As media outlets converged on Kansas City to cover the shooting of Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager who was shot by a white homeowner after going to the wrong house to pick up his brothers, the AP offered something no one else could: a powerful, personal essay by a Black mother who knows about the subtle racism in the neighborhood.
Kia Breaux, director of Midwest regional sales, lives nearby, and her 17-year-old son, John, attends the same high school. When she heard about the shooting, Breaux realized it was a version of her worst nightmare. “It could have been my child,” she thought.
Like Ralph, Breaux’s son is also an honors student and could have just as easily been picking up his younger brother. She has experienced subtle racism in this predominantly white neighborhood, where she has lived for 17 years. She knows how addresses can get mixed up easily. She teaches her boys to be careful and watch what they do, knowing the simplest error can put them in harm’s way.
Breaux, a longtime AP journalist before moving into revenue, began helping the Kansas City staff report from the ground. It soon became clear that one of the best stories to tell would be her own.
Breaux was on board from the start and wrote a story that resonated with readers of all races, because in its basic form it was about a mother who loves her kids and wants them to be safe. Her personal, reflective and heartfelt words were read by many — including more than 100,000 people on Twitter alone.
Breaux also gave readers a glimpse into her home and family, and allowed AP’s Charlie Riedel to take photos that captured the essence of her family life. She also shared an audio essay in her own words and helped coordinate a video piece, in which her son took part. It was a true multiformat package.
The story set AP’s coverage apart because it was something no other outlet could match. The story was shared hundreds of times and played prominently on Google and Yahoo! News, and was used in multiple papers around the United States, including the Los Angeles Times.
A sample of the response she received:
“I read and understand. I wish I could do more to help. But be encouraged as far as this reader's take on your essay. I understood. I understand. I am sorry.
“Please forgive this unexpected message from a person you don’t know … Please know if you ever stop in Clinton, I will throw open the doors for all of you. Your boys will have safety and be welcomed. You — and every Black mother — are all wrapped around my heart.
For being willing to be vulnerable to a global audience in the service of helping the public understand the impact behind the news, Kia Breaux receives this week’s Best of the Week — Second Winner.