Recognized as one of the nation’s most influential black journalists, Roland Sebastian Martin has received over 30 awards for excellence in multiple media platforms. Having appeared on such programs as CNN, TV One Cable Network, the Tom Joyner Morning Show and media outlets in Canada, Columbia, Italy, Australia and South Africa, Martin remains one of the most widely recognized black commentators in print, on the television screen, and on the air.
Despite the demands of his hectic professional life, Martin’s philosophy is sim- ple: “If you do good, I’ll talk about you. If you do bad, I’ll talk about you. At the end of the day--I’m going to talk about you.”
The author of such titles as Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith; Speak, Brother! A Black Man’s View of America; and “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin,” the seasoned analyst is adamant in his strict adherence to honesty: “I’m not going to shy away from it and hold my tongue just because you’re the pastor. So—absolutely—I will lock and load and won’t apologize for it.”
This is not to say that the syndicated columnist has not experienced his share of hardships having gone through a divorce after six years of marriage, suffering a kidney rupture a year later, and then enduring the fear of almost losing his home to foreclosure and having to file for bankruptcy.
“There have been multiple challenging moments,” he frankly admits. “There is no “one thing” if anybody goes back and looks at their lives. There’s going to be those moments where we are challenged. That is the natural rhythm of life.”
To Martin though, it isn’t about the moment of crisis itself, but about how to maintain a perspective of faith through the moment of crisis and operate from a place of calm in the midst of that turmoil.
Faith, he says, is the answer. “There’s nothing else that explains how you’re able to get through all of it. That, to me, is most important in understanding the kind of person you are and who you are,” asserts the veteran commentator.
As a graduate of Houston's Jack Yates High School, which offered a magnet program devoted to communications, the former executive editor/general manag- er of the Chicago Defender committed himself to journalistic endeavors early on. Then, as an alumnus of Texas A&M University, he began writing Letters to the Editor—a column in the school newspaper, before going on to write for The Eagle—a local newspaper. He explains that when he first started on his journey, “I wasn’t writing about what was happening in my life, but about the issues of the day. I was born in 1968 so I had no recollection of the Civil Rights Movement. My writing was obviously different from folks who were older than me and that’s real- ly the angle that I took in terms of a fresh, different perspective of the world. I was writing about issues that had to do with Affirmative Action and college tuition.”
Since then, he has gone on to be named by Ebony Magazine in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as one of the 150 Most Influential African Americans in the United States. Martin is also the winner of such awards as the NAACP Image Award for Best Interview, the President’s Award by the National Association of Black Journalists, and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television News Directors.
Given his deep interest in public issues, the Houston native has been encour- aged to run for office throughout the years. However, he maintains, “It is not something that interests me primarily because I don’t believe the general public wants that level of honesty. You cannot choose to say what you really want to say about what’s going on. The level of compromise, the level of having to play the game and that’s just not me. I can’t do it.
“I’m a firm believer in terms of how God positions us in what we are supposed to be in. And I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” says the 43-year- old. “I decided to become a journalist when I was 14 years old and I haven’t changed in 30 years. It’s been the same course since. You do what you’re destined
to do and I’m not destined for political office because it’s not in my temperament.” For Martin, being a journalist is not always about having the largest platform, but rather taking advantage of the moment and going from there, “It is always an evolution based upon the platforms and where you are.” His multiple platforms
have enabled him to speak about things that he is truly passionate about.
Of course, with great renown comes great scrutiny, “I refuse to be defined as a Liberal, Conservative, Republican, or Democrat, because I think those labels are way too limiting and don’t allow you to have a perspective that differs from a tra- ditional view. The biggest challenge is fighting that box or refusing to allow somebody to place you in that box.”
Having been born and raised as a Catholic, when it comes to the issue of com-
bining his faith with his profession, Martin himself candidly admits that he is an unapologetic person. “There are certainly people out there who do not like it when you’re able to profess your faith in a very public way. But frankly, the position I’ve taken in, it doesn’t matter. The decisions that I make are made to my faith as opposed to saying that faith is part of what I do.”
Well aware of the perils of fame and the challenges of having such a broad- based audience, Martin reveals that his saving grace is his fearless attitude in terms of his actions and words. It is a particular strength that has allowed him to reach multitudes of people, which is one of the most powerful and rewarding aspects of his career. Ever the outspoken one, he claims, “I really can’t say there hasn’t been anything that I haven’t talked about, although I’m sure there is.”
“What gives me the most joy about what I do is when someone approaches me and they tell me something that I said that truly impacted their life in a profound way, because you never really know who is listening and how they may take it. It’s always interesting when I encounter people and they tell me their stories. Then you realize that every- thing you say has an impact.”
Currently residing in Chicago with his wife, Reverend Jacquie Hood Martin, his perspective on the future is one that is hopeful, but mingled with uncertainty, steadfast- ness, and room for growth: “I don’t know where I’ll be. The reality is all my initial goals were to be a publisher and editor of a newspaper that happened by the time I was 29-years-old. And those goals change. I alter my goals every year. I certainly want to be in media in five years. I want to continue to have the broad impact, but also be true to myself. That’s the most important thing.”