Four year ago after our two year anniversary I wrote an editorial in response to the frequently asked questions; why do we do what we do? What keeps us going? What drives us? it was titled, BLACK WESTCHESTER MAGAZINE…….. We Do It For The People!!! and was inspired by Common’s hit single, The People. It may have been one of the most personable pieces I’ve written for Black Westchester and here I am four years later, writing part two, answering many of the same questions and a few more. I will attempt to jot down my thoughts and and not repeat what I previously wrote. I will allow you to read the original editorial for yourself and try to bring a new perspective four year later.
The latest inspiration for this piece was a conversation I was having about my brother, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., after seeing him speak at a candlelight vigil for the family of Jonathan Maldonado who was killed by Greenburgh Police in 2017. This was just eleven days after speaking at the candlelight vigil for his dad on the 9-year anniversary of his summary execution. I was saying as I said many times before, after the killing of his father at the hands of the White Plains police in 2011, no one could blame him if he was on some F The Police tip. But this brother continues to amaze me how he turned his pain into passion and continues not fight, not just for justice for his father, but for several other families who have lost a loved one at the hands of the police.
I have personally seen him go from navigating the pain he must still feel for his lost and the system the failed to bring justice to those who slaughtered his father and still confront others in their pain. Create the Westchester Coalition For Police Reform and work with police departments (even the one who took his father’s life) to help build better police/community relations and help create much-needed police reform. Let me just say he is a great inspiration and I am glad to call him a friend.
It was in the conversation that then switched to what it is we do here at Black Westchester and what that means to so many people. Coming from someone I have known only a few months, she wrote to me in a text;
“God knows why you and your colleagues are in this….. people need to be heard and you’re their voices and purveyors of the unheard stories,” then she followed that up with, “Thank you for your service.” I told her do not be surprised if I steal that expression Purveyors Of Unheard Stories. Actually she used another word but I seasoned the phrase up a little.
That brings me to today and this editorial, sort of a continuation of what I wrote four years ago. Four Years Later, We’re Still Doing It For The People! Just like when writing part one, I turned on Common’s joint and thanked the individual I was speaking with for her inspiration, which was the quenched thirst for the uninspired… wrapped in the darkness of my mind…. it reminded me why I do this. It is easy to just phone it in sometimes, but that was never what we were about. Like my brother Chuck D always said, “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddling,” on his hit single, ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’ off the ‘It Take A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back,’ album in 1988. We don’t just write for the sake of writing, didn’t start this publication for the clout and attention it brings, but attempt to always be purposeful in our editorials and articles. To make a difference, create and bring about change and most importantly to document our history as it happens, carrying on a long tradition of African-American Newspapers.
2020 for just about everyone was probably one of the craziest years they have ever experienced. That wasn’t much different for us. But for me personally, it was like the opening words in Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel. ‘A Tale Of Two Cities.’ The opening text read;
IT WAS THE BEST of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That first sentence sums 2020 up for me, although the whole paragraph spoke to me it was first twelve words, ‘It was the Best of times, it was the Worst of times, that accurately articulated 2020 for me. In the beginning of 2020 we were uncertain how or if we were going to continue. COVID-19 cut through life as we know it and our finances, like a two-edged sword. Printers were closed, all our places of distribution (churches, community centers, libraries, etc) were closed, we were shuttered in, even the sports world became collateral damage for the coronavirus. For the the first time, the sports world came to a halt. Businesses and organizations couldn’t advertise events if they could schedule them, or for that matter many businesses who advertised had to closed their doors, some for good.
Even elected officials and candidates running for office who were our bread and butter weren’t able to advertise they way they used to because contributions were down due to the fact many of their supporters were either out of work or trying to keep a roof over their head and food on the table for their families. So needless to say our money was funny and our change was strange. Our cushion we saved up was drying up and things were very uncertain for the future of Black Westchester. Like everyone else we had to navigate the new normal and find a way to ride the tide.
As I personally was considering cancelling Christmas and shutting down shop. You start wondering, once again, is it really worth it? Are you really making a difference? Even would people actually miss us if we were no longer in existence? That’s when God reminds you just how important what you do is and what it means to the masses. Reminds you why He selected you to do this work. Just like that, a swarm of accolades, awards and proclamations came our way out of nowhere, the second part of 2020. Things were still touch and go financially, but that same passion we started BW had returned. I even got my swagga back so to speak.
