Here and Now: Reaction to Malcom X assassination investigation

On this episode of Here and Now, reaction to new evidence that suggests NYPD and FBI involvement in the assassination of Civil Rights Leader Malcolm X.

Video Transcript

- "Here and Now," the program featuring the news and interests of the African American community. Here's your host, Sandra Bookman.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Coming up, reaction to new evidence that suggests NYPD and FBI involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X. Also ahead, environmental justice and the fight for clean water. A conversation with actress-turned-activist Gloria Reuben.

Later, Living Black History. The African American family in Oyster Bay, Long Island, that traces its history back five generations. We'll introduce you to the descendants of David Carll. And Hollywood Engineers of Equality-- how a photographer's creative transformation of kids celebrates the legends of social justice. That's all ahead on "Here and Now."

As we commemorate Black History Month, we are turning our attention to new claims about FBI and NYPD involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X. A deathbed confession from a former New York City police officer claims involvement in and knowledge of a plot to kill the civil rights leader. For decades, too many questions have been raised about that dark day in Harlem in 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom.

Now, with us today is one of the producers behind the documentary "Who Killed Malcolm X," Phil Bertelsen and historian, activist, and investigative journalist Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, featured in the documentary. It is nice to see both of you back here this afternoon.

It was wonderful to have you on the show, I guess about a year ago, talking about your documentary. And these latest revelations from this deathbed confession from this former NYPD officer, when you heard this, just tell me what your reactions were. Phil, I'll start with you.

PHIL BERTELSEN: It was very re-affirming, I guess you could say, given the fact that in our series, we went to some lengths to establish the evidence surrounding the complicit-- sometimes active, sometimes passive-- involvement of local law enforcement and the FBI. And what this statement from Mr. Woods confirms is that that was indeed the case. So, it-- you know, it sometimes feels good to be right.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And you have every reason to say, I told you so. Abdur, your reaction?

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, my first reaction was-- it was just confirmation, confirmation that all the years of sacrificing to get this story to the public would be the catalyst for more revelations. It was very confirming and gratifying to see the results now, the ramifications of our work, the impact of our work.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: How do you think these-- this new evidence is going to impact this case overall? Of course, the Manhattan DA is-- reportedly is open-- reopened the investigation. Where do you see this going next? And do both of you feel like this is actually going to be a vigorous re-investigation of this case?

PHIL BERTELSEN: I'll start by saying that I think the first step is to actually substantiate the evidence itself that was put forward. And once that can be done, I would imagine that it would contribute to the case that the Manhattan DA's office has been looking to mount since our series aired, which would exonerate the wrongfully convicted men, Muhammad Aziz and Thomas Johnson.

I can't speak to how vigorous that investigation will be, but this new evidence put forward by Reggie Wood from his cousin, Ray Wood, have to be substantiated in order for it to have some role in the ongoing re-investigation. But once, and if, it is, I would suspect it would add some imperative to the ongoing efforts to re-evaluate the prosecution of Malcolm X's murder.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Now can I ask you-- you've mentioned exonerating people in this case. Are you still trying to prove that Muhammad Abdul Aziz, 82 years old, I understand-- and he's been released. Where are you in that process in terms of being able to help him be exonerated?

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, it's in the process. It's moving along now. It got slowed down, of course, with the advent of COVID. And we had, you know, the municipal archives and other institutions that were closed, which prohibited us from gathering, you know, the requisite material needed to bring this thing to closure.

But it does need to be expedited. As you say, he is 82 years old. And justice delayed is, in fact, justice denied.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, I think a lot of people would agree with you on that. Can you discuss how it is that your documentary implicated, you know, William Bradley as the real assassin?

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, I think it's very telling and it speaks volumes that over one year later, there is no one-- there's no one-- who has refuted the case that we make. This man has a family. He has children. He has an entire community. And it's pretty much now established history that he was the alleged shotgun assassin of Malcolm X.

PHIL BERTELSEN: What our documentary was able to do was uncover some FBI documents that took it a little bit beyond conjecture and into the realm of possibility. Those documents, our understanding is, are now in the hands of the Manhattan DA's office in an unredacted form. But, you know, the degree to which we are privy to the efforts of that case is very limited. And we really have no relationship to the ongoing case whatsoever.

