by Wamara Mwine
It was right after dinner on Tuesday that I saw the story link about Vernon Jordan's passing. Sitting in a quiet space at my desk, I took a deep breath and remembered our many encounters. Opening up a new window in my g-mail, I quickly wrote a note to his daughter Vickee. I was pleased to see she was back in the D.C. area. The words came easy for me as I had lost my Dad, and Vernon had personally reviewed his funeral program in 2019.
It was a rare treat to run into Vernon near Dupont Circle during the 2000's where he worked at Akin Gump. Vernon had a way of walking and at his height, one could feel the gallantry and esteem he had built over the years. As he looked down at me at 5'10”, Vernon seamlessly covered an array of social and political issues. I admired his unemotional demeanor. He would also be escorted with a number of younger African-American women. In a town filled with scandal, I learned Vernon would personally place these women into high-level jobs. The things that resonated from our conversations and his advice fell into these paraphrased categories. I promised Vernon not to publish his words, even now in passing.
1. Seek and building a coalition around your cause and have a clear narrative to summarize the main points. Pick your battles carefully, especially in politics.
2. Bury the hatchet. One way or another get through the major challenges in life and move on...
3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid toxic people and workplaces.
4. Research and preparation lead to success.
There was no doubt that Vernon had made it, as an African-American in a predominately, if not exclusively, white business world. We spoke at length of the many challenges and pitfalls African-Americans face in the corporate world. His memoir Vernon Can Read ! is a great book and highlights the roadblocks Vernon faced and his enduring spirit.
Diversity Strategist Stacey Gordon said it best. “The truth is, our gut feelings are steeped in bias. They come from the years we’ve spent living in a world that taught us its biases without our consent. Our brain makes countless, instantaneous judgments that inform how we act. So when we trust our gut — those judgments result in inevitably biased decisions.” Vernon would rise above great odds to become the example of African-American progress that we all really needed.
Other mentors, including Civil Rights Leaders Walter Fauntroy and Julian Bond, filled in important chapters in Vernon's life for me that only they knew personally. Those stories included the assassination attempt of Vernon at a Fort Wayne Marriott in 1980. For Walter, the story revealed the ugly nature of the brutal shooting and how Vernon survived while his assailant, Joseph Paul Franklin was acquitted of attempted murder in 1982. Franklin later confessed to the shooting and other murders and was executed 31 years after the incident with Vernon.
I faced a major obstacle where Vernon's razor focus and guidance saved me. My coverage of The White House was in part with the National Examiner in Denver, covering 91 U.S. Markets. Unlike, many White House Correspondents, I had no salary 2009-2012, just limited sponsor money, which was a problem in itself. I had written several stories including a 5 part series on Michelle Obama for The National Examiner. My stories were well read by news organizations and a single link brought readers to the larger gallery of work.
On Wednesday, May 6, 2015, National Examiner Content Director Matt Sandy pulled my gallery off the web. Matt said my stories about the Obama White House were outdated, which further fueled my dismay. With one action, my entire body of work was scrapped and Matt made sure I could not publish the pieces again inside the National Examiner portal.
I was pretty angry about the whole episode. Vernon would convince me it was not the end of the world. That big mistakes can be made and he noted my other civil rights pieces would remain online. As he stared at me, I could feel his authority taking over the whole debate. It was the most direct example of how Vernon's influence pushed me into a new direction. When my Fair Observer Op-Ed published in 2018, I was quick to get Vernon a copy and delivering it to his offices, as with all my pieces, brought further closure. My forecasting of the rise of White Supremacy in reporting and an impromptu speech at the DNC Winter Meeting 2019, proved correct.
I would bring Emily Gorceni's website First Vigil to Vernon's attention. Emily has a complete list of White Supremacy trials across the country. It is a bible for law enforcement and hopefully, the Biden White House will see the value of such a database, especially following the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill.
Once again, Vernon's coalition lecture resonated. It was important to share Emily's story with my journalist colleagues and other politicians like Terry McAuliffe. Terry's book, Beyond Charlottesville, was again an accurate forecast of what was coming. I joined Terry at a book signing. Ironically, Emily had been pepper-sprayed by a white supremacist during the Unite the Right Rally. An unlikely coalition against White Supremacy had formed by sharing a common cause. Thank you, Vernon Jordan!
To Vernon: Your wisdom and leadership inspired countless professionals and enriched many lives. Your membership and presence as a Director demonstrated an African-American man could reach and contribute valuable insights to predominately white corporate boards. Eternal rest grant his soul, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.
Wamara Mwine is an investigative journalist and Contributor to The Hill Newspaper. He covered the Obama White House and has appeared on Sirius XM Radio to discuss his observations. Wamara advises attorneys, politicians and church leaders in crisis-media. E-mail Wamara Mwine at firstname.lastname@example.org.