Steady, and never wavering, what may appear like a overnight, success has been many years in the making. Navigating obstacles and detours that may have broken others, transformed him into someone who is a reflection of today’s and tomorrow’s America. Refusing to be limited to any labels or boxes, Don Lemon addresses his challenges, motivations, and the responsibility, as well as the pressure, that comes with the assignment of being the messenger!
This feature address Don Lemon’s tenacity, drive, perspective of himself and career. As well as the unique opportunity he has to utilize his voice.
MM: How did the challenges you faced motivate or effect your career?
DL: My challenges have never been any of motivation or drive. They’ve mostly centered around lack of opportunities or low expectations. Once given the opportunity I’ve more often than not exceeded expectations. The other big challenge has been being attempted to be boxed in by peers or the audience. People look at me and automatically expect me to be a certain way—to think a certain way. It’s just human nature to want to to be able to define someone or label someone in order to make yourself feel more comfortable. But it is also a very limited way of thinking.
MM: What are your career plans?
DL: I always have and still do dream big. But it’s a good exercise to sometimes take your hands off the wheel and see what happens. Though we like to fool ourselves about it, none of us are in control. Thus, right now I’ve reached a goal of having a prime time show with my name on it. Let’s see what happens next. I’m in no rush. It’s very liberating.
MM: Growing up, you faced a tremendous amount of challenges, abuse, isolation not being accepted socially. And of all the careers you choose TV! How did you find the confidence to get in front of camera?
DL: Great question. I’d have to answer by saying that I truly believe that I have a perspective that’s worth sharing with the world. Honestly, we all do. But we don’t all have the good fortune to have a big platform that allows us to share that perspective with the masses. Although it’s not always easy to put yourself out there, warts and all, I am aware of the incredible opportunity I have. I honor that blessing by stepping up to that challenge each and every day. My inner mantra is, “One foot in front of the other.”
MM: What created the drive or desire for TV?
DL: The previous response answers part of this question. I grew up with television as my babysitter. I’ve always been fascinated by it. I’ve always thought television was magic. I still do.
MM: What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?
DL: I’ve always been curious. I’ve always wanted to know how things work—the truth—facts. Journalism is the perfect venue for those things.
MM: There was a professor who didn’t think you could make it on TV. In retrospect, do you think the naysayers created the drive to succeed?
DL: Of course. However, it reenforces the drive. But it’s not the impetus. The impetus comes from within.
MM: Don, growing up in the 80’s you could be considered America’s triple threat Black-Gay-Man, and you are from the South. What did it take to learn to be comfortable in your own skin?
DL: Very easy. Time on the planet—which gives wisdom. And the ability to take chances. It’s not safe but far more rewarding.
MM: It appears that you have experienced lighting bolt success. Was this planned?
DL: Hardly. I’ve been working at this since the early 1990’s. That’s a very long, deliberate, slow moving lightening bolt.
MM: Who are/were your role models?
DL: Up close: My mom, Bishop TD Jakes, Jeff Zucker, and a few of my former and current colleagues. From afar: Bryant Gumble. Oprah, Barbara Walters, Max Robinson, Bernie Shaw, Peter Jennings. Most people in the public eye experience a certain amount of responsibility and criticism.
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MM: With you, being an African American News journalist, and on one of the largest platforms, I imagine that a responsibility has been placed on your shoulders (whether accepted or not) to represent for the African American race. How do you handle this?
DL: That’s been one of the hardest things to deal with. Of course I want to be and am flattered to represent Black folks. And I think I do by virtue of who I am and what I’ve accomplished. But being a journalist is a unique position. It’s a position that obligates me to being a purveyor of truth and objectivity—which doesn’t lend itself to advocacy or emotion. I handle the responsibility and criticism by keeping calm and carrying on.
MM: How do you handle the backlash from those who may feel you are not performing in the manner they believe you should?
DL: I use what is constructive and keep it pushing. No one likes every single aspect of any job. Just like you, I have a job to do and I do it. Simple as that.
MM: What does a day in Don Lemon’s life look like?
DL: Every day is different. No set schedule. Some mornings I start early on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Some days I tape the Wendy Williams show or some other talk show. Some days I tape early interviews for my show. Some days I make appearances on other CNN shows. Some days I’m on assignment in other cities. The only certain part is that I’m live on CNN at 10pm Eastern time every weeknight. And if there is breaking news I can sometimes be live for hours.
MM: How much prep time do you have for work?
DL: Usually a few hours unless there’s breaking news. Then there’s no prep time. It unfolds as it is happening. Viewers go on the journey right along with me.
MM: What is the most interesting or challenging interview?
DL: I’ve had a few. The ones that tend to go viral are usually the ones with people who come on with an agenda and/or those who want to become famous or relevant. They are the most challenging because there is no reasoning with them. They don’t want to listen or be challenged with the truth or a different perspective. I think people see right through it though.
MM: Any plans to enter into the world of politics?
DL: I have no plans to enter politics but I never say never.
MM: What do you do for fun?
DL: I read, run, and go to the beach. I also love to sleep!!
MM: How do you like living in NYC? Are you inspired living in NYC? Do you walk out the door and think you will be shot? LOL (remark toward Donald Trump’s comments of African Americans being shot at when coming outside).
DL: I LOVE New York City. I LOVE Harlem. I’m inspired by their diversity—by the struggle and the beauty. Although I’m well aware that random violence is possible anywhere, I do not walk out of my door and worry about being shot. And just to be clear, I live in a mostly African American building with very educated, successful, and gainfully employed residents. There are many communities just like that not only in Harlem but all over the US.
MM: With all you’ve been through on your journey to now, how do you feel about being a major component within the wheel that is rolling out the New America?
DL: That’s easy. It feels great. I don’t always feel it immediately because I’m probably too close to it. But as I look back over the past few years I see the evolution, the revolution of which I am a part. As much as I love Gil Scott- Heron, I do however believe the revolution WILL be televised, and is every single night on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.
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