Brenda Salinas is a Mexican-American audio producer who works on audio efforts on the Google Assistant. Brenda is a former NPR Kroc Fellow with extensive work experience in the American public radio system as a reporter and producer, filing stories for nationally syndicated shows and podcasts. Brenda came to Google through the acquisition of a start-up named 60dB, a personalized radio app. At 60dB, she helped print newsrooms turn their text stories into sound-rich audio pieces. Brenda has a B.A. in Economics from Columbia University. Brenda advocates for diversity and inclusion in public media. She is based in New York.
I was feeling triggered by all the allegations of racism in media, so I got off of Twitter and contributed to this open letter for an anti-racist public media instead. I wrote part of the training section with some great people. Check out the letter and the signatories here.
OUR LETTER: An Anti-Racist Future: A Vision and Plan for the Transformation of Public Media
Racism is the idea that one racial group is inferior or superior to another, and has the social power to carry out and benefit from systemic discrimination. This applies to most, if not all, institutions in this country, including public media. Anti-Blackness and white supremacy shape both the institutional policies and practices of society and shape the cultural beliefs and values that support racist policies and practices.
White supremacy is the political and socio-economic system that allows white people both at a collective and individual level to enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not.
Anti-racism is the idea that people of all racial groups are equals. Anti-racism is also the work of actively opposing racism and white supremacy by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life that reduce racial inequity, and the advocacy of policies that support equity for people oppressed by white supremacy.
White supremacist culture and anti-Blackness shape the policies, norms, and standards of public radio. They determine whose opinions are valued, whose voices are heard, whose stories are told and taken seriously, who is promoted, and whose resume never gets a second glance. Historically, Black on-air talent are told their dialect and speaking voices do not fit the public radio prototype. There is a strong bias against journalists who have a distinct ethnic or regional tone in their vocal delivery.
Management pats itself on the back for hiring journalists and editors of color but then does not support them or give them space to grow professionally. While moving to anti-racist principles may require shifting funds around, keep in mind that budgets should reflect an organization’s values, and this is especially true in public media.
Our audience has changed a great deal since the 1968 Kerner Report and the Minority Report on Public Media ten years later. Public media management has not. It remains overwhelmingly white.
The Kerner Commission concluded that news media were not serving Black communities in 1968. That was more than 50 years ago. Public media has had the opportunity and time to change since then, but stations, networks, and nationally distributed shows have not done enough. The first public report on public radio in 1978 decades ago said that “public radio has been asleep at the transmitter” on issues of race.
Complicated decisions — who to hire, who to promote, what stories to cover — require careful thought and consideration. Not instinct, hunches, or strong feelings, but anti-racist processes and systems that prevent us from making biased choices. Processes that are measurable and quantifiable, that can be tracked and articulated. When we don’t follow those processes, when we choose to make decisions based solely on our guts, we must be held accountable.
Racism is not a knowledge problem. We know it’s wrong. We’ve known that it’s wrong for hundreds of years, but we’re making racist decisions anyway. Racism is a behavior problem.
We’re not a mostly white and male industry because we consciously think white males are better, but because we live in a racist, sexist, society that has conditioned us to view white male heteronormative as the standard. Racism and sexism are the norm.
The way we do things, the way it’s always been done, however, is not working.
The systems we’re comfortable with are sustaining the discriminatory system that favors white males. Comfort is the enemy at this point. The work that faces us is painful and frustrating and profoundly uncomfortable.
THE WORK AHEAD
This effort is the result of more than 200 people in public media coming together to identify the primary obstacles to anti-racist public media and create a vision for transformation. Our vision for public media is the implementation of anti-racist procedures and policies, radical transparency, equity and not equality, and no more decisions based solely on instinct. It’s time for a new kind of journalism: anti-racist journalism. We hope to tear down public radio in order to build it back up. We don’t critique our industry because we hate it, but because we love it and hope it can live up to a higher standard of inclusivity that serves our diverse communities.
