“Old Truth…is still TRUTH!”
--Anonymous Urban Proverb
Welcome to the opening salvo of a new column, simply titled: “From Player to Coach.” The basis of the column is simple enough … a matter of reflection upon the past, an eye towards the future and truth being the bridge connecting the two. We’ll get together from time to time to look over the landscape, and I’ll be blessed in providing some observations based upon what I see, and — sometimes —upon where I have traveled as I have progressed through life. Experience, coupled with faith, hard work, a KJV Bible and a touch of cool will help me not to miss much during our electronic travels.
There IS a price to pay, IF you want to be successful in marriage, in a career, or in life in general. Bottom line? If you want to be successful, observe, listen to and hang around with people who are doing what you would like to do. Some may call this “job shadowing.” I call it “wisdom.” Contrary to popular belief, the millennials and other young people of today STILL want to gather wisdom from their elders. Problem is, too many of the elders of the village are too busy trying to live their lives as if they were 30. Like the late Myles Munroe told his 10-year-old daughter when she was experimenting with makeup which made her look 15: “You’re 10. BE 10! There will be plenty of time to be 15, when you get to 15!”
Every successful coach has a life built upon a group of mentors, teachers or warriors in their past. As the old folks used to say: “Show me who you run with, and I’ll tell you who you are!” To kick off this introductory column, I want to pay tribute to one of my mentors who took me under his wing when I was just getting started in the Indianapolis news game back in the early 80s. None other than the true dean of Black journalism in Indianapolis, the late William “Skinny” Alexander of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper.
Alexander was small in stature, but large in wisdom and power. He welcomed new Black reporters to the crime and government beats. At press conferences, Alexander was regarded just as much a senior reporter as the white reporters from much larger publications. He was fearless and was feared by the mayor’s office, right down to the cop on the beat. However, once you had him in your corner, you never had a better advocate and friend.
When the Recorder newspapers hit the rack inside of the first floor Snack Shop at the City-County Building at noon Thursday, they sold out QUICK! Everyone wanted to read Skinny’s column — and his articles — because he told it like it was. He comforted the afflicted — and afflicted the comfortable. While I did not know his political leanings, he kept BOTH political parties in view … working to make sure that the elected did NOT forget that Black votes did count, and could be easily removed IF either party failed to deliver on their promises.
I can still picture Skinny in my mind’s eye sitting behind the trusty Underwood typewriter at his desk, checking his notes and getting some news nugget ready for his column. While working on some of my own assignments (as I was in radio news), I would sometimes listen to how he handled sources and how he treated people. I picked up some much needed on-the-job training and skinned my knees a few times along the way. Skinny just smiled at my errors, made sure I understood where I messed up, and kept encouraging me to pick up the pace and do better on the next assignment.
The news game — whether radio, television, or newspaper — is a trade. Skinny and other Black reporters back in the day brought this point home for me, and I have survived the news game as a player to be a coach of young reporters at this end of the food chain. You can have a host of degrees — and no people skills. You can win awards — and still be ignorant of how people make it through the night. The objective is to get it accurate, fast and right; find the truth of an issue and let the public be the final judge of the facts.
The news game is dangerous everyday. If you do your job right, it is MEANT to be dangerous. Danger is our business … so, why whine about it? People generally don’t like reporters, and much of this is OUR fault. We have forgotten the God-given rules of grace, class, truth, empathy and history. We have allowed the sin of pride to creep into our jobs. Success is not measured by having your name up in lights. Success is measured by the number of people you have helped. Why? Because there always comes a time when each one of us will need some kind of help in some area beyond our pay grade. Skinny never looked down on a person while doing his column. I’ve never looked down on a person while doing mine. Some young person just starting as a reporter might catch this blessing and pass the torch on to the next generation of reporters and editors.
My coaching tip for this month: Humble yourself! If you can stoop down to help a child tie his or her shoes or give to a good cause and NOT call a press conference? There is a solid chance that you’ll be successful. See you right here, next month, Lord willing!
Mike Ramey is a minister, book reviewer, P-School Ranger, modern street gangs specialist and syndicated columnist who lives in Indianapolis. Contact him with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.