The material that we put into our series presumably is being used to further their understanding of the matter but, we have no relationship with either the Innocence Project or the Manhattan DA's office.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Now, and your documentary did raise questions about the-- that really seemed to jive with what Woods apparently admitted in this letter that there were questions about that security that night at the Audubon Ballroom.

PHIL BERTELSEN: Yeah. I'll start by saying that, you know, one thing it does establish firmly is something that's long been known, which is that the New York Police Department had a Bureau of Special Services, which was an undercover operation that planted men like Ray Wood and, in Malcolm's case, Gene Roberts into civil rights organizations that were working on behalf of Black people and on behalf of justice to undermine those organizations and to make them vulnerable.

And to the degree to which Mr. Wood was able to do that, according to this letter, it stands in line with what we were able to share and expose with regard to Eugene Roberts, who was the rostrum guard in the Audubon Ballroom that day in 1965, close enough to give Malcolm mouth-to-mouth resuscitation afterwards.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: I want to ask both of you, do you have-- I would say you've done your part in shining a light on the events of that day. I mean, my first question is do you think this new information coming out sort of exonerates the Nation of Islam, as well?

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Our series showed incontrovertibly that there were three independent bodies or agencies or organizations that had a hand in the assassination of Malcolm X-- the New York City Police Department J. Edgar Hoover under the-- his notorious FBI, and the Nation of Islam, who were the triggerman.

There's been a vigorous campaign underway on the part of the Nation of Islam to try to exonerate themselves. I think this is quite futile, and I think the evidence that we produced is incontrovertible that they were the triggerman that carried out this horrific crime. And I don't think there's anything that anyone can produce that would overturn that verdict of history.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Abdur, I think you also-- and I'll come back to you, Mr. Bertelsen. There are all these questions, as well, about how that crime scene was handled, that it was grossly mishandled, which certainly raised questions about, you know, the police department's interest in actually solving the crime. Talk to me a little bit about that.

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, you know, that was indicated in our series, when we showed you just how reckless they handled the rostrum that Malcolm was standing behind that was bullet-ridden. They just flung it in the basement and left it there for close to 20 years. They had a dance at the Audubon Ballroom that night at 7 o'clock before the blood had even dried. It was absolutely appalling.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Mr. Bertelsen, I interrupted you.

PHIL BERTELSEN: That's all right. I wanted to say in response to your question about the Nation of Islam that, it-- you know, it also should be noted that much like Malcolm's organization of Afro-American unity, Martin Luther King's, you know, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Nation of Islam, too, was infiltrated by the FBI.

And, you know, vulnerable members were approached and in all likelihood, you know, made to do certain things that the FBI wanted them to do on their behalf. So, you know, to make a blanket statement that the Nation of Islam itself is culpable, I think, fails to recognize that they, too, as an organization working toward the uplift of Black people were made vulnerable by the infiltrators from J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO FBI.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Which was a common tactic--

PHIL BERTELSEN: Very common.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: --during that period of time in this country. Abdur, can I just a little bit, if you'll talk to me? I know that the alleged assassin spoke about his misdeeds to the family?

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Well, around 2015, I spoke to the family of one of the five assassins. And they readily admitted the role that their father played. I spoke to some of his children. one of the assassins, whose name I'm going to refrain, because they do, you know, have a private life, and I don't want to be intrusive and bring any, you know, undue attention on them.

But yes, I've-- in my research, I've had the opportunity to speak with family members of at least one of the assassins-- really, more than one, but one in particular that I found a very powerful. And it was related to me the burden of living with that reality that your father was one of the assassins of Malcolm X. It's really taken an emotional toll on that family.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And before I let you go, I'll ask each of you, after considering the documentary, the information that you all uncovered, this additional letter, which obviously, as you said, needs to be completely vetted, investigated, do you have a sense that we are going to finally get to the bottom line of what happened that day in the Audubon Ballroom and who was responsible?