Creating anti-racist media is a collective task. Everyone in the industry has a responsibility to scrutinize how our work contributes to or challenges white supremacy and racism. It’s a task that requires long-term commitment and accountability with measurable outcomes. But ultimately, anti-racist transformation means cultural change, and we know that some of the most important results of anti-racist commitments appear in how we are transformed individually, and collectively.
There is no easy way to do this work. But the work calls on us and on everyone who listens to public radio to expand their imaginations about who the audience is, who provides leadership, and how decisions are made.
It was a pleasure to talk to Lewis Wallace, the host of The View From Somewhere, about how we can challenge the idea of “diversity” in public media. I’m featured on the episode “Public Media and the Limits of Diversity.” You can find the transcript of our interview here.
I’m pleased to announce I have published my first short story in The Breakwater Review, the literary journal of the University of Massachusetts Boston MFA program. You can access the full story here.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.”
The Taming of the Shrew, 4.3 83-84
When our mother sent our teenage maid back to her village, our tears could have washed all of the apostles’ feet. It was one of the last spring days in San Pedro Garza García. A cool breeze carried the smell of pines down the mountain to the valley. Our mother, baptized as Isabela, was called Doña Chela by those who feared her and Chelita by her inner circle. “God is like the wind,” she often told us, “you may not see Him directly, but you can hear the leaves rustle.”
The five figures gathered around the entryway of the pink brick house must have looked like a collection of Marian statues. My sisters and I were flanked by square limestone columns that just weeks ago had been circular. Our mother tilted her chin like a dove and pondered reinstating them to their original design.
Our mother’s gaze was inscrutable behind her oval Oakley sunglasses, but when she would later recount this anecdote, it was not without pain. That morning, her saint-of-the-day calendar told her it was the feast of Santa Rita Cascia, patroness of abused wives and heartbroken women. It was one of the little signs God sent her on the path.
When we listened to our mother’s words, each of us drew a different meaning. For my eldest sister, Paula—named, like many in her generation, for the Pope’s visit to Mexico in 1979—it was a warning that the wrong man can ruin a woman’s life. For my middle sister, Cristina, it was proof that under our mother’s pink silks and cashmeres, there lay something hard and unforgiving. For me, the daughter our mother prayed for the most, the events shifted the tectonic plates of my made-up world, swallowing my favorite stories.
In our mother’s retelling, she emphasized how, when Anaïs first arrived in our home, she took her to the women’s clinic for a checkup, the secretarial school for enrollment, and to the department store to purchase two brassiers. Our mother didn’t like when domestic workers wore uniforms, so she supplied two sensible pairs of slacks, four modest blouses and comfortable sneakers intended for nurses. Throughout the years, she encouraged Anaïs to change out of the American clothes she was given when she cleaned the house, but God in his wisdom gave man free will. Now, as she examined Anaïs’ bleach-stained jeans, originally purchased for my sister Paula, she thought, “The girl can’t say she wasn’t warned.”
Though Cristina and I were still years away from our quinceañeras, our mother saw the three of us as the mujeres hechas y derechas we would become, especially when she was tempted to spoil us. Her mind returned to the image of us waking at dawn, of feeding a colicky baby and smearing diaper cream on a little pink butt, thinking, “My mother did this for me once.” During her first labor, she was in so much pain that she mixed up the words in her rosary, terrifying her spirit. For her subsequent pregnancies, she wrote out her prayers on index cards and tucked them into the pocket of her hospital bag. There is a certain comfort in knowing what one’s last words will be.
These are the thoughts that ran through our mother’s mind as she waited for the crunch of tires on gravel that marked the arrival of the girl’s uncle. He pulled into the driveway, windows down, in an ocean blue Chevy Silverado with wood paneling. An accordion-heavy country ballad played through the car radio. The man wore a cream-colored cowboy hat and a grey mustache. When he got out of the car, I was eye level with his silver belt buckle.
“Bueno, Señora,” he said. “Thank you for taking care of our Anaïs.”
“Of course. She’s a good girl. A hard worker.”
“Too bad about the ending, though.”
As her uncle loaded her suitcase into the truck bed, Anaïs pressed her lips into a smile and fixed her eyes on her patrona’s leather loafers. She said “Gracias Señora” with a croak that betrayed her anger. Our mother braced herself for the moment she might have to shake the leather-skinned man’s callused hand, but thankfully, he did not offer it. He got in the car, tipped his hat, and drove off with Anaïs in the passenger seat.
