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The presidential inauguration of Barack Obama brings me full circle. My first ever professional reporting assignment–meaning my first for something other than a college newspaper–was a little more than 25 years ago, only a few months after my graduation from Rutgers University in 1983. At the time, I worked three days a week as a layout editor/reporter for Big Red News, a black-community weekly that evolved out of a numbers sheet of the same name. (Today, that paper is called The New York Beacon. I also held a job on the weekend night shift as an editorial assistant for the Asbury Park [N.J.] Press daily newspaper.)
My assignment: To cover the 1983 March on Washington, newsworthy primarily because it marked the 20th anniversary of the 1963 march led by Dr. Martin Luther King and made unforgettable by his soaring “I Have A Dream” speech. It was the kind of dream assignment that a green, newly hired, recent college graduate (much less one with a studio art, not journalism, degree) had no right to expect–unless he or she was employed by a small, resource-starved community newspaper.
I didn’t care that I would not exactly be traveling first-class–we’d be riding on one of the many union buses headed to Washington, D.C. for the event–and there was no expense account to speak of. (Now that I think of it, it was the first time in my life I, a small-town kid from Long Branch, N.J., had ever traveled outside of the New York metro area without parental accompaniment.) The experience exceeded my expectations beyond my wildest dreams. Only a couple of years removed from my time as a student activist leading marches against South African apartheid and for more college grant money for black and Latino students at Rutgers, I was at the Lincoln Memorial, interviewing Coretta Scott King, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rosa Parks, Andrew Young, Susan Taylor and so many other legendary heroes of the struggle for freedom and equality for black Americans. My first professional assignment was to do no less than to help document the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m proud to say that my story ended up on the front page.
Again, this was August 1983. It would be three months before President Ronald Reagan would sign a bill establishing a federal holiday in honor of King, three years before that holiday would be officially observed, and years after that before resistance to observing the holiday would largely fade. A quarter century has passed since then; 25 years and change. I’ve evolved from a fledgling community newspaper reporter, to editor-in-chief of a national magazine, to my current role as the chief editor of an ambitious digital media entity, the brand new BlackEnterprise.com.
However, it turns out that the assignment I accepted when I boarded that union bus all those years ago never really ended. As an editor at Black Enterprise, I’ve spent nearly all my career helping to document the legacy of Rev. Dr. King. I am still humbled