PHIL BERTELSEN: Well, I'll give Abdur-Rahman the last word here and start by saying, I'm certainly encouraged by these recent events and the ongoing efforts of the Innocence Project, attorney David Shanies and Barry Scheck and the Manhattan DA's office. Their efforts will not go in vain, I suspect, as they continue to pursue the truth in this long, we feel, misproven case against Malcolm X's assassination.

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: And I would say that the more we become engaged and the more the public raises a hue and cry about this-- at the end of the day, most of these types of matters are political issues. We are dealing with elected officials, and, you know, we're dealing with the DA's office.

And, you know, the public has to demand more. And, you know, so much of it is political pressure. And so we're trying to-- with our series, we raised the consciousness and the visibility of this case, but the public has their responsibility, as well, to demand answers and to demand transparency.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You are exactly right. Phil Bertelsen, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, thank you both for being with us again this afternoon. Great work. I think there are--

PHIL BERTELSEN: Thank you, Sandra.

- --a lot of people that feel like you have done just an invaluable service in your hard work and tenacious investigation here.


PHIL BERTELSEN: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

ABDUR-RAHMAN MUHAMMAD: Thank you so much.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Up next, five generations of African American history on the North Shore of Long Island. Stay with us.

As we continue to mark Black History Month, the story of one African American family whose contributions over five generations helped shape the very fabric of Oyster Bay, New York-- a Hamlet on the North Shore of Long Island. And as you learn more about the life of David Carll, a free Black man in the 19th century, you may recognize some of his descendants today.


IRIS WILLIAMS: It was a wonderful childhood. I had the opportunity to spend every day with my first cousins. We all just gathered here and had a good time, but I didn't realize the significance of this property, this house, and David Carll until I became an adult. My name is Iris Williams. I was born and raised in Oyster Bay, New York. And my great-great-grandfather is David Carll. David Carll was a visionary. Everything that he did was to protect his family, to perpetuate his family.

VANESSA WILLIAMS: He was my great-great-grandfather, born a free man right outside of Cold Springs, New York, and ended up residing in Oyster Bay.

DENISE EVANS-SHEPPARD: Most people that come to Oyster Bay feel that it's a rich, affluent town, but they don't think people of color live here. And in 1750, you had 17% of African Americans in this community.

VANESSA WILLIAMS: Long Island was kind of split into two territories, one occupied by the English and one occupied by the Dutch. And Oyster Bay was this little sliver where they were halved.

DENISE EVANS-SHEPPARD: There were enslaved people here. There were free people here. David Carll had his own shipping business where he transported freight to Connecticut and Westchester County.

VANESSA WILLIAMS: He married a woman from Wales who was disowned by her family because she married a man of color. The challenge of marrying somebody who isn't the same skin color as you, it took a lot of bravery.

FRANCIS CARL: And he had the fortitude to raise nine children in Oyster Bay, in an interracial marriage, and he persevered.

VANESSA WILLIAMS: David Carll was one of the first African Americans to sign up to fight in the Civil War for the North.

DENISE EVANS-SHEPPARD: And he didn't have to enlist, but he did because he wanted to see others feeling the same sort of freedoms that he had. He knew people in this town that were enslaved. When it's time for him to come home from the Civil War, $300 was given as a bounty for any person that enlisted. So David Carll purchased the property. That's when Carll Hill was built.

IRIS WILLIAMS: He did something very significant in terms of purchasing this property in Oyster Bay, a primarily white town. And it became known as Carll's Hill because we had most of the property on top of the hill.

DENISE EVANS-SHEPPARD: My mom lived in the house. My mom's father lived in the house. His father was born and raised in the house, so we're talking about five generations.

VANESSA WILLIAMS: I spent a lot of time up on the hill. There was always music, and we would always dance.

IRIS WILLIAMS: We always had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Everyone gathered here.

DENISE EVANS-SHEPPARD: And when people hear these stories, they can't believe that we've been on that same property since 1865.

FRANCIS CARL: The best stories that have ever been told are stories about how people lived. And we were able to actually get David Carll's pension file, which basically was a written book about his experience in the Civil War. One of the biggest surprises in his pension filing was a photograph of him. As much as my grandfather talked about David Carll, we had no idea what he looked like.

