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First of All with Victor Blackwell

Stonewall Jackson Descendant Reacts To School Name Reversal; Historic $237M Gift To Florida HBCU "On Pause"; FAMU Trustees To Meet Amid Scrutiny Of Purported $237M Gift; Florida Deputy Fatally Shoots U.S. Airman In His Own Home; School Board In Virginia Votes To Restore Confederate Leaders' Names To Two Schools; How Donae Burston Opens Doors To Diversity In Wine Industry. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired May 11, 2024 - 08:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Leaders from two schools, including Stonewall Jackson High School. But do you know this week they voted to put those Confederate Generals names back on the schools. So we'll talk about that with the descendant of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, his great, great grandson will be with us for reaction. And you might be surprised by where he stands on all this.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Right. Super interesting. Have a great show, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. Let's do it right now.

Well, first of all, imagine for a moment, someone tells you that they're giving you a gift worth $237 million. I mean, that's enough money to make you want to shop, right? To start making plans, telling everybody you know, but then you find out that the actual value of that gift could be zero. Well, that's what happened this week on an historically black college -- black university campus in Tallahassee, Florida.

This would have been the largest donation ever to an HBCU. And we know how these schools have been so underfunded, right? This one has had some very public financial challenges especially. But to understand this massive collapse, let's go back one week to May 4. That's the day of Florida A and M University's Commencement.

Gregory Gerami is introduced as the CEO of Batterson Farms Corporation. He gave a speech that ended with a surprise announcement, along with a huge ceremonial check.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: $237 million. And by the way, the money is in the bank.


BLACKWELL: All the cheering there, did you hear the background the OJS for the love of money playing. And also you heard the promise there the money is in the bank. On stage with him there, the school's president called The Gift transformative for the institution. That delay Robinson said it was more than $100 million larger than FAMU used current endowment.

Really an historic gift from a 30 year old, whom they'd never heard of within hours, the announcement, alumni started to ask some serious questions online. Whether the story was just too good to believe, they and others started researching Gerami and they found some concerning details.

One day after commencement, after that announcement, FAMU said in a statement as expected, some individuals in the public are and will continue researching Mr. Gerami. Please know that FAMU has done its due diligence when it comes to this matter.

Well, we researched Mr. Gerami and the donation. Here's what we found. First, we obtained a copy of the gift agreement through an open records request. It shows that Gerami donated 14 million shares of stock valued at $239 million plus another 61 million worth of stock over the next 10 years.

The University says it was of his small Texas Company that is not publicly traded. The agreement is between the Issac Batterson Family 7th Trust and the FAMU Foundation and details or even existence of this trust are not public record. But a man who controls that much wealth, a man who could give away nearly a quarter billion dollars you would expect the lives a certain lifestyle that would match that.

Well record show that his company's mailing address is an 1,100 square foot house in San Antonio, valued at 177 grand. He didn't even own that house. We went to the website for his company Batterson Farms Corporation, it explains that it's a hydroponic farming and hemp plastic company founded in 2021.

We looked for employees, there's one other person listed. Her name was Kim Abbott lists her is the co-CEO so we called her up. She said she is not the co-CEO of this company, despite what the website says. And we asked her whether she believed that Gregory Gerami could make good on a nine figure donation. She told us that she didn't know if he could support a donation of any size.

Members of the FAMU Foundation's board of directors say they did not know anything about this donation to the foundation until the OJ Song started playing a commencement. Well, that's a red flag because the purpose of the board is to oversee major gifts.

At an emergency meeting Thursday night, foundation board members were skeptical of Gerami's, "the money is in the bank" lie.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This could be you know, $500 million, or it could be zero, right? So it's all speculation at some point. Hopefully it's educated speculation.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [08:05:06]

BLACKWELL: FAMU's president and head of advancement, they say that this transaction was in the works since the fall. So about six months, everything we just told you, we found out in two days. Less than a week after the announcement of this transformative gift, FAMU's president made this announcement.


