Top 10 Black News Stories of 2019, including Person of the Year by Sr. Journalist Charles Robinson

Photo: The Iconic Harriet Tubman, Great American Hero

(BALTIMORE – January 1, 2020) – I often look for “silver linings” in the stories I write. What is clear to me is “the universe talks to me.” What do I mean by this? I am sometimes drawn to places and people for inextricable reasons. I have learned not to make sense of the why, but to except what “the universe” tries to deliver. Meaning “I have to listen.”

The Black Diaspora covers vast regions, with varied outcomes (good and bad), and the ability to shape a broader world with its innovations and peculiarities. It has always been difficult to synthesize what rises to the top.

So, let me get to a couple of things you have heard me say before: If you don’t like my list, make up your own. I watch pop-culture, politics, historical trends, and people you may not have heard of. I can easily expand the list, but I am not going to do that. While I am east coast based in the United States, I have a much broader focus.

Go ahead and criticize if you must. I’m a big boy/dude. You won’t be the first and you won’t be the last. So here goes.

  1. The Nipsey Hussle Effect – The tragic death of this South-Central Los Angeles Rapper is a marker for the current generation. Like Tupac and Biggy Smalls, we have only begun to scratch the surface of his impact. “He was trying to do good in the Hood.” From celebrities, athletes, and to people in the street, he defined where the culture was going in the current environment. I am always saddened when people leave too soon and leave behind families who share the burden of trying to define what they meant to them and to a generation.


  1. Social Mishap/Mis-Appropriation – The year has been filled with a number of “oops!” Sometimes there were people of the majority culture doing things to Black folks (Governor of Virginia in Black face in a Medical School Yearbook.). I am concerned about how #cancelculture has been used for good. Unfortunately, it’s been used to demean those who may not have deserved it. However, the biggest “say what” moment occurred this year with actor Jussie Smollet of the Fox show “Empire.” He claimed he was attacked by men who wore MAGA hats affiliated with fans of the POTUS. It turned out to be a hoax.


  1. The Color of Beauty – There was a five way first of sorts when it comes to beauty pageants. Zozibini Tunzi (please note her natural hair) was crowned Miss Universe. She hails from South Africa. Toni-Ann Singh from St. Thomas, Jamaica was crowned Miss World. Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris; Miss America Nia Franklin; and Miss USA Cheslie Kryst. Black is Beautiful.


  1. Being a Cop – It’s difficult being a Black cop. The pressures from society regarding how you administer justice is often called into question. It’s a unique calling. What makes it more strenuous is when people go rogue. We’ve seen this from the top cops (dismissing the Chicago Commissioner Eddie Johnson after he was found intoxicated, then lied to Mayor Lori Lightfoot). Once considered for the top cop in Baltimore, the Fort Worth Police Commissioner Joel Fitzgerald pulled his name from consideration, then was fired. Also from Baltimore a group of rogue cops (The Gun Trace Task Force) were robbing and stealing from drug dealers and reselling the drugs for profit. A few make the rest of you wonder why – and they wonder why it’s hard to recruit.


  1. Harriet Tubman – She was a conductor of the Underground Railroad and help lead hundreds to freedom. This year she got the star treatment. At the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, MD a mural was unveiled showing her reaching out from the wall. The image went viral when a young girl had her picture taken touching the hand (The scene has been replicated hundreds of times.). During this year there was also the release of “Harriet,” the movie. A broader audience got to see her story and it will influence generations. In 2020, the star treatment will continue with a dedication of a statue to Tubman at the Annapolis State House, a first for people of color who were brought to Maryland’s shores in chains.


  1. The Icons Lost – Toni Morrison’s name is hallowed for Black writers. She let the pen tell so many different kinds of stories. As a Pulitzer Prize winner (Beloved), she never rested, creating works that inspire generations. Honorable Mention: the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, “We can do better.”


