God bless you and aloha.
On this marvelous Monday, one week before my 65th birthday, five weeks after my
40th wedding anniversary and one day before the 36th anniversary of my employment
with the Chicago Sun-Times, my wife Joyce and I are wrapping up a 16-day Hawaiian
We spent it on the island of O'ahu, the most popular and populous of the Hawaiian
islands that comprise our nation's 50th state, and the location of Honolulu, the state's
This is the way we had planned, as early as last year, to celebrate our 40th
anniversary. And when I was diagnosed to be suffering from brain cancer, prostate
cancer and end-stage congestive heart failure in early April, the way I felt then with a bad
heart that moved doctors to tell me I needed a heart transplant, I had some serious
doubts about whether we could make good on a trip for which we had already paid.
But thanks to my faith in Jesus, prayer and God's grace, I recovered sufficiently
from serious shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, back and groin pains to treat Joyce to
her favorite vacationplace as a bribe to stay with me a little longer.
During our vacation here, I was honored to receive a Sam Lacy Pioneer award
from the National Association of Black Journalist, when it held its annual convention in
Chicago in late July. Gayle Sayers, my Kansas University classmate, and former White
Sox great Minnie Minoso also received a similar award for our achievements as pioneers
in our respective specialties.
When my father, the late Rev. A.D. Banks Sr., moved our family from Mississippi to
Kansas City, Kan., in 1956, it opened up new opportunities for my sisters and brothers
and I as refugees from the the racism and poverty that we suffered living in Mississippi.
And although I did not attend an integrated school in my life until I went to the University
of Kansas, I was blessed to received some of the finest education offered anywhere
when I was a student at all-black Northeast Junior High school and Sumner High School
As a student at KU in the early '60s, I was part of a period of great change and
tremendous racial, social, professional and political progress in America. In those
sensational Sixties, it meant something to be the first black this or that in something of
Before I graduated from KU with a BA in French, I forged, among other things, this
accomplishments that were great honors in the black community:
* I was the first black boy governor of Kansas in the state's annual student
government day when it allowed high school YMCA organizations throughout the state to
take over the state capitol in Topeka
* I was president of KU's largest student organization, the KU-Y
* I sang professionally one summer at Kansas City's Starlight Theater, that city's
summer Ravinia, as part of the chorus in the Jerome Kern broadway musical "Showboat"
* I played the lead role of Walter in the KU production of "Raisin in the Sun"
* I sang in the school's concert choir
* I was one of 12 American Hi-Y members to represent YMCAs across the nation in
the 1964 International Workshop Seminar, where we worked with Japanese students in
Omuta, Japan, and Chinese student in Hong Kong, building recreation camps for
impoverish children in those countries.
Then in the first semester of my senior year, I was invited to meet with the editors of
the Kansas City Star newspaper and asked, "How would you like to be the Jackie
Robinson of the Kansas City Star?"
I accepted the job offer to be the first black reporter at that proud paper, got a
scholarship from the paper to help me finish my education at KU to graduate on time and
worked a year for them before I applied for the U.S. Navy's Officer Candidate School in
Newport, R.I., during the Vietnam War, got accepted, graduated, received a commission
as a Navy officer (ensign) and served a three-assignment as a Navy information officer
and public relations teacher at the Department of Defense Information School at Ft.
Benjamin Harrison, Ind.
While in the Navy, I also became the first black reporter to work for the Indianapolis
Star and the Indianapolis News. Then after working three years as sports editor of Ebony
magazine, I was hired by former Sun-Times editors James Hoge and Ralph Ortwell to
become the paper's first black sportswriter in 1972.
Except for a brief setback, when I was fired for charging racial discrimination in
1975, and spent 13 months in arbitration to get my job back, my career with the
Sun-Times has been the greatest blessing of my professional life. Most people don't
realize that I had to weather some early abuse as the first black reporter in Sun-Times
sports because I was hired to replace a white predecessor, who, along with his friends,
took great offense and a lot of rude things to try to get me to quit. The fact that my
precedessor was also our department's union shop steward made matters worse. On
one occasion, I was called "black bastard" and on another occasion "stupid black son of
a b----" by fellow workers.
But those were the exceptions, not the rule. On the grand whole, I have been
blessed to work for and with some of the finest professionals and some of the best
human beings in the world.
During my career, the stellar likes of Michael Wilbon (Washington Post and ESPN),
Stephen Smith (ESPN), Roscoe Nance (USA Today), J.A. Adande (LA Times and ESPN),
David Aldridge (ESPN) and so many others grew up reading me and honoring me by
calling me one of their mentors.
The NABJ took these and other thins into consideration when they chose to honor
me with the Sam Lacy Award. Getting the award with Sayers is extra special because he
and I arrived on the KU campus the very same day back in the summer of 1961 and I
made it a point to leave Templin Dormitory and go over to the steps of the school library
and introduce myself to him when I heard that this "great new football player" was
holding court. Then when I got out of the Navy, I resumed my professional journalism
career here in Chicago, where he likewise was forging his legend as one of pro football's
greatest running backs ever.
Yes, it thrills me to know that our younger successors remember and honor those of
us who went before them just as we remembered and honored the pioneers who went
before us. Never did I realize that being a relic could become so rewarding. I am also
grateful to Clay Zettler for the fine story he wrote about me for the NABJ's special
convention publication, which you can also read by calling up this link
My youngest daughter, Natasha Sarah-Loraine Banks, received the special plaque
for me a gave a wonderful acceptance speech. I also taped one voicing my gratitude and
Meantime, in Hawaii, Joyce and I enjoyed a sublime time at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in
Kapolei, a west suburb of Honolulu. Thanks especially to the efforts of reservations
manager Michelle Reyes and concierge Pat Radona, and a staff of seeming thousands
under the superb direction of general manager Dan Banchiu, Joyce and I received red
carpet treatment at one of the world best hotels.
Partly because of my time-honored status of Platinum Elite lifetime in Marriott's
Honored Guest Award program, Joyce and I were upgraded to an eleventh-floor,
oceanfront junior suite that afforded us a broad, paradisaical view of the Pacific ocean
and some of the sweetest sunsets you'll find in the world.
This category-seven, Marriott hotel is an engineering and architectural wonder of the
world. There are many other oceanfront properties one can enjoy. But precious few, if
any, like this J.W. Marriott Ihilani. It abuts a beautiful sandy lagoon on one front and a
rocky shore on another in manners that afford oceanfront rooms not only breathtaking
views, but an acoustical oasis, where inhabitants can hear the soothing serenade of the
sea ceaselessly. Almost every night, I'd go out on my lanai to smell the fragrance and
savor the sonorous sounds of the sea and wind rendering a delectable duet that is most
delicious to my ears.
Few pleasures provide such magnificent music as the sound of a sea's waves
splashing, smashing and slashing against rocky shores. They give you that swishing and
swashing sound that relieves tensions, soothes sorrows, calms mental chaos and erases
emotional stress. Often, Joyce and I slept with my sliding doors open to allow us to hear
the ocean all nightlong.
Except for my agonizing incontinence issues, associated with my prostate cancer and
the radioactive seeds treatments, Joyce and I enjoyed perhaps our best vacation to date.
God bless you.