“I define myself as multiracial. Definitions are important to other people. They make no difference to my life. I think my parents were sort of like. You’re a black girl. You’re a light skinned black girl – that’s what you are, and I don’t know if it was ever a really big issue…” – Soledad O’Brien
She was the investigative force behind CNN’s much talked about series, Black in America and Latino in America. Next to Roland Martin, she is usually the most outspoken journalist on CNN, often not afraid to say the tough things. Award winning journalist, Soledad O’Brien is no shrinking violet.
She was born Maria de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien in Long Island New York to Edward and Estella O’Brien. Both of her parents are immigrants, her mother a black Cuban and her father, a white Australian. As the fifth of six children, Soledad had the great fortune to be born into a family that valued education. Her mother was a French and English teacher and her father a mechanical engineering professor. Clearly it was the example they set that led to them raising six children, all of whom graduated from Harvard. Soledad’s sibling’s professions range from law professor and corporate attorney to eye surgeon and anesthesiologist. Soledad attended Smithtown High School East in Smithtown, NY and was often faced with the race question. She says of her middle school days:
“…when I was 13 I’d be stopped in the hallway, with a question: “If you’re a n—–, why don’t you have big lips? [or]…“Why is your name so weird?” People would apologize for asking me if I was black. I didn’t know how to take the apology. I just ignored them and pushed forward with a quest to become a typical Long Island teenager. I chopped off the end of my name and had people call me Solie, which I spelled with a heart over the “i” in true Long Island high-school-girl fashion. But my hair would never “wing” like Farrah Fawcett’s.
Despite the challenges, Soledad went on to attend Harvard University in the footsteps of her siblings. She did not immediately graduate, choosing instead to postpone her degree in favor of pursuing her journalism career. She started out as an associate producer and writer for an NBC affiliate in Boston. She went on to join NBC news in New York as a field producer for the Nightly News and Today. It wasn’t long before she became on-air talent for an NBC affiliate in San Francisco, the Discovery Channel and eventually began anchoring the weekend morning show on MSNBC. She continued writing and contributing reports for the Today Show and NBC Nightly News. In 2000, the same year that she was named one of People magazines “50 Most Beautiful People in the World”; Soledad completed her studies at Harvard and received her Bachelor of Arts.
Soledad’s career trajectory and accolades are beyond impressive. Since joining CNN she has covered some of the most significant stories of our time, from Hurricane Katrina to the 2008 Presidential election. Her most recent success has come from her special investigative reporting series, Black in America and Latino in America. As a mother and wife with a successful career, Soledad continues to demonstrate for women the world over that the sky is the limit.