But it was so old, and it was so discolored, that there was no image on the actual photo. It was just black. And I said, well, let me see if I can take a photo of this tintype picture. And so a flash flashed onto the tintype. It actually pulled out the image, and I actually had an image of this man that my family has been talking about for over 150 years.

VANESSA WILLIAMS: As Black people in the United States, we don't have the opportunity many times to see photos of us in the 1800s that we can say, those are our family members. And to see him in a uniform with the American flag made me really feel proud to be an American.

- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: In a country where the racial divide seems as ingrained as ever, Black History Month provides an opportunity for African Americans to not only celebrate their own achievements, but to teach others to do so. We sat down recently for a talk with Dr. Komozi Woodard. He teaches African Studies at Sarah Lawrence College.

One of the reasons that we really wanted to talk to you about this is obviously because we consider you an expert on this subject matter. We are talking about Black History Month. There are some people that will say that, well, Black History Month? I think there should just be American history. And that's a little bit divisive. Your response to that?

KOMOZI WOODARD: Well, I think that African American history is a very important window into American history. And I don't think we'll understand American history until we understand the African American experience. African American workers built the foundations of the Western society in the New World. So I think we would be disoriented if we didn't understand African American history.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: So are we oriented now? Because that really seems to be the state in America, that we don't have-- it doesn't seem like the country at large has a handle on Black history, on African American history. Is that what part of the issue is here?

KOMOZI WOODARD: Well, sadly, some people understand it far too well. You had a Senator who got up there and said that the reason they were stopping the recognition of Biden being the President of the United States was because he wanted us to go back to the 1876 Compromise, the gentlemen's agreement that ended reconstruction, that savage civil rights and launched Jim Crow.

So if that's the plan, I think the ordinary people need to understand the history a lot better. But some of the people who are orchestrating the sedition right now know that history pretty well, and we need to understand the clues that they're laying out there.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: It almost sounds like-- so it's in a sense willful ignorance that can be used to advantage?

KOMOZI WOODARD: Well, the way the Senator phrased it, it was nice-nasty. Right?


KOMOZI WOODARD: He made it sound like it was a nice thing in 1876. And for African Americans and many white people, it was the launching of an era of terror, lynching, and bloodthirsty violence. So we need to get to the bottom of it. So if they're going to talk about 1876, it is pretty important to understand how that was.

Even, you know, we know about the massacres, the Hamburg massacre in South Carolina that happened around 1876, but a lot of people don't know about the Jim Crow North, when the principal of the Philadelphia Black high school was assassinated on Election Day in 1876.

So these-- you know, WEB DuBois wrote a wonderful book that we all use called "Black Reconstruction," where he talks about the whole history of America and specifically what happened with the retreat from reconstruction. It stopped being a academic matter once this violence has been introduced. It's really an essential thing that every American needs to understand this.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Now, obviously, you know, Black History Month, Black people are paying attention. Why is it important that Black History Month-- not the month, but Black History-- be recognized not just by African Americans, not just by Black people in the country, but white people need to know that history as well?

KOMOZI WOODARD: Well, this is our history. This is the world that we made together, OK? So most of my students are white students. And they want to know-- they want to understand why they walk the way they walk, why they talk the way they talk, why they love the music that they love, why they dance the way they dance. So it's-- I think every American needs to-- is at least entitled to the opportunity to understand the great endowment that-- the way DuBois phrased it in one book was the African American gift to America.

So we've given these gifts to America, and we've laid the foundation, and everyone has been benefiting from it. So we need to understand that a bit better. Many of the things that we think of as strictly Western culture actually have African American roots.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: How receptive are your students to learning that history? And do you find, by and large, that many of them are surprised because they've gotten into college, and they are ignorant about some of these things?

KOMOZI WOODARD: Yeah, that's a constant refrain that-- the point is that they regret the fact that they have to go to college to relearn American history. They are disturbed that they didn't learn it in high school, right? So there was-- so that's-- we go through a whole "rethinking of American history and world history" process.

So if you think about it, basic things like, why do we use Arabic numbers instead of numerals, instead of Roman numerals, right, all this had to do with the African intervention in Europe from 711 to 1492, even before the slave trade. And algebra, many of the things that we based Western civilization on have these Eastern and African roots. So to be an intelligent person, you kind of need to know these things, right?

