BY RHONDA BELLAMY, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Harvard Jennings, a trailblazing talk radio host in southeastern North Carolina, has died at the age of 73.
In a broadcast career spanning 25 years, Jennings helped shape public discourse on local, state, national and international issues with talk shows on WAAV and WLTT.
“First and foremost, Harvard always led with love. Harvard genuinely cared about what people thought and felt because he sincerely believed that people were the sum of their experiences and that realization deserved respect even if you didn’t agree with their viewpoint. Harvard could not help but love people and, as such, you could not help but love Harvard in return,” said Dave Carroll, who often sat in or filled in on Jennings’ talk show on WAAV.
The Sum of his own Experiences
Jennings began his quest for social justice as a teenager. At the age of 17, he was named state youth director of the NAACP in his native New York. He would later become vice president of the NAACP Long Island branch, and then chapter president of the Congress of Racial Equality. Other pivotal affiliations included his work as an advocate for the Economic Opportunity Council, a close working relationship with Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcom X, and later, his election as delegate to the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana.
Jennings often quipped about being married to a “country girl”. His wife, Elizabeth, had roots in southeastern North Carolina and the family relocated to the area in 1982.
“I first met Harvard when the Sickle Cell Association was located in a small storefront on Castle Street. He worked extremely hard for funds for a disease that primarily affected African-Americans. As I recall, it was a two-person operation with many trips to Duke and Chapel Hill with patients. He gave his blood, sweat and tears for many years working with this organization,” said Linda Pearce Thomas, founder and former executive director of Elderhaus.
Finding his Voice
Shortly after purchasing WAAV Radio in 1989, the late Donn Ansell heard Harvard speak at a Community Watch meeting. Captivated by Jennings’ demeanor and message, Ansell offered him a slot. What ensued was Jennings’ 21-year run on the region’s dominant news/talk station.
Leading into each show with Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, “Wake Up Everybody” became his anthem. For two hours every week day, Jennings steered listeners through a maze of topics with a trademark even-handedness that earned him a broad-based following of loyal listeners.
“Harvard was one of the most intelligent people I ever worked with in radio. Even when he was discussing something far above my head I never felt like he was talking down to me. And I always came away feeling like I learned something even if I didn’t know what it was. He also always made me feel like it was ok to have a differing opinion about something. And, in fact, welcomed diverse viewpoints which, I guess, made him such a good talk show host,” said Mike Farrow, former WAAV program director.
Jennings retired when his show on WAAV was cancelled in 2010. The loud silence sent James Utley, managing agent of CLI Radio, in search of Jennings.
“We approached Harvard some three years ago about returning to the talk radio scene and he accepted the challenge with honor,” said Utley, who operates Gospel Joy 1490 AM and 1340 AM. Paired with co-host Derrick Anderson, the duo’s show was simulcast.
His impact extended beyond the airwaves, as Jennings regularly conducted diversity training sessions at the Wilmington Police Department, area churches, and school systems.
“Harvard Jennings was a brilliant intellectual, an incredible mentor, a friend, and truly a blessing to the collective consciousness of this community. He fought valiantly for humanity, equality and justice and I have no doubt that his words changed the lives and perspectives of many,” said long-time friend and colleague Tonye Gray.
A wake will be held on Thursday, December 6, 2018, 5:00-8:00 p.m., at Davis Funeral Home, 901 S. 5th Ave., Wilmington, NC. The funeral will be held Friday, December 7, 2018, at 11:00 a.m. at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, 3701 Princess Place Dr., Wilmington. Burial will follow in Northwest Community Cemetery, Leland, NC. The repast will be held at Spring Green Missionary Baptist Church, Riegelwood, NC.