Still of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson with U.S. Ambassador Carl T. Rowan from Leola Calzolai-Stewart’s “The American Diplomat,” premiering on PBS Feb. 15, 2022

Here’s How Public Media Can Help Save the Nation

Black History Month Gives Public Media A Chance to Teach

by Leslie Fields-Cruz

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably as disgusted as I am of hearing that states and school districts across the country are banning Critical Race Theory from their schools. Never mind that CRT is a theoretical framework that isn’t being taught and was never intended for application at the K-12 level. Or that theoretical frameworks are designed to help researchers make sense of phenomena they observe in the world. Sadly, CRT has become the latest political flint used to ignite racial insecurities and undermine the equity and inclusion gains this country has made in recent decades.

Enter, Black History Month. Pushback against this national observance is not new. But recent efforts to frame Black History Month programs as those intended to shame White folks are a new low. As this unfortunate drama continues to play out, I hope public media programmers will recognize the importance of their role in this moment.

Public media has long made American history accessible to the masses. And while featuring documentaries and other programs that recognize African American history during February is a timeworn tradition at most stations, today’s circumstances make it clear that Black history must have a place in public media programming year-round. Americans who aren’t learning it in school must be able to lean on other trusted sources to get it.

For nearly two decades, PBS has boasted that American’s view it as the “most trusted institution.” More trustworthy than government institutions and media sources (e.g., digital platforms, commercial broadcast and cable television, newspapers, and social media). As trust in public schools and commercial media wanes, public media can and must continue to offer Americans a trustworthy lens through which to understand their communities, their nation and the world. Which means “we the people” must find ourselves accurately represented among the stories public media air and stream, the content creators and staff they retain, and even the governors who serve on their boards.

We mustn’t allow the toxicity that is troubling our public schools to spill over into public media. Sure, some of America’s history is bloody and embarrassing. Some of it is downright disgraceful. But our history is also replete with inspiring tales of courage, generosity, innovation, creativity, forgiveness, and grace. It is a history that public media are in an enviable position to teach. Embracing the complexity of that history and the diversity of those who’ve made it, is essential to understanding our nation’s place in the world and to preparing our people for the future.

If you’re looking for a dose of Black history to boost you through these troubled times, I urge you to watch these BPM-funded programs on PBS:

— Fields-Cruz is the executive director of Black Public Media

Black Public Media (BPM) develops, produces, funds, and distributes media content about the African American and global Black experience.

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Black Public Media

Black Public Media

Black Public Media (BPM) develops, produces, funds, and distributes media content about the African American and global Black experience.

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