LARRY ROBINSON, FAMU'S PRESIDENT: With regard to the giff and the processing of it and so forth in terms of in the future process, we've already decided that it was in our best interest to put that on hold.


BLACKWELL: Put it on hold. I spoke to the so called donor Thursday and after telling me that I needed to contact FAMU to set up an interview, he then agreed to speak with me on Friday afternoon. But when I called back on Friday, I was sent to voicemail. He did however, address early skepticism back on Tuesday. Listen to this, he told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that he does well and quote, "keeping things off the web and keeping things under radar". He added this, "I will say everything is out there. The only thing you cannot find is the money. That's really the only thing you can't find online."

Next week, the FAMU board of trustees will be holding their own public meeting on this. The vice chair of the board was among the first to raise questions about the donation and Deveron Gibbons joins me now.

Mr. Gibbons, thank you for your time today. I look at this and nearly quarter billion dollar donation and we'll get into who knew and who did not. But from your perspective, did they just want it too badly? That they do want it to believe that this 30 year old out of nowhere had a quarter billion dollars to give.

DEVERON GIBBONS, VICE CHAIR, FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES: Victor, good morning. Yes. I think that the FAMU folks, it's unfortunate that they did -- I don't think that they did their due diligence. But also, this is the reason that a board of trustees exists.

I'm currently on the board of three college and two universities in Florida. And red flags went up. I happened to be with my mother. I didn't have an opportunity to go to the graduation. I had to take her to take care of some business out of town. I got the text messages. And when I read it, I immediately said there's some things wrong. After being in the financial services sector for over 20 years, this just didn't seem right.

BLACKWELL: So the university president and the vice president of advancement, they signed nondisclosure agreements, which is one of the really interesting elements here. And they couldn't even talk to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. They couldn't tell the members of the foundation which board which was separate entities here. How is that possible that you could have a nine figure donation come in, and they can't tell the people who are charged with accepting gifts like that?

GIBBONS: Victor, this is one of the problems that a lot of HBCUs have, especially here at FAMU. That is not accurate. The President's authority comes from the Board of Trustees. He acts as an agent of the board. There's no NDA that he or she or anybody else could have stood behind, that would not have allowed for the board of trustees to understand and know what this gift is.

I'm also a trustee at a school called St. Petersburg College. We have a gift and a donor of clause in our bylaws. And we follow that accurately into the rule. And any gift you are supposed to bring it to the board, because we're on the board because we have large networks. We know a lot of people and we understand a lot of these issues.

And so it would allow the President and other folks in the administration to get someone to bounce this off of have we done our proper background. Have we done the vetting? Do we hire a tax attorney? Who did the valuation? Who transferred the stocks?

I mean, there are so many questions that come up with this particular type of donation. That is why the board trustees in place. We are the fiduciary body of the university. And really it should have come to us to have proper vetting so that we can make sure that we weren't put in a situation.

The pause was absolutely correct by the President. But the pause should have happened before we gave this gentleman a mic.

BLACKWELL: Yes. I mean, they worked on this for six months. And it was six days between the announcement and the pause that was that came from the President. Do you think you'll ever see any money from Gregory Gerami or from this so called trust?

GIBBONS: Victor, I can tell you I don't know that for sure. I doubt it. I hope that I am wrong. This is not about Deveron Gibbons, the vice chairman trying to upshot or you know cutting between the money and the university. It is about transparency, integrity, and most importantly, most importantly, about having a good rapport with all donors, and making sure that donors come to HBCUs and don't run into these types of situations.


HBCUs you said it earlier, are very much underfunded, have been underfunded. A gift like this will be transformative, but we got to remember, we have to keep transparency and integrity around these particular processes and these donors to make sure that these tragic situations don't come up.

BLACKWELL: What's the reputational damage here, if any?

GIBBONS: It is huge. FAMU has a Great Britain. Look, we're coming off of a national HBCU championship and our football team. We have so many other great things going on. We're providing great leaders of tomorrow. If you look around, we have leaders like Will Packer, Ben Crump and so

many others that are -- that are rattlers. And I mean, those are just two of the people that have gone through these hallowed halls.