I don’t remember when Anaïs first came to stay with us. It was as if she had always been there, like a fairy born from a spell. She was shorter than Paula (who bragged she was as tall as an Americana), but she had bigger breasts. She had black hair that hung straight down her back when she unbraided it, dulce-de-leche skin and a gummy smile. I thought she was as pretty as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Carmelita, Carmenchu, Carmucha, Carmina— I disliked every nickname I was given, but Anaïs called me Camu, which I hated the least. I had friends who were raised by their families’ muchachas—young indigenous women who trailed them to school drop-offs and piñatas. But our mother’s insistence on raising us was almost pathological. I studied math and history in a plaid pinafore a few hours a week, but what I learned from observing her, my mother insisted, was my real patrimony.
She said something similar to Anaïs when she asked her to redo a task (more bleach, more starch!): “One day, you will have a house of your own and what you learn here will help you keep it.”
I dreaded the two nights a week Anaïs spent in secretarial school. I preferred helping her in the kitchen to accompanying my sisters to the rhythmic gymnastics and swimming lessons I was too young for. In the car, my mother and I recited little rhyming prayers that fit together like riddles.
“Sea Maria tu corazón…”
“¡de todo el mundo la salvación!”
“En el cielo y la tierra sea por siempre alabado…”
“¡El corazón amoroso de Jesús sacramentado!”
“Jesús, José y Maria…”
“¡Os doy el corazón y el alma mía!”
In the kitchen with Anaïs, I scooped black pearls out of papayas, mixed foaming love potions in a lemonade pitcher, massacred tomatoes into a bloody pulp, and flattened masa balls in a medieval torture/tortilla device. Anaïs told me of beautiful women who were stolen from her village by men on bareback, festivals that lasted for days, and a neighbor who played the guitarrón so beautifully he could break a maiden’s heart by strumming his strings.
“Do handsome men give you serentas in the village?” I asked.
She laughed. “I don’t have a balcony, and besides, I’m always here.”
“Do you have any suitors when you leave the house?”
She smiled coyly. “Just a neighbor who says hello to me sometimes when I go on my walks.”
“Tell me the story of how you’re Santa Claus!”
Anaïs laughed. “When I go back to visit my family with the bags of clothes and toys you and your sisters have outgrown, my little cousins swarm me like bees. They hug my knees and bury me with kisses until I fall down. My cousin Chincho told me we should sell the stuff, but I told him it’s not in the Christmas spirit. Besides, I like being the thing everyone looks forward to.”
“And on Christmas Eve,” I continued, “your little house is so cold that all your brothers and sisters have to climb into your Mom’s bed to keep each other warm.”
Anaïs said that story wasn’t true, but still, I gathered eight dolls into my bed and clutched them tightly, imagining myself as the single matriarch of a freezing clay house.
“You’re going to suffocate with so much synthetic hair,” my mother said, lining my dolls on my headboard. I had recently discovered I could fall asleep anywhere and wake up in my own bed. I’d tested my magic in every room, including the pantry. The nights my mother thwarted my experiment, she insisted on brushing out my knots and stuffing me into a blanket like a taquito. After our prayers, she licked a dog-eared page from the violet book with white hands clasped around a crystal rosary on the cover.
“Born a Spanish noblewoman in 1515, Santa Teresa de Avila was a renowned mystic who through solitude, contributed to Spanish Renaissance literature…”
The happily-ever-after in my mother’s stories was always implied.
I asked, “Are there ghosts in heaven?”
“There are no such things as ghosts. Only angels and the Holy Spirit, which is how God moves the world until Jesus’ return.”
“Oh.” I thought about the trailer for Jaws that was playing on every television channel. “Do dead sharks go to heaven?”
In the daytime, I sneaked into my mother’s nightstand to read the stories she skipped. Santa Cecilia hacked to death by a Roman sword. Santa Agnes paraded naked through the streets. I shared my research with Anaïs. “When she was beheaded in a stadium, Christians soaked up her blood with cloth!”
