With my home town of Statesville and the Poplar Branch neighborhood where my parents bought a home just after World War II socked in with eight and a half inches of snow, it was the perfect opportunity to turn historian on myself, rummaging through my mother’s photo collections, including a couple of family Bibles.
It was a bittersweet moment as my mother had spent the last couple of years in skilled nursing after a stroke. That meant the bank that held her reverse mortgage was calling in the note. Six decades of our family in that neighborhood were coming to an end.
Of course, it will always be home. Statesville was a haven for me as a youngster, ironically because of the iron-clad segregation. Before desegregating D. Matt Thompson Junior High School in 1967 and serving as senior patrol leader of Troop 362, the first black Boy Scout troop to attend Camp Schiele, South Carolina, that same summer, I lived in a self-contained black community and was insulated from the discrimination that I read about, but usually didn’t personally experience.
Instead, I had a very affirming childhood of caring adults, including teachers who often attended the same church and had even taught my parents.
In hindsight, I now realize they were preparing me for the day when we would break through those barriers. And their preparation was excellent.
It was very exciting to be there for the beginning of something very new– the Howard University School of Communications, the first such program at an historically black college and university. Although I graduated in Dec. 1975 in three and a half years, it was an opportunity to learn under some of the greatest black journalists of the 20th century like Chester Higgins, Sam Yette, Wallace Terry, Larry Still and Dean Tony Brown, who gave us the motto “communicate to educate to liberate.” And I gained a great deal from the heritage of Howard, working as a page in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, a research assistant in the School of Divinity for the Journal of Religious Thought and as a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Debate Society.
We also stirred up a great deal of fuss on the Hilltop, the campus newspaper started by Zora Neale Hurston. Larry Coleman was editor my freshman year and published my first article. I was copy editor the next year and layout editor the next year. Also helped start the Communicator newspaper for the School of Communications.
[As a new Howard alum, I began working for the AFRO-AMERICAN Newspapers as their Capitol Hill and White House reporter. Took a break to serve as press secretary for Asa T. Spaulding’s campaign for secretary of state in North Carolina in 1976 and returned to the Richmond AFRO-AMERICAN.
The occasion of my son’s birth led to my first national journalism award, the 1978 First Place Merit Award for Feature Writing from the National Newspaper Publishers Association. I told how his mother endured 17 hours of natural childbirth to stick with our plans for a Lamaze-Leboyer delivery.
Then went to grad school at the University of North Caroina-Chapel Hill with my new family in tow. At the Southeastern Black Press Institute, a Rockefeller Foundation funded collaboration of the Black Studies Dept. and the School of Journalism, I was associate producer for the UNC-TV documentary “We Wish to Plead Our Own Cause: the story of the black press.”
I next took a job as executive editor of the Winston-Salem Chronicle where I became president of the Piedmont chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and returned to the Richmond AFRO as editor in 1980, where we published the first centennial edition in the history of the black press in 1983.
Won three more NNPA First Prize Merit Awards at the Richmond AFRO and a Minority Fellowship from the American Newspaper Publishers Association. When L. Douglas Wilder chose to run for lieutenant governor of Virginia, I worked with artist King David Webb to create a campaign strategy and look, which propelled him to be the first black to win a statewide executive post in the Southeast.
By 1986, I’d begun working with American City Business Journals, first as managing editor of the Richmond Business Journal and then as editor of the San Jose Business Journal, first African-American to edit a business newspaper.
After the Business Journal, I began Electron Access Inc., now eAccess Corp. Upon completing the Stanford Professional Publishing Course, we published our first title, Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vol. 1, 1500-1900, the book which revealed the origin of the name of the Golden State.
[Another early title was Success Secrets of Black Executives, the result of the Black Executive Forums we held each month in Silicon Valley. Griot, the African-American, African and Caribbean business daily, was launched in 1995 to provide real-time business data throughout the Diaspora. It has continued as Black Money Worldwide web site.
That was the same year we curated Our Roots Run Deep in the historic State Capitol Museum in Sacramento, leading to additional showings at the Los Angeles Central Library and San Francisco Main Library.
In 1998, we opened Turning the Century: African-American Innovators at the Birth of the Industrial Age and the Dawn of the New Millennium at the Tech Museum of Innovation, which has led to the 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology for the past 11 years. Our first event was in Los Angeles at the California African-American Museum in 1999.
California: A State of Natural Diversity was our exhibition in 1999 and 2000 at the 150-year-old California Academy of Sciences.
In 2004, Fred Jordan commissioned me to write the first State of Black Business report, which I had no idea would turn into a yearly tradition and the creation of National Black Business Month each August.
In 2007, we wrote our first play, the one-woman Queen Calafia: Ruler of California, ably portrayed in Los Angeles by Ursaline Bryant and in San Francisco by Ajuana Black.