And so our reputation is high. We give a quality education and we make sure that we are providing quality leaders of tomorrow. But this damages the brand definitely, Victor.

BLACKWELL: So I have with me, this is the agreement I was reading from. And in addition to Gerami signature, there are two other signatures from the President, Larry Robinson and from the Vice President of University Advancement, Dr. Shawnta Friday-Stroud. You're a member of the Board of Trustees. Should they resign?

GIBBONS: I don't want to go that far today. I will tell you at this meeting on next week. I've got a lot of questions, right? And I think any -- we should do a full investigation. You can't say that Dr. Robinson and Friday-Stroud should resigned today. But all people involved, all parties who signed that agreement should have to -- should to have to go through this investigation. And we need to get to the bottom of it and move this agenda forward and move the university forward.

The brand has been damaged irreparably, and we need to make sure that family is protected and move forward in a positive manner in life in this particular junction.

BLACKWELL: Deveron Gibbons, Vice Chair of the FAMU Board of Trustees. Thank you so much for your time today.

GIBBONS: Victor, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Right now, in Louisiana, there is a big fight that could have an impact on the 2024 election. The Republican governor, GOP led legislature, the NAACP are on the same side of this fight. And now they're asking the Supreme Court to weigh in.

Plus, four years after dropping the names of Confederate generals from two public schools, a school board of Virginia has voted to bring them back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The restoration of this name was going to set us back 70 years. And my heart breaks for the children that are going to have to walk into schools, named after people that wanted them and their families enslaved by the white man.



BLACKWELL: The Supreme Court is being asked to weigh in on a congressional map in Louisiana that could play a role in determining control of the House. A group of self-described non-African American voters sued to block the creation of a second majority black district in the state. This is what the map looks like. It was enacted in January.

Last week, a conservative leaning lower court struck down this map. The 12 voters say their personal dignity was injured because the map quote, "racially stigmatizes us, racially stereotypes us, and racially maligns us as citizens who will supposedly make vital decisions as voters based on our race, even though our races and unchangeable physical characteristic that does not compel our beliefs, our character, our judgment or our votes."

But right now, Louisiana has only one majority black district, only one black representative to Congress, but black people make up almost a third of the state's population. And state officials argue they need to know what the map will be, what they'll be working with by May 15th to prepare for November elections. In their emergency appeal on Friday, the officials told the court that Louisiana's impossible situation in this redistricting cycle would be comical, if it were not so serious.

Marina Jenkins has been involved in this Louisiana case. She's executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Marina, Good morning to you. The issue with gerrymandering and redistricting stories is that getting people who don't live in these districts who are not going to be represented by the people elected to care. So make this relevant to my viewer in New York, Illinois, anybody outside of Louisiana.

MARINA JENKINS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC REDISTRICTING COMMITTEE: Good morning, Victor. Thank you so much for having me. This is an incredibly important issue for folks across the country. The attack what we're seeing here, there was a two year process of litigation to enforce section two of the Voting Rights Act which led to the creation of this new map that has two districts in Louisiana instead of one, as you say, that would provide black voters the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. But you get at the 11th hour, this attack coming in and saying, actually, compliance with an enforcement of Section 2, for black voters for protections for black voters under the Voting Rights Act, somehow is discriminatory against non-African-American voters.


And, you know, I think this is part of a trend across the country. We've been seeing this for years, you know, since the Supreme Court's disastrous Shelby County decision, you know, this relentless attack against the Voting Rights Act. And, frankly, as part of a broader attack against rights and protections under the law for people of color across the country.

BLACKWELL: Typically, when we have these conversations about redistricting, you have Republican leaders, Republican governors legislatures on one side, and groups like the NAACP and people of color on the other side, that is not the case here. How did we arrive here? Because it's not where it started, right? This was not always a two district proposal.

