CNN's Soledad O'Brien stops by Atlanta for book signing

By RODNEY HO/, filed Dec. 14, 2010

CNN special projects correspondent Soledad O'Brien is usually a whirl of energy but she fell off a horse in early October and messed up her knee.

"It's taught me the value of slowing down," she said last month at CNN Center, visiting from New York to sign her memoir "The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities." "I'm now using a cane."

O'Brien, 44,  will recover. But she isn't stopping her mission to illuminate Americans on the sensitive topic of race and ethnicity. It's a subject she knows well: her mom is a black immigrant from Cuba and her father is a white man from Australia. They were an inter-racial couple before it was technically even legal in Maryland for them to marry. (They had to travel to D.C. to do so.) "They came here as immigrants with a tremendous sense of possibility," she said.  "They were successful in an environment that was not necessarily supportive of them."

She grew up in Smithtown, N.Y., an affluent, mostly white Long Island suburb from the late 1960s through the early 1980s.  As a mixed race person (Jesse Jackson, she noted in the book, didn't even know she was black in any way) said she is often criticized for not being "fully" black or "black enough" to do documentaries on African Americans. Others feel she is the right person since she can bridge the gap. "I've always welcomed the debate," she said. "I was happy to be part of it. But I never put myself in the reporting. The book was my ability to talk about race and ethnicity giving perspective of where I came from."

Her book definitely reflects her own optimistic tone. She likes to tell stories where people are doing the right thing, be it after the Haiti earthquake or Hurricane Katrina. "I learned in my childhood that around the corner of something crappy is something good," she said. "That's the reality and nuance of life."

She also writes about how "Black in America," the surprisingly popular CNN documentary in 2008, started simply as an assessment of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. but grew from there. That led to a sequel and "Latino in America." She is now working on "Muslim in America." "It's going to be so hardcore," she said. "I can't wait!"

O'Brien said she has learned to be "fearless" when interviewing people about race. "Plus, I not only have to just ask the question but ask the followup and dig a little more," he said. "Dig into the wound. Dig into the point. Dig into the issue. Sometimes, it's a little painful. That's been the hallmark of the series."

She admitted that her "Latino in America" series last year became a bit overshadowed by Lou Dobbs, a CNN anchor at the time who was vehemently covering the illegal immigration debate in a way that alienated many Latinos. "I felt like my project was being hijacked," she admitted. "I wanted to talk about the documentary. They wanted to talk about Lou Dobbs. As a journalist, I totally understood. As a human being, I was really frustrated and annoyed."

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By Rodney Ho,, AJCRadioTV blog

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