by Akilah Nyerere
photography by Lauren Wooding
“You don’t really think in terms of being the first of anything, you just do what you do,” says Imani Tate, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin senior staff writer, about being the first African American to write for a mainstream daily newspaper in this region. “Do your job to the best of your ability, and I think that speaks for itself.”
When Tate first joined the Bulletin staff, it was known as the Progress Bulletin and covered the Pomona Valley area. Within the last decade, the Progress Bulletin merged with its sister and rival paper the Ontario Daily Report, under the name Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The combined paper has expanded its coverage from Fontana to San Dimas. Indeed, Tate has witnessed many changes since she saw her first story printed in 1963, while still a student at Bonita High School in La Verne. A positive difference is the increase of journalists of color writing for mainstream papers. “It’s more representative of the communities and of the people who they are serving, and that in and of itself is a positive change,” says Tate. “Because, often times, things that are misunderstandings or confusion are just because of the fact that a person doesn’t necessarily come from that culture so they don’t understand that.”
Her family moved to San Dimas from Detroit when she was 13 years old. Tate recalls the African proverb, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.” She remembers her childhood home as an all Black “village.” The adults in the community fed, clothed and disciplined all of the neighborhood children as if they were their own. If one child had no parents or family members who would take care of them, someone from the neighborhood would. She recalls her family as being a group of strong-willed people. Tate also describes her family and surrounding friends as “Afrocentric before it was known as being Afrocentric.” They were aware of their own history and culture and sought more knowledge of that culture within the community before it was common to do so. As a child, she was not allowed to watch “Amos and Andy,” a popular television show during that time, or any Tarzan movies because her family considered them to be insulting to Black people. She says there were too many derogatory images of Black people in the media that did not accurately depict the Black community but boasted the negative stereotypes that her family rejected.
Tate acknowledges that, historically, many African American families moved from their homes in search of better opportunities and education for their children in predominately white areas.
“Regardless of where you are,” she says, “you need to be as aware of yourself and your own heritage as possible.” Tate encourages all people to learn about other cultures, as well as their own, in order to become more sensitive to other people’s life experiences, actions and reactions. The lack of interaction is what causes friction between different races and produces the stereotypes that people have come to accept as truth. “I don’t think that we need to put people all in one category,” explains Tate.
Tate attributes much of her knowledge about people to Lorenz Gram, one of the first major Black writers in America. She recalls meeting Gram and his wife Ruth, who was also an accomplished writer, when he was living in Claremont. Gram had a great impact on Tate as she developed as a young writer and as a person.
“He told me that the problem with a stereotype is that there’s always exception to it. So that goes on both sides of the so called ‘color issue.'” Tate believes that what human beings must remember is that we all come from the human family. All people bleed the same color blood, serve the same function, and are bound together in a universal family. “Humanity is what makes us more alike than different,” she adds.
It was 1966 when Imani, then Mae Tate, graduated from Bonita High School. No African Americans lived in La Verne at that time. “All Blacks lived in San Dimas,” she notes. San Dimas High School had not been built so both La Verne and San Dimas residents attended Bonita High School. “I was not the first Black to graduate from Bonita; there were quite a few before me.” But only a handful of Black students attended Bonita High School at any given time.
Tate attributes her decision to become a journalist to the mentoring that she received as a student at Bonita High School from Delbert A. Jones, her journalism teacher and father figure. “He had a bond and a closeness with students,” Tate recalls. She was primarily writing essays and short stories when she entered a writing contest and was asked to join the newspaper staff by Jones. The Progress Bulletin contacted the girl’s vice-principal Ruth Foreman about establishing a high school correspondent program. The Bulletin wanted student writers from Pomona Valley area high schools to submit articles about campus programs and activities. The articles were to be published every Saturday in a feature section called Scan. Tate was recommended to be the correspondent for Bonita High School. “I was able to find a field that I enjoyed because I did well,” she says. “It also goes back to adult influences and the mentoring I received primarily from these two people.”
Although Tate did not experience segregation found in the southern states, she admits to de facto segregation created as a result of the neighborhood. “Everyone basically went to neighborhood schools at that time. We were in segregated enclaves within the city,” she says.
“I had no reason to think that I was less because everyone in my environment, in terms of immediate family and extended family, basically told you that you were Black, and you should be proud of being that,” explains Tate. “Your own impediment to success is yourself.” Knowledge of herself is what enabled Tate to thrive in areas where she was expected to fail. Through the years, Tate, who has “worked on basically everything,” says, “there have been some stories that have affected me more so than others,” She recalls one story that touched her deeply. In 1994, Tate wrote about the organization “Caring for Babies with AIDS.” The organization, based in Los Angeles, was the only residence program strictly designed for babies infected with AIDS. “Whenever you see children who are hurting or in pain, it’s always traumatic for you,” she says. “Hopefully, I’ll never become so cynical or detached that it doesn’t affect me.” To see the love and devotion that the specialists, staff and extended community showed to these children in trying to make their time on earth as comfortable as possible was inspirational to Tate.
She remembers another story that left an impact on her life. She called her investigative report on shaken baby syndrome “heart-rendering.”
“It was a difficult story, but it was a story that needed to be told from all aspects,” she says. “As journalists, we have the responsibility of informing and educating people often times.” Tate enjoys reporting stories that involve young people and the positive activities that they are involved in. “Young people get sort of a hard break these days; they’re blamed for things that are not really their fault. A lot of times, kids get blamed for a lot of things that, if we really investigated it, we could lay the blame more appropriately at the feet of the parents or adults in their lives. We, as adults, whether we have children or not, are parents,” she says. “We have an obligation to make sure that we guide them, that we inform them, that we love them, that we communicate with them, and that we listen to what their needs and wants and feelings and issues are; and often times we don’t.” Imani believes that parents should learn how to communicate with their children at an early age in order to help them develop into productive members of society.
As a journalist, she believes that it is a reporter’s duty not only to report what is happening immediately, but also as accurately as possible. The public depends on reporters to help inform them about what is going on in their communities as well as around the world. The desire to do this is what has fueled Imani Tate since she saw her first byline as a Bonita High School student, and what has pushed her to continue today.