Johnson Publishing conversion to apartment building a sad reality

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By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

I unapologetically love the Black Press as well as African Americans who toil in media – no matter where they work throughout the nation. Though the sentiments rarely co-exist, my undying affection for the media is as much emotional as it is logical.

Normally, logic is the cynical sibling of sentimentality – like when your alma mater, dear to your heart, is falling apart and enrollment is abysmal. Your heart wants revival while your head begs you to accept permanent change.

Emotions reflect that spiritual side of our nature that makes us keep trying when the odds are against us.

You need both – based on situations and life needs in the moment. Rarely do emotion and logic marry in the way they do for me when it comes to my disposition on Black media professionals.

The former headquarters of Johnson Publishing, vacant for the past six years, will soon become an apartment building. It makes logical sense to put the structure to more formidable usage, generating tax dollars.

John H. Johnson

But there is still a part of me a little saddened by the news. In a perfect world, folks would drive by the building in 2017 and celebrate the Centennial of a game-changing publisher, John H. Johnson, and his iconic publications, Ebony and Jet.

You know the story of how Johnson parlayed $500, borrowed from his mom, into a multi-million dollar international empire, giving the African American community the most formidable publications to ever exist in the Black community.

While I grew up reading Ebony and Jet, my affinity to the two magazines became more personal in 1974 when a graduate paper required me to interview a media executive. I reached out to Johnson from the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, and his secretary replied that he would be more than happy to accommodate me.

Three days before the trip to Chicago, the fourth car I had owned since enrolling as a freshman at I.U. decided to die on me. What could I expect from cars that were costing me anywhere from $200 to $450 each?

For a moment I panicked, but realized as Dean of Pledges for the largest group of “Scrollers” in the history of Kappa Alpha Psi Alpha Chapter, surely one of them most own a reliable vehicle that could take me to Chicago and back.

When I asked for “volunteers,” pledge Gonzalo Curiel (yes, the judge Agent Orange last year claimed couldn’t give him a fair trial because he was Mexican) stepped up and offered to transport me. Of course, I bought the gas.

I will never forget how gracious John H. Johnson was to this unknown college student from the moment I entered his huge office. As a student, I felt a sense of awe by his presence and his presentation. He answered each question meticulously. He smiled and asked about my aspirations in Journalism. He cared.

The interview went longer than scheduled because Johnson refused to cut it short, even though his next appointment was waiting in the outer office.

Satisfied that every inquiry was covered, at the conclusion of the interview he shook my hand, wished me the best and thanked me for taking an interest in him and Johnson Publications. Imagine that.

Last week, I shuffled appointments to accept an invitation to speak to media students at the University of Indianapolis. At the end of this week, plans are to speak to December 2017 African American graduates at Indiana University. I try not to miss an opportunity; not only because I genuinely enjoy interacting with young people, but because I can never forget the kindness shown to me as I was coming up.

While there are many who contributed to my media career path, this just seemed like a great time to reflect on the inspiration of John H. Johnson and his indelible legacy. The building as we knew it is no more. The impact of Johnson Publishing and the life of its owner stretches far, wide, deep, and forever.

Logic dictates that we identify and empower the next generation of Black journalists because passing the torch is a necessity. Emotion   suggests that we must, and can, advance progressively into the future, and yet manage never to forget from whence we came.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: vernonawilliams@yahoo.com.

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