Launch Week: Two Perfect Nights in NYCFeb 7th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Lead
Welcome to Robin’s blog. You’ll find regular dispatches and musings as she travels the country illuminating Gerald’s legacy and promoting “My Times in Black and White.”
After more than three years of mourning and tears and painstaking work, finally a time to laugh and give thanks and exhale.
On Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, more than 100 people joined my hosts and dear friends Dana Canedy (a senior editor at the New York Times) and Patrik Henry Bass (senior editor at Essence) to salute Gerald’s “My Times in Black and White” at the beautiful new Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem. (We’d said good-bye to Gerald in November 2006 at Harlem’s storied Schomburg Research Center, and I thought it fitting that we gather again in our adopted neighborhood to celebrate.) My heart was full, with a sense of accomplishment, but also with gratitude for so many of those who’ve supported Zach and me through our darkest hours.
The theme was one of family, because that’s a recurring theme throughout Gerald’s book. And I acknowledged folks in attendance from the many “families” in our lives: the Times, Essence (a former Health mag colleague chided me for not mentioning them), NABJ, Harlem Little League, Zach’s school, and friends and neighbors, and I shared how delighted Gerald would have been to see such a wonderful mix of families, and to see the kids (among them some of Zach’s friends from school and Dana’s 3-year-old son, Jordan) running around.
I also mentioned that yes, “My Times in Black and White” is a lot about journalism, and yes, it’s a lot about the New York Times (there’s even some juicy stuff), but the ultimate message in Gerald’s book is one of hope. And on that note I turned the mic to Zachary, who gave the reading. I’m told that several people cried as my 13-year-old spoke his Dad’s words. I couldn’t tell because I was trying hard to hold back the tears myself.
Among those in attendance were journalism luminaries from the national and local stage, including several current and former Times top editors, TV, radio and magazine journalists, visual and performing artists, and my neighbors Les Payne and Marie Brown. Another neighbor, Patricia Butts, wife of Abyssinian Baptist Church Pastor Calvin Butts and a force in her own right, took herself a front-row seat. Gerald’s spirit was there, I noted, adding that if he himself were present, he’d be whispering in my ear, asking where could he get a good, stiff Bombay martini – on the rocks with olives – instead of the evening’s offerings of red and white wine. It was a remarkable gathering, full of joy, and as Zach noted quite accurately, love.
Two days before, we kicked off the campaign with a provocative discussion at Barnes and Noble on the Upper West Side. The audience was packed with friends, journalism scholars, courtesy of author and Baruch College professor Michel Marriott, and the curious. Jeff Coplon, who wrote the stellar no-he-did-not-mentor-Jayson-Blair article about Gerald for New York magazine in 2007, joined me on the dais and set the socio-historical stage for the discussion (“In 1968, the year Gerald turns 18 and settles on a career in newspapers … the Kerner Commission censures the nation’s newsrooms—then 99.7% white—as ’shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training, and promoting black journalists,’” Coplon read from his timeline), while I painted a multidimensional picture of Gerald (compassionate yet competitive, gentle yet fiercely protective of his people, humble yet proud; a race man who considered himself not a race man but a Timesman).
Coplon’s passion and objectivity showed in equal measure – he’d never met Gerald, but after months of interviewing people who shared good and not-so-flattering Gerald stories, he acknowledged that Gerald was someone he would like to have known. “Powerful,” “compelling” and “candid” were among the comments I heard from those in the audience.
When Gerald died more than three years ago, I vowed to complete his memoirs. At the time I had no idea what I was promising myself or friends who asked, “What will you do?” “What will happen to his work?” I was whipsawed and numb after spiraling from Gerald’s dismissal from the Times through his depression, through his illness to his death. And for months, I literally crawled back into bed each day after putting Zachary on the bus for school. There I stayed until 3 p.m., when I’d try to pull myself together so my child wouldn’t see that his mother was paralyzed with exhaustion and grief.
But one morning as I sobbed under the covers, I heard Gerald’s voice. It wasn’t gentle or soothing; it was loud, booming and bossy. “What the hell are you doing still in bed at 11:30?” he yelled. “Get up! Get going! You’ve got work to do!” Indeed I did. And I hope that he is pleased.