Profile: Bill Pinkney
By Mike Steere
Photo: (We have these already)
(VIDEO) (Clips TK. Where to link to them?)
In his own words
“Here I am a descendent of slaves making the Middle Passage not as cargo in the hull, but as Master of the Ship.”
In 1992, became the first African-American to solo-sail around the world the long way (32,000 miles, rounding five southern capes), with 30,000 school kids watching and listening to his messages about dreams, education, and commitment.
Now planning a South Atlantic trip to investigate cultural legacy of the Black Diaspora in South America and West Africa, finishing in 1997 with a retracing of the Middle Passage slave ship route from the Gulf of Guinea to South Carolina. This time he’ll be live online with some 500,000 middle school kids, with an onboard crew of six, including three teachers.
//”Schools are standing in line, to get involved,” Pinkney says. He’s got the boat lined-up, a Farr 65 Sharpie sloop at Shelter Island, CA. which he’ll christen “Middle Passage.”//
Born in Chicago, where he still lives. Grew up on the South Side. Sixty years old, with one daughter and two grandchildren.
“I don’t do diet,” he roars at a proffered Diet Coke. It shows, in mid-body convexity, but everything else looks athletic, particularly for a granddaddy. The voice is FM-radio baritone, honed in a heavy schedule of speaking engagements. Other than the gold earring to commemorate his rounding Cape Horn, you might not guess that this guy in olive slacks and blazer is a man of
THE DEEP SIX
1) Who do you do it for?
“I did it for my grandchildren and kids who grew up like me. Then it got out of hand and I got 30,00 kids! I did it as an object lesson that they, too, could make their dreams come true by taking the responsibility of doing everything it takes to make it happen.”
2) How will you top yourself?
“This is not a contest–this is my life! This is what I do for joy and fulfillment. Every time you put to sea, it’s different, it’s a learning experience. So you can’t compete with the sea; you can’t top yourself.”
3) What makes you amgry?
“When people assume that because I’m black, that everything I do is ‘a black thing–you wouldn’t understand.’ Everyone is equal at sea. The sea doesn’t care who you are. That’s why I chose to express myself on the most level playing field on Earth.”
4) What’s your current focus?
The only thing between Pinkney and deep water in fall, 1996, is $1 million. So he’s bound for the Fund Raising Zone, sailed by all blue-water immortals–“Columbus, Magellan, me, we all wanted to go sea, but had to get somebody else to pay for it. If you’re not rich, you have to.”
5) Who are your heroes?
“My mother. Because growing up, I never felt I couldn’t accomplish anything I put my mind to.
Michael Jordan. He’s too young to be a hero–I’ve got suits older than him–but I admire him. He epitomizes what a “role model” is–he puts his money where his mouth is, and then keeps his mouth shut.
Harry Michael. He was lost in the last BLC. He was 70 years old when he began the race. His attitude toward life was astounding.”
6) What scares you most?
“I’m not fearless–people who say they are fearless are foolish–but there was nothing out there that I was afraid of. My fears were all played out beforehand: After five years of getting ready, the trip nearly fell through two weeks before.”
Also, I was afraid if I lost the boat and lived, it would be a major disaster to go through all that again (getting sponsors, etc.)–there was never a question that I’d finish the trip.
Now that you know him
–Get him worked up by asking why the facile, racialized, Hope-for-the-Inner-City media treatment of him and his personal and educational mission make him so damned mad.
–Give the captain a break by asking him about sailing.
–Ask for a berth on the “Middle Passage.”
We’re taking your questions for Bill for one week. Responses will be posted on (Date TK.) Send in your questions now.