Mount Vernon, NY, was the best place in the world to grow up. It was a suburb outside the Bronx, and my parents did their best to shelter us from the realities of life, but it was a very diverse, integrated neighborhood. Ball fields and schools were nearby; we rode our bikes. I didn't get a car until I was in college. When we wanted to go into New York City, we just jumped on a train. The neighborhood was a microcosm of what idyllic childhood was supposed to be like in America in the 1960s and '70s.
But it wasn't an integrated America at that time, of course. My parents didn't want to tell us children that they were the first African-American family on the block — that we were "blockbusters." It wasn't until 20 years ago that we finally figured that out. That was one of the reasons we were never allowed to play on the front lawn — it had to remain pristine and perfectly manicured, and my father was fastidious about the lawn. He didn't want the neighbors to complain.
When I was in my 30s, my brother told me that the neighbors had been opposed to our family moving in, and they had held a block meeting to discuss what to do. Our next-door neighbor in the back, Mr. Harmon, stood up and gave a passionate speech. He said, "We really can't do that anymore. This is America, and you can't stop this family from moving in. We need to give them a chance." In 1964, we moved in.
Looking back, I never understood why my father was particularly sensitive to the needs of Mr. Harmon. If Mr. Harmon got angry at anything we children did, we were reprimanded. When we picked vegetables from our garden, we took a gift basket to Mr. Harmon. It was my father's polite way of saying "thank you."
We were a solid blue-collar, middle-class family. My parents were West Indians — Jamaicans. My two older brothers and I are first-generation Americans, the sons of immigrants. My father was a union man — a linotype operator, a printer. He never graduated from high school. My mother was a registered nurse and worked in an O.R. at a nearby hospital.
My parents were always discussing politics. People from the Caribbean are very passionate about politics, current events, and news. They didn't have access to much news in the '60s — it was before the internet, satellite TV, and cell phones, and long-distance telephone calls were painfully expensive. They'd catch a little bit of news from the BBC, and then they'd discuss it. The Daily Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper, was considered the paper of record in their lives. So I understood early how important news was in making decisions in our lives. We watched the news a lot.
My first paying job was delivering newspapers —The Daily Argus, six days a week — when I was 12. We delivery boys sat around and read it and discussed what was going on about a half hour before we started delivering them in the afternoon. These were the days when people depended on the newspaper for their news, and they got upset if their paper was late or didn't arrive.
All during my growing-up years, I was certain I was going to be a dentist. But when I was a junior in high school, I was in New York City visiting a friend. We were changing trains, and we saw there had been a train accident. This African-American reporter was doing a live shot from the train, and he was larger than life to me. There were the wires, the camera, all this technology, the crowds of people gathered around him — that's when the light went on and I realized that I didn't want to be a dentist; I wanted to be a journalist.
My first reporting break happened as a sophomore in college. They were holding a mock convention — Ronald Reagan was running for president against Jimmy Carter — at the gymnasium. Senator Barry Goldwater was the keynote speaker. The press was there, but security kept them at a distance from him. I thought, "I can get this interview," and I found my way onto the stage and started interviewing Goldwater prior to his speech. The college radio anchor broadcast, "I don't know what's happening, but Greg Coy is on stage with Barry Goldwater; let's go to him live." I remember looking up and seeing my professor and my classmates staring down at me, and I thought I was in trouble. But afterward, my professor gave me a hug!
I am the third African-American to graduate from journalism school at Washington and Lee University. I lived at my parents' house for six months while I looked for work, and I started worrying that journalism might not work out for me. And then I got my break, and I was hired as a general assignment reporter for WRIC-TV in Richmond, VA. I started on Labor Day, 1983.
Since that time, I've been a political reporter, investigative reporter, anchor, co-managing editor, and correspondent for a variety of television stations in the Northeast, Florida, and now Memphis. I had never been to Memphis, so I had no idea what to expect, but I had no reservations about coming here. Memphis is a vibrant city.
Am I where I want to be? I'm where I'm supposed to be. I'm glad I'm here; I'm grateful I'm here. I remind myself of that every single day.