Anaïs and I watched telenovelas in the kitchen. I cleaned the beans, sifting through handfuls to remove stowaway pebbles. Anaïs folded and ironed clothes with one eye on the television. She shouted “¡Chones!” every time she picked up a pair of my father’s underwear, and I squeezed my eyes into raisins. We watched the novelas where the land-owning heiress is softened by a man she initially reviles, but our favorites were the ones when the servant girl falls in love with the evil matron’s son, and after a series of harrowing obstacles, earns her place in society. The novela ended with a daily cliffhanger. While the credits rolled over the specially-commissioned ballad, Anaïs and I predicted what would happen next.
“The young man writes the heroine a romantic letter explaining why he had to be so cold to her,” Anaïs said.
“The Doña is revealed to be an evil sorceress who harvests heartbroken maiden’s hearts for her wrinkle cream!”
The kitchen table was also the stage for the only meal our family shared together: breakfast. I remember one morning when I was triumphantly smearing jam over the pre-toasted Bimbo bread that I loved.
“Make a mess now,” my mother said, “because when my friends come over you can’t eat anything that will stain your pretty dress.”
I nodded, licking my hot-chocolate mustache. The real mustache was grumbling behind a newspaper. I stopped asking about the news when my sisters teased me for not being able to pronounce “periodico,” but I knew people were angry because the president’s brother had killed the president’s friend.
“A disgrace…a sham of a trial,” my father said.
My mother poured my father coffee. “You know better than to expect justice in this life, mi amor.” After my sisters tumbled into my father’s Chrysler, my mother told me it was time to french-braid my hair.
“I want Anaïs to do it,” I said, fearing the pull of my mother’s hands against my pink scalp, the fog of hairspray tightening in my lungs like poison.
“She’s busy getting ready for the merienda, and you have to look perfect.”
I groaned. “Will I be performing today?” I asked, silently rehearsing my repertoire of tap and poetry.
“Yes,” my mother answered, “you’ll be playing the role of a little girl who obeys.”
Anaïs winked at me while she cleared our plates.
Wearing a peach dress with embroidered flowers on the chest, ruffled socks tucked into patent leather Mary Janes, I greeted my mother’s friends at the door with a curtsy and directed them towards the formal living room. The best part of my mother’s parties was that they took place in the part of the house that was only for company; the sliding doors revealed a portal into a parallel universe. I sat next to my mother on the mint green couch, hands folded into my lap, ankles crossed. Anaïs told me she would save a few of the best cookies for me, and I was eyeing the spread with anticipation.
“Chela—she looks like a little doll!”
My mother beamed. I transformed myself into one of the dolls on my headboard, closing my eyes while lying down, and opening them when I sat back up a few times. My mother stroked my back menacingly. I stifled a yawn and put my ear to her stomach. I liked hearing how her voice sounded deeper and warmer from inside her body.
“I can confirm that we have adequate funds to buy Padre Francisco new Lenten vestments,” my mother said. The women clapped.
“Thank Christ. The eye gets bored seeing the same frock week after week.”
“I’m giving the floor to Olivia, who is in charge of the purchase,” my mother continued.
“Thank you dear Chelita. I have sourced the most beautiful violet vestment from Spain. It’s hand-embroidered by a community of Sisters that dates back to the Middle Ages. I guarantee no priest in the state will have a finer set of robes this Easter.”
“Gracias Olivia,” my mother continued. “And I’m pleased to say that we have adequate funds left over to cover the cost of a communal baptismal gown for the Church. This is something we’ve talked about for the last year, but it has become increasingly urgent. As many of you know, last month a little boy showed up for the blessed sacrament wearing an El Tigres Club jersey.”
“Mary Mother of God.” A few women made the sign of the cross.
“We still need a volunteer to source the gown.”
“Clarisa, didn’t you purchase your grandson’s gown in San Miguel de Allende?”
“You can’t expect us to purchase such finery for a communal gown. It will get torn to shreds! We need something more durable.”
“And stain proof.”
“Maybe something made out of duck cloth? Or waxed canvas?”
