When I recently visited Chuck Stone the sparkle had not left his eyes. Stone -- legendary journalist, educator, Tuskegee Airman and one of the original founders of the National Association of Black Journalists will turn 88 on July 21, 2012. Professor Emeritus Stone of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at University of North Carolina now lives in a retirement home in Chapel Hill. He dressed casually sporting a well-worn campaign hat that was as fashionable as ever. Missing was the trademark bow tie so much a part of his signature style for many years. We talked about journalism; his days in the military, education and an unending desire to see young people of diversity succeed.
Stone's accomplishments in journalism are extraordinary and prolific. He was a columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News for nearly 20 years and held editor positions at Harlem's New York Age, the Chicago Defender and the Washington Afro American. Chuck interviewed and wrote stories on a Who's Who list of history makers including Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. During our visit Stone recalled his time as a World War II navigator assigned to the famed Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military flyers. I handed him a DVD of the movie Red Tails, which chronicles their exploits and achievements. Stone smiled and recounted a harrowing story about training student pilots. "They always sent me up to fly with the hard-to-learn students," Stone said with a chuckle. Turning serious, he gave his approval of the movie Stone hopes will help young people appreciate real sacrifice and what happened to a diverse "band of brothers" back then.
Time is catching up with the Greatest Generation. More than 800 WWII veterans die every day according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Sitting and listening to Chuck, the great-grandson of a slave from Haiti, made me reflect on the value of living history. Fortunately, Stone's legacy as a professional storyteller is alive and well in the form of the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity and Education in Media. The program features an annual weeklong writing workshop for rising high school seniors and is one of the top multiple-platform storytelling programs for students from underrepresented populations.
Stone, always the optimist believes the country needs to promote demographic equity and put more women in positions of power. For many years he told his students that they would live to see a woman president of the United States.
This year marks the sixth anniversary of the program inspired by Chuck Stone's life-long commitment to increase the voices of diversity in all areas of journalism. The students come from all over the nation and many have gone on to study journalism in colleges and universities across the country. As Stone, who celebrates his diverse heritage would have it, they represent the full spectrum of inclusiveness including ethnic, racial, sexual orientation, religion, disability and socio-economic diversity.
Each year Stone traveled to campus to sit down with the students over lunch and share his unique perspective on what it means to be a storyteller. Chuck's health will not allow him to do that this year, but his legacy of diversity will live on in the students he recruited to the profession of journalism.