If one wanted to get in line to share their thoughts about the late Kwame McDonald, whose columns appeared weekly on the MSR sports pages for over two decades, their patience would be sorely tested because of the long wait.
“Kwame was one of the first people I met when I got to campus,” recalls Minnesota Women’s Coach Pam Borton, who is in her 10th season. She spoke to me shortly after he died on October 26.
“He has meant a lot to girls’ basketball, especially in the St. Paul area,” continued Borton. “He was a big supporter of everything. I am going to miss him.”
An estimated 260 people last Saturday attended Kwame’s memorial service at St. Paul’s Living Word Church. Those who were scheduled on the program initially were instructed to speak only two minutes, but 120 seconds wasn’t enough time for many of them to memorialize someone who affected this community for so long.
“I got schooled” by Kwame, said Susan Natala, who only knew him for about two years. “He had this way of really seeing people — your best you before you could imagine [it]. I will be forever grateful.”
“Thank you, Kwame,” said St. Paul Central High School Assistant Principal Valerie Butler. She, her husband, and their two daughters sang “Amazing Grace.” They also performed for Kwame during the October 7 celebration, honoring him at Central’s auditorium.
Minnesota Lynx Assistant Coach Jim Petersen knew Kwame since he was a local high schooler. “He pulled and pushed me to get better,” he told me afterwards. “Kwame touched my life in a way that very few people did.”
Petersen fondly remembers a conversation with Kwame earlier this year at a Lynx practice: “I had so much fun talking with him. I’ll never forget him.”
I have known Kwame for over 20 years and was a colleague with him at three local media outlets, including the MSR. He was our senior columnist, yet he never hesitated to ask my thoughts and ideas whenever we were covering events together. Although he had every right not to do so, Kwame always deferred to me, even those times when we were the only Black reporters present, ensuring that he didn’t step on my toes.
I watched him ask simple questions and take copious notes on his 3×5 pocket notebook and later generate profound columns as a result.
I admired Kwame’s photography skills, often wondering how he could multitask in such a way. I later realized that he was only staying true to the legacy of Black Press journalists who would both report and take pictures in order to fully capture the story for our readers.
I have several of his photographs that my friend Keith Tolar, a photographer in his own right, later made into a collage for me that I framed.
Kwame loved sports, and especially loved seeing Blacks succeed in it. He loved chronicling Black coaches, duly recognizing them not so much for their win-loss record, but also for how they overcame obvious and not-so-obvious obstacles to get to the position they hold.
It was Kwame who got Linda Roberts’ jersey hanging in Williams Arena. It was him who made sure that our local prep athletes got the coverage that mainstream media didn’t give them. He indiscriminately wrote on stars, up-and-comers, and those who never saw the light of day or night on the athletic stage, but who were still worthy of coverage for no other reason than just because.
Long before it became a mandate, Kwame regularly provided our readers gender equity, whether that individual was female or male; high school, college or professional.
Kwame’s son Mitchell once said how his father often used “subtle persuasion” skills to get his way, ultimately proving that it was the correct way. I remember many years ago Kwame occasionally asked me to appear on his St. Paul TV cable access show, and each time I would say no, offering up any excuse I could to avoid the camera.
Then one time he asked what my schedule was on a particular day, and I unknowingly told him I had nothing to do. He then said that he’d see me at the studio that day at the time he taped his show. Kwame successfully got me to do something I never wanted to do. By the way, we had a great time.
“I promise that I will do what he asked me to do,” pledged son Mitchell last Saturday. “I am going to miss him.”
Like Mitchell, I too pledge to keep the promises Kwame asked me to keep.
Finally, I am so thankful that I got to spend as much time as I did with Kwame, especially the last month or so of his life. We talked about so many things. I am so thankful for his belief in me. I am so thankful for his friendship and mentorship.
I will miss his physical presence at sporting events. His MSR column space will be hard to fill but never will be replaced.
“Kwame is going to be missed dearly in this community,” concluded Borton.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.