responsibility, not only as African-Americans, but as people in general to help those in need,” he said. Mullins also said that it should not take an earthquake to realize that Haiti was in need of help.

Broadcast journalist Brittani Moncrease said that it does not matter if they are from Haiti or New Orleans, but that people are in need.

The panel discussion concluded with the topic of President Barack Obama and his first year in office. Zelena Williams, a senior journalism major, said President Barack Obama did not do what he said he was going to do. Williams said that he has not done a lot for the African-American community and that he has not reversed unemployment.

Williams also said that it is the responsibility of Americans to do more and to hold President Barack Obama to his word.

“We don’t need politicians; we need leaders,” Williams said. “We’re proactive for a second when the media is in our face.”

Mullins said that not only should Americans hold President Barack Obama accountable for his promises, but that his supporters should also really help him solve problems.

Brown, the moderator, Janae Brown said she enjoyed the discussion.

“A lot of the panelists had a lot of opinions about Haiti, which I did not expect at all,” she said of the discussion. “I wish it were longer. I had a ton of questions.”

Like Brown, audience member and North Carolina A&T student Shaun Collins enjoyed the panel.

“It was interesting to see how people felt about the Haiti and New Orleans situations,” said Collins, a senior finance major.

Howard student LeeSandra Alexandre said she wished the panelists could have offered some solutions to the problems of today. Alexandre admits that she does not like panel discussions, because people usually talk about the same issues.

“I always walk away from these types of events feeling like it’s good being on the same page, but what are we doing? What are the next steps?” asked Alexandre, a senior journalism student.

Lawrence said that it is the responsibility of young African-Americans in the media to educate themselves and talk about issues affecting African-American communities. 

“It was a learning experience,” Brown said. “I hope that we can partner up with Howard again.”