The women laughed. I couldn’t believe I’d skipped my nap for this.
I was in the house alone with my mother that night. Anaïs was in school and my glamorous sisters were returning home in a carpool so my mother could recuperate from her party. I was directing a multi-generational doll saga in my playroom when I heard the doorbell. I looked out the window and saw the top of a floral scarf tucked into a black jacket with exaggerated shoulder pads. I ran down the stairs to tell my mother to not eat any fruit that the witch was selling. She shushed me away and opened the heavy wooden doors, which always failed to emit an ominous groan.
The neighbor was not quite as light-skinned as my blonde mother. Her floral perfume clashed with the lemon scented cleaner Anaïs had used to mop the marble floors.
“Buenas tardes. My name is Angelica Santiago del Campo, I live just on the corner of Bosques del Valle and Inocentes.”
My mother, sensing an opportunity to love thy neighbor, invited the woman to come inside. “Can I offer you a cup of tea?”
“I’m afraid I can’t stay today, but it would be nice for us to get together soon, since our children are spending so much time together.”
“Our children?” My mother’s vocal chords tightened.
“Yes, your daughter and my son have been going on walks together.”
I imagined my teenage sister burned at the stake with her braces and scrunchies.
“She said her name was Anaïs.”
My mother gasped. “There’s been a terrible misunderstanding. The girl isn’t my daughter. I am her employer.”
The woman nodded, as if she had known all along. After saying goodbye, my mother closed the door. I felt a gust of wind brush my cheek as my mother rushed up the stairs muttering an Ave Maria. She glided through her bedroom into her dressing room—too far away to hear. I skipped into the empty kitchen towards the phone. I picked up the receiver with one hand while pressing the hook with the other. I gently released the pressure and held my breath. I heard my Tía Nela’s girlish voice on the other line.
“Dear Lord Chela. What are you going to do?”
“What else can I do? I’ll send word to the girl’s parents, she’s my responsibility.”
“Thank God the mother caught them before it was too late. Imagine the scandal!”
“God forbid. That boy could have ruined her.”
When my mother said “ruined,” I pictured Anaïs as a cupcake gone stale, a dress smeared with jam, a gold hoop earring without its pair. I waited until my mother said adios to hang up the phone.
The next day after breakfast, my mother invited me to go upstairs and watch television—that’s how I knew something exciting was happening. I turned on the TV in Paula’s bedroom, momentarily tempted by the opportunity to play with her lip glosses, but tip-toed downstairs, passing the four foot crucifix that hung from the wall. It was too risky to put my ear to the swinging kitchen door, so I crouched by the bottom step, combing the shag carpet with my fingers.
I heard Anaïs wail. “He’s not my boyfriend or anything. I promise, Señora. He just accompanied me on a few walks.”
“I want to believe you dear, but your word has been corrupted. That woman thought you were my daughter.”
“I never said that! I just said that I lived in the pink house up the street!”
“That is a sin by omission. Do I need to tell you what could have happened if you hadn’t been discovered? The adults in your life are here to protect you, to help you better your circumstances.”
“Please Señora, I promise I will never see him again.”
“That’s for certain. But I told your parents that I would guard you while you were in the city. I have no choice but to discuss this with them.”
My mother took me out on errands for the rest of the day, where she imparted the importance of establishing long-term relationships with merchants, regardless of price. “Loyalty is important—you never know when you’ll need help getting out of trouble.” I was forced to follow my mother around like a duck for weeks until Anaïs finished her semester. We were both being punished—her, through banishment, and me, through the most dreadful errands. Every time I tried to get close to Anaïs, my mother called me away. I drew her a picture of a brown-skinned princess with black hair hanging from a tower to remind her of where we were in the story—the part before the happy ending where the young couple faces a big obstacle. We had to keep the faith.
Night after night, I waited for the handsome prince to scale a ladder into the service room. When weeks passed without as much as a serenata, I started imagining Anaïs’ boyfriend as more and more repulsive until he was transformed into a warty toad. My sweet friend had been tricked! It was up to me to prove her virtue. I knew if she saved my life, her fate would be spared.