Even when we do public policy, there's a historical narrative behind public policy. Why are people poor, right? So when I was a kid, we were children of people who came through the New Deal. And they would say-- the white kid would say, well, my parents made it. How come your parents didn't make it?

And you were wondering, hey, my father's working hard, my mother is working hard. How come-- and now we realize that there was a New Deal for white America, and there was a raw deal for Black America. And that's a very important thing to understand. So even in public policy, we have to understand those things so that we can talk facts, rather than racial mythology.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Dr. Komozi Woodard, it is always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for sitting down with us today.

KOMOZI WOODARD: Thanks for having me.

- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Research shows that race matters when it comes to the environment. Our next guest is fighting for environmental justice from Flint, Michigan, to the Bahamas and abroad. Joining us today to tell us more is Gloria Reuben, actress turned activist and now the president of one of the most influential environmental nonprofits in the country, Waterkeeper Alliance. Gloria Reuben, it is so nice to meet you. And thank you for being with us this afternoon.

GLORIA REUBEN: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Look, of course, the viewers are going to ask the question, she was-- I saw her on TV every day. Now she's in charge of this organization? Talk to me about that. Why is this something that's so important for you to take on?

GLORIA REUBEN: Yes. Well, I haven't given up one for the other. Let's just clarify that, for sure. And frankly, you know, even from my days on "ER," after I left "ER," I became an advocate and, really, an activist. And I was out there talking about HIV/AIDS and Black America. So there's always been this desire in me to, you know, use a platform that I can in order to try to make a difference, brought in awareness, and also, you know, bring the truth to light of certain issues to the American public.

Now Waterkeeper Alliance-- it's just singular. Waterkeeper Alliance--


GLORIA REUBEN: --is a global network. We have 350 registered waterkeepers around the globe-- six continents; Asia, Africa, you know, we're in Australia, we're in the Americas, et cetera. And I became introduced to Waterkeeper Alliance about 15 years ago, when I went to one of the first events for them, which was, you know, a celebrity ski event. And I heard the president of Waterkeeper Alliance at the time talk about what was going on here in this country, in the United States, with water.

And one of the things in particular that he mentioned that really struck me to the core in a multitude of ways was about mountaintop removal coal mining that was happening in West Virginia and has continued to happen, where they literally blast off the tops of the mountains to get to the coal. And they dump all of this debris, including, you know, all of this topsoil that has taken thousands upon thousands-- you know, I don't even know how long; like a long time.

And they just dump it into the waterways there, but there are hundreds of miles of waterways that were completely polluted. The communities could not drink the water. They had to get water shipped in. And this was from 15 years ago. And I remember thinking, wait a minute. Like it sounded like a different country. It didn't sound like what was going on here in the United States.

I got on the board of trustees. I was on the board of trustees for Waterkeeper Alliance for three years. In 2010, I decided to kind of expand my environmental activism with a couple of other groups and then circle back to Waterkeeper Alliance.

And the timing couldn't be better because of those issues that still happen today with fossil fuel industries and, again, around the globe; things that are happening in this country-- Flint, Michigan-- that you think would not-- about drinking water. The most primal, most important thing is clean water. There's nothing else.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: As your role, do you feel like people-- are they getting it? I mean, I think that for a lot of people, listening to the story of Flint, Michigan, sort of opened their eyes and made them start to think about the water they were drinking and perhaps maybe the responsibility of quote, unquote, "the officials," but not so much about personal responsibility. Do you have the feeling that people-- more people are actually starting to listen and get it?

GLORIA REUBEN: Well, I think that that is very much the case for a couple of reasons, because it is affecting more people. It's almost like climate change is affecting the waters in way-- water in ways that we cannot avoid anymore. Flint, Michigan, again, was something so atrocious.

And again, you know, we just don't think that things can happen like that in this country, when it very much does and, indeed, about the government, about, you know, at the same time, you know, personal not just responsibility, but personal activism-- actually standing up to the polluters, whether they be a government or an industry, and saying, we can't drink our water anymore.

