Expression In His Own Voice Starting A Newspaper Lets Bob Lloyd Tell It In Black And White
Bob Lloyd Age: 53 Occupation: professor, publisher
The police locked the doors and surrounded the building.
Inside, 19-year-old Bob Lloyd and about 20 other young people were staging a sit-in at the Chicago Education Board building.
They were protesting the board’s shifting of school district boundaries to the disadvantage of black children. It was 1963, and the sit-in was part of the civil rights movement that was changing America from top to bottom.
Outside the building, the streets were crowded with hundreds of people supporting the demonstration. It would last a week and attract the national news media. The cameras and reporters arrived and asked what this was all about.
“We were all just young folks and we said, ‘We want freedom,”’ said Lloyd, now 53 and living in Spokane. “But by the time TV got done cutting and editing, we came off looking foolish.”
But the demonstration was not foolish, and Lloyd knew why. He’s reminded every day, and the reason is as important now as it was 35 years ago.
“I knew I got screwed in the Chicago public school system,” he said. “I have trouble reading ‘til this day.”
It is a surprising admission from the publisher of Spokane’s only black newspaper, the African-American Voice.
“Writing and turning out this paper is a major ordeal,” said Lloyd, who is also a photography professor at Eastern Washington University.
His struggle with reading and writing is a fact Lloyd could hide, but doesn’t. Instead, he’s driven by it.
“It’s not going to happen to the next generation,” he said.
In more ways than one, the Voice is Lloyd’s way of giving what he never got - encouragement to read and write and a place for African-Americans to express their own views, in their own words.
Each month, Lloyd publishes 3,000 issues of the 20-page paper. He has been doing it since 1996 and is trying to encourage young writers along the way. The paper has high school students on staff and sponsors essay contests with small cash rewards.
Not only is the next generation going to be able to read and write, Lloyd maintains, but it will be able to report.
“We need some black journalists,” he says “Nobody is going to tell our story like us.”
Lloyd grew up on Chicago’s west side, in a neighborhood that satisfied his friends but left Lloyd wanting more.
He had relatives on the city’s south side. Lloyd visited on the weekends, taking a bus through downtown. Within walking distance of his downtown stop was an art museum, a planetarium, an aquarium. Lloyd went.
“The kids in my neighborhood got to these places once every couple of years when the school had a field trip. I was going every weekend,” he said. “Then I knew there was something bigger than the ghetto.”
Later, he worked for a printing company and ran proofs to businesses downtown.
“I’m in the tallest skyscrapers and looking at how these folks live and, man, these folks don’t live like us,” Lloyd said. “I knew there was another world and that I had a right to some of it.”
After graduating from high school, Lloyd joined the civil rights movement with the Congress of Racial Equality and Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dissatisfied with how white journalists portrayed African-Americans, Lloyd got into documentary photography. Decades later, he publishes the Voice for the same reason.
“Them guys were not going to tell my story,” he said. “The only way we could get our story told is if we would be able to tell it.”
In 1968, Lloyd left Chicago to follow his future wife - Diane - to Stanford where she studied. The couple met in Chicago when Diane came to study nonviolent protests. Today, they live on Spokane’s South Hill. At one time, the couple held art shows in the first floor of their home. Now, it’s filled with Lloyd’s work and prints by other photographers.
He earned a master’s in fine art in 1974 from the California Institute of the Arts, where he also got his undergraduate degree. Because of the shoddy education he got in Chicago’s school system, Lloyd’s college degrees didn’t come easy.
“I didn’t go straight through. I graduated from high school in ‘62 and then graduated (with a master’s) in ‘74 - that’s 12 years,” Lloyd said. “That’s how I had to do it.”
He took over EWU’s photography department in 1974. The international bustle surrounding Spokane’s world’s fair helped seduce Lloyd into the job. Then the fair ended and the international workers Lloyd had met packed and went home. Spokane was itself again.
“I went into homes and it seemed like everybody had a fireplace with a gun rack over it,” said Lloyd, laughing with the memory. “Whoa, I’m from the city. I don’t know anything about this. I was never going to unpack.”
But Lloyd stayed.
“I thought Spokane was small enough it could be changed not just in civil rights, but in education,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd’s opportunity to make a change in education came immediately; the university’s photography program was nearly nonexistent. Lloyd could build it the way he wanted and add his own subtle lessons about life to the curriculum.
“I may not turn out the greatest photographers in the world, but I think I turn out better people,” he said.
When he first arrived in Spokane, Lloyd found himself not only on the outside of the art community - which didn’t consider photographers artists - but also on the outside of the African American community.
“When someone from outside comes in and brings some different values there is culture clash,” he said.
“I went to the black community when I first got here and they informed me that I was an outsider,” Lloyd said. “They made it quite clear I’m a new guy and can’t do nothing in this town.”
His civil rights background made him restless to pursue change, but he didn’t feel it was his place to speak. Lloyd kept mostly silent until founding the Voice.
It’s a publication born from a phone list.
In the fall of 1995, Lloyd attended a meeting of 70 Spokane men motivated by Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March in the capitol. Lloyd offered to copy an attendance list so the group could stay in touch.
“Then I got this idea: What does a name mean? Wouldn’t it be nice if we put out a newsletter and did a profile? Then we’d have more than a name to hook up with,” he said.
The paper has filled him with an energy he hasn’t had in years.
“I can stay up ‘til 3, 4 o’clock in the morning working on that paper. It feels good,” he said. “I think my writing is a good as The Spokesman-Review, but it takes me all night. I couldn’t do a weekly.”
The Voice - like any publication - has gotten a mixed response from the community.
Jim Williams, president of Spokane Community College, says it promotes a positive voice for black people in Spokane.
“Generally the mainstream media’s reporting is not as balanced in covering various aspects of diversity in a community,” he said. “I think the Voice fills that void.”
But not everyone is pleased. Lloyd has been criticized for presuming to speak for the entire African American community in Spokane.
Lloyd’s response is simple.
“I am not the voice for the community. This paper is not the voice for the African American community, it is the voice of them. They can come and use it.”
He will publish any article relevant to African-Americans. He just needs someone to write it.
“I’m just one person,” he said. But he’s one person whose past keeps him racing into the future.
“The next step is going to be cable television, channel 25,” Lloyd said. “We need all the media we can get.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo