Courtesy of James Causey
Columnist Greg Stanford is more than a writer, playwright and entrepreneur.
For me, he is the reason I got involved in journalism. A mentor and a surrogate Pop.
That why it pains me so much when I write that I’m losing him. Greg has been battling lung cancer for months now, and family members and doctors believe that the fight will end soon.
Greg is 72 and for some of the most important benchmarks of my life, he’s been a major influence and supporter.
I first met Greg when I was a 7th grader at Jackie Robinson Middle School. During the school’s career week, professionals came in to talk to young people about their careers. Greg talked to my homeroom about his work as a columnist at the Milwaukee Journal.
There were a couple of kids listening to Greg talk. My best friend Frantz, who is Greg’s oldest son, and myself. Other kids were taken in by a guy talking about what it takes to be a DJ.
I loved how Greg talked passionately about writing. He talked about the importance of influence and how he felt that writing was his mission.
I never forgot that moment. A week later I won a city-wide writing contest on MLK and my article ran in the Community Journal. At that point I knew I wanted to become a journalist. I kept in touch with Greg. When I was an intern at the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1986, I walked over to the Journal and told Greg that I was following in his footsteps.
He told me, “That’s great man. I see the writing bug has got you, too.”
I started reading all his columns and I even told my parents to subscribe to the newspaper, just so I could follow him.
Greg was also active in and helped in the formation of the Wisconsin Black Media Association, an organization giving journalists of color a space to talk about issues impacting them.
When Greg won a national journalism award for $3,000, he used that money to start a scholarship fund for a student of color in Wisconsin pursuing a career in journalism.
Throughout my journalism career Greg has been there for me with words of wisdom and encouragement. When I lost my father five months ago, he was one of the first people to express his condolences to me.
To show you how life comes around full circle, when I completed the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in 2008, Greg retired from the Journal Sentinel’s editorial department. When he retired, he told me that it was my time to become the community griot.
When I came back to the paper, I told them there was only one job that I wanted. Greg’s job.
When I first started writing columns I wanted to be and sound like Greg. That really didn’t work for me. My supervisor Ricardo Pimentel told me to find my own voice. And I did.
Greg read all my pieces. And when we would meet he would tell me what he liked and didn’t like. What do you expect, he’s my mentor right?
Greg started at the paper in the late 1960s as a sports writer before working his way up to the editorial board as a columnist.
In one of our last long conversations about a month ago, Greg and I had a heated discussion about segregation/crime/poverty/and where’s the best place to live.
He told me that he would never want to live in Mequon because the suburbs didn’t offer the same appeal as living in the city or living in a thriving downtown.
“People talk about safety being an issue. But I never felt unsafe living off of North Ave.,” he said. “I love being where the action is.”
He remains optimistic about Milwaukee’s return to greatness for African Americans.
While the city has been listed for years as one of the worse places for blacks, Greg told me that Milwaukee can bounce back just like Washington D.C.
Retirement was good to Greg. He wrote a play on Harriett Tubman. Started the Ayzha Fine Arts Gallery with his longtime partner Cynthia Henry. He also continued to give back to young people by judging writing contests and awarding scholarships.
He loves beer and good restaurants. Reading and lively conversations about current events. He also knows his way around the kitchen. On New Year’s Greg invited friends and family to his house for a big feast of black-eyed peas, chicken and greens. I quickly learned that Greg had a different deadline when it came to food. If he said be at his house by 3 p.m., he meant food would not be ready until 6 p.m. However, when food was ready, it was delicious.
I last saw Greg this week in hospice.
When I walked in, he was sleeping. When he woke up he said, ‘James what are you doing here? I’m surprised to see you.’
I told him that he shouldn’t be.
I hugged him and rubbed his back until he dozed back off to sleep. He woke up again and we watched CNN. They were talking about Trump and his tax returns.
He just shook his head and dozed back off.
Greg I just wanted to tell you that you mean a lot to me and many others. I love you and I want to thank you again for helping to shape me in ways that you will never know.
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