It was exciting, interesting and a great honor to work alongside the best anchors in the business, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, Katie Couric and of course...my mentor and favorite news anchor of all time, Bryant Gumbel.Bryant had (and still does on Real Sports on HBO) the ability to make a news story come alive and when he had a newsmaker on the hot seat...well, they often needed to be resuscitated afterwards. He was tough; but always fair and I learned more from him in those early years than anyone in the business. However, it isn't Bryant's contributions to my professional growth that is on my mind today...it is his contribution to my personal growth that stays with me more than 17 years later.
Yesterday on "Twitter," I was "tweeting" with a young African-American woman who shared that she had just been called "the N word" for the first time in her life. The incident clearly devastated her and she wanted advice on how to deal with it. I had to reach back into my memory bank because her experience reminded me of the time at NBC when I received my first ever racist mail (actually it was a series of letters) probably because of the kind of cases I was covering for the network. I couldn't believe the things people wrote to me. They called me "nigger", "monkey", "ape", and other vulgar and hate filled words and phrases that I remember to this day. One days' mail was really overwhelming and I'll admit...I completely fell apart in my office. I cried like a baby...and couldn't stop.
Apparently someone in my work area let Bryant know that I was taking these racist attacks very hard; so he came down to my office to see me. He stood in the doorway for a moment and then he spoke. "Star, you can't internalize this stuff," Bryant said, "if I cried every time someone called me a nigger because I was doing my job, I'd be crying all the time." He went on to say that it was my job to "frustrate the racists by being better than they could ever HOPE to be." He let me in on his secret: Use the "haters" as motivation to succeed beyond even your own expectations.
I dried those damn tears and I have never cried tears as a result of racists again!
I may not have been able to reach out and personally touch my young twitter follower the way Bryant touched me; but in addition to recalling Bryant's advice to me...I did share the words of wisdom my grandmother gave me as a little girl years ago:
I believe that letting someone else define you is the worse mistake you can ever make. Because, when their definition changes...then you're stuck not knowing who you are. I know who I am and I thank my mentor Bryant Gumbel for reminding me 17 years ago.