A safe space to talk & listen: A Q&A with WFTV's Vanessa Echols

The veteran anchor's new venture into podcasts

ORLANDO, Fla. — Twenty-six years into her WFTV career, Channel 9’s Vanessa Echols is exploring something new in addition to her duties anchoring Eyewitness News at noon and 4 p.m.: The world of podcasts.

The relatively new medium is perfect for Colorblind: Race Across Generations because it's all about listening.

“That’s what we don’t do enough,” said Echols, who’s an Alabama native and breast cancer survivor. Instead, she said guests on the WFTV-produced podcast know that “They’re in that kind of environment where everyone’s like ‘OK, we’re just gonna talk about this.’ We’re not going to scream.”

From identifying with those in the media who resemble you, to finding laughter in race,

Colorblind

has national appeal in an age of viral headlines and social media backlash

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WFTV.com digital producer Kevin Williams sat down with Echols to discuss how the podcast came to be, what it’s teaching her and her listeners, and why there’s a difference between race and racism.

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KW: Where did the idea for Colorblind come from?

VE: It came from all the stories we’ve seen recently that involve issues of race and people yelling at each other, but not taking time to talk to each other or understand why people might have a viewpoint that’s different from yours. Maybe it’s their life experience, maybe it’s because of something that happened to them… and so I thought there should be a safe space for people to be able to talk about race in a smart, safe way.

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KW: For each episode, you have a mix of people to discuss the issues. What are you looking for in a panelist?

VE: We try to do a panel that’s diverse in terms of race, ethnic background, and age. So we try to get everyone involved at some point: from millennials to baby boomers. Millennials may view issues of race differently from someone in their eighties or seventies or sixties.

Link: Download episodes of Colorblind on iTunes now

KW: What have you learned in the short time you’ve been doing the podcast?

VE: That if you give them the opportunity to talk about race, people are very candid and authentic about their experiences. They’re in a space where they know no one’s going to yell and that people are going to listen. When they’re in that kind of environment and everyone’s like ‘OK, we’re just gonna talk about this.’ We’re not going to scream. We’re not going to be judgmental and criticize people. We’re just going to hear what you have to say.

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Colorblind

KW: What might surprise people about Colorblind when they first listen to it?

VE: How authentic people are. And I think it will surprise you how there are a lot of people who think the way that you think.

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KW: How do you handle controversial topics?

VE: The first episode was controversial because we talked about ‘Why are people afraid to talk about race?’ In another episode, we talked about ‘When did you first realize race was an issue?’ Someone brought up an incident when he was two years old. That’s something everyone can relate to, regardless of background. A lot of people have their heads buried in the sand and think, ‘If we don’t talk about it, there won’t be any problems.’ I think history has shown us that’s not true.

KW: What about news stories that are controversial?

VE: The stories that come up have been stories like the Yale student who called police on a black student who was sleeping, the Starbucks arrest, or stories with big-picture issues that make you think 'This could happen to anybody.'

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KW: What kind of feedback have you gotten from listeners so far?

VE: It’s interesting because a lot of times people say ‘I thought I was the only one who felt that way.’ Or, people will say it made them stop and think about how they grew up and what they were told about race as a child. A lot of people have reached out like, ‘That’s me. What you talked about: That’s me, but I never told anybody I had that experience or that that’s how I honestly feel.’

Link: Download episodes of Colorblind on iTunes now

VE: People always think our society talks about race all the time. We don’t, really – we talk about racism. Incidents where some people say ‘I can’t believe that happened’ and others say ‘Oh, it’s blown out of proportion.’ That’s not what this is about. This is about people talking about race issues that we allow to divide us. I hope it’s a chance for people to be honest and authentic. Just listen to what people have to say – and listen with an open heart and an open mind. Then you can say, ‘Well, I don’t agree, but I can understand why you feel that way.’

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KW: What’s the goal for you and listeners?

VE: I hope they’re going to talk. I hope they’re going to talk openly, I hope they’re going to talk honestly, but the major part of it: I hope they’re going to listen, because that’s what we don’t do enough.

Look for new episodes of Colorblind: Race Across Generations Fridays on iTunes and through Google Play.

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