UNITY’s name change: You’re doing it wrong

UNITY Journalists is changing its name again.

Stung by criticism after dropping “of Color” from its name earlier this year, the coalition is intent on changing its name again, and this time it’s giving members a say in what the final name will be.

And UNITY is blowing it.

ImageI say this with all due respect. The people at the forefront of the organization and the name change effort are all people I admire. They are people who have committed themselves to UNITY’s mission and who have followed through on their commitment. If this were about rewarding people for their dedication, then I would applaud the three names that have been put up for consideration. Respectfully, however, I find myself disappointed with those names and with the missed opportunity that they represent.

For those unaware of the background, UNITY was born as a joint convention of the Native American Journalists Association, Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. It grew to become its own organization, magnifying the voices of each association in the coalition. It became UNITY: Journalists of Color, reflecting the primary common denominator that brought the coalition members together in the first place.

In the past year, citing governance and financial issues, NABJ pulled out of the coalition. UNITY responded by inviting the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to join. NLGJA accepted and promptly asked UNITY to reconsider its name, which no longer reflected each coalition partner. Decent, principled people were divided on how to proceed. UNITY: Journalists of Color became UNITY Journalists, to the dismay of those who felt the coalition had lost its way.

I argued at the time that changing UNITY’s name was a foregone conclusion the moment NLGJA was incorporated into the alliance. The primary common denominator changed. The key question became what the new name should be. UNITY Journalists decided to revisit the name change, and now we are faced with three “new” choices:

  • UNITY: Journalists of Color
  • UNITY: Journalists of Color & Diversity
  • UNITY: Journalists of Color & For Diversity.

As a former president of UNITY and a supporter of the inclusion of NLGJA into the coalition, I am less than thrilled with the options before us. The first one ignores NLGJA’s presence entirely. The other two strike me as clumsy attempts to acknowledge NLGJA’s presence as an afterthought. UNITY had a chance to re-brand itself in a way that looked forward and announced a new, expanded but still focused mission. Instead, these choices look backward and announce a befuddled mission that, in my view, treats our new alliance partners as second class citizens.

I have not asked NLGJA’s leaders how they feel about the new options. I am speaking for myself: I cannot imagine names that make them feel less welcome as part of the coalition.

For the record, yes, I submitted a name for consideration, and no, it is not one of the finalists. Of course I’m disappointed, but I would be less disappointed if any of the finalists reflected the inclusion of NLGJA as full partners in a mission that unites us all. In my unsolicited opinion, the options we have been given do not reflect leadership; they reflect a hasty retreat from some bold and inclusive action that was taken earlier this year.

As a member of NAHJ, I have to ask myself a question. Do I want NLGJA in the UNITY coalition? If the answer is no, then I know which new name will get my vote. If the answer is yes, then none of the names offered can get my vote. Not in good conscience.

The truth is, NLGJA has something important to offer to the UNITY coalition — the inclusion of a diversity that we should recognize as a vital one in the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America. And the rest of the coalition has something important to offer NLGJA — the recognition that their struggle is our struggle in more ways than it is not.

There are many issues at stake in this decision, including whether NABJ can be lured back to the coalition. Changing the name, or changing it back to what it used to be, will not lure NABJ back. UNITY’s ultimate goal, as far as that is concerned, has to be building a UNITY that is so strong that NABJ will find it in its best interest to return.

The offered names are not a step in that direction.

Clarification: I have no problem with UNITY: Journalists of Color being one of the names offered for consideration. That’s fair. As it stands, UNITY: Journalists of Color is all of the names being offered for consideration, and to that, I object.

In an earlier version of this post, I described myself as an advocate of the inclusion of NLGJA into UNITY. That is misleading, as it implies I argued for it before it happened. I support the decision after the fact. I had no input in the decision beforehand, and the issue did not come up while I was on the NAHJ or UNITY boards.

Published by Olmeda

At-large director on the national board of the Society of Professional Journalists. Former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and of UNITY: Journalists of Color. An extreme moderate, not committed to political ideology. Stepfather to two wonderful daughters. Father to two wonderful sons. Husband. Rogue karaoke singer. Humanist

One thought on “UNITY’s name change: You’re doing it wrong

  1. For those who asked, the name I submitted was Journalists United for Diversity. A similar name, offered by someone else, was UNITY: Journalists for Diversity. I might also suggest the Journalism Diversity Alliance.


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