JENKINS: That's right. And, you know, part of this story goes back to last summer, when we got an incredible decision out of the Supreme Court in a case out of Alabama called Allen v. Milligan, where the Supreme Court said, Section 2 is still alive and well. And what we saw was the state of Alabama tried to fight that process. They tried to fight enforcement of Section 2. And ultimately, the court said, no, no, you have to provide this new map.

And so in Alabama, we now have two districts where black voters have the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice. In Louisiana, Louisiana State government saw that happened, got to the same situation and decided. You know what? We're going to comply with the law. We're going to do the right thing. And so now you have the state saying, hey, we just did what a court told us to do, you know.

The election season is coming. We just need this to stay in place. And this sort of 11th hour attacks shouldn't be allowed to disrupt what you know, has been sort of in process for two years, with the elections coming up around the corner.

BLACKWELL: So the members of the judge panel who threw this out, they call this an impermissible racial gerrymander. You oppose the first proposal, as you talked about, that had just one majority black district, and then there was the creation of the second one, in response to the opposition to a single district. Why is that Judge wrong?

JENKINS: This case is about and, you know, ultimately, enforcement of rights under the Voting Rights Act and a separate court District Court in Louisiana. And the Fifth Circuit agreed that black voters in Louisiana ought to have two districts where they have the opportunity to elect their candidate. And this court came in and said, well, you know, that means that racist predominating, in a way that violates the U.S. Constitution, sort of without realizing or acknowledging that, you know, inherently in enforcement of Section 2. Yes, you have to think about race. You have to take this into consideration. This is an important state interest.

And so I think it was just a disregard for the importance and the impact and the, you know, interest of the state to have this federal law enforce. This federal law that's part of, you know, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement.

And so, you know, this sort of strange logic of well, in order to enforce the Civil Rights statute, that's discrimination because you're offering protections to a protected class. That's just the nature and the very definition of the enforcement of that that bill.

BLACKWELL: Well, we'll see what the Supreme Court does with this if they take this up. Marina Jenkins, thank you so much for your time this morning.

A black airman shot and killed in his own apartment and the family says the Florida deputy that killed him had the wrong address. What new video and audio reveals. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLACKWELL: A sheriff in Florida is standing by claims that his deputies did not go to the wrong apartment were one shot and killed airman Roger Fortson. Deputies were responding to a call of a disturbance in progress. The foursome was on a video call with his girlfriend when deputies arrived.

The family released video from that call after Okaloosa County Sheriff's released body camera video during a news conference. We've obtained more visuals and audio helping us lay out a timeline of what happened here. CNN's Nick Valencia walks us through it.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Newly obtained police dispatch audio reveals the first call came in around 4:00 p.m. on May 3 about a physical disturbance in progress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't have any further other than a male and female. It's all fourth party information through the front desk at the leasing office.

VALENCIA: Around 4:29 p.m., the four minute police body camera video begins with an Okaloosa County Florida sheriff's deputy arriving on the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're saying that it happens frequently.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But this time it sounded like you were getting out of hand.

VALENCIA: A woman at the complex tells the deputy she heard yells and a slap coming from the apartment two weeks ago but wasn't sure exactly where it came from. Eventually, she directs the deputy to fourth floor apartment 1401, the home of 23 year old senior airman, Roger Fortson saying the girl who made the call about the physical disturbance sounded scared.


At 4:31 p.m., the deputy knocks once without introducing himself. Roughly 30 seconds later, he knocks again twice. A warning that you're about to see over the next 20 seconds is graphic.

Fortson, who appears in the body camera video to have a lowered firearm in his right hand, was shot six times to the chest. He survived the initial shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 3-12, you miss my location.

VALENCIA (voice-over): But was later pronounced dead at the hospital. MEKA FORTSON, MOTHER OF ROGER FORTSON: My baby was my everything. Roger was my third son. Where we come from, you don't end up where Roger end up.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Adding to their pain, Fortson's family believes deputies went to the wrong address, a claim that the sheriff disputed while defending his deputy's actions. Ben Crump, Natalie Jackson and Brian Barr represent the family. They say the initial police statement was misleading and left out key details of the shooting.

