CNN’s O’Brien Finds Direction in Diversity

Recently in town for the 2012 ADCOLOR Awards, which recognizes diversity supporters within the advertising and media industries, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien was presented with the CATALYST accolade from communications agency Draftfcb. We chatted with the Starting Point host about being an impetus for change, the presidential election and what she does in her spare time.

Why is it important for you to be a catalyst and generate change in America?

I guess I feel like, in some ways early on, I was an unwitting catalyst. My parents ended up changing and bringing change. My mom’s black and my dad’s white and when they were getting married in 1958, interracial marriage was illegal. They lived in Baltimore; there were 16 other states in the country where that was illegal. You know, they drove to D.C. and got hitched then moved back to Baltimore and lived as a married couple illegally. They were just going to live the life they wanted to live—I don’t think they intentionally meant to be catalysts for change. I get to take some of those experiences from them and say I have an interesting perspective on the stuff that I cover often—race and class—and I think I could be a good voice for that and I think it would be a shame to not leverage that and tell those stories. I don’t really bump into other people telling those stories, you know? I wish I did, honestly. I wish I could—I wish sometimes people would say, “Ah, Soledad, I’ve already given that story to somebody. A Latino in America? Sorry, six other people came in before you.” You know, they never do. I think that’s terrible. So, I guess I have tried to be a catalyst for change and to make sure that the stories I’ve gotten to do—that we better do a very good job. We don’t really have the luxury of half-assing it.

Why is this presidential election important to you?

Well, it’s been my life. I have gone to the vice presidential debate and the presidential debate and I’ll go to the next presidential debate [today]. It’s fascinating. I like seeing people engaged in the process. I think that even sometimes a hostile debate is better than no debate. I think no conversation, people who don’t care about the electoral process—I think that’s depressing. I like arguments and fights and discussions. I really do. It’s important to me because as a journalist, it’s really become what I cover 24/7 practically. But I think for the American people, our country’s very polarized and I think it’s going to be an interesting direction that we head. I’m looking forward to seeing what people decide.

What is next for you? Personal ventures? Are you working on any new initiatives?

We’re in the second year of the Soledad O’Brien and Brad Raymond Foundation. By the end of this year we’ll be sending 20 young women to and through college, which has been amazing. It’s been just fun, it’s been great, it’s been a lot of work, but it’s been really, really rewarding. I don’t really have many personal ventures outside of that because that takes up a lot of time. And then my kids are at a great age. My boys are 8 and my girls are 10 and 11, and I feel like we’re in this window of pure happiness. The kids are, thank God, healthy. But they’re just a lot of fun. My friends tell me that 14 is less great, especially for the girls. But we’re not there yet. I spend a lot of my time trying to just enjoy my family and recognizing I’m really lucky to have it.

What is one of the activities you do with your children in your spare time?

I am a big horseback rider. I started riding when I was a little kid and when my girls were old enough I started bringing them to ride too, when they were 4 and 5. So I knew secretly, if I could get them to be good riders, then I could go riding. And a couple years ago I took a really bad fall and tore my knee up and they had to reconstruct it. But I’m back riding again. What I like about it is that I do it with the girls and one of my sons sometimes. But what I love about
it is you cannot focus on anything else when you are riding. You have to pay attention or you will fall. It’s really relaxing to do something you enjoy. You can’t make lists, you can’t make phone calls, and you can’t get three other things done with other people who you need to reach out to. All you can do is sit on a horse and ride.