A good broadcast journalist … always forges ahead, without hesitation. When others went left, I went right. That's what all great journalists do. They see those opportunities, and it's always "sink or swim," but you have to believe you're always going to swim. You have to take that opportunity.
Being a news anchor … is the hardest job you'll ever love. The amount of effort and preparation that goes into it is mind-boggling. You have to enjoy it even when it's the worst moment of your life.
My alarm clock is set for … 2:30 in the morning. I get up about three and a half hours before we go on the air, and in that time, I read a lot— and I make sure I have strong coffee!
On mornings that I'm not hitting on all cylinders … I get myself hitting on all cylinders! You have to answer the bell no matter what happens, and you have to be at your best even when you feel your worst.
My pre-show rituals include … On the set, I place a cushion in my chair and turn the computer on. My co-anchor, Valerie, says, "Come on, gcoy1" — which is my name on Twitter. I stand where I'm supposed to, and the floor director says, "30 seconds." I adjust my suit jacket, and I always rub my hands together. I chant my Buddhist prayer a few times — Nam-myo-renge-kyo — then think of the happiest moment I've had, and boom! We're on. And yes, I still get butterflies.
My co-anchor, Valerie Calhoun … We talk very little before we go on the air. We like to keep it organic. Nothing is rehearsed; nothing is staged. What you see is what you get. We have a good rapport and chemistry, so we want the audience to join our genuine conversation.
During commercials we … look ahead at the wires, discuss the stories that are developing, and we make sure we're in that moment. Whenever I get too focused, Val cracks a joke and makes me laugh so hard I almost have to leave the set. She keeps me grounded.
My journalistic eye and instinct come from ... Being the children of West Indian immigrants, we were always on the "outside." Jamaicans today are viewed much differently than they were when I was growing up. Back then, it wasn't chic like it is today. So I was always the outsider looking in, and in doing so, I saw the world very differently. I was always asking, "Why?" because I was never a part of it.
The part of journalism I find difficult is … writing. I struggled with grammar growing up, so that's why going into this field almost didn't make sense.
For this career, I've had to sacrifice … People ask me why I'm still single, and I tell them that I'm married to my career. Everything else is an affair. I think about my brothers, who are married with children, but it's difficult in this profession to establish relationships, and often difficult to find someone who wants to spend the rest of their life with you knowing that although they are important, they can never be the sole No. 1 focus.
The public's biggest misperception about news anchors … is that while we're very open, gregarious, and friendly on air, we do have a private side, a private life. We're out in public, we're in your home, we're in your office — sometimes we like to blend in and just be the person waiting in the grocery line or out walking the dog.
When people approach me in public … I welcome it because it's an indication that I've touched them in some way, connected with them. It's a great litmus test of my impact on the audience, which is very important.å
The type of journalist I most wanted to be was … a wartime correspondent. I wanted to be in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq — all the hotspots. When I watch those correspondents on television, I envy them.
Of all the awards I've been honored to receive, two that meant a great deal to me personally … One is an Emmy in 1996 for team reporting about race relations in the state of Connecticut. The other was a Connecticut Associated Press Award, Spot News, in 1997. I remember the judge complimenting the story's writing, and then he announced my name. I couldn't believe it was me.
If I couldn't be a news anchor, I would … love to be a blues singer with Preston Shannon, touring. I can't sing, but if I could, that's what I'd really want to do. Maybe in my next lifetime.
Having to travel so much around the country … As Tony Soprano once said in the HBO series The Sopranos, "This is the life we chose." You always operate with the understanding that at any moment, you may have to pick up and move again. Do I miss where I left? Yes, absolutely. I miss friends and family, the routine. But that's the reality of this life, and you just move forward. I establish roots in the communities to which I move, but they can never be deep-seated ones.
Viewers may not realize … that when covering a tragic story, reporters grieve just as much as anyone else — perhaps even more. We see the family in pain; we had to talk to them.
