The forecasters were correct—the threat of rain and thunderstorms turned into reality, as the Pittsburgh area was belted in the early morning by fierce lightning and sonic boom-style thunder. Later Thursday afternoon, the skies darkened again, and the city got another dose of heavy rain.
But by 6:30 p.m., when it was Lester Holt and NBC’s time to showcase Pittsburgh, the skies were clear, the sun was shining.
Holt, the first African American solo anchor of a network nightly news broadcast, came to Pittsburgh on May 10 as part of NBC Nightly News’ “Across America” tour; Pittsburgh being the fourth of five cities on the tour. The program wanted to let nationwide viewers—who may think of Pittsburgh as that smoke-filled, blue-collar steel town—see the new side of Pittsburgh. One that’s filled with the likes of Google, Uber, Duolingo, and the overall tech craze.
The show broadcasted at Allegheny Landing, across the street from PNC Park, just steps from the Allegheny River.
On the broadcast, Holt didn’t shy away from giving nationwide viewers the complete story—Pittsburgh, a city that’s revamped, infused with new, affluent millennials, at the expense of removing African Americans from their neighborhoods. Randall Taylor and Alethea Sims of Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition were featured on the broadcast.
What was unbeknownst to the millions of nationwide viewers was what happened after the live show. Holt held a 15-minute discussion with students from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, sharing tidbits on his profession, but more importantly, he said, allowing the students to speak their mind on the issues affecting them.
The primary issue raised were school shootings, particularly the Parkland, Fla. shooting, in which 17 people, mostly students, were killed earlier this year by alleged suspect Nicolas Cruz. Many Allderdice students told Holt they felt empowered to speak out, collaborate and ignite change.
Then the students discussed where they get their news—many said from online news outlets. But could they trust what they read online? One student asked Holt how NBC News makes sure the network airs real—not fake—news. “We rely on multiple sources, we are constantly fact-checking. Sometimes if the story’s not there, it doesn’t run,” Holt responded. “It’s a constant process of supporting each other, layers of editors.”
Holt has worked at NBC for 18 years. Most viewers knew him as a presence on “Dateline,” and weekend versions of the “Today” Show and “Nightly News.” Now, everyone knows him as the anchor of the one of the two most-watched newscasts in the country.
“I’ve grown up watching Lester Holt. And growing up, I’ve never explicitly thought about his being Black. I just always thought, ‘Wow, that man on TV has a great voice and covers a lot of great stories all over the world’,” said Kelauni Cook, an African American woman who founded Black Tech Nation in Pittsburgh last year, and met Holt after the broadcast. “I couldn’t help but appreciate the amount of work he’s probably had to put in above and beyond his non-Black colleagues to get to that position. Somewhere his presence is an inspiration to a young Black kid who has dreams of talking to millions of people on the nightly news one day. For me, I can only hope to be that same example for a young Black kid who dreams of owning a tech company and changing their community.”
Count Giavanna Gibson and Kyley Coleman as young Black youth who call Holt an inspiration. The Allderdice students, who were among the 18 students selected for the question-and-answer session with Holt, told the New Pittsburgh Courier that they understand Holt’s impact for African Americans across the country.
“That honestly inspires me to do a lot more,” Gibson, 16, said. “Just seeing him, knowing that could be me at some point, and it makes me want to work a lot harder in school and get to where I want to get to in life.”
Both Gibson and Coleman are members of the Allderdice Black Student Union. The organization aims to help students learn more about politics, while also holding events that stress Black excellence, Coleman said. From teacher recommendations and being involved in various events at school is how Coleman and Gibson were selected to meet Holt.
“Very encouraging to see a Black male as the face of a TV show. It’s very thrilling and it’s not something you see often,” Coleman, a junior, said.
Coleman said she’s well aware of some of the stereotypical ways African American males are depicted on TV. “The rappers, the pants down to their knees…and that’s not who we are. I feel like a lot of figures in the music industry represent us the wrong way, but Holt, he’s taking charge again and taking power back into the right hands, and giving the Black community a good face.”
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