BRIAN BARR, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF ROGER FORTSON: It makes you think this happened outside. That this kid was in the middle of a disturbance. And he did something. He instigated this and lost his life. That's what it makes it sound like. It's sounding like justified.

SHERIFF ERIC ADEN, OKALOOSA COUNTY, FLORIDA: We are aware of a press release and other comments that falsely state our deputy entered the wrong apartment and imply that they burst through the door into Mr. Fortson's residence.

VALENCIA (voice-over): During the shooting, the airman was on a FaceTime call with his girlfriend, who Crump says told him there was never a disturbance at Fortson's home. Crump says Fortson had been home alone just 30 minutes before the deputy arrived.

He heard two knocks at the door and when he couldn't see anyone through the peephole, Crump said, citing the girlfriend, then Fortson grabbed his gun which Crump said he legally owned. In the girlfriend's FaceTime video, we hear Fortson struggle to breathe after the shooting as he lies on the floor bleeding out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not move. Stop moving.

VALENCIA (voice-over): The deputy is now on paid administrative leave while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates.


VALENCIA (on camera): The state attorney's office in Okaloosa County tells me that they're going to wait for the FDLE to finish its investigation before they decide whether to pursue charges. I did get in touch with the chief assistant state attorney there in the county, who tells me that he did see the video, but he refused to comment, adding that it's too early for them to do anything with the case. He also said that there's no expected timeline as to when the FDLE will wrap their investigation.

Nick Valencia, CNN, Atlanta.

BLACKWELL: Nick, thank you for that report.

[08:33:02] You remember that racial reckoning that happened in 2020? Well, the School Board of Virginia decided that four years was long enough to go without Stonewall Jackson's name on a high school. So they are bringing it back. A descendant of the Confederate General is here to react, next.


BLACKWELL: Four years ago this month, George Floyd was murdered. We remember the video of Derek Chauvin's knee on his neck and we remember George Floyd saying, I can't breathe. We remember what it was like in the weeks and months that follow, the protest from Minneapolis to Missoula, and the broader racial reckoning. We saw some changes.

Now, some were performative, Black Lives Matter painted down the street in Middle of D.C. and New York, black boxes posted on social media. But there were also calls to reconsider the parts of history we celebrate. A big part of that conversation was about how to handle relics of the Confederacy. In some places that meant debate over statues or monuments. And others like Shenandoah County, Virginia, the debate was over school names.

In 2020, the School Board there voted to rid name the Stonewall Jackson High School, rename Ashby-Lee Elementary School both named after Confederate leaders. Well, since 2021, the schools were instead called Mountain View High School, Honey Run Elementary.

But four years have passed. The School Board leadership has changed. And this week, the current board voted five to one to change the names back. Listen to some of the local people at the board meeting where it happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My first experience with Confederate sympathizers was in the year of 1958. I was seven years old. The boys in the family dog shot through our home, mutilated our livestock and left bloody sheeps on the mailbox. Is this the type of legacy that you want to put in Shenandoah County's public school meals?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They honor men who believe that I have less value and worth because I'm black. If this board decides to restore the names, I would not be like I was valued and respected and she would not return to job. Thank you.



BLACKWELL: And of course there were, and there was a vote to five to one, there were some people who supported the change back to honor Stonewall Jackson.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we're talking about racism, my name is Stonewall Jackson, am I my racist. You know, somebody named Stonewall Jackson, look at what the man does. He did not -- he fought for his country. He, you know, he did work, but that time was in that part of the country that's what it was called upon him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I asked that when you cast your vote, you remember that Stonewall Jackson and others fighting on the side of the Confederacy in this area, we're intent on protecting and preserving the land, the buildings and the lives of those under attack. Preservation is a focus of those wishing to restore the names of Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School.


BLACKWELL: So my next guest has a unique perspective on this. Warren Christian is a descendant of Stonewall Jackson. He is the Confederate General's great, great grandson. Warren, thank you for being with me. So on the question of should these names have been restored, they've now made the decision, what's your message to the board there in Shenandoah County?

