Soledad O’Brien takes center stage

Journalist Soledad O’Brien is joined on the Lee Hall stage by FAMU Dean Valencia Mathews. Photo courtesy: Jazmin Mackey

Soledad O’Brien believes we have to dig deep to uncover stories that have never been properly told.

“People get left behind, and one of the things I like best about doing documentaries across the world is being able to save history. Accurate history is very important, and we need to make sure that the people who have been written out get put back in,” O’Brien, an award-winning journalist, told a rapt audience Thursday at Florida A&M University.

The true story of Rosa Parks had never been shared until O’Brien decided to make a documentary about Parks’ life and contributions to history.

As part of FAMU’s celebration of Black History Month, O’Brien was invited to speak in Lee Hall. The event, titled “Black History Month Conversation,” featured an in-depth discussion about O’Brien’s hotly anticipated documentary, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” As executive producer of the documentary, which can be streamed on Peacock, delved deep into the story of civil rights icon Rosa Parks and how she is more than what the history books portray.

Moderated by Valencia Matthews, dean of FAMU’s College of Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities, O’Brien discussed the process and reasoning behind her documentary.

“She is such a remarkable woman, and it is such an amazing opportunity to tell her story fully,” O’Brien said.

The documentary chronicles her extensive organizing, radical politics, and lifetime commitment to activism through interviews with individuals who knew her, her own words, and compelling archival material. Parks are generally known as an accidental matriarch when in fact, that is not accurate.

It was no accident when she refused to give up her seat and move to the back of a city bus in Jim Crow-era Montgomery, Ala. Throughout the duration of her life, she fought for justice and empowered others to do the same.

Thursday’s audience learned a lot about Parks in this thought-provoking discussion while also viewing excerpts from the documentary itself.

“This evening’s discussion from Soledad O’Brian was a unique perspective of Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was not just the old lady that sat down because she was tired. She was the person that actually stood up to make a difference,” said FAMU student body president Zachary Bell.

During the question portion of the discussion, O’Brien concluded, “Her legacy asks of us to do things even if there’s some costs for our actions.”

It was a powerful message for everyone in Lee Hall. Chris Parker, a student and member of the FAMU chapter of the NAACP, was impressed.

“This documentary is very timely for the current political climate in America. Despite all the progress our nation has made, we are taking steps back as rights and legislation are being taken away and processed that bring us back to life decades ago,” he said. “As young adults, we need to be the change we want to see in this world and stand up for what is right, just as Parks did.”

The discussion closed with remarks from the secretary and treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, Fredrick Ingram, as well as the singing of the alma mater.