As a high school journalism student, I dreamed of becoming a columnist for one of the local newspapers. I envisioned myself interviewing people and publishing their stories. However, the teacher gave me the unsatisfying task of finding local companies willing to place ads in our paper to help defray the printing costs. I didn’t complain because the alternate task of editing the stories written by others was even less appealing.
One day as the class was working on the layout of the ads I secured and the stories my classmates wrote for our next edition, the principal rushed into our classroom. After he whispered something to our journalism instructor, I heard my name. Why? I hadn’t done anything wrong.
The principal smiled and asked me to come to his office where he said, “You’ve been selected to represent our school because the teacher said you’re not shy around strangers. We have an important visitor arriving here soon and we want you to interview her.”
There was one catch. I could only ask the visitor one question. “What is your opinion of Fidel Castro?” I had little knowledge of the political significance of Castro, but that didn’t matter. After repeating the question to the principal’s satisfaction, I walked with him to the school library where the interview was scheduled to take place.
We arrived to see several faculty members, a few students, as well as newspaper reporters and cameramen. This was my first experience with the professional media. I was not impressed until it was my turn to approach a tall, majestic looking woman who smiled at me with her right hand extended. Former first lady, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, shook my hand as I greeted her and calmly asked my question. This happened so fast, I did not have time to get nervous.
Mrs. Roosevelt’s hand felt like velvet, her eyes were warm, and her voice was strong and self- assured. She answered my question confidently as the reporters took notes and the photographers snapped away. I doubt if I closed my mouth the entire time. I don’t remember her words, but I do remember her opinion. She didn’t like or trust Fidel Castro. She had no positive words about him, but I had a positive feeling about her. My time with Mrs. Roosevelt was short, but memorable.
A few days later, I received a slightly out-of-focus photograph of Mrs. Roosevelt with me as I asked my question. I treasured the photo of that tall, impressive important world figure who took the time to answer the question of an inner-city African American journalist.