WARREN CHRISTIAN, GREAT-GREAT GRANDSON OF "STONEWALL" JACKSON: Well, my message is, I mean, I'm saddened, I'm disappointed. But as a firm believer in democracy, public schooling and local control of schools, I respect their right to rename the school, and I respect their right to do what is morally wrong.

And, Victor, I really appreciate you having me on and giving me the opportunity to speak about this. But honestly, I don't think it should matter so much what I have to say about it. The school board shouldn't particularly care what I have to say. And I can't imagine they do. But I think who they should listen to is their own students.

And that night before they change -- Thursday night before they changed the name, there was another speaker who I don't think you mentioned, a courageous eighth grader, Alia (ph), who stood up in front of the school board. And she said, I'm a black student. And if the names are restored, I would have to represent a man who fought for my ancestors to be slaves.

That makes me feel like I'm disrespecting my ancestors, and going against what my family and I believe. And she's exactly right. No student should have to go to a school named after someone who fought for the continued enslavement of their ancestors. And even for those who liked the name, or wish it hadn't been changed. I don't know how you can vote for that name change to rename it again after my great- great grandfather, after that brave student and others so clearly and cogently explained how that this would harm them. And it costs you nothing to just leave it how it is. So I think it's just wrong.

BLACKWELL: And it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to change it back. You got to think about letterhead and signage and websites and school uniforms and all the things that think about what your high school name was printed on that have already been changed over the last four years.

You know, we have this conversation about Confederate monuments. Often it's framed as a reckoning with decisions of another time, of the mood of another era. But when a school board today says we are going to honor Stonewall Jackson, we have to consider what they're telling us today that they think about the people who live in this community.

I want to read for you what the Coalition for Better Schools that pushed for this locally what they said, they said that we believe that revisiting this decision is essential to honor our community's heritage and respect the wishes of the majority. The heritage not hate justification to that. You say what?

CHRISTIAN: I think it's important to remember our heritage to honor our heritage, to honor our history, remember our history, and most importantly, to learn from our history. And to me the most important lesson from the Civil War was really simple. Slavery was wrong, and slavery that was justified by a strong belief and white supremacy that put white people at the top of a racial hierarchy and black people on the bottom so strong that it made it seem OK for one person to enslave another is also just very clearly wrong.

And unfortunately, still with us today, when slavery ended, this idea of white supremacy didn't magically go away. When segregation ended, it didn't go away. And with us doing things now like demonizing accurate and historically accurate and like critical understanding of our history, calling it CRT and saying we're not going to teach it, it's certainly not going to go away by doing things like that. So I think it's, I mean I think it's a bad sign.


BLACKWELL: Yes. You know I know there are probably plenty of people watching and thinking the great-great grandson of as I told you during the break of Stonewall Jackson is a young man which reminds us that this is not that long ago. Warren Christian, thank you so much for being with me for a few minutes this morning.

So there are a bit of a turn here, diverse wine flavors but not wine makers. We're going to introduce the black entrepreneur who is working to change that.



BLACKWELL: Right now there are big innovations happening in the way we do business. And most of these innovators work behind the scenes. But with Champions for Change, CNN is telling their stories, and the wine industry has long been dominated by white men, but enterprising winemakers like Donae Burston are on a mission to blend diversity into the business.


DONAE BURSTON, FOUNDER & CEO OF LA FETE WINE COMPANY: Traveling wine are so synonymous with each other. As more African American consumers begin to see the world and have these great experiences, wine has become much more of a pinpoint or passion point for their lives. IKIMI DUBOSE-WOODSON, THE ROOTS FUND CO-FOUNDER: The age of the old white man drinking wine is over. If we don't start to make this industry look the way the world looks, it's not going to go much further.

BURSTON: There's a berry in wine that goes beyond just what's in the bottle, there's a communication disconnect, there's a lapse in the two entities knowing how to speak to each other be in the black community in the wine industry. I launched a brand with the intention to really just diversify the wine industry. We believe we are the connector.

