Issue No. 19
New York City, New York
Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Visuals: Rog Walker
A cookbook is opened to a recipe for thumbprint sugar cookies, a favorite in the Meadows family’s Harlem brownstone. Push your thumb into homemade cookie dough, drop a dollop of your favorite jam in the imprint, et voila! A sweet Sunday morning treat. Arranged on the kitchen island are all the fixings for baking: a Pyrex measuring cup with 1 cup of milk, eggs, baking powder, butter, flour, sugar, and mixing bowls.
As 46-year-old Geraldine Moriba gives her children assignments—pour the dry ingredients into the bowl, crack the eggs, bring out the blender—you get the sense that she is rarely unprepared for any task put in front of her. An executive producer for CNN’s Emmy-award winning “In America” series, there seems to be a sense of order and purpose in everything Moriba does. Warner, 16, and Nia, 12, happily oblige.
But for all the togetherness Moriba and her enviable household exudes, she is the first one to tell you that her path—from her career in journalism to becoming a mother—has been anything but planned out or without obstacles.
A self-described "accidental" journalist, Moriba's drive has taken her from her native Canada and into America's top newsrooms for more than two decades.
"Growing up I always wanted to go into a career that would help others," she says. "[I] wanted to be in an occupation where I felt like I was achieving a purpose. When I started my career as a journalist, I was convinced that I would probably [either] postpone motherhood ‘til my forties [or that I] would never be a mother."
It was a misperception borne from watching a generation of journalists before her, women subscribing to the pre-"having-it-all" mandate: you can have the children or the career, just not both.
"I was completely mistaken," Moriba admits now, looking over at her daughter, whose thick halo of black hair frames a very wise, yet playful, face.
Moriba credits a support system of family (her mother came down from Canada to help out) and her husband, anesthesiologist Warner Meadows, for helping her "make it work." Yet giving birth unwittingly put Moriba on a "mommy track" when she returned from maternity leave three months later.
"Select assignments that I originally received were no longer coming, and I was getting these stories that were called ‘family-focus pieces,’" light fare the journalist, who got her start covering the first Gulf War for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, had no interest in.
"I went to my boss and [asked] if he would kindly give me the hard news stories, that I was working on before."
Soon Moriba found herself back in her fast-paced career, turning around news magazine features in days, but now with a newborn waiting for her.
"I remember that there wasn’t enough time to despair or to fret, because I had a baby at home and a career that needed me, and my husband who needed me too," she says. "And I really treated them all with equal attention and measure. I did not hesitate to bring my son into the newsroom when I needed to, and when I had two kids, I brought both of them in
"They’ve grown up, as I did, with the image of a mother who’s working and competent, but also a mother who misses nothing in their lives," Moriba continues. "I don’t miss recitals or performances or school events, I volunteer as much as I’m allowed to at the school. I will take a day off to be present at their school. Whatever is necessary."
As Moriba and her children talk over the whir of the blender, it's hard to imagine anything separating her from her family. But an unexpected health scare did just that when Moriba was 38 years old.
She slowly pulls up her sleeve, exposing a long, smooth scar running up the entire length of her right arm, the bright red line a sharp contrast against her golden brown skin.
"I was diagnosed with a very rare cancer—a sarcoma cancer, [which] is a connective tissue cancer," Moriba explains pushing the sleeve back down. "[It] was running along the radial nerve in my right arm. I was given six months to live when I was diagnosed [in 2004].
"I had all kinds of symptoms," she continues. "including losing the function of my right hand. I went to a doctor who told me I had carpal tunnel syndrome, but the symptoms continued. A year later I went to another doctor who did a CAT scan, found a tumor, and told me it was benign and they would just remove it."
During the surgery the doctors immediately realized the tumor was likely malignant... and spreading.
"They sent it off for pathology studies, and I went back a few days later. The doctor who [told us] I had a malignant cancer sat in front of my husband and I, and wept. My husband wept too."
Moriba was given even more grim news.
"They told me [that] I needed to prepare myself for a full amputation of my arm, and even then I might not survive," Moriba recalls. "They couldn’t give me any prognosis, but they told me that very rarely does anybody get sarcoma and live beyond a year. I was told to prepare for my departure, to get all my papers in order."
But there was a glimmer of hope some 1,700 miles away: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, which Moriba's husband and two friends had found without telling her.
"Because they knew I would say that I’m not leaving my children, [they] sent my pathology slides down there for testing, set up an appointment, and bought the plane ticket without my knowledge. I remember saying, 'If I go there and it seems like the better treatment, how can I leave my family?' And [my husband and aunt] said to me, 'If you go there, and you survive, then you’ll come back to your family. We’ll be waiting for you.'"
An even bigger support system than the one that helped Moriba return to her job after having Warner rose up and helped her family through nine months of separation, heartache, and worry. She has been living cancer free for 12 years.
“If I get bad news, I will conquer it again,” Moriba says. “I’m prepared to.”
And with that statement, you get a clearer idea of what spurs that Moriba preparedness: her unshakeable love for her family.
