A news station made a racist error. This anchor went off-script to apologize.

On July 22, 18-year-old Nia Wilson was murdered in a stabbing at a transit station in Oakland, California.

The teen had just stepped off a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train with her two sisters, one of whom was also targeted in the incident but survived. The "prison-style attack" on Wilson, who was black, may have been a racially motivated hate crime, according to investigators.

"It's nothing imaginable, seeing your child on the BART platform with a yellow tarp over her body," said Wilson's father, Ansar Muhammad. "That is an image I'll never forget for the rest of my life."


The senseless tragedy rattled the Bay Area — and then the entire country.

Even though recently paroled John Lee Cowell — a 27-year-old white man with a violent criminal history — was arrested for the murder the following day, tensions flared across the nation.

Demonstrators in Oakland filled the streets, frustrated with law enforcement's relatively sluggish response to Wilson's death (research suggests police are slower to react when victims are people of color). Angry celebrities like Kehlani, Tegan and Sara, and Anne Hathaway elevated Wilson's story through their online platforms.

"The murder of Nia Wilson — may she rest in the power and peace she was denied here — is unspeakable AND MUST NOT be met with silence," Hathaway wrote on Instagram. "She is not a hashtag; she was a black woman and she was murdered in cold blood by a white man."

Many photos of the 18-year-old — who'd been planning a future career in the beauty or music industries or possibly the Army — were plucked from her social media accounts and shared by outraged sympathizers.

Out of all of Wilson's photos, however, a Bay Area news station chose the absolute wrong one to use in their coverage.  

In the photo used by KTVU News, Wilson appeared to be holding a gun. She wasn't, to be clear: The item in her hand was a cellphone case shaped in the form of a gun.

But the damage had already been done.

This may seem like a non-issue to some people (particularly white folks), but it reflects a much larger systemic problem concerning media portrayals of black and brown people in the U.S.

The news media often portrays people of color as inherently more violent — even when they're the victims of crimes.

White criminals, on the other hand, seem to benefit from their skin color.

Just look at convicted rapist Brock Turner, a white man who's habitually referred to in headlines as a "Stanford swimmer" and complemented with flattering photos. Compare that to much of the coverage surrounding slain, innocent 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whose "thug" outfit and cannabis use apparently justified his killing.

These aren't isolated lapses in judgment. They're part of a much larger news media system that portrays people of color differently than white people.

The photo KTVU used in its broadcast reinforced negative stereotypes and contributed to this problem, according to the National Association of Black Journalists.

"There's no justification for KTVU's airing of a photo of her apparently holding a fake gun cellphone case," the group's president, Sarah Glover, told Poynter. "KTVU victimized her twice by airing an image that puts her in a negative light and that also has nothing to do with her death."

Fortunately, KTVU quickly acknowledged its failure and apologized for featuring the problematic photo of Wilson.

Anchor Frank Somerville addressed the controversy head-on during a live broadcast, going off-script to express his apologies.

"There's no doubt we made a mistake," Somerville said. "It never should have happened. But we made the mistake, and we are owning up to that mistake."

He continued:  

"Nia was a just beautiful young woman. And I can only hope right now that her family and her parents are watching so that they can see me and all of us here at Channel 2 say that we are so sorry about what happened to your daughter, and we are sorry about the mistake that we made today."

Somerville, with the encouragement of the station's news director, also took to his Facebook page to address the issue.

He may not have been involved in choosing the photo, Somerville noted in a post, but that's irrelevant.

"There is no excuse for [what] we did. Repeat: No excuse!" Somerville wrote. "We NEVER should have used that picture. It was a huge mistake on our part."

You can read his whole post below:

I wanted to take a moment and apologize for a picture that KTVU showed on the air for several seconds today about the...

Posted by Frank Somerville KTVU on Monday, July 23, 2018

Even when it's done unintentionally, the media can get it wrong in big ways.

So when a news source does, it should confront the mistake and vow to do better. The more we talk about the flawed portrayals of people of color in the world around us, the more we can change the problem for the better.

Nothing can bring back Wilson. But her family deserves the world to remember her as the helpful, bright, big dreamer she was.

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Macy's and Girls Inc. believe that all girls deserve to be safe, supported, and valued. However, racial disparities continue to exist for young people when it comes to education levels, employment, and opportunities for growth. Add to that the gender divide, and it's clear to see why it's important for girls of color to have access to mentors who can equip them with the tools needed to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.

Anissa Rivera is one of those mentors. Rivera is a recent Program Manager at the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc., a nonprofit focusing on the holistic development of girls ages 5-18. The goal of the organization is to provide a safe space for girls to develop long-lasting mentoring relationships and build the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to thrive now and as adults.

Rivera spent years of her career working within the themes of self and community empowerment with young people — encouraging them to tap into their full potential. Her passion for youth development and female empowerment eventually led her to Girls Inc., where she served as an agent of positive change helping to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

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Inspiring young women from all backgrounds is why Macy's has continued to partner with Girls Inc. for the second year in a row. The partnership will support mentoring programming that offers girls career readiness, college preparation, financial literacy, and more. Last year, Macy's raised over $1.3M for Girls Inc. in support of this program along with their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming for more than 26,000 girls. Studies show that girls who participated are more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, score higher on standardized math tests, and be more equipped for college and campus life.

Thanks to mentors like Rivera, girls across the country have the tools they need to excel in school and the confidence to change the world. With your help, we can give even more girls the opportunity to rise up. Throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases or donate online to support Girls Inc. at Macys.com/MacysGives.

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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

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Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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