The next morning at breakfast, Anaïs’ eyes were puffy and her smile was strained. Her usually fluid movements had become staggered, as if she were waiting for my mother’s permission to complete her routine chores. I waited until Anaïs was close to make myself choke on a piece of toast—which is surprisingly difficult when you’re not sure your family will revive you. After my third cough, my sisters laughed at me, “What’s wrong with you, sonsa?”
As time ran out on Anaïs’ salvation, I busied myself making talismans out of modeling clay, knotting pieces of string around every doorknob and muttering invented incantations; but I couldn’t keep the day from coming.
On the morning of Anaïs’ departure, I stood in the driveway weeping. I wept harder knowing I was weeping harder than anyone had ever wept. I wondered why my sisters were crying—everyone knew I was Anaïs’ favorite. It occurred to me that my sisters were deeply moved to witness my heartbreak, and that cheered me up a little.
Before taking Anaïs back to her dusty village forever, her uncle loaded a single frayed suitcase onto the truck bed. The suitcase had belonged to my father before I was born, and it was the only thing Anaïs took with her. I wondered if her cousins would be disappointed that she wasn’t Santa Claus anymore. I imagined her silver-haired mother holding her in a tight embrace, relieved to finally have her home. I waited for Anaïs to wave to me, but she never looked back. I knew it was my fault. My magic had failed her.
Our mother shepherded us back into the pink house and said, “Remember my dears, the Lord knows what he does.” She kept her tortoiseshell glasses on the entryway table next to the staircase. When my mother turned around, I balanced the frames on the bridge of my nose and looked at the crucifix at the end of the stairs that guided our every step. Through the glass, I could make out the individual thorns on Jesus’ head, the drops of blood on his face, the outline of his muscles, and the wounds on his hands and feet. I believed eyeglasses, like breasts and understanding, would be given to me one day in a foil-wrapped box. It would be another two years before an adult noticed my advanced myopia.
This anecdote has been told and retold many times, morphing around the motives of the speaker, but certain facts are indisputable. The pink brick house still stands in the valley. Rising to meet God’s subsequent trials and tribulations, Doña Chela successfully tamed three patrician daughters, all apostles in the faith.
I don’t remember much about the next muchacha my mother hired, an older woman who only came during the day. She was a better cook than Anaïs, but she didn’t tell stories, and as I approached my First Communion, my incantations were replaced with prayers, my fairy tales with proverbs. I liked her less.
That’s why Brenda Salinas Baker wanted to be a professional dancer when she was a kid — so she can tell stories with her body. It’s why she became a radio journalist. And it’s why she decided to join The Writer’s Foundry at SJC Brooklyn, so she can fulfill her dream of earning an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.
“I would like to hone my gifts as a storyteller and be able to tell page-turning, blood-curdling stories that make people reflect on larger issues in the world,” said Baker, whose favorite journalistic book is “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote.
Fine-Tuning Her Passion
Baker, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and moved with her family to Houston when she was in first grade, knew from a very early age that she wanted to tell stories on the radio.
Baker reporting a story on feral parakeets in London, with interviewee and author Nick Hunt.
“After interning at my local public radio station in Houston over summers, I was awarded an NPR fellowship for aspiring public radio producers, and that is how I started my career,” Baker, 30, said.
It was while she was in high school that Baker realized she specifically loved stories about economics.
“It was my first academic experience with the social sciences, and I loved that you could use rigorous methodology to point to larger trends in the world,” said Baker, who earned a B.A. in Economics at Columbia University. “A great economics story pairs this research with the real people who are affected by it, like this story that I reported for Marketplace.”
Now, Baker enjoys the work she does for Google as an audio content strategist.
“I look after all of the content on our audio platforms, and I make recommendations to our product and partnerships team based on these insights,” Baker said. “I also manage the Google Podcasts Creators Program, an accelerator program for early-stage podcast producers, which is my favorite part of my job.”
Taking Her Next Step at SJC Brooklyn
Most interested in writing fiction, Baker decided it was time to make a move.
“Pursuing an M.F.A. has always been a dream of mine, and I am finally in a place professionally where I can pursue it,” she said.
