December 13th, 2006 15:20 EST
No Right to Honor the Past?
Shortly before leaving Washington, D.C. last week for New York City to serve as a pallbearer for former New York Times Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd and to speak at a memorial service for him, I learned that members of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ) are considering whether to disband the organization, an organization that a group of us started 30 years ago.
More than anything else, the centerpiece of GSLABJ has been its annual high school journalism workshop, which has been copied in about 15 cities. Next year, will mark its 30th anniversary. Working with the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, I served as founding director of workshops in St. Louis, New York and Washington, D. C. Former St. Louis workshop instructor Christopher Moore started a workshop in Pittsburgh when he moved there. Rochelle Riley, who worked on my staff in D.C., started workshops in Dallas and Louisville. Two former St. Louis workshop students, Mark Russell and Bennie Currie, started St. Louis-style workshops in Cleveland and Memphis. A third workshop student, Ann Scales, is looking to create a similar workshop in Boston.
Anyone who follows this column has heard me brag about our journalism BeBe kids: Mark Russell, now managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel; Russ Mitchell, reporter/anchor for CBS News; Ann Scales, an editor and former White House correspondent at the Boston Globe; Marcia Davis, an editor at the Washington Post;Ben Holden, executive editor of the Columbus, Ga. Ledger-Enquirer, Andre Jackson, business editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the list goes on and on. And that doesn’t begin to list the professional journalists who came out of workshops in other cities.
Gerald Boyd was prouder of what we accomplished with high school journalism students than his becoming the first Black managing editor of The New York Times. One of the few good things about Gerald’s death – in addition to his no longer being in pain as a result of having lung cancer – is that he went to his grave not knowing an organization and workshop he helped create are in danger of being disbanded by sorry Black journalists in St. Louis. It’s not easy to stomach the idea that an organization that is directly responsible for training thousands of Black high school students around the nation is in danger of going out of business.
I was interviewed on a St. Louis radio show a few days ago by Alvin Reid, city editor of the St. Louis American and another workshop graduate. Essentially, I told him that Black journalists in St. Louis have no right to dishonor the past. They don’t know about all of the Saturdays we met before getting enough people to start an organization in 1976. They don’t know about the Blacks who retroactively claim membership in the organization but wouldn’t join when he were soliciting members. They don’t know what it was like to teach an intense workshop on Saturdays and then put in an 8-hour shift at work. They don’t know what it was like begging Black businesses for food to feed the students. They don’t know what it was like raising money so that we could give out $5,000 to $10,000 in scholarships every year.
In short, they haven’t earned the right to disband something they did not start. They are like rich kids who have had everything given to them. Most of the Black journalists in St. Louis inherited a rich tradition, they didn’t earn it. It’s an insult to Gerald’s memory to even consider breaking up the organization he helped start. There is even talk of having a memorial service for Gerald in St. Louis. That’s not the proper way to honor Gerald’s memory. You honor him by continuing his work, not by being so selfish that you ignore your obligation to train the next generation of Gerald Boyds.
I challenge all of our former students in St. Louis to reclaim the local NABJ chapter and continue operating the workshop even if they have do it with only five members. W.E. B. DuBois always talked about The Talented Tenth. Take it from those of us who started the chapter, you don’t need 10 percent of people to operate anything. In fact, you might be better off not having the dead weight around.
At the end of the radio program, Alvin Reid promised to rally the troops. “I’ll do it for you,” he said. I responded, “No, do it for Gerald.” Better yet, do it for your own dignity. I’ll be keeping an eye on St. Louis to see if they will represent the best qualities of Gerald Boyd or if they’re just a bunch of selfish Negroes who think they made it to where they are on their own.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com. To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.