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KENS 5 team members share experiences of racism, bias, prejudice on solutions journey | Together We Rise

'Together We Rise' launched on KENS 5 in February 2021. Team members said the experiences that make up the diversity content collective started long before that.

SAN ANTONIO — The decibels of distress and frustration got turned up to a rage reform demand after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Long before Derek Chauvin was charged, indicted, and convicted for killing Floyd in the street following an apprehension over a counterfeit bill, San Antonio and other cities exploded in outrage.

"I feel like a lot of people don't realize that news reporters are human beings as well," Clarke Finney said. "And they can kind of stereotype or put individuals and news in a box and not really understand that there is emotions and so much more that comes with covering tragedies."

Finney is a co-host and reporter for KENS 5's Great Day SA talk show. She is also a former news anchor who doesn't stray from her journalistic principles.

The California native is also one of the founding members of the Eyewitness News Together We Rise team. The group started with no name or purpose other than checking on Black employees at the news station—nine members made up the first meeting.

"So Together We Rise started as a conversation," Jon Coker said. "It was just a handful of black employees that were responding to George Floyd." 

RELATED: 'There's no finish line': A desire for healing between police, communities of color | Together We Rise

Coker is a KENS marketing audience specialist and contributing journalist for Eyewitness News. Coker, Finney, reporter Jordan Foster, anchor/reporter Marvin Hurst, IT specialist Devin Stoops, former anchor Aaron Wright, former Great Day contributor Brandon Roddy, and former producer Ashlie Ouzts are founding members.

"The hurting community at the time was mostly the Black community," Coker said. "But we realized really quickly that Black issues are community issues, community issues---they affect everybody."

The group went to KENS 5 President and General Manager Tom Cury to discuss capturing the outcry with station backing as a starting point. COVID-19 was a significant obstacle for any events beyond digital meetings rooms.

"In the middle of 2020, how were we going to do it?" Cury recalled. "What do we want to say? How do we want to say it? And how were you going to actually make an impact or to try to create an impact or make a positive change?"  

The conversations continued and were a precursor to a parent company effort to make the space for difficult and constructive conversations.

"It didn't really get started until we all got comfortable in being uncomfortable," Cury said. "And got under the hashtag just start."

Following months of slow, sometimes frustrating, and intentional conversations, 'Together We Rise' was born.

RELATED: Shooting survivor proud to become a different kind of statistic | Together We Rise

"We all have different collective experiences, and we all care about one another," Finney said. "But we're also very frustrated about certain things. So I felt like we had an environment of just being honest with one another. And so tensions did rise sometimes, but it led to honest and truthful conversation."

On February 26, Together We Rise launched on Eyewitness News at 10 p.m., and it's where the stories continue to air. The segment pledges to showcase what divides us to make the community better--together.

The group decided stories that acknowledge, educate, listen, and ultimately heal would be the segment's compass.

"At the dinner table that someone would say--Did you see? And what did you think?" Cury said. "And hopefully, if we did our job, we gave them enough for them to have a healthier, open conversation in their homes."

The group grew---adding members who wanted to share the mission and stories. Even as victims of bias, prejudice, and racism, members discovered we are more alike than different.

KENS anchor Audrey Castoreno joined the team with a vision and a story of her people's stolen language. She said racial injustices aren't over because we don't want to see them or block them out.

"I remember my brothers playing outside and kids saying derogatory names towards him that you would call someone who is Mexican-Latino."

RELATED: 'Stolen from us': The Latinos who lost their language and the fight to recover it | Together We Rise

Castoreno, a fixture on Eyewitness News, said her on-air position means nothing sometimes when she wipes off her makeup, takes off her fancy clothes, and walks around a store in jogging attire.

"I've been followed around in stores because I guess they think I'm stealing something," she said.

Castoreno also remembers thinking she needed to be more Anglo to prosper in life.

"My parents always drilled into me, no, you stay true to yourself, true to your community and your culture," she remembered. "You never forget where you came from."

Coker traveled to wherever his father got stationed in the military. His encounters with being treated differently vary.

"Sometimes that's because I'm simply American, and I'm off base in a different country," he said. "It's been because I'm Black and I have a group of white friends or a group of Hispanic friends, and I don't fit with that."

And Coker said he gets treated differently in the Black community at times because some don't think he's Black enough.

RELATED: Sean Elliott on why an 'honest conversation about race' is overdue in America | Together We Rise

 In recent years, he said, on an access road on 1604, a woman rolled backward into the front end of his car. Coker, who had blown his horn repeatedly to avoid the rollback,  said he followed the woman to a grocery store parking.

"She's cussing me out, calling me the N-word, telling me, get away from me and get away from me," Coker said. "And she's telling everybody in the parking lot, this 'blank' hit me and took off running."

Coker, who says he isn't one to play the race card, said he left because, as people gathered, they believed the woman at fault, and he feared a negative outcome.

Cury said bias, racism, and prejudice have not escaped him.

"It's uncomfortable when it's happening to you," he said. And it was uncomfortable when I saw it happen to somebody else." 

Cury's wife fled to the United States from Honduras when she was 14. But even a classroom of culture from his wife couldn't feed all his learning. The process and some 'Together We Rise' stories have educated him.

"It is the most powerful thing I've ever experienced in my life as an adult woman because we're all driven by this longing for togetherness and understanding and acceptance and inclusion," Finney said.

According to Finney, her experience differs and doesn't get it due--as a Black woman who is multiracial. 

"The way that I look, the way I sound," she said. "It's been hard because I haven't always been accepted by the Black community since my Blackness in a lot of cases to them is diluted."

She said being a woman is challenging too. But as exhausting and emotionally taxing as these topics are, Finney said confronting them is worth it.

"There's healing on the other side of it. And it leads to something bigger and ultimately bigger than just us, " Finney said. 

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