Robert C. Maynard: The Letter

On June 4, 1991, I received a letter. I remember not recognizing the hand writing, but I did recognize the name of the man who signed it - B Maynard. Robert Maynard was the owner and publisher of the Oakland Tribune in 1991 and had been since the early 1980s. I was a student at San Jose State University at the time, where I had read an editorial he had written in response to the case of Rodney King. His beating by police officers caught on video, the acquittal of the officers, and the protests and riots that followed.

In the editorial, he told a story that gave me some closeness to hope during a time when my friends asked for distance. They could not talk to me. They did not need my outrage. They did not need my protest. What my friends needed from me was to understand that I would never know what it is to live as a person of color and to allow the distance between us until they were ready.

Today, I remember only parts of the story that Mr. Maynard recounted. I remember that the story was about a coming together, a healing story involving an elderly couple. In his column, I know that he gave me hope while speaking to the racism and violence. I had to write him. I wanted to thank him. I wanted more answers. I wanted to know that healing was possible.

By June 4 of that year, I had almost forgotten I had sent him a letter. I didn't expect an answer. But I do remember getting the mail that day and seeing the letter with my name written in cursive. I was still puzzled until I turned the letter over and saw the Tribune Tower address. I couldn't believe it. Robert Maynard wrote:

June 4, 1991
Dear Ms. Murphy,
Please don't give up hope. Never give up hope. I was deeply moved by your letter. It is lonely today because we have become a Nation of Strangers. Writers and artists (you and I) have the power to change that - if only we keep trying & hoping.
B Maynard

June is the twenty-seventh anniversary of our letters. And yet, I still remember that deep sense of gratitude and awe that his letter gave me. The publisher of the Pulitzer-winning Oakland Tribune wrote back. I held it in my hand for the longest time. Today, I keep it in the top drawer of my desk, so I know exactly where it is. The letter is one of the most important gifts I have ever received.

Later, I bought a copy of his book Letters to my Children compiled by his daughter Dori J. Maynard. I was hoping that the story Robert Maynard wrote about in his 1991 editorial was included in the book - a 246-page collection of his columns. It was not. I will find it someday in the archives of the San Jose Mercury News where I read it first.

Robert Maynard died two years later in 1993. His life, work, and legacy live on through the journalist training and educational programs of the Maynard Institute in Oakland. The Institute's mission is "to ensure that all segments of our diverse society are fairly, accurately and credibly portrayed."

Thank you Robert C. Maynard. I will always be grateful for your letter and remember your words.

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