On a clear January day, less than three years ago, as Barack Obama stood before the U.S. Capitol and the world, Rev. Joseph Lowery began his benediction with a verse from "Lift Every Voice and Sing" -- also known as the Negro National Anthem. As Dayna L. Cunningham of MIT has observed, "He did not name it and the black audience at the inauguration did not openly respond to it in the moment. Just a quiet reminder amongst the folks that this was Black President Day."
Many people hoped that our nation had entered a so-called "post-racial" era. And in many respects, these are auspicious times for the African-American community. We can point with pride to more African-Americans in prominent positions of influence than ever, from the White House to Congress, City Hall to the C-suite, pro sports to pop music and culture.
Yet, can we say that our voices are breaking through, on the most important issues of the day? Can we claim a forum for giving voice to the issues our community cares about most?
These were the questions that sparked my discussions with Arianna Huffington this spring -- discussions that led us to the launch I'm so proud to be part of today.
Huffington Post BlackVoices will provide HuffPost and AOL Black Voices readers with a turbo-charged, hybrid version of two sites they have come to know.
Here, you'll find vibrant, real-time coverage of the stories that matter most to the African-American community -- from politics to the economy, education, health, sports, and popular culture.
Authenticity of voice and experience will be a hallmark of HuffPost BlackVoices. We're building a team of creative, talented African-American journalists, led by our phenomenal managing editor Rebecca Carroll, to bring compelling, probing, accurate news reporting to HuffPost BlackVoices readers: not just news about African-Americans, but world news with an African-American point of view.
BlackVoices' vision will help to inform all of HuffPost's coverage, even as the site draws relevant content from across the full range of HuffPost sections.
And we aim to amplify African-American opinion through our signature blog platform -- a nonstop, ever-changing group conversation with input from some of the most interesting and creative minds in the African-American community, including John Legend, Lee Daniels, Ed Lewis, Della Britton Baeza, Alicia Keys, Don Cheadle, Marian Wright Edelman, Cory Booker, Angelique Kidjo, and many more.
I'm proud and excited to be working with Arianna Huffington -- a true visionary of modern media. The time is right for BlackVoices. The need is clear; the opportunities are enormous.
Many of the challenges currently facing our nation affect the African-American community disproportionately. And, at the same time, as demographics in our country continue to shift in the direction of diversity, it is clear that people of color are integral to solving America's problems -- as tomorrow's innovators, educators, entrepreneurs, elected officials, and engaged citizens.
Yet, if we aren't being heard in key public debates, we cannot help to shape them. African-American concerns and perspectives remain neglected or distorted by the mainstream press, and trends in this regard are not encouraging: ASNE's annual diversity survey found that African-Americans, who make up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, represent less than 5 percent of the workforce in America's newsrooms, and 441 newspapers have no minorities at all on their full-time staff.
Even in the sports arena, where 67 percent of NFL players and 77 percent of NBA players are black, and 37 percent of MLB players are Latino or black, nearly 97 percent of sports editors are white.
Broadcast journalism falls short too; as Kathy Time, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote in June, "The Big 3 networks and cable channels have undergone a series of rare changes behind the desk. While the replacements are all seasoned journalists, what is glaringly missing in the flurry of changes is the failure to elevate African-Americans to any of these positions." Our country is getting more multi-ethnic; our newsrooms are getting less.
But, here's the good news: Today, we have incredibly powerful new media tools -- tools that can help us inform, inspire, educate and engage one another. The digital space, with its interactivity and immediacy, allows us to not merely consume but participate in and drive contemporary debates. Huffington Post didn't even exist a decade ago; today, it gets over 75 million unique visits per month.
African-Americans are engaging in the digital world in great numbers and varied ways. While a gap still remains in home broadband access, people of color increasingly are taking their digital lives with them wherever they go. According to the Pew Research Center, laptop ownership among African-Americans rose to 51 percent in 2010 -- which is roughly the same level as among whites. Not only are blacks and English-speaking Latinos more likely to own a mobile phone than are whites, they also make greater use of their mobile devices for everything from text messaging to tweeting; social networking to surfing the 'Net.
We hope that these dynamic, digital-savvy people will make themselves at home at BlackVoices. We look forward to your comments, questions, suggestions, and feedback, as, with your help, we make HuffPost BlackVoices a one-stop shop for insight, perspective, information and entertainment.
As the editors of the nation's first black-owned and operated newspaper, Freedom's Journal, declared on the front page of their inaugural issue, 184 years ago, "We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us."
On BlackVoices, we will speak for ourselves -- lifting the rich multitude of voices that make up our diverse community. So join the conversation! Let us know what you think. We're eager to hear your voice.