Let your voice be heard: One of the first Black radio talk show hosts, Taliaferro used the San Francisco Bay Area’s airwaves for 40 years to “speak his mind,” debating political and cultural issues as well as breaking racial barriers. To fix today’s institutions, he says, requires the creation of forums where diverse voices can be heard. “I hope that talk becomes the theme of what we do in the United States from government across [other areas] so we can have a stronger nation with tremendous, insightful understanding,” says Ray Taliaferro.
Turn tragedy into service: A broadcast pioneer who smashed through glass ceilings in Chicago radio and television, Dee suffered a horrific ordeal. In 1971, she was kidnapped, shot in the head twice and left for dead. Recovering, despite the odds, she was back on the air within a year. Dee also became a community activist and helped draft the nation’s first victims’ bill of rights law—a model for other states. Says Merri Dee: “When you get an opportunity to do something special outside of what you do every day and accept it, you can make a difference.”
Don’t ever quit: A 40-year veteran, Jacqueline “JC” Hayward was the first woman to anchor a newscast in the Washington, D.C. market, as well as hold the national record for a woman headlining the evening news at the same station. Skills development and a series of mentors were essential to her advancement. Hayward also maintained her longevity through tenacity and faith: “There were many times when the road was bumpy and I thought I was going to hit a brick wall,” she says. “Then I would hear a voice inside me say, ‘It’s not over until I say it’s over.'”
Cultivate young talent: Swanston received the coveted Ida B. Wells Award—named after the newspaper editor who crusaded against segregation and lynching in the Jim Crow South—for her devotion to mentoring generations of African American journalists. In fact, Walterene “Walt” Swanston, who worked for the San Francisco Examiner, created one of the nation’s first minority journalism training programs in 1966. At NPR, she diversified the radio airwaves. Owing her professional success to a number of “teachers,” her charge to seasoned professionals: “Pass it on.”
Keep diversity intact: A 31-year veteran with the Washington Post, Robinson has held positions ranging from city hall reporter to an assistant managing editor. One of the newspaper’s leading columnists, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for writing about Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign. In a corporate environment marked by cutbacks and digital technology, he urges Black professional organizations like NABJ to push for more inclusion within the workplace. Asserts Eugene Robinson: “Now more than ever as we undergo sometimes wrenching change, I think it is important that we all not just keep diversity in mind but make diversity a priority. In an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, it is insane not to make diversity one of the prime directives.”
Get a life: One of the most trustworthy journalists of his era, Bradley approached his job with professionalism and inventiveness. His long-time producer Ruth Streeter told the audience that, “He was an exceptional colleague and friend who valued connection above just about anything and that drive for connection allowed him to excel at work, to reach people and get them to tell their stories no matter who they were.” She said his lesson was simple: “Work wasn’t his whole life,” viewing other passions and pursuits “will make you better at what you do.”
It was always a treat to watch Ed Bradley work. Whenever the late, broadcast icon conducted one of his compelling interviews on 60 Minutes, I was glued to the tube. He found humanity in a story on a death-row inmate, provided depth to a celebrity profile and unraveled new layers when reporting on a world leader. His consistently professional, poised performance at the national level served as powerful motivation for young, ambitious Black journalists. His example continues to be a source of admiration and aspiration.
To pay tribute to Bradley and other African American media trailblazers, I attended the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame Gala last week. The black-tie affair brought out a bevy of prominent journalists and power players like political commentator Roland Martin (complete with his trademark ascot), NPR talk show host Michel Martin, MNSBC anchor Tamron Hall, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, whose late father-in-law, legendary columnist Vernon Jarrett helped found NABJ 35 years ago. It was the first such event honoring achievements of African Americans to be held at the Newseum, the tech-driven center of journalistic history.
Bradley was recognized with six others: broadcast pioneers Ray Taliaferro, Merri Dee and Jacqueline “JC” Hayward, as well as newspaper veteran Walterene “Walt” Swanston and award-winning political columnist Eugene Robinson. Beyond paying homage to their groundbreaking achievements, the event offered valuable life lessons from the honorees. —Derek T. Dingle