“It’s not what you know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know that’s just not so.”
That’s how Reggie Bryant would end every installment of his daily news program, In Pursuit of Truth, on WURD Radio. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Bryant’s loyal listeners were treated to a steady diet of thoughtful commentary and discussion. If you stepped into the octagon that was an appearance on his show, you had better be prepared — because he certainly was going to be.
Bryant tackled it all. The sampling of interviews I’m listening to as I write this includes the late Harrison Ridley Jr. (on Black classic jazz music), basketball great Earl “The Pearl” Monroe (on type 2 diabetes), and a listener who thought President Barack Obama had lost his moral compass by not demanding that Israelis stop their incursions into Palestinian territories.
An ability to hold his own on any topic and a willingness to speak truth to power no matter who shared his mic made Bryant the journalist of record for many in the city’s Black community. He combined his talents as a storyteller, filmmaker and journalist to produce programming that demanded attention — whether locally, or on the nationally syndicated PBS show he co-produced in the 1970s.
Until his death in April 2010, Bryant brought an academic’s perspective to journalism, delivering well-researched programming to his audience in a way that assumed their intelligence. While you may have needed to crack the dictionary every once in a while, Bryant’s approach exhibited a confidence in his listeners; it prepared the country in general, and the Black community in particular, for the voices of academics like Melissa Harris-Perry and Temple professor Marc Lamont Hill in their news programming.
For most of my career, I’ve worked in the world of Black-owned media here in Philadelphia. It’s how I got involved with the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists in the early 1990s. PABJ is one of the founding chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists, an advocacy group that celebrated its 42nd anniversary this December. It’s where I began to realize that there was a kind of Mount Rushmore when it came to Philadelphia’s community of Black journalists. Acel Moore, the legendary Inquirer reporter, was on it. Chuck Stone, the august columnist for the Daily News who went on to become NABJ’s first president, was, too. Former Inquirer editor Sandra Long Weaver belongs there. Bryant does, as well. One of the PABJ’s founders, he was also the uncompromising, sometimes bombastic reminder of its mission.
In 1973, before PABJ held its first meeting, Bryant was co-producing, with Moore, a TV program on WHYY called Black Perspectives on the News. It was a space for those Black journalists who had managed to get into the nation’s newsrooms to show the producers of programs like Meet the Press what they were missing by not availing audiences of their analysis.
I remember watching as a kid. Seeing a group of people who looked like members of my family discussing the day’s news had an impression.
As for Bryant’s impact on me personally, his generosity is what will always stay with me. In 2009, Bryant was honored with a tribute. Hundreds of journalists, artists and educators came to pay homage and to thank him for his contributions to the fabric of Philadelphia.
I was covering the event and needed a quote. It had been a while since we had talked and even longer since we’d met at the beginning of my career — he hosted Catharsis on WRTI-FM when I was at Temple — so I was surprised he remembered me.
He asked about my career, and I told him I was in grad school at Temple, looking at the connection between journalistic objectivity and political reporting because the fortunes of journalists of color wanting to cover politics hadn’t changed despite the nation having just elected its first president of color. The academic in Bryant came out immediately. He had many of the same questions and offered to help with whatever I decided to do with my research next.
I wish I’d taken him up on that. But a couple of things held me back. One was his failing health. The other was a sense that he had already given me enough.
Bryant taught a generation of us who were lucky enough to spend time with him the importance of preparation, of being well-rounded, of making sure that the trail you blaze doesn’t end up overgrown and unfollowable for those who come next.
For me to have asked him for anything else would have felt selfish. So I didn’t. But some days, I can hear him taking me to the woodshed about it — because it’s research I haven’t finished.
Denise Clay is an independent journalist who has covered the Black community for more than two decades. She co-hosts Mornings with Mark and Denise on WWDB 860.
Published as “Heroes” in the February 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.