<em>The son of Mexican immigrants, Enrique Cerna was born and raised in the Yakima Valley. Enrique joined KCTS 9 in January, 1995. He has anchored current affairs programs, moderated statewide political debates, and produced and reported stories for national PBS programs as well as local documentaries on such topics as juvenile justice, salmon recovery, and civil rights.</em>
I was born in Yakima and grew up in the lower valley near the small town of Wapato. Growing up there as a dark skinned Mexican-American, I learned, sometimes harshly, about race, class and discrimination. There were experiences that were painful and all these years later, I still feel some hurt and anger. But I have been fortunate to be able to confront those feelings through my journalistic work at KCTS 9.
I return to the valley on occasion to cover stories about farmworkers, police relations, health challenges, politics, and of people working to improve lives and their community. I moderated two gubernatorial debates in Yakima as well as town hall meetings on gang violence and immigration. But of everything I have done there, this town hall on race, justice and democracy has been the most meaningful and important.
It started with a conversation at a fundraiser in May where I met Kimberly Bellamy-Thompson, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington. She told me that she had arranged for Florida defense attorney Mark O’Mara, who represented George Zimmerman in the controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin to visit the school. We talked about putting on a community event with O’Mara to talk about race and justice.
Then things snowballed. Humanities Washington joined as a partner; the Yakima Valley Museum offered to host the event; and then we at KCTS 9 decided to tape, stream and broadcast the conversation as a town hall. We also commissioned Elway Research to conduct a poll to determine state voter’s attitudes about race, police relations, and voting rights.
We added other strong voices to join Mark O’Mara on our panel: Laura Contreras of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; UW professor Christopher Parker; and Sue Rahr, who heads the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
Word about the town hall spread through newspaper coverage, social media and promotional spots on KCTS 9. On the night of the taping more than 300 people showed up ready to listen and talk. They voiced passion, anger, disappointment and even some hope. It was gratifying to see them so engaged. As I told the audience that night, our goal was to start the conversation. Their task was to keep it going. But the truth is we at KCTS 9 need to help them continue the conversation. All voices matter.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Enrique Cerna was born and raised in the Yakima Valley. Enrique joined KCTS 9 in January, 1995. He has anchored current affairs programs, moderated statewide political debates, produced and reported stories for national PBS programs in addition to local documentaries on social and juvenile justice, the environment and Latinos in Washington State.
Enrique has earned nine Northwest Emmy Awards and numerous other honors. In June, 2013, he was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Northwest Chapter’s Silver Circle for his work as a television professional.More stories by Enrique Cerna