Archive for the Samori Goes to the J School Category

Big Ups To Playthell “Samori” Benjamin!

Posted in Samori Goes to the J School with tags , on April 3, 2018 by playthell

Intrepid Sports Reporter Interviews Hall Of Fame Yankee Reggie Jackson


 The Columbia University Graduate school of Journalism is the top of the food chain in the profession; it is recognized around the world as the best in the business! For journalism it is the equivalent of the Harvard Business School for those going into corporate management.  The graduates of both schools are expected to become leaders in their profession.  And more often than not they fulfill this high expectation.

In the world of journalism the J-School’s Master of Science is as prestigious as the Harvard MBA. The applicant pool for both schools represent the best and the brightest strivers from around the world; so gaining admission is quite an honor! A degree from the J-School will open all doors in your journey to the top as a sports reporter, which has been your life-long dream.

You are entering the J-School with years or solid work as the Sports Editor at WBAI FM here in New York, where you have reported on Football, Baseball and Basketball; producing wonderful highly original features on women in sports – athletes and reporters – creating a valuable archive of testimonies from the world’s greatest athletes told in their own voices.  Which you will one day produce as audio-books with your narration.

Although this great listener owned station on the Pacifica Network was not able to pay the big bucks offered by commercial media, you chose to labor on survival jobs in order to take advantage of the freedom to be creative and do your own thing that WBAI offered. Working there also provided an opportunity to work along side great journalists like Amy Goodman the creator and producer of Democracy Now!  The Polk Award winning reporter Robert Knight, and you were tutored by the seasoned reporter Jose Santiago, who came to WBAI  from NBC  news.  As the News Director Jose assinged you to cover City Hall for several years, where you learned the craft of hard news beat reporting on deadline.

Your position as Sports Director at WBAI – a fifty thousand watt station broadcasting from the heart of the greatest city in the world – heard throughout the metropolis and surrounding areas, provided you the opportunity to attend professional games and gain access to the locker rooms. And you have made the most of this opportunity with on-air reports, posts on, and writing a highly original book on the rise and fall of African-Americans in Major League Baseball – “Where Did Our Love Go?” – which hopefully will be published before you enter the J-School in August.   This book is a labor of love, inspired by your life long love of Baseball, which began when you played in the Harlem Little League as a boy.

At the Batters Plate

Slugging in the Harlem Little League
At the World Series Victory Celebration!

Drenched in champagne in the Yankee Clubhouse

While your admission to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism is the reward for all the work you have put in mastering your craft, it symbolizes something more in our family. First of all, it honors the memory of Uncle Jimmy Strawder,who was denied admission to Columbia University, where he wanted to study journalism, BECAUSE HE WAS BLACK!

A talented writer who edited his high school newspaper, and wrote witty articles and commentaries, some of which I have read thanks to his classmate Ms. Barbara Vickers, who preserved the clips and sent them to me, Uncle Jimmy applied to Columbia after returning from World War II. He was drafted into the racially segregated US Army as an enlisted man from the racially segregated town of St. Augustine Florida, where white supremacy was proclaimed and practiced in law and custom.

One of the brightest bulbs in any box, Uncle Jimmy was soon selected for Officers Candidate School which he successfully completed and became the first BLACK COMBAT OFFICER in the pacific theater, assigned to the Australian Army. He was honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant with Battle Decorations!

His performance in the military, which test the mettle of a man as nothing else, established his measure as a man in terms of courage, character and intelligence – since selection to Officers Candidate School was based on standardized competitive exams. And if the white boys who weathered the Great Depression, fought and defeated the Fascist menace, then came back home to build the country were “The Greatest Generation,” then African-Americans like Uncle Jimmy Were THE GREATEST OF THE GREATEST GENERATION!!!!!

For the Black soldiers returned home to the country from which the German NAZI’s had borrowed their Master Race theories – Specifically “The Passing of the Great Race,” a 1917 racist tome by Columbia grad Madison Grant – and against whom the Japanese went to war because they believed white Americans planned to subject them to the treatment they imposed on their black citizens -as Dr. Gerald Horn shows in “Race War.”  The black heroes – who were young, gifted and Black – kept their souls in tack and kept moving on up! And against all odds yet did they rise!

You need only sample  the subsequent careers of some of these black officers after the war to recognize the myriad ways their contributions enriched American life.   I think of men such as as the progressive innovative Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young; college president Dr. Roscoe Brown; Harlem lawyer and successful businessman Percy Sutton, the great pioneering journalist who became Director of the powerful United States Information Agency Carl Rowan; the magnificent Blues Philosopher, novelist, cultural critic and prolific author Albert Murray, and Dr. Randolph Bromery. A fighter pilot with the all black Tuskegee Airman – a crack squadron that never lost a bomber under their escort – Bromery went on the become one of the nation’s most distinguished geologist and was selected to study the rock samples gathered on the moon.  He would also become the first black Chancellor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  In a recent documentary film on Afro-American Officers in the second World War, Uncle Jimmy’s service was honored, he watched it with the family on his 90th birthday and was deeply moved.

