“Let us shift our priorities. Let us train an army of doctors to fight the global HIV/AIDS crisis. Let us declare war on this dreaded disease.”
Think of Diane Watson as a one-woman army, fighting valiantly against the epidemic on the political front, first in California State Senate and now in the U.S. House of Representatives. A lifetime resident of the urban stretch of Los Angeles she represents, Watson’s advocacy on behalf of women, minority and AIDS-related health issues is no less than thorough and perhaps most importantly, effective.
Serving parts of LA that include Baldwin Hills, the Crenshaw District, the University of Southern California, the Wilshire Corridor, and Culver City, Watson was first elected to Congress in 2001, filling the seat that had been represented for more than 20 years by the late Julian Dixon.
A graduate of Dorsey High School, Watson attended Los Angeles City College, then UCLA, where she received her B.A. in Education. She also holds an M.A. in School Psychology from California State University, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the Claremont Graduate School.
Her lifetime commitment to education stems from her involvement in the Los Angeles public schools, where she once worked as an elementary school teacher and school psychologist. She has also lectured at both California State Universities at Los Angeles and Long Beach. In 1975, Watson became the first African American woman to be elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Her legacy there includes efforts to expand school integration and toughen academic standards. The year 1978 marked her election to the California State Senate, where Watson became a statewide and national advocate for health care, consumer protection, women, children and AIDS treat
The radio airwaves can seem awfully cluttered, what with teen pop idols, conservative shock jocks, know-it-all sports commentators and Madison Avenue marketing gurus all competing for America’s ears and attention. But for 18 years, Jacquie Stephens has been a of voice of reason on the broadcast waves of Southern California, making sure listeners get a good dose of critical reality that is at once thought-provoking and enriching to their lives.
“Taking on challenges with shear determination,” is how she likes to describe herself and her job. These days, that job includes hosting KJLH’s “L.A. Speaks Out!” and serving as the station’s Director of News and Public Affairs. As part of her show, every Saturday morning, Stephens sits down with local decision makers and opinion shapers—from business leaders to elected officials—and tackles important issues confronting her listening audience. And as Stephens knows, there is no more important issue than the HIV/AIDS epidemic, something the award-winning journalist first came to grips with over a decade ago.
“I realized that the Black community, which we primarily broadcast to, really just wasn’t aware of what was going on,” she says. “Initially, listeners were kind of reluctant. But now people are really interested. And I’d say that interest is growing. They just want information about this.”
Stephens believes the virus’s relentless spread among Black women, particularly those of child bearing age, has been the catalyst for much of the community’s heightened awareness and curiosity about HIV. As the impact within that population has become ever more clear, both women and men have begun to shed assumptions about who is and is not at risk.
“Our involvement with AIDS was initiated several years ago and continues because KJLH is the only L.A. area station—among the almost 100 stations—with a full-time news and public affairs department broadcasting to a primarily African American audience.”
Translation: KJLH’s listeners hear about events such as World AIDS Day and are kept informed about HIV/AIDS as the pandemic evolves, creating new issues and challenges as it does.
During the 2002’s International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain (which Stephens attended), the station broadcast daily reports back to Southern California, affording its listeners an in-depth view of the epidemic, its global impact, the latest on treatment news, the ever-changing needs of those dealing with HIV. The trip was Stephens’ first to the AIDS conference and made an indelible mark on her.
“The stories women from Africa shared—about the lack of services available to them—that was devastating,” said Stephens. But she believes there is at least one weapon everyone can use against HIV, both at home and abroad: knowledge. “It just needs to be in your face.”
For her, that means the Black press, while already stretched thin by the wide range of concerns of dire import to African Americans, must find ways to do more.
“We exhaust our industries because there’s so much that impacts our community. But we still have to do the best we can,” Stephens urges. “We just need to pour in as much information as we can.”
A Chicago native, Stephens graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism. She also holds a diploma in public relations from Chicago’s Bryant & Stratton Business School and another in broadcasting from Brown Institute of Minneapolis. Before entering the Los Angeles market, Stephens worked in radio, TV and magazines in Iowa, Wisconsin and Denver. In addition to her work at KJLH, she also does voice-over work and is an instructor at the Columbia School of Broadcasting.
In keeping with her commitment to public service, Stephens has held committee memberships with Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles and the Inglewood Youth Anti-Drug and Alcohol Program. She’s also a member of the Ralph J. Bunch Center Community Advisory Board for African American Studies at UCLA and the American Heart Association’s African American Task Force.
Service. Commitment. And a desire to disseminate information vital to the African American community. All of these are traits Stephens lives—and works—by and are befitting of her motto:
“We are on this earth to help each other.”