In a video statement, former President Barack Obama congratulated the work of New York Times journalist and 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones for helping to promote “historically informed journalism” with the opening of her new center.
On Tuesday, Howard University officially opened the Center for Journalism & Democracy, founded by Hannah-Jones who also serves as the “inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Journalism” at the school. To celebrate its launch, the center hosted a Democracy Summit.
Obama recorded a video that was played at the summit and promoted on the center’s official Twitter account. In the video, he praised Hannah-Jones’ center as well as her efforts in journalism.
“I want to thank Nikole and everyone who has worked so hard to make it a reality. The center will help students to learn investigative reporting skills and give them more opportunities to put those skills into practice. But what really sets the center apart, and this is not surprising given Nikole’s background, is a focus on historically informed journalism in service of democracy and equity,” he began.
“As a society, we need journalists who will report not just what’s happening but why it’s happening and who’s being affected. Journalists who can connect the dots and tell a more complete version of our American story. That’s what the Center for Journalism & Democracy will train young journalists to do,” Obama continued.
The former president also emphasized the need for the center and journalism to preserve our democracy as we know it.
“Our democracy has never been a given. We, as citizens, have to nurture and tend it. As part of that work, we must recognize the vital role a free press plays in our democracy. Journalists give all of us as citizens the chance to know the truth about our countries, ourselves, our governments. It makes us better. It makes us stronger. It gives voice to the voiceless, exposes injustice and hold leaders accountable. That’s why the mission of the Center for Journalism & Democracy at Howard is so important,” Obama said.
He closed, “So congratulations again to Nikole and everyone who has helped us get to this moment. I cannot wait to see the work you do. And I know our democracy will be better for it.”
The Center for Journalism & Democracy’s first Democracy Summit included controversial figures such as MSNBC columnist Anthea Butler, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and former NAACP lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill.
Several topics from the summit focused on how race and “White nationalism” is at the heart of the fight for democracy.
“What we have is a national crisis in our election system, but it has been a long-standing crisis that has effected our Black people,” Ifill said.
Coates also commented, “When we talk about a Center for Journalism & Democracy I don’t know where else you would want to be besides of an HBCU [historically Black colleges and universities]. Because the tradition of Black journalism is truth telling.”
Journalist Wesley Lowery was quoted saying, “We’ve never had a pro-democracy press in the U.S.”
Hannah-Jones infamously produced The 1619 Project, which purports “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.” However, the work has been heavily criticized by historians for several inaccuracies, such as suggesting that the Revolutionary War was fought in part to preserve slavery. Despite this, Hannah-Jones and her project have been praised by several mainstream media outlets and promoted in school curriculum.
Hannah-Jones has also been ridiculed on Twitter for several outrageous statements of her own, including claims that tipping in restaurants is a “legacy of slavery” and that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima not to end the war but “because they’d spent all this money developing it.”