Team featuring NU alum offers in-depth race and culture reporting in ‘America in Black’


Illustration by Joanna Hou

“America in Black” has featured topics including mental health and Black hair.

Katie Jahns, Senior Staffer

This February, CBS News and Black Entertainment Television premiered “America in Black,” a primetime series that aims to cover the diversity of the Black experience in the U.S., and an NU alum is playing a role in bringing it to life. 

The four episodes released since its premiere cover a range of topics, from critical race theory to housing reparations to rap lyrics used to prosecute artists on trial.

“It’s making the group chat come to life,” said Deanna Fry, the show’s senior producer. “These are things we talk about with our friends and family, and here we are talking about it on a news program.”

This month’s episode focused on the national mental health crisis, particularly among Black women, and the rising suicide rate.

Harry Forbes (Medill ’19), post-production manager for “America in Black,” said in-depth reporting is what makes the show stand out from other coverage of Black issues. As an associate producer for the CBS News Race and Culture Unit, he’s used to tailoring pitches to the shows on the market, but he said “America in Black” gave the team an opportunity to have their own “real estate.” 

At Northwestern, Forbes said, Medill Prof. Brent Huffman’s passion and “no-nonsense” style helped prepare him for a career in video journalism. 

“He treats every student as if they are already an award-winning filmmaker,” Forbes said. “He’ll put you in a headspace where you take your own work seriously.” 

Fry hopes the show will educate viewers on diverse and complex topics, with a focus on solutions-based journalism. While the team is still just scratching the surface of the stories and perspectives that could be shared through quality reporting, she said she believes starting conversations can lead to small impacts. 

With every episode, Fry said, someone tells her they learned something new. She said she is particularly proud of a story from the second episode about the struggle over the acceptance of Black hair and efforts to enact the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act nationwide. 

“Something so mundane of an issue to most people … for Black Americans (is) such a point of pride and is still a way that we carry our culture all these years later,” Fry said. “These stories have become part of the tapestry that makes us unique.” 

The show’s debut also marks the return of correspondent and BET figurehead Ed Gordon to the network that launched his national career. He said he appreciates the opportunity to tell important stories that are often overlooked in the media. 

In step with this sentiment, Gordon’s first story for the show discusses housing reparations and recent initiatives to return stolen property to the families from whom it was stolen in the last century. In the piece, he interviews Mamie Hansberry about current attempts to reclaim the land taken from her father in Chicago during the 1930s and how the discrimination they faced inspired her sister, (Lorraine), to write the famous play “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“Her want to correct the ills that were brought to her family by means of the taking of their property and the gumption she’s had to join with her niece to fight to get their property back was just astonishing,” Gordon said.

Going forward, Gordon hopes to continue telling interesting and impactful stories for “America in Black,” diving deeper into current and complex topics.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @Katie_M_Jahns 

Related Stories:

Panelists discuss the importance of oral histories for Black Americans at One Book One Northwestern event

NU alumnus, CBS executive discusses career in TV industry

55 years after Black student activists occupied the Bursar’s Office, students see unresolved problems and progress