University of Rochester/SEIU Local 1199

The official Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is Monday, January 18, as the legacy of the civil rights leader is marked in several events around the Rochester area.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, many activities this year are being held virtually.

Marvel Comics is facing pressure to stop using one of its most popular symbols and characters. During the riot at the U.S. Capitol, multiple extremists were wearing the signature skull symbol worn by Marvel's Frank Castle, also known as The Punisher. The character is a kind of anti-hero, and employs torture and violence to achieve his goals. Some Marvel fans are asking the comic book publisher to consider a different set of options: instead of retiring The Punisher, or at least the logo, they want Marvel to pursue the kinds of storylines that will change the public view of the character.

We talk about the power of entertainment and representation with our guests:

We talk with local author Leslie C. Youngblood about her new book, "Forever This Summer." It's the remarkable sequel to her debut novel, "Love Like Sky."

"Forever This Summer" continues the story of Georgie and her blended family, with Georgie and her mom spending their summer in Louisiana caring for Georgie's great aunt, who has Alzheimer's disease. During their stay, Georgie makes a new friend, Markie, and learns about how their family histories intertwine. It's a story about friendship, about loyalty and compassion, and about finding the truth.

We talk to Youngblood about the book, her writing process, and about reaching diverse young readers with characters who look like them. Our guest:

The Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester is set to double its staff. Recruiters say they are dedicated to improving representation of minority groups among the LLE's workforce. They are hosting an upcoming information session and diversity career fair to help achieve that goal.

This hour, we preview those meetings and have a broader discussion about the steps companies can take to build a diverse workforce. Our guests:

  • Terry Kessler, diversity manager and senior research engineer at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester
  • Kevin Beckford, director of staff diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Rochester; and member of the Pittsford Town Board

The CEO of Wells Fargo said this week that the company doesn't hire many Black workers because there isn't a large pool of Black talent. That set off conversations in offices and communities across the country. Where should companies look to find talent? Why is there a disconnect?

Our guests explore it:

  • Adrian Hale, senior manager of talent strategy, workforce development, and education initiatives at the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce
  • Simeon Banister, vice president of community programs at the Rochester Area Community Foundation
  • Mohammed Ahamed, CEO and chief diversity officer at Engaging Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

A new project called “In This Moment” is highlighting Black leaders, writers, and photographers in our community. The work will result in a series of chat books, where essays and photos tell the remarkable stories of local leaders – stories the project’s organizers say are historically undervalued.

We talk to the team behind “In This Moment” about their work, their goals for the series of books, and the value of highlighting Black voices through art. Our guests:

21 years ago this month, the NAACP was advocating a boycott of the major television networks. That's because the networks had just released their fall schedules. 26 new shows would be hitting the airwaves that year, and not a single one of them featured a star or prominent character of color. For African American leaders in particular, enough was enough. The networks promised to change. In some ways, they have: there are more African American and Latino leads than ever before. But in many other ways, the industry has not changed much at all. As the LA Times reports, there are very few executives of color at the networks, and while the networks are pledging support of the Black Lives Matter movement, African American actors have their doubts.

This hour, we explore representation in media. Our guests:

  • Calvin Brown, Jr., executive producer of "The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder"
  • Tina Chapman, director of diversity theater at RIT
  • Chris Thompson, engineer, writer, comedian, and activist
  • Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences, and professor of sociology and African American Studies at UCLA

James Brown / WXXI News

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello has created the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is dedicated to creating more equity in Monroe County. 

The new department will be led by a chief diversity officer and will create at least four new positions. The new positions will review county contracts, policies, and strategies with a goal, Bello said, of combating all forms of bias. 

*This hour includes an update on the coronavirus pandemic from WXXI's health reporter, Brett Dahlberg.

Author Linda Sue Park’s new novel, “Prairie Lotus,” tells the story of a half-Chinese girl and her white father as they make a home in Dakota Territory in 1880. In the story, Hanna and her father face racial prejudice as they try to adapt to their new surroundings. The book was released earlier this month to critical acclaim; some critics compare the historical fiction to “Little House on the Prairie.” 

Park won the Newbery Medal in 2002, becoming the first Korean American author to do so. She joins us this hour to talk about “Prairie Lotus,” its themes, and trends in children’s literature today. Our guest:

Local musicians from underrepresented communities say it can be difficult to make their mark on Rochester’s music scene, particularly because there are so many cover bands in town. They argue that original music doesn’t get the love and attention it deserves, especially if it comes from marginalized communities.

We discuss the issue from a number of angles with local musicians. Our guests:

*This episode of Connections begins with an update on the coronavirus pandemic from WXXI health reporter, Brett Dahlberg.