Marc Lamont Hill became an activist because he loves Black people.
He fostered love for his community while growing up in both North and West Philadelphia neighborhoods. He also realized how uncomfortable he was with the way African-Americans were being represented in both the media and academia.
It was classes Lamont Hill took at Temple like The Black Woman in the Africology and African American Studies department that opened him up to new possibilities and knowledge, like Black feminist thought.
“I knew that whatever work I did…whether it was as a high school teacher, a professor, a researcher, a media personality, was to put a spotlight on them in a way that would allow them to speak for themselves,” he said.
The 2000 education alumnus — also a former urban education professor — will return to the Klein College of Media and Communication as the first Steve Charles Chair in Media, Cities and Solutions. This is the college’s first endowed chair. Steve Charles, a member of the Board of Trustees and 1980 radio, television and film alumnus, endowed $2 million to create the chair in 2016.
Lamont Hill, a CNN commentator and international social justice activist, currently teaches in a secondary appointment position in the College of Education, where he previously taught 12 years ago. He’ll start teaching classes on media culture and diversity in the Media Studies and Production department as part of the endowed chair in the spring.
Lamont Hill added that this position will allow him to make connections through the media to issues in Philadelphia, like gentrification, mass incarceration, addiction and public schools.
“I want to try to help students think through these relationships of what they see in the media and the structures and institutions and identities that circle around this stuff,” Lamont Hill said.
On his return to Temple, Lamont Hill said he wanted to be in Philadelphia, the city he grew up in. Prior to this position, he was an African American studies professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the school he attended for one year during his undergraduate degree before transferring to Temple.
“This was an opportunity to return home,” he said.
Lamont Hill said he’s seen how much the university has changed over the last decade. When he was a student in the late ’90s, he remembered more people from his high school going to Temple. Today, he said it seems fewer people from the city are attending the university and more students are coming from the suburbs.
“As [Temple] has become bigger, more well resourced, more ambitious in its expansion plans and more decentralized, you have real squandered opportunities to engage the community differently,” he said.
Linn Washington, a journalism professor, was on the committee that reviewed the candidates for the Media, Cities and Solutions chair. He said Lamont Hill’s scholarship made him a great fit for this position.
“He does work from East Harlem to the Middle East,” Washington said. “He’s looking at issues of social justice and how they play across media platforms and how they are being played out.”
Lamont Hill said his interest in political commentary started around the time he returned to Temple as an education professor in 2005. He started a blog in the mid-2000s called The Barbershop Notebooks, which contained his reflections on African-American culture. When he wrote a piece about the Duke University rape case, which involved an African-American woman accusing three Duke lacrosse players of sexual assault, CNN asked him to come on television to discuss the trial. The accusations were later found to be false.
“I didn’t set the world on fire or anything like that, but I realized the possibility of the medium for distributing a message,” he said.
Six months later, Fox News was interested in having him on the show. He’d go on to debate Bill O’Reilly, a former Fox commentator who was booted from the show after sexual harassment claims.
“Bill O’Reilly taught me how to make good TV, not just the spectacle of it all,” he said. “[But] from a technical perspective, how to be a solid host and how to handle all the different moving parts, and be successful.”
In 2010, he got his first job with Black Enterprise, a monthly magazine dedicated to African-Americans, and then Huffington Post in 2012.
“I became really interested in journalism as a practice, not just hosting or having fun, but really being a journalist,” he said.
Lamont Hill added that his commentary has changed since President Donald Trump took office. He said although his commentary under former President Barack Obama’s administration was critical, he also had to defend the White House from unfair criticism.
“I think Trump in particular, unlike Bush, presents a nonstop series of outrages from the public, so there is always something to comment on,” said Lamont Hill, who recently discussed the NFL protests of the national anthem and the American flag.
Lamont Hill said in this political climate and after recent cases of police brutality against African-Americans, he’s confident that groups like Black Lives Matter can make a difference.
“Being on the ground in Ferguson, I watched people get their political wakeup call,” he said. “I watched people who didn’t care about politics before care about issues in a different way.”
“I can see that what was happening before at different historical junctions is happening again and I’m just so excited,” he added.