In June we won a national media award. We won Best Local Website in the 2020 Local Media Digital Innovation Awards. The annual national award show recognizes the best in local digital media in 11 categories such as Best Local Website, Best Digital Agency, Best Branded Content Strategy, and more. It is a highly competitive contest designed to recognize both large and small media companies for their outstanding and innovative work, the website tells us.
What followed over the next few months were proclamations from several elected officials including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano who who proclaimed June 15th Black Westchester Day in the city of Yonkers, NYS State Senator Shelley Mayer, NYS Assemblyman Nader Sayegh, Yonkers City Council President Mike Khader and one from the entire Yonkers City Council to name a few. The City of Yonkers has always been the number one municipality in Westchester as far support and advertising for Black Westchester, so shout out to the Y.O. for their support which is largely due to People Before Politics Radio Co-host and Latino Empowerment columnist Lorraine Lopez.
Then The Journal News did a front page spotlight on Black Westchester, titled, ‘Dose of radical’: Black Westchester Stays Edgy As Its Profile Grows. The article had quotes from Andre Stewart-Cousins, County Executive George Latimer, Yonkers PBA President Keith Olson, former Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas and a few individuals our stories helped. It ran on their website and then on the front page of Westchester’s only daily newspaper. It was an amazing article, the kind that co-signs you to all those who really didn’t give us the time of day and those who had never heard of us, not to just to Blacks in Westchester, but everyone in Westchester. Especially in corners of North Westchester we rarely have touched. It was sort of validation of what we do and who we are.
The article lead to calls from a Pace University Journalism Professor who discovered us because of the article. We were asked to speak to her class for Social Justice Week on the anniversary of the death of Danroy ‘DJ’ Henry. A week later we were asked to speak at Manhatanville College to an Intro To Journalism Class and the following week we were asked to speak at the youth at the Boys and Girls Club of Mount Vernon.
Then much to our surprise we we included in City & State NY Magazine’s yearly Power 100 list. Black Westchester made the 2020 Westchester Power 100 List. A list they compile every year, highlighting the movers and shakers who are shaping the county’s future including two newly elected Congressmen, The Westchester County District Attorney-Elect, Mayors of Peekskill, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers and White Plains, the County Executive and Deputy Executive, Presidents of Westchester Colleges and Universities like Pace, Purchase, Mercy, Iona, Sarah Lawrence, Westchester Community College and Manhattanville, the Presidents and CEOs of Regeneron – who Trump often name drops – IBM, PepsiCo and WMCHealth, President-Elect of Con Edison New York and wait for it, Black Westchester’s Co-Owners, Publisher Damon K. Jones and Editor-In-Chief AJ Woodson made the list for the first time at number 93. We even got mentioned in by a local Hip-Hop artist in his new song, a week ago. You know you made it when you get mentioned in a Hip-Hop song, lol!
Not bad for two regular guys who started with just a dream. With no money or budget to fund it. Fueled only by sheer will power, pain, passion and the power invested in us by God himself. When I say we started with nothing, trust me it’s an understatement. Now many people know our names and our work, come to us for help and even some of the highest elected official often ask for our advise or support.
These were just a few of the highlights and memorable moments of 2020. We were starting to get the attention of many people who were coming in contact with us for the very first time. It would be easy to rest of our laurels but all I could think, now that we have their attention we better really give them something to look at. Oh yeah shout of to The College of Westchester, I was asked to speak during the beginning of their Black History Month celebration along with Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey and Executive Director of Girls Inc. of Westchester County Michelle A. Nicholas.
Believe it or not, combined, that’s the kind of attention that can take you to another level or it can just be a fleeting forgotten moment. I was determined it would not be the latter. We took our little victory lap of validation and then got back to work. And here we are today. The accolades while a blessing can also be scary as you are going into unknown territory. For six years we were trying to prove ourselves, that we were official, worthy and now we were getting recognized for just that.
Many thoughts invaded my brain like missiles in the gulf war. The struggle continued. COVID is still here and threatens another possible shutdown. We knew it was possible, but still wondered how do we survive another shut down? The month of December get a little slower, advertising wise especially after an election and January and February are always our slow months even without a pandemic. With COVID who knows what the future holds? Then all the thoughts return after the adrenalin of the accolades wear off. The questions return. Is it really worth the struggle? Are we really making a difference? Would people really miss if we were no longer in existence?
