ON THE SHARP END/Do-er’s Profile
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ON THE SHARP END/Do-er’s Profile
by Mike Steere
NAME: Bill Pinkney
“Here I am a descendent of slaves making the Middle Passage not as cargo in the hull, but as Master of the Ship.”
THE BUZZ/WHY WE CARE:
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 inspirationsal messages about dreams, educations, and commitment.
Now planning a South Atlantic trip to investigate culture legacy of the Black Diaspora in South America and West Africa, finishing with a retracing of the Middle Passage slave ships’ 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 educators.
The expedition plan is to begin by coasting South America, getting in touch with the African legacy on this side of the Atlantic, particularly in Brazil, then cross to the Cape Town and lay up the boat, while the crew comes back and appears at schools. Then, the next school year, Pinkney and his sailing cyberclassroom will make West African ports of call and come home to Charleston,
//”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 in south side of Chicago. 60 years old, one daughter and two grandchildren.
FIRST IMPRESSION/REALTIME/IN PERSON:
“I don’t do diet,” he roars at a proffered Diet Coke. It shows, in mid-body convexity. But this is provisioning for open ocean voyages, not fat. Everything else looks athletic, particularly for a granddaddy, except for the high-domed head, which is scholarly. The voice is FM Radio baritone, oft-used in a heavy schedule of appearances. Unless you knew that the gold earring was for rounding
Cape Horn, you might not guess that Pinkney, in olive slacks and blazer, is a man of the sea.
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 ARE YOU GOING TO 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 ANGRY?
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. //The expectation that I am the Prince Charming, the Gladiator for the black inner-city youth. That’s my
background.// But I’m a person who made their dreams come true and found that it’s more enjoyable to share that with others. People gravitate to that–people who are black, but also to middle-aged executives who always wanted to break away. In fact, they are my biggest fans. //I was willing to step forward with my dream.//
4) WHAT’S YOUR FOCUS RIGHT NOW?
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.”
“This mission [raising the million] is more difficult than the sailing. You subject yourself to rejection, to ridicule, to failure, frustration. . . . If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d be gone like a mighty rushing wind.”
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. I worked with the Michael Jordan foundation, and it’s the private things he does, not the public things, like spending time talking with kids under a street light
in their neighborhood–those are the things I admire. //Michael Jordan the man, not Michael Jordan the sports star. //
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 THE 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 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.
LINES OF INQUIRY:
–Get him worked up by asking how come 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.
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