“I didn’t think I deserved this honor.”
That’s how Sunny Hostin started off her acceptance speech on Tuesday night at the 54th Annual Frederick Douglass Dinner, hosted by the New York Urban League. The View co-host was awarded a medallion in the late abolitionist’s honor for her leadership and service. And though the career lawyer has been using her voice to elevate civil rights issues for years, Hostin said she originally thought the committee should select someone else.
Although her worthiness of the distinction is something she confesses she grappled with, the proud New Yorker did point out the similarities in both her and Douglass’ stories. “In his time, he was described by abolitionists as a living counterexample to slaveholder’s arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens,” Hostin notes.
“And northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave. And I will tell you I encountered similar obstruction when people found out that I was a kid of teenage parents from the South Bronx projects, so my journey has been a difficult one, and finding my voice has been a difficult one. But I found my voice February 26, 2012, when Trayvon Martin was murdered.”
Hostin told the packed room at Pier 60 in New York City that her life changed after Martin’s killing. For the first time she had a reason to fight for a story to be told, and so she, after being given information from her friend and civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump about the details of the case, took what her bosses told her was a local story, “because it was just another Black boy that was killed,” to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. She credits Cooper as being the first person at the network to let her tell the story.
Though Hostin found an opportunity to tell the narrative of what happened to 17-year-old Martin in February of 2012, there was a point during her time tracking the story in Florida, when her editors at CNN thought it was necessary to pull back.
“They said I had gotten too close to the family, too close to the story,” Hostin admits. “So on my own dime, I stayed in Sanford, Florida and I recorded from the courtroom by borrowing BET’s press passes because they didn’t have the money to keep a reporter there. And I told that story and that’s where I found my voice, and it was a change for me.”
In spite of her national platform, and the stories she’s been able to highlight because of it, the wife and mom of two says it’s just a fraction of the work that needs to be done.
“When I say I’m not ready and I’m not worthy, it’s because there’s so much more work to do in our community,” Hostin proclaims before wrapping up her speech. “There’s so much more work to do in our community, and I feel like I’m doing just an itsy bitsy bit of it every day.”