Back in the spring of 1990, I was a University of Delaware freshman who desperately wanted to be a journalist.
At the time, one was required to take E:307—Introduction to Journalism—before he/she could work for The Review, the student newspaper. So I enrolled in the course, 18-years old and convinced I knew all I needed to in order to become one of the all-time great writers in the history of the entire universe.
Then I met Chuck Stone.
He was an African-American man with brilliant white hair and a bow-tie. He had a soft voice, but his words carried remarkable weight. In that first class, I sat alongside people like Laura Fasbach and Jason Garber and listened to Chuck sing us a tune, “Walk Right In.” I don’t recall the words, only the point: A reporter needs to walk right into a story. No hesitation, no sideways angles. Direct, immediate, powerful, in.
Over the course of the semester, we all came to love Chuck. Initially, all we knew was that he was really smart, and wrote columns for the Philadelphia Daily News. However, as the weeks progressed, it became clear that we were being instructed by a legend. Chuck was one of American’s truly great and pioneering African-American journalists. He had been the White House correspondent at the Washington Afro-American, an editor at the Chicago Defender and the Daily News’ first black columnist. He was one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists, and served as the organization’s first president in 1975. He also happened to have been an assistant to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the former U.S. Representative.
Most important, the man was inspiring. Like, really, really, really inspiring. He made you want to be a journalist, because it felt like a higher calling, filled with drama and excitement and a chance to bring forth real change. He told one story after another from his career—highs, lows, glee, heartbreak.
My best memory of Chuck Stone comes from the end of my freshman year. I’d been working to complete a story for the student newspaper on why Delaware and Delaware State never played one another in sports (the schools were 45 minutes apart, both Division I in all sports except football. Both were I-AA in that). Ultimately, the piece appeared on the top of Page 1A of The Review—and weeks later the colleges scheduled meetings in myriad sports. Chuck was prouder than proud. In a radio interview toward the end of the year, he was asked about teaching, and cited the article. “That’s my student who did that!” he said. “My student!”
He was my teacher.