Latino Americans Blog

Este es Sherman Jackson Reporting for NBC News

August 28, 2013 4:17 PM by Sherman Jackson

Following the urban riots throughout the country in the 1960’s, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a Commission to review the incidents and assess the causes for the disturbances. The Kerner Commission, as it was known, worked extensively and made dozens of recommendations to address the disparities in employment, housing and policing of mainly African-American communities.

Significantly, the Commission also made recommendations about the media coverage of the riots, and outlined steps that the news industry and government could take to present a more balanced view of communities of color.

While crediting the news media with an effort toward accurate and balanced reporting, the Commission also found that the industry needed to 

Recruit more Negroes into journalism and broadcasting and promote those who are qualified in schools and continue through college; where necessary, aid for training should be provided. And to “ Cooperate in the establishment of a privately organized and funded Institute of Urban Communications to train and educate journalists in urban affairs, recruit and train more Negro journalists, develop methods for improving police-press relations, review coverage of riots and racial issues, and support continuing research in the urban field. 

Fred Friendly was a Dean at the Columbia University Graduate school of Journalism. Friendly and Columbia in cooperation with the Ford Foundation, acted on the Commission’s recommendations and initiated a program to recruit and train minority journalists.

I became a news reporter after learning that WABC-TV was looking for "a male Hispanic" to become a reporter for Eyewitness News. I'd done some radio work while at college in Puerto Rico, and always had a reputation for speaking English well, using words most of my friends thought only belonged in dictionaries and had no place in conversation.

I'd known of only one Puerto Rican reporter working in TV in New York in the history of the world. Her name was Gloria Rojas, and I can still recall the pride, and curiosity I felt upon seeing and hearing her report for WCBS TV News.

I'd been working in el barrio when a group calling themselves the Young Lords, occupied a local church to use as a place where poor families could go for free meals. The Lords all wore purple berets and black leather three-quarter length jackets.

The now famous, Geraldo Rivera was there. Geraldo was a lawyer and he volunteered his legal services to Young Lords who were getting arrested and beaten by members of the NYPD's Tactical Patrol Force--the helmet and visor-wearing storm troopers of "New York's Finest”.

Some months after the occupation of the church had ended, I called Columbia University and was sent some material to review and write essays.

Everything went well until the Director of the program called to tell me that WABC had decided to hire Geraldo Rivera, who’d been interviewed earlier. A day later however, I was called back and told NBC was interested in me, and was flown to Chicago where I spent an entire day with the Vice President and general Manager of the six NBC owned and operated stations around the country.

When I returned home that same night, I was called by the NBC VP and told, ‘welcome aboard”.

I started at NBC in September 1970, writing for the six o’clock news while a colleague and fellow student from Columbia was first tested on the streets as a reporter. After just two months, it was my turn, and after just a few months as a general assignment reporter, I signed a three-year contract.

NBC had me covering everything from fires to shootings, but they also wanted to use my background as the Kerner Commission had recommended so that I could cover minority neighborhoods with my particular perspective.

One of those stories involved a group of homeless families who’d been “squatting in buildings owned by Columbia university and who were evicted with nowhere to go but a nearby-church basement. I covered their plight for three days, doing follow-ups on an attempt to break in to a newly-built Mitchell-Lama building and occupy the apartments.

 On my way to work one morning, I answered the phone and a man with a deep-southern drawl asked if I was Sherman Jackson and if my Mother’s name was Norma. I said yes and asked who was calling. The answer shocked me, “this is your dad, son. I was watching the Today Show this morning and saw a report by a young Hispanic-looking man who signed of as Sherman Jackson, and I figured that must be my son”. I’d not seen or heard from my father since I was ten years old and he had returned to Georgia after he my mom had split up.

One day, after closing a story about a Federal official’s visit to New York, my News Director pulled me aside, and told me he'd liked my 'close"--that I'd caught the essence of the hypocrisy behind the government's rhetoric, but then he added, "Now, if you'd signed off using an Hispanic name, it would have been so much better."

I asked him what he meant, and he asked me what my mother's maiden name was. When I said Vincenty, he laughed and said, "Sherman Vincenty? That sounds like an Italian-Jew". I corrected his pronunciation. I explained that Vincenty was pronounced Vincentee, and not Vincenti. Furthermore, I pointed out that I liked my name and had been on air for close to two years, and if he was suggesting I change it to something like Juan Pancho Martinez, Rodriguez Gonzalez, he'd better think again.

I enjoyed my work as a newsman and to this day, while I am not in the industry, I dream of the day when I can ask the questions I see other reporters not asking, and providing the perspective of someone who also grew up in a single-parent home, hung out in the streets of the South Bronx, and endured my share of deprivation as well. 

Sherman Lee Jackson is a Puerto Rican of mixed parentage: A Puerto Rican mother and Southern White father who abides by the Puerto Rican refrain, "padre cualquiera, madre solo una". Born in Greenville, South Carolina, he spent five years in Puerto Rico as a child before moving to the Bronx, New York where at age seven, he discovered he was Puerto Rican on Saint Patrick's Day. Sherman attended parochial schools in New York and Puerto Rico and later, the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico and CCNY. He is among just a handful of Puerto Rican journalists to have received Ford Foundation felowships and graduate from the Minority Journalists Program at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where he was sponsored by NBC News later becoming the first Puerto Rican on-air reporter for NBC's flagship station in New York.
He also worked at the NYC-based, Channel five news, where he labored as a freelance on-air reporter, assignment editor and writer. Sherman served as Deputy Director for Public Information for President Nixon's Cabinet Committee on Opportunities for Spanish Speaking People. His last Government sevice was as Deputy Director for Inter-Governmental and Public Affairs with New York City's Civilain Complaint Review Board, charged with investigating police misconduct.
In recent years he has been a Public Relations consultant to some poltical campaigns as well as Time Warner's Spanish-language news program, NY1News/Noticias.
An activist since his youth, Sherman was part of the Media/Press Team for Occupy Wall Street.

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