We are getting polluted. Our levels of toxic Mercury and lead, et cetera, are going through the roof because our water is tainted. Now, again, this is a global thing. But, yes, people are waking up to the fact that it's happening in our communities and with our neighbors and predominantly for neighborhoods and communities that are low income and are of color, Indigenous communities, Black communities, Latino.



SANDRA BOOKMAN: You raised two questions, but let me ask you first. If you have to explain to people today, you know, where we stand in terms of our water, I think a lot of people would say, well, look, water is forever, right? So, you know, how would you describe the situation with our waterways? Let's just focus on this country, for example.

GLORIA REUBEN: OK, yes. Well, I think that we-- here's what's been going on with our waterways. And again, there's no denying what's happening. We're either getting way too much water, so we're getting flooding and hurricanes that are going out of-- too many, like, every year. We're getting more and more flooding and all of these severe weather events. It's not an event. The Oscars are an event. These are like [AUDIO OUT].

So we're getting either too much water or not enough water. Our rivers are drying up. The--

SANDRA BOOKMAN: These extremes.

GLORIA REUBEN: --are-- exactly. So, you know, there is-- in a way, I know that it can be-- I know sometimes even, you know, the more that I find out about what's going on in this country, for sure, and around the globe-- but it can seem a little bit overwhelming. Yet at the same time, we can use an example like Flint, Michigan, or waterkeepers of North Carolina that stand up to factory farmers who dump the animal waste in unlined ponds. You can't even go outside and smell the air, let alone drink the water.

But, you know, these community activists that actually step up, prove their point, bring the polluters to justice, and try to-- and at least take it one-- you know, in our own backyard, right, like, take care of what's going on in our communities. That's key. And that's what each waterkeeper does. It's, like, literally in their communities, you know, with science and with litigation and with advocacy, bring polluters to justice and battle these climate issues.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And you touched on it, obviously, when you talk about Flint, Michigan. You've got to look at the bigger issue of environmental justice. Why is it-- you know, I remember doing a story on this, honestly, 25 years ago, talking about environmental justice and trying to explain to my boss at the time what it was, you know, why communities of color felt like they had become the dumping grounds for a lot of places. Talk to me about why that's an important issue that is-- seems to be getting more attention.

GLORIA REUBEN: Well, I think-- 25 years ago, my gosh. I can't-- you know, this has been a long haul. I mean, but things are coming to the head now, right? Economic injustice, environmental injustice, racial injustice-- like it's all coming to a head. And when it comes to communities, again, predominantly communities of color or poverty, economic injustices-- do you know what I mean? No matter what you're called.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, poor people are the same.

GLORIA REUBEN: And you said it-- yeah, poor people [INAUDIBLE]. That's exactly right. You said it right. You said, like, they were being dumped on and literally, you know, from these industries, predominantly because in poor communities, they do not have or they may not have-- for the most part, they don't-- either the economics or the time, because they're busy working three jobs to make ends meet or just the-- you know, the connections to be able to stand up to these industries.

Those that live in wealthier communities have that money, have the connections, have the-- you know? So that's-- again, that's another thing that is so, you know, vital and exciting about what waterkeepers do in all communities is that, you know, bringing that kind of justice to those that can't fight for themselves. Waterkeepers are clean water warriors for their communities. That's exactly who we are.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Can I ask you, you know, we-- a lot of us have turned to bottled water in the last-- oh, god, in the last decade, couple of decades. And has that become part of the problem, too?

GLORIA REUBEN: No question about it. I mean, we-- and then there have been changes that are happening on that front, as well. The single-use plastic bottles are trying to be decimated because we have an island of plastic in the middle of the Pacific. Walk along any shoreline anywhere, and what do you see?

It's kind of obscene, right? So that is beginning to change, you know, and it will take some time. But also, there's this thing about, you know, there's a reason why companies want to privatize water, because they know it's going to be a rare resource.


GLORIA REUBEN: Think about that.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And it's a way to make money instead of all of us having access to the cleanest water--

GLORIA REUBEN: That's exactly right.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: --available.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Talk to me a little bit before I let you go about what we can do if you're interested in getting involved with Waterkeeper, what you need to do and the part that we can all play in this effort.

