There was shock and awe in Twin Cities media circles when people began to realize that long-time Star Tribune columnist and television personality C.J. had decided to call it quits.
In the dead of night, she cleaned out her office in the Star Tribune Building in downtown Minneapolis and turned in her laptop.
Much to the surprise of her loyal readers, she ghosted everyone, pulling a Keyser Söze right before our very eyes. Poof, after nearly three decades, she’s gone.
I knew something was amiss when not one, not two, not three, but four people came up to me at the Minnesota State Fair in a matter of minutes with the same question, “What’s up with C.J.?”
I was fresh off a trip from Houston visiting my parents when the Great Minnesota Get-Together started, so I hadn’t had time to get together with my dear friend C.J.
You see, long before my marriage to Shawn, These Brundidge Babies, WCCO Radio or the Two Haute Mamas podcast, C.J. was there for me, begrudgingly becoming a mentor to me when I began my career as a broadcast journalist.
I put in a call because I felt like, of anyone, I could get her to open up to talk about why she left the newspaper and what her plans are now that she’s gone. I asked her to be a guest on the Two Haute Mamas podcast to tell her story and say a few words to the people who have enjoyed reading her columns over the years.
What was supposed to be a 10-minute conversation to say her final goodbyes turned into 40 minutes of laughter, reflection, tears, and talk of civil rights. Beyond her tough-as-leather-exterior beats the heart of a Black woman just trying to survive in President Donald Trump’s America.
Folks are saying that C.J. is retiring; however, the award-winning writer says that’s not the case.
“I’m still going to be around. I’m still going to do interviews and videos and probably going to be on Fox 9 News. I just don’t work at the Star Tribune anymore,” she said.
Even though she’s spent almost 30 years telling other people’s business as the newspaper’s gossip hound, C.J. says she handled her departure like she does everything else in her life: privately. “I can make my own decisions and I did. I don’t talk about my plans, I execute them.
“It’s just that I know how to leave,” she continued. “I don’t like long goodbyes. The way some of these media people leave is obnoxious. Just go, already, which is what I did. I just left.”
There are still some juicy stories out there that C.J. would like to sink her teeth into. Like the drama surrounding U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and a love affair that’s being reported by news outlets nationwide. “One of my colleagues said to me: ‘She is so lucky you didn’t have your old column when this happened!'” said C.J.
When we met initially, C.J. and I both bonded because of our Southern roots. Her parents live in Alabama, my mother and father are in Texas. We both have experiences with the Ku Klux Klan. I shared a story with her about how, because the men in my family were away serving in the military, there were only women to protect us. So when the Klan would come around, we were forced to hide and hope they wouldn’t harm us. But C.J.’s mother and father had a different approach.
She retold the story of how the Klan sent out fliers to their members about how they were going to torch her parents’ house and burn it to the ground.
“My dad said, ‘Yeah, I had to go get a rifle. I owned a pistol, but I needed a rifle.’ He got on top of our house and was waiting for them. Thankfully, they never showed up.”
I asked her if today’s racial climate mimics what she and I experienced growing up in the Deep South. Her response was profound. “It’s definitely a throwback and I wish we didn’t have to throw it back there. It’s bothersome. When Donald Trump was elected, I got an e-mail that said: ‘Go back to where you come from!’ I asked the man who sent me the e-mail: ‘What do you mean? Oklahoma?’”
C.J. said those experiences have shaped her personality.
“That’s why I’m so tough. I grew up in the Deep South and people didn’t like me for no other reason than the color of my skin. So, I don’t care what someone’s opinion is of me. That’s the environment in which I grew up. There are people in this world then and now who are not able to assess my intellect, my heart or my values. They just want to hate me because I’m a Black woman.
“So the things that strangers say don’t matter to me. I don’t care.”
Even though she says she doesn’t care, surprisingly, C.J. enjoys talking to people who don’t like her.
“I love it when the people who hate me get me on the phone. I talk to them, I listen to them. I hear their side of a grievance and at the end of it, they say ‘I’m going to read you all the time now.’ I love converting people.”
To be a fly on the wall and hear the entire candid conversation, click on the Two Haute Mamas website at twohautemamas.com.