What do you enjoy most about being a mom?
So many things. I can talk about my children all day long. I love the way that they are developing these independent opinions, and that I can see how they’re building on what they read and what they experience; how they take what we say as their parents, analyze it, and then take what they want and create their own opinions. I love their sense of discovery. It’s inspiring.
I love how they can one moment be debating something with each other, and the next moment, be in each other’s arms. I love watching the love between my children, and knowing that the way they treat each other is the way the way they’ve seen us treat them and each other. It gives me a lot of pride, and I love watching their character evolve. I love their humor. They make me laugh until I cry. And they make fun of me in a way that nobody else will because they know all of my shortcomings! (Laughs) It’s great, it’s wonderful. They’ve become not only my children, but my friends.
What parts of yourself do you see in Nia?
Nia has my energy and my curiosity and my trust. She instantly likes everybody and tries always to be kind, and the same things that make her like me sometimes—because I see myself—make me worry that they may be vulnerabilities too. I’m sensitive to those particular characteristics.
What’s it like raising a teenage girl?
The tween stage is an interesting stage. I find that the best thing I can do is be patient and listen. Nia is very thoughtful and analytical and usually has a reason for expressing concern or discomfort or raising questions. [I've found] the more that I listen, the more that I understand what she’s experiencing. What’s particularly special about Nia is that she’s expressive. She’s really good at communicating what’s on her mind and what she’s experiencing.
I know people have stereotypes of the terrible twos and the challenges of tweens, [but] I think every age is different and every child is different. We as parents just need to adjust to our children's needs and their individuality.
"My daughter’s name means 'purpose,'” Moriba says, "and we deliberately gave her that name with the hope that she would find her purpose in life."
Raising a black son in this world can sometimes be a scary proposition. Is there anything you do to try to prepare him for the outside world and the stereotypes he could face?
When he was born, one of the first things I hung in his bedroom was a photograph of his uncle and his father on [their] graduation day. It’s poster-sized, and they’re both wearing caps and gowns; it’s just this positive image of two successful black men graduating from university on the same day. And above it I hung a plaque that says “Believe.” I also hung in his bedroom a poster of Nelson Mandela, and a placard that has his grandfather’s name—he has the same name as his paternal grandfather: it says Warner Earl Meadows Jr., M.D. I also hung in his room an image of Marcus Garvey.
Over the years—[though] I know at some point, he’s going to take over his room (laughs)—I’ve continued to add positive images. I do the same thing with my daughter. The obvious goal has always been to surround them with positive role models. Because I do believe it takes a village for our sons as well as our daughters, but it’s also having constant and ongoing conversations, even when those conversations are very, very difficult.
Do you have an example—either with your son or your daughter—of having one of those difficult conversations, and how you broached them?
Warner really wanted to see the film "Django [Unchained]," and I had concerns about the depiction of black men. I also had concerns about Quentin Tarantino’s history of gratuitous violence. He’d never seen one of his films before, and I wasn’t sure that he was ready for the violence and the depiction of black men. But he’s 16 years old, and he wanted to see it. So I emailed him a few select reviews, and asked him to read the reviews, and [said] let’s discuss them before he saw the movie. We did that, and then he saw the movie with his grandfather—my father.
They walked out with very different opinions. My father felt as though it may have been one of the worst movies he’d ever seen, and found the violence physically painful to watch, and looked away. Warner wasn’t so disturbed by the violence because he felt like it was just a movie. He understood that. He was more disturbed by being in audience that was almost entirely white and listening to them laugh at different scenes. He was much more uncomfortable with the audience’s response to what he was watching on screen. He also felt like there’s nothing wrong with seeing a revenge movie [featuring] an African-American. He had a really interesting analysis of that film from a teen’s perspective.
In the end, I’m glad he saw it, but it was a really difficult conversation.
What would you say is your parenting philosophy, and how do you feel like it differs or is the same as what you experienced growing up?
My mother is my role model. (Emotional) She is definitely my measure of whether or not I’m a good parent. I grew up in a single parent household. There were four of us, and I watched my mother sacrifice time and time and time again, and do whatever it took to make sure that we were always out of harm’s way, that we had what we needed, and that we got excellent educations. I remember my mother marching into schools when she thought there was an injustice. I remember her IBM Selectric. She would type letters and fire them off to whomever she thought needed to hear her voice.
She was very present in our lives. I remember going on bike-a-thons with my mother. I remember picking blueberries and making bottled preserves with [her]. I remember her teaching us how to cook, how to sew, how to save money, and how to be a family. I remember when she dropped us off at university, she cried because she was so proud. She gave me a blanket that she knitted as my gift, so that I’d have a piece of her when I was away at school. I never really went back home, but our conversations never ended. We spoke every day when I was in university, and we speak every day now.
I want to be a fraction of the mother that my mother was to me to my own children. She really is a mother’s mother. She never smothered us. She always gave us enough room to make mistakes and to grow, and she was always there for us when we fell down. She was always ready to drop everything—and I mean everything—to be by our side. Whether it was at school when we were kids, and she came there to defend us, or when I had children, and I needed childcare help. When I went to live in Texas to get treatment for cancer, she moved into my home and helped my husband raise my little children. And they were little—my son was in 2nd grade, and my daughter was in preschool. I want to be like her.