My hours … I work a lot, probably more than friends or colleagues would suggest I do. I'm always looking and thinking: What is the next best story? What's happening? What are people talking about? Why do things happen the way they do, and who is pulling the levers?
One of the guests I was most wowed by … was the actor Archbishop Desmond Tutu. How he could laugh despite the challenges he faced then and now? The other was the actor Richard Roundtree. He was "Shaft" in the movies. If I need to explain, then you don't understand.
When I told my parents I wanted to be a journalist … they weren't exactly pleased. Journalism is a painful profession. Out of the 50 graduates from my journalism school, only 10 of us found a job in the field. And out of that 10, only 3 of us are still working in the profession.
My biggest fear when I'm on the set … is that I'll be caught doing something I shouldn't — a blooper moment, such as touching up my makeup during commercials.
My parents … came to this country with little or nothing, and they never complained about anything. Oh, they'd complain about the weather, but they never complained about their lot in life.
When investigating a difficult story … the technique I've used over the years is to absorb it like a sponge, and then wring out all I can. What droplets are left is what I include in my story.
The number of suits and ties I own … is not enough! I want more! I probably have about 100 ties and 20 suits, and I rotate them. I like getting dressed up, but by the same token, when I get home, I put on my rattiest clothes! If someone sees me, they'll say, "Gee, that looks like Greg Coy, but it can't be because he always dresses so well on air."
The least favorite part of my job … Certainly, there is a lot of pain that happens in the world, and Memphis is no exception. I don't like it when I have to go out and share their profound personal loss with the public. And many times, their pain is a lesson to all of us.
When I feel nervous about a story … I take a deep breath and remind myself that I've done this before, I've done this well, and I can do this again.
When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit, I … was in the shower in my Philadelphia apartment. My phone kept ringing and ringing. I stepped out of the shower thinking, "Something is wrong." The assignment editor at CN8-TV told me to turn on the television, and I saw the video. He said, "We need you at the station now." I ended up anchoring the newscast until the other main anchors could get there. Then I had to go report on it. I didn't even grab a change of clothes. All the police cars were flying on the New Jersey Turnpike — 120 mph. A police officer told me that only God could get me into Jersey City, and I said, "He's on my side. I'm there!" I got to Jersey City, and I was worried about my older brother, who was working in the Twin Towers. I kept trying to call him — there were no cell phones — and I remember sitting down to just shiver and tremble because I lost both parents only a few years earlier. To lose my brother would have been cruel. But I had to separate that. A reporter cannot be part of the story; he must report the story. I made it to Ground Zero the next morning and stayed two weeks. I also made contact with my brother, who was alive and safe.
My vacations … are typically away from big cities and in more remote areas where I can sit back, unwind, and let it go. I enjoy vacationing in the Spanish Caribbean; the locals think I am a native.
When I'm not being a news anchor … I enjoy watching good movies, reading books by noted African-American authors, yoga, intense cardiovascular exercises, and riding my bike on the Green Line. I also volunteer at the Memphis Farmers Market Downtown.
The biggest gaffe I made on air … I've always struggled with how to put on stage makeup — and how much to use. One day, I had it on so heavy that a viewer called and asked if I was near death!
Items still on my bucket list include … going to the Greek Islands, competing in a triathlon, mastering photography, parachuting, driving a Ferrari on the Autobahn, refurbishing an old house, and interviewing a sitting president in the Oval Office.
The difference between journalism now and journalism then … the ability to get instant information. The public wants the news now, and they're not willing to wait for it. People used to have to wait for the 5 o'clock newscast; now they don't. We have to be ready to report on anything that is breaking, so we're pretty much on call 24/7. Of course, as a journalist, you want to be called!
One commandment a news anchor must never break … remain objective.
My final 2 cents … Never give up; never surrender. I often hear the words of Japanese Buddhist Monk Nichiren Daishonin: "Life in this world is limited. Never be the least bit afraid." If there's something you want in life, you have to go out and get it. You have to expect that you'll be knocked down sometimes, but you just have to get back up. You can lose, but don't be defeated. Answer the bell. You must always answer the bell.