A resident of Brooklyn, Baker knew once she started looking at graduate programs that it was important to find one that would allow her to attend part time, so she can continue working.
“I wanted to find a program with a diverse cohort of people, because the social aspect of a graduate education is important to me,” said Baker, a native Spanish speaker who is also fluent in English and French. “The more I researched The Writer’s Foundry, the better a fit it seemed.”
When it comes to the person who pushes her to be the best she can be creatively, Baker thanks her mom.
“My biggest inspiration is my mom because she is a wonderful storyteller,” Baker said. “I am inspired by her faith and her ability to keep learning and evolving.”
Baker is enrolled in four classes, two remote and two land-based, and she’s already enjoying the start of the semester at SJC Brooklyn.
“(The classes) have been fabulous,” she said. “It’s a wonderful experience to feel intellectually and creatively stimulated in a community with other writers.”
It was an honor to promote The Google Podcasts creator program on two podcasts. Podcast Junkies and The Women in Tech Show. I answered questions about the podcast accelerator program I manage in partnership with PRX.
Our world today is in crisis. COVID-19 has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, the country is suffering from the economic crisis spurred by the pandemic, and people across the globe are demanding an immediate end to racial injustice and police violence.
But there are also pockets of joy. People are coming together to lean on their communities to create joy and to find hope. Today we bring you one example, here in New York City, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
During the peak of the pandemic, the sound of ambulance sirens pierced the air as millions of New Yorkers sheltered in place. Many looked forward to 7 p.m., when neighbors across the city and around the world would begin cheering outside of their windows, thanking the essential workers who kept our society running.
In Clinton Hill, what started out as the nightly ritual in recognition of essential workers, developed into a major dance party — with social distancing, of course.
New York-based journalist Brenda Salinas went to Brooklyn to meet with the family who began organizing these joyous nightly block parties. Gail, Joe, and Chad Vill.
Listen to the joyful, audio-rich postcard from Brooklyn.
Greg Glassman, the outspoken founder and CEO of CrossFit, resigned Tuesday, days after he made inflammatory remarks about the nationwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter. Athletes, gyms, Reebok and other athletic companies have been distancing themselves from the CrossFit brand over the controversy.
“I’m stepping down as CEO of CrossFit, Inc., and I have decided to retire,” Glassman said in a statement. “On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members.”
Dave Castro, head of the CrossFit Games, is taking over as CEO.
In a separate statement, the company said: “Change is needed. We all need healing. Exhaustion and a long history of silent grievances have been laid bare on social media. We cannot change what has happened, but we ask for forgiveness while we thoroughly examine ourselves.”
The business of CrossFit
CrossFit is a global fitness company based on a fitness methodology that combines high-intensity interval training with Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics. The company makes money from certificate courses and competitions as well as from affiliate fees paid by gyms around the world to use the CrossFit name. The company is fully owned by Glassman, a self-described “rabid libertarian” who has flouted controversy in the past, including by waging a war on Big Sugar. In 2015, Forbes estimated the brand generates about $4 billion in annual revenue.
Members of the CrossFit community pressured Glassman and the company to issue anti-racist statements in support of Black Lives Matter. Glassman resisted the pressure, calling an affiliate gym owner “delusional” in an email for her suggestion. Then, when the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation tweeted that racism is a “public health issue,” Glassman replied, “It’s Floyd-19,” apparently comparing the death of George Floyd to the coronavirus. Armen Hammer, a popular CrossFit commentator, said the tweet was “incredibly inflammatory, insensitive and thoughtless.”
Former professional CrossFit athlete Elisabeth Akinwale said she was saddened by the controversy, but not surprised. “This is just the culmination of a lot of things that have happened over a long period of time,” Akinwale said. “A lot of folks have been coming to me with their experiences as people of color in CrossFit spaces and how they haven’t been responded to by upper levels of the organization.”
Akinwale cited examples of black CrossFitters asking majority-white gyms not to play music with the N-word, and Latinx athletes being asked not to speak in Spanish while they work out.
Glassman and CrossFit issued an apology on Twitter, saying his comments were “a mistake, not racist but a mistake.” But that hasn’t stopped the cascade of gyms disaffiliating from the brand.