Uncle Jimmy, filled with the optimism of a young man who was handsome as a movie star and swift on the cap. Plus had served with distinction in the great war to “preserve freedom and democracy,” was certain that he was Columbia University material. And his performance on the entrance exams proved it!

However, The Columbia University Admissions Office decided otherwise. In a terse and patronizing letter that added insult to injury, they congratulated Uncle Jimmy on his outstanding war record and his excellent performance on their entrance exam, part of which was in Latin! Then they informed him that his application was rejected BECAUSE “COLUMBIA COLLEGE HAS ITS QUOTA OF NEGROES.”

There was no shame in these cultivated northern crackers game! just like that they crushed his dreams. As he was already married with a child, he went to work. However you really can’t keep a good man down forever because cream will eventually rise to the top of the barrel. Uncle Jimmy remained married to my beautiful Aunt Nita for over half a century until she danced and joined the ancestors; bought a beautiful Brownstone in Brooklyn; became the CEO of Hamburger Heaven, a popular white owned restaurant chain in New York in the 1950’s – an unheard of accomplishment for a black man at the time – raised four wonderful children of their own and adopted several others, and ended up a successful restaurateur as owner of “FERRY BANK,” a beautiful high end restaurant in Brooklyn Heights in which Spike Lee shot scenes from two of his movies.

If any of you New Yorkers ever dined at that fabulous eatery, the handsome, elegant, man who strolled about graciously greeting guests was my Uncle Jimmy: A great man who lived into his nineties! He was the most important male role model in my life after the untimely death of my father – Uncle Jimmy’s best friend – when I was only four years old. I have traveled far and wide in my life and time, met a lot of impressive people – poets and players, wise men and fools -spoke to everybody twice, but I have never met a better man than Uncle Jimmy!

Since he believed that success was the best revenge against those who would destroy your dreams, Uncle Jimmy took the position that Columbia University owed our family degrees, and urged those coming behind him to collect them. Well thus far his son, Jimmy Strawder Junior took a degree in architecture, and went on to become an award winning architect. His grand son Monsour also took a degree and now heads a law firm and investment bank in South Africa. Monsour’s son Jabari – a world champion Rubix Cube solver – is now pursuing a degree in Computer Science. My daughter Makeda- Samori’s twin sister – did graduate work in Nutrition, and my son will be entering the Graduate School of Journalism in the fall…FULFILLING UNCLE JIMMY’S DREAM!

Uncle Jimmy was delighted when J-School Professor Martian Gottlieb selected two of my pieces on the structure and dynamics of mass transformative movements for Study –“Jive at Five” 1988 and “Who is Listening to Minister Farrakhan” 1989, both Village Voice features, the former nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the latter won the Griot Award from the Association of Black Journalists – and he attended my lecture before the seminar. But your achievement would heal his soul.

This is the legacy you will carry with you when you enter the J-School son. Although I am not a religious man Samori, I believe that if there is a place somewhere out there beyond the rainbow, where great souls go when they die, your adoring grandmother Queen Elizabeth – that elegant dusky daughter of Dixie – and Uncle Jimmy are joined in a spirit dance of jubilation!

Uncle Jimmy at his 90th Birthday Party

He Still Retains the Paternal Touch

As for me, I can conjure no words to express my love and admiration for you, who has always done the right thing and never caused me and your mother a moments trouble. You deserve EVERYTHING good that will come to you in this life.  So, My Son, I shall say to you what the great black Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston’s mother said to her when she left Eatonville to attend Barnard, Columbia’s women’s college, nearly a century ago: “JUMP AT DE SUN!” I have no doubt that, like Zora, you will make the most of this rare opportunity and distinguish yourself as one of the great sports reporters of the 21st century.

This is assured. For, as is evident in the forthcoming book, your work is guided by the broader questions posed by the great Trinidadian writer/political philosopher C.L.R. James, in the opening of his seminal book on the game of cricket, Beyond a Boundary: “What do they know of cricket…who only cricket knows….”

Going to the Source

Getting the Story of Afro-Americans in the Major Leagues Today
 In Miami Reporting on the Knicks

Taking a Break on South Beach!
At Madison Square Garden: The Mecca of Basketball


Covering the New York Knicks
Graduation Day at SUNY!
Receiving the Bachelor’s Of Science in Broadcast Journalism
A Native New Yorker

Reporting on the Stars in the World’s Most Exciting City
An Athlete and Veteran Reporter at 12!

Hangin in da Club with Knicks Star Forward Anthony Mason 

Samori began writing /Presenting Sports Commentary on My WBAI  Show  at Nine years old
And Grew Up to Become Sports Editor!

Columbia is Getting a Great Candidate



Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York,
April 4 2018