The other thing I’d add is I really believe that we have to teach our children values. It’s not enough to provide. We have to teach them how to evaluate right from wrong, but we also have to help them be prepared for rich lives. And so for each of my children, I’ve always insisted that they learn a second language, that they play an instrument, and that they excel at a sport. Because I think that’s it’s important that they have a broader ability to speak to more people, that they have a love for the arts, and that they’re healthy.
What do you love about your job?
I tell my kids all the time that they can do whatever they want to with their lives, but they have to love what they do. And I am so fortunate to love what I do. I love storytelling, and journalists are storytellers. It doesn’t matter what the medium is, what we’re doing is telling stories. I also am really curious by nature about all sorts of things, and this occupation fosters my curiosity. It allows me to investigate things that I want to know more about. At this stage of my career, even as a producer, I’m allowed to be creative, to think about how the recipient of the story I’m giving will receive it, and to shape it creatively [and] visually.
How did you get started in journalism? Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist?
No, I wanted to work for the Canadian Foreign Service. [I] had planned on taking the entrance examination and going to grad school. My mother is Jamaican, and insisted that I had a job—[she] felt like I wasn’t productive. (Laughs)
I was leading a demonstration against the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. They had an exhibit called "Into the Heart of Darkness," and that says it all. It was an exhibit about colonial missionaries in Africa, and they took excerpts of their diaries and juxtaposed them against African artifacts. So you would read these excerpts about “heathens”—really negative comments, misguided, and incorrect comments—juxtaposed against African artifacts, and there was no context. The curators did not bother to put the colonial missionary mentality into context, [and] they didn’t explain the artifacts either. It was an awful exhibition that schoolchildren were visiting.
I [along] with a lot of other Torontonians helped to organize a protest against it, and ultimately the exhibit was closed and dismantled and never sent any place else (it was scheduled to tour the United States).
During that campaign, I was in a friend’s office after hours, and I was writing press releases. I sent it off to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to a radio program called "As It Happens," a daily news program. I sent off the fax, and it came back and said “Will the person who wrote this fax please apply for the following job?” (Laughs)
That night when I got home, my mother said, "Did you look for a job today?” And I pulled out this piece of paper and said, “Tomorrow I’m applying for this.” I applied just to satisfy my mom and got the job. Then shortly thereafter, the first Gulf War broke out. I was completely hooked, and never went to grad school, never became a foreign diplomat, never took the exam. I’ve been a journalist ever since, and realized it was actually a really fitting career for me.
What would you credit your career success to?
I don’t think that any of us get ahead in life without people who create opportunities for us, who mentor us, or guide us, and I’m not so arrogant to think that I’ve had the success I’ve had because I’m just that talented. I know that my success is due to being prepared when opportunities came along, and always surrounding myself with people who valued my work and wanted me to succeed. People who were mentors, and advisors, and confidants. [That] circle of people has broadened throughout my career. They come in all races, and both genders. And for all of these people who’ve guided me, I’m grateful.
Do you feel especially passionate about race issues, since a lot of the projects you’ve done are steeped in race relations in America?
That’s partially by choice, and partially by circumstances. Inevitably, when you’re black in a newsroom, you are going to get assignments about black people. You can choose to resist, as some people do, or you can choose to embrace it, and shed a new light on a much covered topic. I’ve done both. What I will say is I consciously try to make sure that when I cover race, that I’m moving the conversation forward.
You’re a co-founder of The Grio and the “In America” series. Do you feel like these entities that you’ve worked on have moved the conversation forward?
I think that dot-com provides not just blacks, but all people with a way to engage in conversations that we couldn’t have before. It used to be a unilateral conversation where the media just presented opinions and facts, and it just went in one direction. Now it works both ways, and I think that’s a strength.
I prayed that when my children became adults, that the conversations that I had when I was young would not be the conversations they we're having; it’s heartbreaking that my children will have the same conversations about identity, about access, about entitlement, about barriers that we were having 20-30 years ago. But at the same time, I feel like my children are more informed, and the broader conversations are richer today than they were in the past, so I hope that overall, we’re moving forward.
What’s the proudest moment you’ve had as a mother?
I feel the most pride when somebody shares a story about something they did when neither my husband nor I happen to be present. That the character that they share with us and that the behavior they express when they’re with us is the same when they’re on their own at school or on the street. Those stories make me feel really proud because I realize they are consistently the good people, the good children, the good citizens that I see at home.
Issue No. 19
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
Fulfilling career? Check. Lovely home? Check. Loving marriage? Two happy, healthy and incredibly intelligent kids? Check and check. Geraldine Moriba, the 46-year-old executive producer has the enviable distinction of not only "having it all" but making it look easy. But things are rarely as they appear to be. Moriba told mater mea about an unexpected piece of news that threatened to take everything she had worked for away from her.