GLORIA REUBEN: Exactly. Well, it's really simple, and it's very effective. You can find out everything there is to know about what we do, where we are, how we do it. You can put in your own zip code and find your local waterkeeper. So you can actually, you know, support the waterkeeper who is closest to you that's keeping your waterways clean. You can also find out how to become a waterkeeper if you literally want to take, you know, that tangible action in your community.

So it's all there on that website, It's really kind of amazing. And the more that I read and learn about and every single regional call we have around the world-- I'm getting on these regional calls, these Zoom calls-- I'm seeing all of our waterkeepers, you know, from India and Africa and China and Jordan and Israel. And I mean, it's amazing. So is where it all happens.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: So now we're going to switch to your other job.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Talk to us a little bit about some of the projects that you're working on now.

GLORIA REUBEN: Yes. Well, we just finished filming-- thank you, God-- you know, safely--


GLORIA REUBEN: Yes, the second season of Showtime's "City on a Hill," starring Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge. So that-- our new season will start premiering on March 28 at 10:00 PM on Showtime. So that's really exciting. And also, I am working on my second nonfiction book, a full autobiography. I've written the first nonfiction book, and so I'm working on my second, as well.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You are a busy, busy, busy lady.

GLORIA REUBEN: I'm a busy gal. Yes, I--

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, even during a pandemic.

GLORIA REUBEN: I know. Maybe that's why. It's helping me not go crazy.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, that's a great thing. I think you're right. We're all blessed to have that work right now.

GLORIA REUBEN: That's for sure.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: What a pleasure talking with you. Best of luck. And, hopefully, we will see you soon.

GLORIA REUBEN: I look forward to it.


- "Here and now" will be right back.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Toddlewood Engineers of Equality is one Long Island photographer's very creative way of not only celebrating the legacy of social justice activists and leaders, but also teaching African American history to the next generation. She transforms kids into real-life African American heroes. Joining us today is photographer and author Tricia Messeroux. So nice to meet you.

TRICIA MESSEROUX: Thank you for having me.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, it is certainly our pleasure. And you are a fabulous photographer.

TRICIA MESSEROUX: Aw, thank you.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Tell me, what was the idea behind Toddlewood as a concept-- itself as a concept.

TRICIA MESSEROUX: Right, as an overall concept?


TRICIA MESSEROUX: So many years ago, I decided to-- well, somebody came to me, and they told me my then three-year-old daughter looked like Diana Ross. And I'm the crazy mom that decided to dress her up like Diana Ross and take some pictures.

The idea sparked. And I really never thought it was going to be this big, but I started recreating kids to look like Hollywood royalty originally, you know, for the red carpet Golden Globes, Grammys, and Oscars, and then morphed it into role models and took another pivot to the social justice place.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. And I think one of the reasons that it took off is because your photographs are absolutely stunning.

TRICIA MESSEROUX: Aw, thank you.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Absolutely stunning. So this latest book, "Toddlewood Engineers of Equality Project"--


SANDRA BOOKMAN: --why do you think this has grabbed people so much? And what do you love about this concept?

TRICIA MESSEROUX: So I think it was the beauty of it, which is different from the red carpet. The red carpet was just very entertaining, you know, and, you know, pop culture and all that great stuff. But the beauty about this particular project is it's a needed piece of artwork, I think, you know? And I think it's a bigger conversation than just the photographs. So I'm loving the fact that it is about the photographs.

And the book has literature in it, too, because it gives the bios of all of these activists, which is really important. But, you know, growing up in Boston and going to all-white schools, I didn't have the privilege of learning half of the people that are in this book, you know? And even today, Black history, the most people really get, the most kids really get an understanding of Black History is Dr. Martin Luther King and he had a dream.


TRICIA MESSEROUX: You know? So it's really taken it back to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, you know, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, I mean, all these people that really fought for racial equality. So--

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And one of the things I love about your story-- I'm sorry to interrupt you-- is that, you know, this work you do with the children, I understand that you even travel to get the best, most authentic photo possible.

