The Year in Review - Good, sad, ugly—we saw it all
The close of 2007 marks the career end—or new beginning—of a number of movers and shakers on Wall Street. Black America was shocked when E. Stanley O’Neal, the embattled chairman and chief executive officer at Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., stepped down from his prestigious post in October. O’Neal blemished a successful six-year reign and lost the confidence of his board when he sought an $8.4 million write-off against profit and an unapproved merger with Wachovia, a rival bank.
But don’t cry for O’Neal. He leaves the giant company with a $160 million-plus retirement package.
Neither should there be tears for Richard Parsons, who, less than a week after O’Neal’s departure, relinquished his CEO position at Time Warner Inc. There was nothing bitter about this move; Parsons decided that it was time for a change. He retains his position as chairman of the board.
The late Richard “Dick” Gidron had his share of financial problems toward the end of his life, including tax debts, but these pale in comparison to his monumental accomplishments. Gidron, of Dick Gidron Cadillac in the Bronx, was the first African-American Cadillac dealer in New York and the second in the nation. He died Oct. 10 at age 68. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Percy Sutton, Chairman Emeritus, Inner City Broadcasting, note that Gidron was more than a successful businessman; he was a community resource many came to count on for economic and political support.
Money was a significant factor in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Anucha Browne Sanders against Isiah Thomas, coach of the New York Knicks basketball team. Thomas and the Knicks were found guilty and face paying $11.6 million in damages. The verdict is being appealed. The most incriminating evidence against Thomas was his own testimony. He allegedly said that it was more offensive if a white man referred to a Black woman inappropriately than if a Black man did. This remark incensed community activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who promised to lead a protest against the Knicks if Thomas did not apologize. Thomas apologized and showed a tape that exonerated him, whereupon Sharpton called off the demonstrations.
Thomas’s apology also was accepted by Vivian Stringer, coach of Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team, who admitted that she had chastised him before she had all the facts. Stringer was in the news in April when CBS radio shock jock John Donald “Don” Imus Jr. used derogatory language in describing the African-American members of her team. His remarks created uproar and Imus was terminated by CBS. According to recent rumors, he is scheduled to return to the air in December.
The Imus affair was a harbinger of racial hostility against Black Americans. More than 50,000 people marched in Jena, La., in September voicing their disgust about an incident that left six young Blacks facing long prison sentences for beating a white classmate. One of the teens, Mychal Bell, has already been tried, released and rearrested after a judge determined he had violated probation by getting involved in the fight. A noose found hanging in a tree that was considered off limits for Black students triggered the fracas. Suddenly, nooses popped up across the country, from inside a police station in New York to the door of a professor at Columbia University.
Black America may have been on the wrong end of the noose, but they were on the right side of the news, following an election year that witnessed several Black politicians assume a record number of leadership positions in Congress. Most noteworthy was Rangel’s chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. It was a bumper year for Rangel, who also published his autobiography, detailing his distinguished service in the military. On more than one occasion, the decorated veteran called for renewal of the draft.
Meanwhile, the war in Iraq continues. Since it began in March 2003, nearly 4,000 Americans have died, countless wounded and an untold number of Iraqis have been killed. The war is one of the sticking points in the debates among Republicans and Democrats as they contend for the presidency. Black America is paying particularly close attention to the Democratic primaries in which Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is nipping at the heels of front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). No presidential race in recent memory has commanded so much media space—and so many months before even the first primary.
The Yankees may have flopped on the diamond, but the city could very well get a showdown between two New Yorkers if Clinton succeeds and if Republican Rudy Giuliani beats back a formidable Mitt Romney.
Media maven Oprah Winfrey made headline news in March when she opened her second school in South Africa. The Leadership Academy for Girls, funded by Winfrey’s Angel Network, is designed to be a model for public education. But that paragon of excellence was besmirched recently when complaints arose of child abuse and assault by a school employee. Winfrey apologized profusely about the reports and assigned her own investigative team to look into the matter.
Nothing rocked the nation like the spike of foreclosures in the subprime mortgage market. And, of course, Black Americans were the most devastated by this crisis. A number of factors are being cited as the culprit, including predatory lending, inflated appraisal of homes, unscrupulous mortgage brokers, and deceptive borrowers who mislead the brokers and the lenders—perhaps all of the aforementioned.
Gentrification continued as a source of controversy in many of the major cities in America, where property value is soaring as young white Americans seek to live closer to their jobs, thereby ending the long commute to and from the suburbs. Nowhere in the nation is this urban battle being waged with such intensity as in Harlem, the cultural heartbeat of Black New York. Despite mixed views from many of the longtime residents—some pleased with the improved city services resulting from gentrification—demonstrations occur almost daily in some part of the community. Activists have come out in droves, for example, to stop the advance of Columbia University into the Manhattanville section.
Congratulations are in order for radio and talk show host Tavis Smiley, whose book The Covenant with Black America became a best-seller, with current sales of more than 400,000 copies. Moreover, Smiley has launched his own imprint with Hay House and brought in publishing pioneer Cheryl Woodruff as the president. Given Woodruff’s track record as founder and former associate publisher of One World, Random House’s multicultural imprint, we can expect great things for established and emerging writers, and this is the kind of good news we need going into a new year.
Among the more memorable mo-ments for The Network Journal, we reported on the dire straits of the Black media, giving special condolences to the passing of Charles Tisdale, the fearless editor of The Jackson Advocate in Mississippi, and the senseless murder of veteran journalist Chauncey Wendell Bailey in Oakland, Calif. True, Black media is at a crossroad, but there are a number of hopeful signs with the rejuvenation of the Internet.
And on the occasion of Ghana’s Golden Jubilee Anniversary, in April we reported in an interview with Gamal Nkrumah, son of the great African statesman, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. “My father was a great leader. He instinctively knew that even the largest [populated] African country, Nigeria, or the wealthiest, South Africa, could not survive as a political entity,” Gamal said. “He was thinking ahead in terms of African unity.”
By Herb Boyd