He’s Giving a Voice to The Voiceless
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he lives at the intersection of hip-hop and social justice.
“Trust who?” The gloomy lyrics to Drake’s “Not You Too” ring all too clear in today’s turmoil. A Reuters survey conducted across 40 countries in January found that trust in the news has fallen to its lowest level since the survey was first done in 2012, with just 38 percent saying they trusted most news most of the time.
While mainstream news outlets concentrate on the civil unrest, camera phones are capturing peaceful protest and police abuse of power. As destruction has mostly died down in cities across America, why have peaceful demonstrations fallen out of the headlines despite the fact that thousands are still showing up every day? Social media hasn’t forgotten about Tony McDade, a Black trans man killed in Florida, or Breonna Taylor, whose killers still haven’t been arrested. And that disconnect between timelines and headlines breeds mistrust.
Enter Dometi Pongo, host of the new MTV series True Life Crime and MTV News’ Need to Know, a Twitter and Instagram TV show covering pop culture. Pongo, 31, veers away from what most outlets are covering, doubling down on stories of police violence and racial injustice that quickly fall off the radar of other journalists — and effectively becoming an activist in his own right. From his coverage of the Laquan McDonald shooting, which received Best Radio Feature recognition from the National Association of Black Journalists, to his grassroots reporting on the case of Kenneka Jenkins, a 19-year-old who was found dead in a Chicago hotel freezer, he never fails to bring an authenticity to his work.
Pongo came up interning at Chicago Urban Talk Radio, then became a fill-in host for Chicago’s WGN Radio before getting his own MTV shows. Throughout his rise, he’s tried to keep the spotlight on the message, not the messenger — and points out others doing similar social justice work in journalism, like MSNBC contributor Brittany Packet Cunningham.
“I don’t want to participate in erasure of someone who is doing this work and I just haven’t seen them,” he says. “But I know that when I was looking for templates on how I wanted to present myself, on what did it look to be a fully realized personality in so many different arenas, nobody came to mind. Literally nobody.”
Growing up the son of Ghanaian immigrants, Pongo was always being reminded of his identity. His father supplied him with books and other resources to build his consciousness. Another spark for him was the experience he gained blogging for a Black studies website during undergrad at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. After graduation, he went for the corporate life, working at the Target headquarters — but gradually gravitated back toward media and a focus on the African American community.
For him, it’s not a job, it’s a birthright. “Because of who I am, I don’t have the liberty, in a lot of ways, to ignore this,” he tells me. “Even when I want to ignore this, I can’t. I physically can’t because my presence on that screen not talking about something that marginalized communities are talking about is tone-deaf beyond measure.”