Black Public Media (BPM), the nation’s only nonprofit dedicated solely to media content about the Black experience, convened the first-ever Black Media Story Summit Friday at Google’s New York City offices. The day-long, invitation-only gathering brought more than 100 black creatives and thought leaders together with media technologists, funders, investors and distributors in a series of conversations designed to get strategic black content into the distribution pipeline. Findings from the event, which was sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, Google and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional funding provided by Wyncote Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, will be summarized in a white paper to be released this summer.
BPM Executive Director Leslie Fields-Cruz conducted opening remarks followed by a keynote given by Jesse Moore, former White House speechwriter and associate director for public engagement in the Obama administration who served as primary liaison to the entertainment community. His speech focused on how storytelling is the X-factor in the social movement. “It’s more than entertainment — or at least it is for people like us. Because stories touch us in ways we barely detect when we’re being entertained. They build empathy, unpack complexity, and provide perspective that can only take hold because our guard is down. This is the power of stories—and the responsibility of each one of us in this room.”
Sessions included “Diversifying Blackness: Getting the Untold Stories Told,” “Paving New Pathways in Emerging Media,” “Forging New Bonds: Amplifying Activism,” “An Intentional Narrative Space,” “Telling Immersive Stories: A Virtual Reality Showcase,” and “Money Matters: Fueling the Content Pipeline.” Attending the inaugural event were thought leaders in mass incarceration, community safety and policing, technology, diversity, environment, LGBTQ rights, immigration, black women’s health, black mental health at such organizations as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Momsrising.org and Silicon Harlem. These social justice champions were brought together with filmmakers, producers and others who can help move key content to market. Executives attended from American Public Television, the ARRAY Alliance, BBC Worldwide, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Imagination Capital, kweliTV, the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, the Open Society Foundations, PBS, POV Digital, the Producers Guild of America, Samsung, Silicon Harlem, the Southern Documentary Fund, Sundance Institute, Third World Newsreel, TV One, WNET, and more, attended.
Among the many notables who attended were Lisa Cortes (Precious and Monster’s Ball), Yance Ford (Strong Island), Thomas Allen Harris (Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People), Shola Lynch (Free Angela & All Political Prisoners), Roland Martin (Nu Vision Media), Richard Parsons (Imagination Capital) and Shukree Hassan Tilghman (This Is Us), among others.
“All of the participants of the Summit work at the intersections of the industries that impact or are impacted by the telling of black stories, so it is essential that all of us are actively invested in the development, production and distribution of those stories,” said Fields-Cruz. “I’m challenging us to take ownership of creating that expectation of inclusion by taking the steps needed that can ensure our work gains real traction to make true inclusion a reality.”
Black Public Media, formerly the National Black Programming Consortium, has been producing and supporting media with a purpose since its founding in 1979. Known for its signature public television series AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange and web series Black Folk Don’t, the national organization is also a funder of films and content (such as I Am Not Your Negro, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise and Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart and web series (Pops and Ask a Muslim) and trainer of producers (with its 360 Incubator + Fund).
The Black Media Story Summit is a part of BPM’s new initiative WOKE! Broadening Access to Black Public Media, a series of projects and events designed to connect creatives working with new technologies and platforms to funding, resources, partners and distribution opportunities. WOKE! includes a new BPM funding initiative sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Journalism and Media program specifically for emerging media, with the goal to usher forth black talent and black content into an industry that overwhelmingly lacks diversity.