Every episode will have a theme, exploring topics of spirituality, Black joy, activism in sports and the impact George Floyd’s death has had on the Black experience.
Not just limited to conversation, the series will also feature performances from artists like John Legend and Cynthia Ervo plus an all-star line-up of guest hosts, including Jemele Hill and actress Marsai Martin. There are interviews by ABC News anchors and correspondents like Adrienne Bankert, Linsey Davis, T.J. Holmes, Sunny Hostin, Janai Norman, Steve Osunsami, Byron Pitts, Deborah Roberts, David Scott, Pierre Thomas, and ESPN’s Michael Wilbon.
The series also aims to bridge the past, present, and future through a variety of voices and experiences, including Carmelo Anthony, Nick Cannon, Deon Cole, Kim Coles, Tommy Davidson, Mo’Ne Davis, Danny Glover, David Alan Grier, Wood Harris, Janaya Future Khan, Renee Montgomery, Sylvia Obell, Jeneé Osterheldt, Chris Paul, John Ridley, Saweetie, Michael Yo, “The Undefeated’s” Domonique Foxworth, Soraya McDonald, Marc Spears, and Justin Tinsley, and ESPN’s Lisa Salters and Maria Taylor.
EURweb correspondent Jill Munroe talked with “Nightline” co-anchor and ABC News journalist Byron Pitts about his involvement with the project.
Jill Munroe: Soul of a Nation is a great project, how were you approached to become involved with it, and what’s special about it for you personally?
Byron Pitts: Well, you know, for me, what I love about it is, it’s the best of ABC news right. It’s journalists at every lane of our organization, who are excellent at their craft, who also happened to be people of color. And so now we’re working on this project, I see this in many ways as a TV news version of Black Panther that this story is meant to be intentionally black. That’s how it starts. But then, by the end, it becomes a story about black excellence. Factual stories not fictional stories like Black Panther but real true stories of people who have excelled.
And we look also at struggle, but, as you know, so often when major news organizations tell the story of Black America, it’s through the lens of the pathology. So, while we don’t shy away from the struggles, we do celebrate the Black experience.
I have said I’ve been a professional journalist for 40 years, but I’ve been black for 60, and so I think I know something about storytelling as a professional journalist.
And I think I know something about my particular experience as a black man. It’s not a monolith. There are a variety of experiences and that’s what’s so great about this project. We have people of color different generations um who come together, who bring the best principles of journalism to tell this important story, and we have music, we have celebrities like John Legend is in the first episode how cool is that.
Jill Munroe: Exciting, I saw that there is spoken word performance also, so it’s a very unique mix that it comes together. Being that you’ve been in journalism for 40 years and you’ve worked on various projects, what if something surprising that you learned while working on Soul of a Nation.
Byron Pitts: That the connective tissue of the black experience right, I mean as journalists, we certainly we’re students of history, but, for instance, the story I worked on is about reparations, which has been discussed for a very long time the nation’s history with different levels of comfort.
And now, in this age of this racial reckoning, it’s being looked at. We’re going to Evanston, Illinois where they’ve decided there’ll be the first city in the country to pay out reparations to its to some of his citizens. What I love about the story is that because they were able to research and dissect it, the way they make the case in a very intelligent way. It looks into the city of Evanston from 1919- 1969 and how they specifically discriminated against Black people.
It is something that you can measure. You don’t have to determine how you feel about it, the numbers are the numbers, and so they’re able to measure this slice of time and say Okay, this is how much Black wealth Black people lost there’s a number attached to that.
And while we can’t replace all of it, we can begin to pay some of it, and so, as I see it, we allow the audience to look at reparations, not as a political weapon, but as restitution right. If someone breaks into your house, you can never regain the loss of safety that was taken from you, but it’s an acknowledgment that there’s a dollar amount attached to the pain and suffering. I like that about it.
For all of us, certainly being black in America means a variety of things for different people. But there are some experiences that I think most of us will say yeah that happened to me.
Jill Munroe: You mentioned that you hope that this type of project extends to other cultures and races within America, but for this specific project is it just this limited run, or is it something that we could see continue to be a special over the years?
Byron Pitts: Well, from your lips to God’s. I think you know as well as I do that network TV time is precious. And they don’t give it away, you have to earn the right to stay. So I’m hoping that if people respond to it, and not just Black folk, but all folks in our country. To see it for what it is. It’s high quality, high production standards. It is powerful storytelling. It’s fair and accurate. We don’t take sides, we apply journalistic standards to the effort.
I’m an optimistic person by choice, I’m hoping that people will see it, love it, thirst for it, and then will be encouraged to do more of this in the months and years to come.
“Soul of a Nation” begins Tuesday nights starting March 2 on ABC. Episodes can also be viewed the next day on demand and on Hulu.