When I began working for Ray Boone as a reporter at the Richmond AFRO-AMERICAN and Richmond Planet in 1977, I quickly came to the conclusion that he intended to destroy every ounce of self-confidence I had. Cockiness defined me coming in the door. I had been the AFRO’s White House and Capitol Hill reporter, worked in the Washington Post newsroom during Watergate and just run a statewide campaign in North Carolina. At 22, I already had multiple scalps as an investigative reporter.
But in Ray’s world at Third and Clay Streets, nothing I did was right, every sentence was scrutinized, every punctuation mark challenged and my judgment ridiculed. Finally, I had enough and quit, despite having a new wife and baby on the way. Ray refused to accept my resignation. I would win an NNPA First Prize Merit Award later that year for the feature story on my son’s birth and go to grad school to research the greats of the black press. Two years later I was honored to succeed Ray as editor of the Richmond AFRO and lead it through its centennial as the first black newspaper to achieve 100 years of service, although I was the youngest person on the staff. While sitting in that office, I would look at the holes from machine gun fire which had come through the building, look across the street at Oliver Hill’s office where the strategy for Brown v. Board of Education was forged and appreciate having covered the night when the Capital of the Confederacy elected its first black mayor. When anyone wonders why I am such an arrogant, obstreperous, unrelenting asshole about justice, completely oblivious to the consequences, it is because Ray Boone reinforced what my other AFRO mentors like Art Carter, Sam Lacy, Ida Peters, Moses Newsom, John Oliver and John Murphy 3d instilled in me–that the only reason I am a black journalist is to stand up for what is Right, and that I can only be effective when everything I do is at the highest standard of excellence. I celebrate Ray Boone on his passing for continuing to pass the torch that John Russwurm and Rev. Samuel Cornish lit in 1827 when they proclaimed “We wish to plead our own cause.”