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CNN to air Black in America 2

Shantella Y. Sherman | 7/15/2009, 9:59 p.m.

As Americans continue to tip-toe around issues of race and racism in America, debating at times whether the Obama administration is proof positive of a post-racial America, Cable News Network (CNN) has created the second installment of a news series devoted exclusively to examining the lives of African Americans.

€Blacks in America 2,€ moderated by CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O€Brien, and featuring CNN Contributor Roland Martin, will pick up where last year€s series ended. With more than 13 million viewers the first time around, the second installment of the multi-part documentary series is poised to fill in some of the gaps in coverage left by the first series and introduce entirely new segments of the Black population to the nation.

€The response to the first series was overwhelming and the comments that we received from so many people challenged us to address some areas that were overlooked in order to create this second Blacks in America series,€ O€Brien said.

O€Brien, 43, said that as the eyes of the world watch the Obama administration, more viewers are interested in seeing African Americans who look like themselves.

€We have tackled different things this time around, but we were aware from the start that when we speak of Black Americans, we are talking about diverse groups of people with a myriad of experiences that in no way mirror the things often presented in the media relating to Black people. €Blacks in America 2€ expands that list of coverage and offers new ways of viewing African Americans,€ O€Brien said.

For O€Brien, who said it was illegal for her own parents €" a Black Cuban mother and Australian father €" to marry in Baltimore, Md., years ago, [she] can see how racial issues affect each generation differently.

€It€s like during the Obama inauguration, my seven-year-old daughter kept asking, €He€s really the first Black president?€ as if such a monumental occasion had to have happened a few other times in American history. They just don€t see race the same way we see race. At the same time, there were reporters there in their 60€s, who were overcome with emotion and crying,€ the anchor said.

For producer Mark Nelson, viewing African Americans outside of the stereotypical box affords him the ability to dispel rumors and myths about Blacks long held in American society.

€There is a tendency to look at things in terms of Black inner-city problems and there is so much more than that. There is the Black middle class, Black upper class, increased numbers of women who are becoming educated and doing terrific jobs, and educated and breaking through the disparity and gaps between Blacks and Whites in school,€ Nelson said.

Nelson, 61, an Evanston, Ill., native, said that as a producer all of the stories he covers have affected him in some way, but that a few within the €Blacks in America€ series have had a particularly emotional impact on him.

€While all of the stories in both series have touched me in different ways €" one in particular, of Malaak Compton-Rock, stands out for me. As a person of privilege, Compton-Rock believes she has a responsibility to give back to the community. She took 30 underprivileged kids from Brooklyn to South Africa and showed them another world. Each child signed a one-year contract that they must serve their own communities, as well upon returning,€ Nelson said.

Nelson said that CNN directives from its top executives Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide and Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S. have instituted more balanced and inclusive coverage.

€We are not just diverse in terms of people on staff, but also ideas, on air, who we put on air and a diversity of stories. It sounds like a clich, but we are what we air, and we air what we are. We are not programming for the Black or White communities, but to our audiences,€ Nelson said.

€Some things we want all of our viewers to know about Black people and so we have challenged ourselves to look at and examine successful African Americans not as exceptions to the rule, but as everyday Americans. That is what is so important,€ Nelson added.

€Blacks in America 2€ premiers Wed., July 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. on CNN.