  1. Reigning in the Confederacy – I was born in Richmond, Virginia and attended Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s where I began my journalism career. The history of the city dates to the founding of the country. The dark underbelly of the city is it once was once the capitol of the Confederacy. The city is adorned with statues of Confederate Generals. There have been a number of commissions created to decide what to with statues on Monument Avenue. You can imagine my surprise when I learned The Boulevard, a storied street like Monument Avenue, was going to be renamed for famed Richmond born tennis player Arthur Ashe (Deep irony, there is a park with prime public tennis courts at the end of this road where Ashe was not allowed to play.). Adding to this re-interpretation, the artist, Kehinde Wiley, created a three-story statue of a man with dread-locks and a hoodie on a horse called Rumors of War. It was placed on Ashe Boulevard in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (I lived two blocks away from this facility). The Los Angeles born artist who is based in New York visited Richmond in 2016 and was inspired after seeing the Confederate General Jeb Stuart statue on his horse. “What does it feel like if you are black and walking beneath this?


  1. Gun Violence – It’s been an astonishing year for homicides in too many cities from Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis, New Orleans, Oakland, Chicago, Dallas, and other cities big and small. While campaigns in the majority community have focused on removing high capacity weapons, our communities (Black and Hispanic) seem caught-up in street turf wars over drugs/beefs. A number of organizations are trying to tackle the problem (Safe Streets in Baltimore and others). This is a pathological and mental health issue, which I have argued about on these pages. I hate each year I have to include this subject.


  1. Black People and Politics – When I started this Blog, I never envisioned a Black President until I met a young Barack Obama. It seems like a lifetime ago, and whether we will ever see another remains to be seen. Black folk and politics are not monoliths. Yes, there is a tendency for some to adhere to orthodoxy (Democratic Party) or outside of the mainstream (Republican and Libertarian). What I am seeing is a unique splintering which is fueled by outside sources – Russian disinformation campaigns and a generational divide that may not be overcome by shared interests. I am shocked to hear from my younger colleagues who argue with passion, “Obama did nothing for Black Folk.” There may be some validity to this but remember he was POTUS not the Brother who lead the nation. This year we have/had a pair of Black candidates Senators Corey Booker (still in the race) and Kamala Harries (dropped out). There was this unreasonable purity test for these candidates. Former President Obama addressed the issue, “I am always suspicious of purity tests during elections. Because, you know what, the country is complicated…chill out.” Some young people took this as being out of touch. If allowed to fester, I can guarantee you a lower voter turnout and policies, which you will decry as not in your best interest.


  1. The Robert Harris Gift and Promise. In 2015, I wrote about Robert F. Smith, one of the wealthiest Black men in America. His company, Vista Equity Partners, is listed at near the top of the Forbes 500. You’d think he would have been sought out as a commencement speaker for any university. Few came calling until this year when Morehouse College invited him to speak at their commencement. He was honored and moved by the young people commonly called “Morehouse Men.”

The technology investor, who received an honorary doctorate from the HBCU, made a surprise announcement during the institution’s Sunday morning commencement. “On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” he said during his speech. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.” The gift has been estimated to be worth up to $40 million.

It took a minute for it to sink in…and then jubilation. I can’t tell you what student debt does to those who attended college. I just wish more people would step up and remember what a gift education is to the future. FYI, he’s likely to be flooded with requests to speak in 2020.


Person of the Year – Dr. Marshall Sheppard

I have known Dr. Sheppard for over 20 years, and he is a man of science. In his past life he was in charge of weather for NASA (greenlit most of the Space Shuttle launches in the 80s). Currently, he teaches at the University of Georgia and is on the Board of Visitors at the school. Recently, I had a chance to hear him speak. Dr. Sheppard related Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham” with environmental justice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

“I do science, I don’t do opinion or what I think,” a refreshing approach in a world where science/scientists are being discounted for their work. The meteorologist has had to fight with people online who think they know more or don’t have a science degree (let alone a Ph.D.). What’s super cool he isn’t to full of himself (He tells jokes about his work and himself.).

You can see Dr. Sheppard on the Weather Channel as the host of “The Weather Geeks” or read his musings in Forbes online.