By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
June is Black Music Month and in next week’s AFRO we’ll be presenting our monthly special edition “We’re Still Here,” that will focus on Black music of the 1970’s.
No other cultural phenomena has had a greater impact on me as a Creative than the music of the 1970’s; the music I listened to growing up in that turbulent, fascinating, artistically transcendent era.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking and writing about this music, specifically the so-called Black “Supergroups” of the 1970’s. You know, Earth Wind and Fire, The Jackson Five, the Commodores, the Spinners, and all those other members of the Black American music pantheon.
And it is the Spinners that performed one of the many ubiquitous tracks of my childhood, “I’ll Be Around.”
That’s the overarching feeling I have as I announce my departure from the AFRO.
This isn’t the first time I’ve announced I’m leaving the Black institution that has been my professional home since I first walked through the doors of the venerable Eutaw Street headquarters in January of 1989. But, I suspect it will be the last.
Much has changed in the world, this city and in the media since 1989. And this is the most dangerous time for Black people in America that I can remember. That’s why I am launching two new media platforms utilizing long-form and visual storytelling in September (I’ll share more about my new ventures in the coming months in the pages of the AFRO).
However, as I alluded to in the first few lines of this column, nothing has had a bigger impact on me culturally than the music I grew up listening to. And nothing has had a bigger impact on me as a journalist, as a storyteller than the Baltimore AFRO American Newspaper.
That’s why in the past it has been so hard for me to quit her.
At least five times (I’m really not sure of the actual number) I’ve left the AFRO to tilt at windmills, some real, others, perhaps imagined. Yet, each time I returned I was welcomed back with open arms. No questions asked.
Every human being yearns for a voice, the ability to be heard. Tragically, many people leave the land of the living frustrated literally to death by their inability to do so. I thank God in Heaven that I don’t bear that burden. I’ve had the privilege and honor of telling thousands (literally) of stories over the years each time allowing my voice to resonate, to connect with somebody.
I won’t ever take that blessing for granted.
And of course, it was the AFRO that first gave a 23-year old kid from West Baltimore with no real professional writing experience an opportunity to contribute to one of the most consequential Black publications in the history of this country.
It was the legendary Bob Matthews who threw me into the editorial fire immediately that first week I arrived in January 1989. At that time embattled Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) superintendent (that’s what the position was called back then) Richard Hunter orchestrated an administrative house cleaning at BCPS headquarters on North Avenue, that had a whole lot of people shook up. My assignment as the newly minted AFRO education reporter was to convey the fear and loathing that permeated North Avenue in the aftermath of Hunter’s wrath.
The headline read: “Hunter Bombshell Still Seething.” It was my first professional story, it was the lead story that week and it was on the front page of the AFRO.
I can still hear Mr. Matthews bellow my name when the deadline had arrived and my story was due. “Yoes, turn it loose!” he would say.
The truth is, all these years later I still get a rush when my story is on the front page.
Yet, the most gratifying experience by far during my time(s) at the AFRO has been the many life-long friendships I have forged over the years. There are too many members of the AFRO family to name in this space that truly hold a space in my heart. But, I’ll name the ones from my original time in 1989, who are still holding it down for the institution that has been holding it down for Black people since 1892.
Wanda Pearson (Pudge) has been the AFRO’s receptionist and ambassador of goodwill since 1976. Denise Dorsey (The Captain) is the AFRO’s production manager and has also been with the newspaper since 1976. I’ve known these women my entire adult life and I love them both.
I’ve known the AFRO’s Publisher and CEO, Dr. Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper and her husband Baltimore AFRO Circulation/Distribution Manager, Andre Draper since I was 10-years old. Me and their son Kevin “Mpeckable” Peck played Randallstown Optimist little league football for the Broncos in 1976. The Drapers owned a house on Elgin Avenue, around the corner from where I grew up in West Baltimore. The Drapers are family to me.
And we’re all a part of the AFRO family.
That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever really quit the AFRO. How do you quit your family? You really can’t. So, if they ever need me I’ll be there.
I’ll be around.
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