Journalist sparks important social discussion
Tamara Banks is using her voice as a journalist to help end human slavery, particularly in Sudan. About two years ago, she transitioned from a “big, comfortable job (in television) to camping three weeks in the desert and fighting off scorpions,” she said.”That’s what journalism is about,” Banks said. “It’s not about being comfortable. It’s about pushing the envelope and raising the discussion … because if journalists aren’t talking about it, the world isn’t talking about it.”Banks won an Emmy from the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences last year for her coverage on Sudan, which she ran on Colorado Public Television. Her weekly show airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays and covers topics from the economy to slavery and genocide in Sudan.After working as a reporter and anchor for more than 20 years in mainstream media, she said she “wanted to do something more meaningful than 10-second soundbites and ambulance chasing.”Her interest in documentary filmmaking led her to learn more about atrocities in Sudan: From 1985 to 2005, the country had a civil war, which many simply call genocide, because northern militia burned southern villages (targeted because of the color of the people’s skin and religion, mostly Christian or tribal) and raped and killed residents. They scorched the earth so severely that wildlife could no longer sustain life in the southern regions. Because the southern villagers primarily existed as hunters and farmers, they didn’t have sophisticated means to fight back; they literally fought the north’s tanks and AK 47s with spears, rocks and slings.In 2005, a comprehensive peace agreement ended the warring, but northerners agreed to sign only if they could keep the slaves they captured from the south during the conflict.Because children have now been born into slavery, the number of slaves has reached tens of thousands, Banks said. They have little recourse, because Sudan is a approximately a quarter of the United States in size, and train tracks and highways were destroyed during the war.In order to free the slaves, a grassroots group of abolitionists called the Arab-Dinka Peace Committee is bringing satellite phones, trucks and animal vaccinations into the northern part of Sudan. The members negotiate people’s freedom through cattle vaccines, which cost about $50 each, Banks said. Because the northern slave owners are mostly farmers, if their cattle or goats die, their whole family can die, she said, and therefore, they are willing to trade their slaves for the vaccinations.Banks helps the cause by traveling to Sudan and drawing attention to the struggle through her PBS shows. She raises her own money through churches, synagogues, Muslim organizations and talks, mainly at colleges throughout the West.”(I do it) because I can,” she said. “It’s just a passion.”Thursday, she will talk about her work in Sudan and the issues the region faces.”I always start the conversation (saying) this is not anti Muslim or Islamic or Arab,” she said. “It’s about extremists who use the Koran to their benefit.”
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