Two months ago, Cara Anthony was writing about pandemic anxiety in public housing and the challenges COVID-19 places on multigenerational families. Then George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police while in custody, and Anthony knew she needed to get back to Darnell Hill.
She had first met Hill in February while reporting for Kaiser Health News about where children hide when they hear gunfire in their neighborhoods. Now she wanted to tell his story — the story of an African American mental health case worker teaching Black teenagers how to cope and survive. The story, published by Kaiser Health News this week and featured in Time magazine, was headlined, ‘Just Make It Home’: The Unwritten Rules Blacks Learn To Navigate Racism in America.
Anthony is a KHN Midwest Correspondent and veteran journalist. Her six-part Belleville News-Democrat series titled “Then I Knew” about racism in America was nominated in 2018 for an Emmy.
We emailed Anthony to learn more about how she covers underrepresented communities and how she tells stories about the intersection of health, race and identity.
You have been writing about race and the pandemic and now about the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. What have you learned about journalism’s ability to tell a larger story?
Anthony: The feedback I’ve received from readers about “the unwritten rules” reminded me how important it is for us to take a step back and listen to what people are talking about when they think no one is paying attention. This is a critical moment for newsrooms across the country. The big breaking stories are important, but we also have the power to share larger stories about humanity, resilience and grit.
You wrote and produced an Emmy-nominated documentary about racism in America for the Belleville News-Democrat in 2018. How does your reporting then affect or inform your reporting now?
Anthony: I had to learn how to be comfortable with making other people uncomfortable. Talking about race and identity isn’t easy. It’s hard enough bringing those topics up at the dinner table, but we can’t be afraid to have those conversations. You also have to give it time. Daily stories about tragedy and triumph in my community only share a very small part of the big picture. My documentary, “Then I Knew,” explored the silence in between joy and pain. It’s about everyday life as a Black American.
How did you learn about Darnell Hill’s work with Black teenagers?
Anthony: We met in February while I was working on a story about where children hide when they hear gunfire in their neighborhoods. He works for one of the few mental health agencies for kids in St. Louis. I asked the vice president of the agency if anyone’s work stood out. She mentioned Darnell’s work almost immediately. I interviewed and photographed him the same day. I knew I wanted to return to him with my reporting, but I had no idea his work would become so relevant five months later as attention turned to navigating systemic racism.
What appealed to you or what resonated with you about his story?
Anthony: He wasn’t afraid to be himself. I was the first reporter to ask him about his work at Hopewell and his answers were raw and heartfelt. He wasn’t trying to impress me or anyone else. In fact, his voice shook during the interview when he told me about his past experiences. His vulnerability captivated me. Darnell’s experience mirrored stories I’ve heard time and time again. He lived through the trauma of being tormented by white men. But we don’t often get to hear from people like him. The survivorship stories of Black men often go untold.
You write for Kaiser Health News. Why is coverage such as yours important to the KHN audience?
Anthony: This work is important for all news outlets to cover and all audiences to read. At KHN, our partnership model allows our work to go all over the country, explaining important aspects of health care policy. Racism greatly affects mental health, physical health and policy. And the experience of all people should be reflected in our coverage well beyond the inequities.
How can newsrooms, particularly at local news organizations, find the stories such as yours that need to be told in communities that have been underrepresented in the media?
Anthony: Building trust with underrepresented communities is a good way to start. I don’t have a roadmap for this, but hiring people from those underrepresented communities is a good place to start. When I joined KHN, my editor knew I didn’t have a lot of experience covering health but I had experience getting people to open up to tell important stories. I’m from a community that doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves, even though its residents have plenty of stories to tell.
How have you been caring for yourself?
Anthony: I recently took a big step and started therapy. I’m a single mom with an energetic 3-year-old and we live with my aging parents. It’s a wonderful arrangement that comes with perks, but it can be stressful. It’s so important for us to take care of ourselves. We can’t just talk about self care. We have to prioritize it.