By Dwight Hobbes
Julia Nekessa Opoti labors in a perfect field of endeavor to make a telling difference in society. She is producer-host of Reflections of New Minnesotans, an hour-long radio show at AM950 (KTNF), 2 pm on Saturdays with co-host Siyad Abdullahi.
Through interviews, profiles and news reports, Reflections of New Minnesotans provides a platform for Minnesota’s diverse immigrants, particularly those of East African origin. Conversations also look at how immigrants impact the state, and how Minnesota through legislation, media, and the general population are responding to these newest inhabitants.
Herself a native of Kenya, Julia Nekessa Opoti relocated to the U.S. in 2001, studying international business and economics at Metropolitan State University. “To make extra money, I used to write.” Eventually, she just switched gears, breaking in at Mshale, Minnesota’s premiere print outlet for coverage of people and events in African communities here and abroad — as well as well as serving the whole Midwest/Northeast region.
Opoti began as a reporter, went to assistant editor, and for about a year was the editor. Her niche was reporting on and interacting with different African communities in the Twin Cities, engaging community leaders and focusing an insightful lens on African communities that generally are overlooked in the media.
Now a prominent African figure herself, getting Reflections of New Minnesotans puts her in the enviable position of deciding what news and information goes out over the airwaves that otherwise might well go unreported.
How valuable a tool has she found the media to be in making a difference for social change? “The biggest change comes through alternative media,” she says. “Small publications, or publications that specifically talk about issues, whether it’s women’s rights or political advocacy. Radio as well. Newspapers, magazines. It’s through those avenues that social change is most likely to come from.”
It certainly has made a difference in how Opoti sees herself reflected. “Many times I haven’t seen my voice or any alternative voice in the mainstream media. So, I feel there are stories that aren’t being told. So, [on Reflections of New Minnesotans] we have a platform where I can talk about things other people are not addressing.”
Things like? “For example, I covered largely stories in Liberian and Somali communities and found things about Islam that are not written about. Or high-ranking African businesses in Minnesota. These are some [examples].
Utilizing the Internet to support Reflections of New Minnesotans, there’s a blog at www.newminesotans.com where, along with community information, there are archived installments of the program. Opoti also availed herself of online resources by publishing the Internet magazine Kenya Imagine. So, between both mediums she is offering a valuable forum.
Asked what she would change about how Black women are seen in the media, Opoti answers that, before anything, she’d like to have an increase in the number of female Black faces she sees presenting the news on television. “I’d like to see a lot more of us.
“There is Melissa Harris-Perry [political commentator on MSNBC] — she just got a new show. But we don’t have many prominent voices in the media. I think she is the only one on cable that I’ve seen as news anchor or talk show host. That’s one thing I’d like see more of, because we do have the voices, things to say. It’s not just [lacking a balanced] outlook, but things aren’t even close.”
She is concerned as well as curious about the dismissal in early March of iconic veteran anchor Sue Simmons at WNBC-TV. “It’s very surprising. I don’t understand why that happened. It really is too bad. It would be interesting to have that come out.”
Opoti quickly adds, “The other thing I actually really hate is articles and discussion about [the stereotype] that Black women can’t find men. It’s a misconception that is very frustrating that Black women [are considered undesirable] because they are too smart, educated. That they are too demanding. This kind of over-analysis happens to all women, but mostly to Black women — an over-analysis of who are and who we should be… I’d like to see that stop.”
She believes there is a way for that to happen. “The biggest thing is that we should have more prominence. The more prominence we have, the less likely people are to make hypothetical assumptions of who we are and what our abilities are.”
Julia Nekessa Opoti will naturally be doing all in her power to heighten that prominence via the perception-inducing tool of the media. Her passion for change is deeply rooted. Even as a student at Metropolitan State University, she was involved in community activism and won awards for her efforts on such issues as textbook pricing, tuition affordability and diversity in university faculty and curriculum.
Opoti continues educating and empowering others through the dissemination of information by whatever means are available.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.