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Ken Koontz was WBTV’s first Black reporter, coming on board in 1969. He spent 14 years with the local news station — 11 as a reporter and news anchor.
He covered the U.S. Senate campaign of Fritz Hollings in the 1970s, interviewed Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for U.S. president, and wrote about Major League Baseball players Lou Brock and Willie Mays.
Koontz spent his last three years as the station’s director of community affairs.
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He also played semi-pro baseball and is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
Now retired, the 74-year-old mentors the current generation, sharing advice, wisdom and stories about Charlotte’s history. He is also a freelance writer and photography enthusiast.
Koontz’s early experiences with segregation, summer family trips and attempted career paths have shaped him into someone loved and respected in Charlotte.
Today, he shares his story through a letter to his younger self.
You’re 15 now, and you can expect things to start changing around you. Mother and daddy have given you a wonderful childhood, but you’ve been exposed to circumstances other kids your age haven’t.
You’ve lived in several multicultural communities where you’ve experienced integration and hardcore segregation. You have a solid educational foundation, because daddy was an elementary school principal and a classroom teacher in segregated schools.
You’ve collected travel experiences, including the New York World’s Fair and summer trips across the segregated South, from Texas to North Carolina, to visit family.
You’ve never ridden in a new or air-conditioned car or driven on the federal Interstate Highway system.
You’ve driven only on back roads and made stops in “colored sections” of towns like Meridian, Mississippi; Montgomery, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Tuskegee, Alabama; Houston, Texas, and other cities along two-day, 1,300-mile journeys in the sweltering, summer heat.
You will grow to appreciate the lessons you’ve learned from those experiences of injustice and hate. You will be proud of those days of integration and multiculturalism when Separate But Equal is outlawed.
You enjoyed the years your family lived in the Texas towns of Robstown and Corpus Christi, about 95 miles from the Mexico border.
Your friendships and memories will stay with you and shape who you become and how you view the world well into your senior years. Lee and Marilyn, your older sisters who gave you the name “Butch” at birth, will be fantastic role models for developing and maintaining friendships.
When you grow fond of girls, mother and daddy will instill in you the core virtue of respecting girls and women as you would want men and boys to respect your mother and sisters.
Wanda, your baby sister, will keep you on the righteous path when her girlfriends aim your virtuous behavior, much like the reputation that daddy developed as a husband.
(I ain’t sure that was the case before he met and married mother, but that’s for another letter when you’re older. LOL That’s a futuristic acronym that means “Laughing Out Loud.”)
You will develop daddy’s personality, demeanor and firm Christian principles, but not without questions that eventually lead to acceptance and devotion. You will proudly wear your maturation as a badge of honor because, when you have children, you will impart what you’ve learned, and they will be receptive.
Please don’t force your wisdom on them; they must make and learn from their mistakes. You will learn to let go, let them and, above all, let God.
Refrain from being persuaded by peer pressures that are counterproductive to who you are and what you have been taught.
You will face challenges, but you will overcome them, except for two failed marriages that will still have a positive impact. Your former wives will be exceptional women, and you will be an outstanding man.
You, like daddy, will gladly assume a stepfather’s role. And like daddy, you will be an exceptional father to your own and the two older girls you will take and make your own. Your children will give you the highest honor without distinction. You will be proud of all three.
Now, let me tell you about your future career.
Like daddy, you will connect with and relate to people from all walks of life, never feeling as though they are strangers. Your warm personality will help you form lasting relationships across decades. These characteristics will serve you well, much like they served mother and daddy.
I know you love football and baseball, especially the latter. You will soar in baseball, even into a semi-pro career in Charlotte, which you hope to call home someday.
But, you will be injury prone, resulting in many broken bones, so don’t expect to be an NFL or Major League Baseball draft pick.
You should, however, enjoy your time as a competitor.
You will not become a U.S. State Department Foreign Service operative, but you will attend two years at Lamar State College of Technology, in your hometown of Beaumont, Texas.
You will continue the family tradition of attending Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, where you will complete your degree in French. When you graduate, Johnson C. Smith will be known as an “HBCU,” another futuristic acronym for Historically Black College and University.
Enjoy your life. Capture memories and store them for your senior years; each will be valuable beyond description.
If you hold true to who you are, you’ll be admired, respected and loved, but know that there will be haters and detractors.
When you become a journalist, you should capture as many memories, special events and times as you can, squirreling away videos (a modern word for motion pictures), photographs and digital files (you’ll come to understand these terms).
While you’ll preserve many of your own, you’ll deeply regret that you didn’t do better at capturing the histories and legacies of significant others, because they matter.
Most importantly, Butch, you matter. And someday, you will be recognized for your value.
Accept it graciously, humbly and above all, with thanks to Almighty God, our Maker and Sustainer of life, with a promise of an even better, eternal life.
Always live for the moment with the promise that a brighter day is coming for all His believers.
Grow well. I’ll be watching.
– Ken (That’s who you became, but that’s a story for another time.)
Edited by Daija Peeler