CrossFit without the name
Hammer said one of the biggest things CrossFit has going for it is the strength of the brand. “One of the reasons why they have to spend so much time and effort protecting the brand is because how good of a name it is,” he said.
So what will CrossFit be called if athletes and gyms distance themselves from the brand? “I’m seeing a lot of the affiliates taking on their own names like such and such community fitness, as one example,” Akinwale said.
An opportunity for change
Akinwale said this moment of reckoning in CrossFit is a microcosm of the societal change happening in America right now. Three years ago, she posted a video about racism in the CrossFit community on Instagram that largely went unnoticed. When she reposted the same video last week, it made a much bigger splash.
“Just like when you’re competing in athletics, when you see an opening, you strike; that’s exactly what’s happening right now,” Akinwale said. “There’s a moment where people’s minds are being open to different things, and this is the moment we need to take advantage of.”
In 2020, CrossFit might be an example of what happens when a brand doesn’t live up to its customers’ expectations.
Around the world, people are turning to the news to understand the evolving coronavirus pandemic. We’re working to help people find and engage with quality news across our products to stay informed on COVID-19 developments.
Surfacing the latest authoritative coverage
The new COVID-19 experience on Google News pulls together and organizes all the latest news at the global and local level and provides easy access to the latest guidance regarding prevention, symptoms, and treatment from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other authoritative sources. This feature is available across iOS, Android and web platforms in more than 20 countries and will be coming to more in the upcoming weeks.
When people look for coronavirus information on Google Search, we show the latest news coverage at the top of their results. Given the fast-moving nature of coronavirus news, we’re working to ensure people receive the most up-to-date stories from broadly trusted sources in their Search results. These news results are part of our comprehensive COVID-19 experience in Search, which provides easy access to authoritative health information and data.
On Google Assistant, we’ve expanded our coronavirus news coverage to provide the latest updates in more languages. Now when you ask, “Hey Google, what’s the latest news on coronavirus?” Google will give timely updates from relevant news providers. This experience is available globally on mobile devices and in more than 10 languages on smart speakers and smart displays.
Providing context to understand the full story
With so much new information about COVID-19 constantly coming online, it’s important not only to understand the latest news but also to gain context on various aspects of the story.
The Google News COVID-19 feature organizes stories by topic such as the economy, health care and travel—as well as by region so people can better understand the pandemic’s impact around the world. We’re also experimenting with how to best include a dedicated fact check section in this COVID-19 experience to highlight fact-check articles that address potentially harmful health misinformation.
Podcasts provide a way for people to engage more deeply with different aspects of the coronavirus story. In the past several weeks, dozens of new high-quality podcasts about coronavirus have launched, and many established shows have focused their coverage on the virus. As part of the recently redesigned Google Podcasts app, we’ve added a dedicated carousel in several languages to connect people to these podcasts to help understand the coronavirus’ impact from a variety of perspectives.
Highlighting important local news and information
Local news plays a critical role in informing people about the virus’ impact in their communities. The COVID-19 feature in Google News puts local news front and center with a dedicated section highlighting the latest authoritative information about the virus from local publishers in your area. This feature is available today in more than 10 countries and will expand to additional countries in the coming weeks.
In Search, we’re surfacing Tweets from local authorities, as they provide important announcements about the virus to their communities. On Google Assistant, we’re working to help people access coronavirus news about a particular location, and we’re now able to provide more specific answers to requests in English like “Hey Google, play news about coronavirus in New York.” And in the past month, more than half of listens to our audio news feature Your News Update have included a coronavirus story from a local news outlet.
We’ll continue to work on highlighting high-quality, relevant news about COVID-19 for people around the world over the coming weeks.
It was an honor to be approached by Neiman Lab to offer a prediction for journalism in 2020. Read my prediction about the editors of the future here. I’m in fabulous company, check out the full of set predictions for 2020, they’re a fascinating read.
Family travel and airport security lines are especially tough on children with sensory issues. But thanks to one family, London’s Gatwick Airport is now among a handful of international airports making accommodations.