Tracing Gerald’s Steps: St. Louis and MizzouMar 13th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Lead
As Zach and I barreled west on I-70 from St. Louis to Columbia, Mo., I smiled at the thought of tracing the path that Gerald took countless times from home to University of Missouri, where he majored in journalism and poli-sci. I was nervous though I had no reason to be; I wanted to represent him in a way that would have made him proud.
We started our two-day campus visit on Wednesday, February 17, with the dedication of “Boyd House” at College Avenue Hall, one of the residence halls organized around a theme, such as science or education. Students on the fourth floor of the dorm, whose themes are communications and political science, had voted the previous fall to name their floor in honor of Gerald, acknowledging a career and contributions “consistent with the educational aims” of their community. I said that Gerald would been delighted by the honor, especially given his early Mizzou years as Uganda X, campus hell-raiser.
After a lively dinner with students and faculty, I shared Gerald’s “Lessons on Empowerment” with students at a packed room in the Gaines-Oldham Black Culture Center. Zach writes about that event here. After the session, Dan Vietz, with whom Gerald joined forces in 1972 to wrest leadership of the student government from the incumbent campus Greeks, introduced himself and acknowledged that Gerald’s description of him in “My Times” as a shoeless, defiant and on an ego trip was tough but fair. “He was just as tough on himself,” Vietz conceded.
On Thursday morning, I guest-lectured to combined Cross-Cultural Journalism and Reporting classes, reading from Gerald’s chapter describing the Times staffs’ emotionally charged work on “How Race is Lived in America.”
I also discussed Gerald’s story with a general audience at the bright, airy new Reynolds Journalism Institute. Before the talk, the J-school’s visionary dean, Dean Mills, eagerly gave Zach and me a tour of the new building. Even Zachary, the computer whiz, was impressed with the school’s high-tech tools for budding journalists. We also announced the new Gerald M. Boyd Politics and Press Responsibility Endowment Fund, established from generous contributions to Mizzou in Gerald’s memory.
Zach and I headed back to St. Louis on Thursday evening to dine with the Joiner family: Gerald’s friends Robert and Diane, and their charming son and daughter. Bob and I discussed our upcoming dialogue and Zach schooled us on technology. Zach and I appreciated the Joiners’ warm welcome and Diane’s delicious meal of baked chicken, rice and broccoli.
Still tracing Gerald’s steps on Friday, Zach and I stopped by the Post-Dispatch, where Gerald worked for 10 years, from copy boy to White House correspondent. There I shared Gerald’s story with several staff members at a brown-bag lunch dialogue. Editor Arnie Robbins joined us as well. I’d never been in the P-D building before, but I could sense – perhaps the echo in the lobby or the weariness (maybe wariness?) on the faces of staffers – that the paper was a shadow of its former self. It was a preview of what I’d feel at the News / Free Press building on my trip to Detroit weeks later. Given the industry contraction, that sense is probably familiar across the country.
Friday evening, I had the honor of discussing “My Times” with Bob, a longtime St. Louis journalist who Gerald revered, at Left Bank Books downtown. Bob likened Gerald to Todd, the airman in Ralph Ellison’s folkloric short story “Flying Home,” in the sense that “it seemed the closer to the ground that he fell, the blacker he became.” The session was sponsored by Margie Freivogel’s stlouisbeacon.org, a local nonprofit online news source. Margie and her husband, Bill, contributed one of the compelling vignettes that open the chapters of “My Times.”
Zach and I ended our Missouri tour Saturday afternoon with a reading at the stately and vibrant Clayton home of Karen Kalish, an activist and leader whose business card bears the title “Serial Social Entrepreneur.” You can spot Karen’s house in by the bright red lips that greet you from the lawn. Karen’s co-host was Cheryl Polk, a Vice President at the local United Way, whom I had interviewed some 10 years ago for an Essence story on black philanthropy. Thanks to Yvonne Samuel, a fixture in St. Louis and media circles, who helped make the event a success.