Marc MorialOp-EdOpinion

MORIAL: ‘Living Legend’ Tom Joyner’s Career Has Transformed Black Media

“I learned so much about building a community around content from Tom Joyner. That show was so good at finding commonality within a diverse audience — yes, there is diversity within Blackness — and serving many wants and needs simultaneously. It’s hard to be entertaining, informative and educational without ever talking down to your audience. Tom did that day after day for decades. I wish him and everyone who’s worked on that show the best. They’ve done a lot for a lot of people.” — Sports journalist Bomani Jones

Even as we enter 2020 with optimism and a sense of renewed purpose, there will be a huge void in our cultural life without the daily voice of radio legend Tom Joyner, who retired last month after nearly 50 years on the air, the last 25 as the host of the iconic “Tom Joyner Morning Show.”

It’s hard for me to imagine the past 16 years of my life as president and CEO of the National Urban League without Joyner’s enthusiastic support and clear-sighted analysis. Reach Media, the company he founded in 2001, has long been one of the National Urban League’s most valued media partners.

Whenever the National Urban League has launched a new initiative or announced a campaign, “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” was always one of our first stops. There was no better forum for reaching Joyner’s devoted and sizable audience, or for thought-provoking analysis of the issues of the day.

In 2015, the National Urban League honored Joyner with our “Living Legend” at our Conference in Fort Lauderdale. His live broadcast from the Conference was a highlight of the week.

Our most important partnerships with Joyner have been around our education initiatives. A third-generation alumnus of an HBCU, Joyner has been a passionate advocate, with his Tom Joyner Foundation raising more than $65 million since 1998 to support more than 29,000 students attending HBCUs.

Joyner’s deep respect for education, and for HBCUs in particular, stemmed from the experience of his grandfather, Oscar “Doc” Joyner, a Pullman porter who attended Meharry Medical College and became one of only 3,000 Black doctors in the United States in 1909. Joyner and his father, Hercules Joyner, were featured in the documentary “Rising from the Rails: The Story of the Pullman Porter.” Hercules Joyner, who served as one of the elite Tuskegee Airmen, earned a degree in chemistry from Florida A&M College and spent most of his career as an accountant. The Tom Joyner Foundation’s Hercules Scholarship is named in his honor.

“The Fly Jock” — a nickname he earned during the eight years he commuted between a morning show in Chicago and an afternoon show in Dallas — told CBS News he got his big break after a protest march in his hometown of Tuskegee, Alabama.

“I’m out there protesting the fact that our radio station in this all-Black town didn’t play any Black music. And this guy who owned a radio station, which was inside a Ford dealership, came out and said I don’t need this, I’m trying to really sell some cars,” Joyner said. “Tell you what, it’s a sunup, sundown station. Every Saturday, I’ll let one of you play all the Aretha and Temptations that you want.”

In a career spanning nearly five decades, Joyner has never altered his focus on serving Black listeners.

“Don’t worry about crossover. Just super serve, super serve, super serve,” he told CBS News. “Anything that affects African Americans, that’s what you do. Just worry about connecting to people and their needs.”

We offer Joyner our gratitude for his many years of entertainment and commentary, wish him well in retirement and look forward to lending our support to his efforts to uplift the community through education.

Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.

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