Like I wrote four years ago,
I couldn’t quit if I wanted to, I’m too invested. Like hip-hop in my youth, now this is what keeps calling me like Pookie in New Jack City, when I try to or even think about walking away. You always hear people saying everyone needs to do their part. They need to step up and speak out. Well I agree, and since I am a writer, this is how I have decided to use my God-given gifts and do what I can. Uplift the people, educate the people, unconsciously inspiring others to do the same. It’s not about me, yeah like I said I could do something more financially rewarding and just worry about me, but it’s about the people, who do not have a voice, being their voice, who can not fight for themselves, fighting for them. It’s about carrying on a long tradition of Black Media in a time where black radio and black media are being silenced and snuffed out.
I remember Mathew 25:40 and I paraphrase, “what you do to the least of these, you also do unto me.” Or Proverbs 31:8, Open your mouth for those with no voice, for the cause of all the dispossessed. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Sadly, there will always be a group of people who have no voice which the world has run over. They have no way of standing up for themselves, and they need an advocate. It’s like a calling, God has called us to be a voice for the voiceless.
Common’s word replay in my heard like an endless loop; When I see them struggling, I think how I’m touching them. And while the accolades are great, they look good on on the shelf and the wall behind me in zoom meetings, but that’s not why we do this. While it will be a few line in our story, that is now we want to be remembered. I recall the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King did not want to be remembered for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. “That’s not important,” he said. He didn’t want to be remembered by the schools he attended, or for his studiousness, even though he was a college valedictorian who earned a doctorate in systematic theology.
Once you reconcile that in your brain, you use the accolades to motivate you, not define you. I remember the words of Bob Marrone, president of online station Radio Westchester and former morning host at AM stations WFAS and WVOX. Marrone said in the Journal News article some of the publication’s views on topics like racial inequality have been vindicated by the current national discourse.
“They didn’t go more mainstream, the mainstream moved toward them a little bit,” Marrone said. “Because of that they still have a dose of radical. That’s healthy from a standpoint of credibility.”
It’s not about the accolades, but the people. With all the new found attention we have no intention of going pop. Like Marrone said we never moved to the mainstream and because of that the mainstream moved toward us a little.
‘The Hunger in they eyes is what seems to feed me.’ It was in that last conversation reminding me what we stand for, what we have always stood for, THE PEOPLE! Like Common We Do It For THE PEOPLE!
When its all said and done, I want history to remember me not for the awards, certificates, proclamations and accolades, or even any eloquent words or cleaver wordplay, I may have written, but as a Purveyor Of Unheard Stories. I want them to remember Black Westchester as the voice of the voiceless, who fought for those who could not fight for themselves. As the Sunlight which was the disinfectant, shedding light and exposing governmental corruption and police criminality.
Remembered as The Voice Of The Voiceless as described in Ella Wheeler Wilcox Poem;
I am the voice of the voiceless;
Through me the dumb shall speak;
Till the deaf world’s ear be made to hear
The cry of the wordless weak.
From street, from cage, and from kennel,
From jungle and stall, the wail
Of my tortured kin proclaims the sin
Of the mighty against the frail.
I work hard so prayfully Damon and I will be remembered like the two key figureheads in what is now deemed the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen who served as voices for a previously voiceless population. Their poetry spoke of the enduring struggles of being an African-American, and the effort required to merely survive in such a discriminatory society. Black Westchester will continue to speak of the enduring struggles of being BLACK in America and in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Recording the effort required to merely survive in the discriminatory society we still live in. To be what they were for this important moment of time and the great movement we are living through.
To be remember for fighting for Freedom, Justice and Equality for our people. Remembered as the Pen to this movement! Accolades or not with each story, each article, each editorial and profile or spotlight we write and radio show we record, with every word I write here now, the purpose has become clearer and more focused.
Unlike the Government that is supposed to be ‘of the People, by the People, and for the People’ they forget about the last part, For The People, Black Westchester…. we do it for THE PEOPLE! We are The Voice of the Voiceless and The Purveyors Of Unheard Stories. Like Common said, A gift from the skies, to be recognized, I’m keeping my eyes on the people, that’s the prize!