Reporting on race in America

Telling stories about racial injustice from those who know it best


Sydney Rowe

Sonia Nazario, author of “Enrique’s Journey,” informs her audiences about the tribulations migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. face on their journey. The Mayborn Nonfiction Literary Conference took place at the Hilton DFW Lakes Conference Center July, 19-21.

Sydney Rowe and Imani Kayembe

Several national award-winning writers spotlighted racial injustice this weekend during the nation’s premiere nonfiction writing conference.

During the three-day Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, people from around the country engaged in panels, one-on-one sessions, and keynote speakers. The  15th annual gathering highlighted “Justice in America” with presenters educating audiences on topics including coverage of race, immigration and crime.                      

“[Representation] is still an issue because we struggle to get people of color inside of our organization,” NPR investigative correspondent Cheryl W. Thompson said. “There’s more than there used to be, but we are way behind the curve in terms of people of color doing anything related to journalism.”

Thompson mediated a conversation with Nikole Hannah-Jones, a keynote speaker and racial injustice reporter for New York Times Magazine, who said writing about racial injustice requires more than just curiosity. It takes lots of research. 

“Those who are very good at writing about racial inequality, they’re good because they study the hell out of it,” Hannah-Jones said. “It’s important that this beat be treated as a natural expertise.”

Author of the novel Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario, fully immersed herself with immigrants by traveling alongside them from Honduras to gain asylum in the U.S. By experiencing firsthand the desperation these migrants felt, she was able to see the extent to which they were being stereotyped as criminals.

“I think this administration is trying to demonize migrants,” Nazario said. “They’re trying to tell you that they’re all evil, that they’re all criminals, that they’re coming here to hurt you. That’s largely untrue.”

Nazario said there’s a disconnect between what the public perceives and the reality about the bodies of refugees coming to the U.S.

“[The public is] getting this steady diet every day that every child coming to the border is a MS-13 gangster, rapist, or a criminal. Well that’s not true,” Nazario said. “The federal government itself has testified before congress that of the quarter million kids that come into this country alone since 2011, only 56 are with MS-13.”

Attachments area Preview YouTube video Sonia Nazario
Tej Dhingra

Storytellers at the conference claim that injustice transcends any race or time period. Margo Lee Shetterley touched on time when she spoke of her experience with the media while researching her book “Hidden Figures.” She said while searching through the news media, she learned more about the three women featured in her book from “black” newspapers and there was little or no mention of the women in “white” media. 

“Without those [black] newspapers I would’ve had so much less material to work with,” Shetterly said. “Meanwhile, [those women] were absolutely absent, as if they barely existed in the white mainstream media.”

Shetterly said “Hidden Figures” paved a way for black women to find themselves on the same stage from which they were once absent.

“Overtime, you would see [the women] appear more and more in the white newspapers,” Shetterly said. “The early coverage in the black press was critical.”


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