La Fete Wine Company now is the number one imported luxury French wine company from the south of France. So I started in the business in 2001, 2002, that I was always one of only one in the room from a black person standpoint, a black male in particular, is super rare to find black owned wine companies in the U.S. There's less than 1 percent. How do we help be a steward for just changing every aspect from the wine industry and bringing more people of color and especially more black Americans into this trillion dollar industry?

After the post George Floyd movement and we saw a lot of racial injustice in the world, I was made aware of The Roots Fund. And for me, they shared a mission with that we had or I had, which was how do we make the industry more diverse.

DUBOSE-WOODSON: I appreciate all of you for coming tonight and supporting our organization.

The Roots Fund is creating a way for people of color to get the education, to get the mentorship so that they are ready to be out working and then to get a career in this business.

BURSTON: As part of our participation in The Roots Fund, we are huge supporters of the Rooted in France Initiative. My winery and wines are in France. And I know the beauty of the old world to hear that they were wanting to send students to burgundy and to work in this historic winemaking region and have that experience. It was important to be able to foster for minorities and especially black kids who wanted to learn more about wine to give them that cultural experience of France while also giving them the experience of working in the wine industry.

VANESSA CHARLOT, ROOTED IN FRANCE SCHOLAR: A lot of people think I'm over there just tasting wine and frolicking through the vineyards, you're doing accounting, logistics, supply chain, marketing, things of that nature, with wine and spirits based case studies.

DUBOSE-WOODSON: Vanessa is truly unique will be our first scholar in The Rooted in France Program that is an entrepreneur who is building her own business.0

CHARLOT: Donae, The Roots Fund, they're giving opportunities in terms of employment, internships, mentorship, a network of community.

BURSTON: For me to see these kids come back, and then further themselves to now go work in wine is amazing. DUBOSE-WOODSON: Donae is consistently standing on business, as they say. And he's always looking for ways to be innovative. Every year, he's probably the first phone call that I get to figure out how can we elevate? How can we amplify? What else can we do in HBCU communities to get more of these business students into this business?

BURSTON: From day one it's been our goal to disrupt the industry and take down the big voice. And when you have that sort of mission in place, you recognize the underdogs and you want to give opportunities to the underdogs and we will forever foster those programs and initiatives that give a voice and a platform to those that are not expected to succeed.



BLACKWELL: I love it standing on business. Donae Burston of La Fete Wines. Be sure to tune in for the Champions for Change one hour special. That's next Saturday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.


BLACKWELL: May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And this week, we're highlighting the work of the Chinatown Art Brigade. They use photography, film and augmented reality to raise awareness of issues impacting their community.


BETTY YU, CO-FOUNDER, CHINATOWN ART BRIGADE: My name is Betty Yu. And I'm a co-founder of Chinatown Art Brigade. And I'm also a multimedia artists, filmmaker and installation artist.

Our brigade was created in 2015. And all of us who are artists, scholars, tenants, residents, we all have a real deep love for Chinatown. We've seen about 130 galleries, mostly commercial galleries replace Mom and Pop places. And artists are often thought of as the vanguard of gentrification and neighborhoods, right, the up and coming neighborhoods. But we want to change that narrative.

We've been working with tenants to put projections on walls at night. And it's their stories of how displacement is affecting them. And so people in Chinatown actually see the immediate connection between what's happening here in Chinatown in the U.S. locally, and what's happening in Gaza and also the solidarity around displacement and what global displacement looks like. And so they're the ones actually who want to participate in the marches.

Sometimes it's just the process of bringing people together to make a banner, to paint a banner together to make signs. Art culture and media has the power to really change hearts and minds. And for us, the huge -- sort of putting a lens on the human story, the human impact story is really, really important.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [09:00:13]

BLACKWELL: The Chinatown Art Brigade will be hosting films and discussions on May 19th and June 2nd. For more information, visit

And thank you so much for joining me today. I'll see you back here next Saturday at 8:00 am. Eastern. Smerconish starts right now.