LA Beez , Commentary, Melanie Polk
I can still remember the look on my mother's face when my father came home one day in the '70s and said, "We're in the newspaper business."
It was a look of both shock and amazement, as my father's vision often brought about those reactions. My mother was always my father's greatest supporter, and I'm sure she wondered what new challenges this venture would entail, especially for her while working full time and raising four teenagers — three sons and one adorable daughter. I'm sure she never imagined the wealth of experiences this venture would present for so many people.
My parents enlisted family members, neighbors, former colleagues, friends and nearly anyone with a need for employment they came across, (sometimes housing them), to help build the business. Their passion and commitment to informing, motivating and employing the black community was infectious. Their love was not limited to black folks; it seems to me every nationality I can think of played a role at some time in the life of the L.A. Watts Times across the years.
With my parents Charles and Beverly Cook at the helm, the L.A. Watts Times was not your standard anything; it was part newspaper business, part group therapy center, part fried chicken restaurant and part family compound. During those years it was demonstrated that a quality newspaper could be produced with good customer service in a family environment. I've received numerous calls over the years from former staff reminding me of how much the experience at the L.A. Watts Times enriched their lives and gave them memories to last a lifetime.
I share that sentiment.
Awards, proclamations and honors of every sort are gratifying, but nothing compares to a call from a reader or someone you just happen to meet who tells you that your work is important and has helped them along the way.
A recently deceased fellow publisher, Alphonso Hamilton, once asked me if I was in the "witness protection program" because he rarely saw me either in the paper or at splashy events. I was caught off guard and didn't have a snappy answer at the time. But after laughing at the question, I later reflected on what would have been my answer if time had permitted. I would have told him that I have been so rewarded by the opportunity to present news and stories for and about our people that no award or party could match that joy. That black folks all around the world, and especially in America, are and always have been truly amazing. And that I have the privilege and responsibility to tell our story without apology and with gusto.
As I recall that look on my mom's face all those years ago, I know she could never have imagined that this legacy of storytelling that is part of our DNA would have endured and flourished for so many years. She could not have known that I would fall madly in love with the journalistic creative process and rise to the challenge of balancing the books, with a lot of help (of course). I think she would have been proud that I remembered her mother's advice: Sometimes you have to tell folks to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.
Folks say it's difficult to live in the shadow of greatness, and anyone who knew my folks knew the greatness of love. But I haven't found that difficult at all, because I've always known that I've been blessed to have experienced a greatness reserved for a special few. I've only tried to honor the blessing. To honor that blessing has been my goal and my motivation.
Over breakfast the other day, cousin Martha asked me what would I like my epitaph to say (not sure if she knows something I don't). The only thing that came to mind was: Melanie Polk was one blessed chick.
Reflecting on the challenges and triumphs of publishing a newspaper over the past several years, the recurring thought has been that during the most troubling of times — death, national tragedy, business disputes, petty arguments, crazy people, making ends meet — the one constant is that people will surprise you with compassion, understanding and agape love when you least expect it.
For all of the foolishness in the world, it just takes that one person to remind you that love conquers all. For every person who over the years has demonstrated that to me, I am forever grateful. For all those who challenged me to bite my tongue, take a walk, or just take the hit, I say thank you — you've shown me a strength I wouldn't have known I possessed.
I've learned that at a time such as this, naming names is a dangerous business. There are more people that who made this a newspaper to be proud of than I can possibly name at this writing. You know who you are, and I say God bless and keep you. All of those hand-holding circles around the conference table to pray for a fellow staffer, recovery from national tragedy, or just to say thanks are moments I will always treasure. Moments when folks working for a common cause stopped long enough to say that, try as we might, we're not in charge and ask for intervention from up above.
I wish only the best to Danny Bakewell, Sr., and his team as they embark on this new venture. I have confidence that my friend Danny will carry the L.A. Watts Times legacy forward with reverence and determination. He was a friend of the black press long before he became publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel and president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
So what are the key lessons I'll walk away with? Pray and give thanks even when you don't feel like it. Don't seek revenge; you'll be surprised how things work out. Always give it your very best effort, then let it go. Free speech ain't free — but its worth the price. Knee jerk is for jerks. If you don't have an old geezer in your life, adopt one. A good friend is a treasured gift from God. You can live through anything with a good man in your life, and, if he happens to play a mean trombone and can build a house from the ground up, you're one blessed chick.
There are a few people I must acknowledge as I say farewell to the L.A. Watts Times. My journey was girded by the love, support and counsel of many wonderful people. To the following I am eternally grateful: Rembert James, Saundra Willis, Ward Martin, Saskia Asamura and Theodus Cook.
Melanie Polk is publisher of the L.A. Watts Times.