Mike was passionate about doing
something about issues he knew all too well through his own
childhood in St. Louis and his personal knowledge of how African
Americans and those in the gay community were treated in our
society. He was driven to make an impact on the continuing and
growing number of deaths attributed to AIDS.
Mike participated in the AIDS ride
from Madison to Minneapolis and back and then in subsequent bike
rides around Wisconsin. Mike enjoyed biking, but this was
something altogether different. Not only was he doing something
about that pesky weight problem, but he was also using his
celebrity position to draw community attention to this disease
that is now striking the African American community more heavily
than any other.
Mike was sore for days during the
ride, but that did not dampen his contagious energy. He would
raise his bike high up in the air and declare victory over the
intense heat, the long miles, and his painful legs and back. His
energy remained contagious, even when he could no longer ride.
Mike served as the wind behind the ridersí backs, urging them
on. So it was natural that Mike would take on the hardest
assignment he ever had: to report on the lives of South African
Blacks infected with HIV and stricken with AIDS.
Though already ill, Mike withstood
the brutality of such a trip as he went to AIDS-ravaged
communities in South Africa with a group from Madison. He did a
special report on his findings there following his return to
Madison. (Though South Africa is now under majority rule, the
government still refuses to recognize the pandemic that has
gripped that country. ) When Mike came to town, he brought with
him a deep dedication to making a difference in the community.
In Madison, African American television reporters and anchors
come and go, primarily because they do not feel welcome. Madison
is a tough place for young Black or Latino/Latina professionals
in the television news industry.
They work nights, usually start
out on weekends, and normally cannot find that special someone
while doing a news story. But Mikeís needs were met. He found a
faith home at SS Morris A.M.E. Church on Madisonís far east
side. He purchased a home and decided to set down roots. He drew
attention to the plight of individuals and families going hungry
in Dane County, which led to the now highly successful annual
seasonal food drive and the food-packaging day at Kraft/Oscar
Mayer. Mike was unlike many celebrities. Instead of seeking the
spotlight for his own benefit, he used his status to shine the
spotlight on a troubling issue needing attention.
Thatís the way it was on that cold
winter morning in front of Sentry Hilldale, where he took it
upon himself to start up a food drive during the holiday season
for hungry families and adults. It may have been cold, but the
warm hearts emitted a glow that could melt the thickest icicle.
One day, Mike and I passed each other at University Hospital and
Clinics. You could still see the sparkle in his eyes, eyes
filled with hope and a strong desire to live. We each asked how
the other was doing with our respective health challenges.
Mike said he thought things were
looking up. His cancer-riddled body had lost a tremendous amount
of weight, not the weight loss he had been looking for in the
days long before that meeting. This was Mikeís standard response
when asked about his health. I can see how he could do it and
why he would do it. Mike understood the importance of believing
that improvement is possible. And because he is a celebrity
figure, people want to feel that he is doing well, because they
know all too well that their own mortality is also at stake.
Mikeís first eight years at WMTV were great. The station was
good to him as he and Pam Tauscher, now of WISC-TV 3, became the
anchor team to beat in the television ratings. They received
best anchor awards, with Mike winning many as the best anchor in
Madison. Mike was the competition. Those were the good days.
Then the station was sold to new
owners, and change came. The new owners looked the proverbial
gift horse in the mouth, failed to see what they had, and broke
the team apart. Pam was asked to leave while Mike was told he
could stay, leaving Pam without a job and Mike greatly
disappointed, deeply hurt, and doubtful of his future. Mike and
I had numerous conversations about what he should do. He felt
Pam was let go because of her age, because, after all, according
to industry standards, a woman over 40 cannot sit in the
anchorís seat and expect to draw viewers.
The knowledgeable industry leaders
thought people wanted to see young and attractive women anchors.
For men, it was a different standard, and Pam was left out in
the cold. For Mike, it was all about fairness, equality, and sex
discrimination as it collided with age. Making a decision was
extremely difficult for him, an African American in a news
industry that rarely put a Black man in the anchor desk. But the
decision was made for him when he discovered he had colon
He lost a great deal of weight,
struggled to generate the energy required to do the quality job
he was accustomed to doing, and knew that he had a long road
ahead of him. It wasnít long before he had to take a medical
leave of absence following an announcement to viewers who had
been wondering about his drastic weight loss and gaunt
appearance. Upon learning of his death, I saw Mike in my mindís
eye dressed in traditional African attire at UMOJAís 15th
anniversary celebration. He walked gingerly, with some
assistance but mostly on his own, making his way up the few
steps to the dais to receive an award acknowledging his
tremendous leadership in our community: not just the Black
community, but the entire community.
His sunken face was struck with a
smile as he said with brave determination that he was returning
to WMTV Channel 15, where he would work on some special
projects. What a proud moment it was for him to openly declare
that to the village. There wasnít a dry eye in the house. That
was last November. Shortly after his announcement, Mike was back
at his desk at the television station. He participated in the
annual food drive and took phone calls for it. That burst of
energy would last only a short time.
The cancer returned, this time
with a vengeance. A few months later, Mikeís voice was silenced.
We owe it to Mike to not allow his voice to fade. It is our
communityís challenge to continue to pursue programs and events
that help reduce and end hunger in our highly educated and
financially well-off county.
We owe it to Mike to do everything
possible to see the HIV/AIDS statistics in the African American
community go downward and bottom out at zero. And we owe it to
Mike that our area television stations not just talk about
diversity, but walk the talk. Give visible commitment to hiring
reporters of color, and donít to confine them to the weekends.
Put qualified people out front at the anchor desks and on the
five oíclock news shows: qualified people, like Mike was. You
owe this to Mike.
God bless you, Mike. Iíll miss
you. We will all miss you.