TRICIA MESSEROUX: Oh, absolutely. And I have, like, the best story. I mean, and the beautiful thing is-- and I have to always say this-- is that a lot of the kids travel to me.

And this is during a pandemic, so everyone's really careful, but they travel to me. And I have this little boy, who was my Nelson Mandela from Texas, travel, fly to the photo shoot for a three-hour photo shoot, got back on a plane the same day--


TRICIA MESSEROUX: --and flew back home so he didn't have to quarantine and all that stuff. But that's how-- the lengths that some of these people and some of the moms and kids are going through to be a part of this.


TRICIA MESSEROUX: As far as my most iconic moment, what you were referring to, I was traveling-- my travel-- Alabama. We got--


TRICIA MESSEROUX: --a chance to travel-- exactly. We got a chance to go to Selma and shoot mini John Lewis.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You went right to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

TRICIA MESSEROUX: It was the most amazing experience ever. And I was really hoping that the mom was going to be for it, so that would have been fantastic. And she was all for it. And the little boy looks like John Lewis. Being on that bridge and knowing what happened on that bridge, it just gave me chills.

So it isn't a tourist site right now, but, you know, we were able to get the shot, which is great. And we just were able to reflect.



SANDRA BOOKMAN: You have just done a beautiful job, and we love this project. And we want everybody to sit tight for a second. We're going to be right back with some of the young people who have taken on these iconic roles. So stay with us.


- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Joining us now are some of the youngsters who are featured in this book, "Toddlewood Engineers of Equality." Thank you guys so much for being with us this afternoon. I am here with Jonathan Ridore, Hudson Hart, and Nia Thompson.

And you know what, Jonathan? I'm going to start with you, since I said your name first. You were Representative John Lewis. Talk to me about that experience. You traveled to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

- Yes, I did. It was a very interesting experience, because it just felt inspiring to, like, be on the bridge that John Lewis and Martin Luther King marched on. Because I know that if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here. So I-- what I'm trying to say is that it was a very good experience and an interesting experience.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And going to the-- I know you've heard the story of John Lewis and what happened on the bridge that day. Did it make you sort of have a better understanding of why he is so important in American history?

JONATHAN RIDORE: Yes, it did. It opened my mind about, like, other stuff that he did besides, like, civil rights. I learned that he had activised for voting rights, too.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. Yep, he was fighting the fight for a long time, a very long time. And Hudson, you, Al Sharpton. And, of course, you knew who Al Sharpton was before you took on this role, right?

HUDSON HART: Yes, I did.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And what did it mean to you to be representing someone that you actually still see and, you know, talking about issues. You can see him on TV. Talk to me about your experience.

HUDSON HART: Well, as a young Black boy, it felt really good to portray someone who, like, you know, fought for Black kids and Black families. On behalf of me and other Black kids, you know, I know-- it was good portraying somebody I know who can help me.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Mm-hmm. And did you-- is this someone that you knew about and already admired before you decided that-- you know, found out that you were going to be portraying him in this project?

HUDSON HART: I didn't know much about him before I portrayed him. So it was pretty good. It was a nice experience.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. And it was nice to learn a little bit of American history and have that personal connection with it, huh?

HUDSON HART: Yes, it was pretty awesome.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Now Miss Nia Thompson, you portrayed, I think-- I don't know if there's a woman alive who this woman is not one of their heroes. I know she's a hero for me. Harriet Tubman. Tell me about Harriet Tubman and what it meant to you to be able to portray her.

NIA THOMPSON: Harriet Tubman was a dominant, selfless female warrior who liberated her people. A lot of people think that white men are the only heroes, but Harriet Tubman showed me that God created all of us to be heroes. That is why I made an episode about Harriet Tubman on my YouTube show called "Nia's Black Girl Magic." And I have pictures of her all around my house.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You do? So she's a hero to you, too? Were there some things that you learned about Harriet Tubman that you didn't know before you portrayed her?

NIA THOMPSON: I mean, basically, I didn't really know-- I mean, that's a good question. And I mean, I know a lot-- I knew a lot about Harriet Tubman before I actually knew I was going to be portraying her. But, I mean, it's kind of hard to say that I didn't really learn a lot about Harriet Tubman before. I actually got the role to portray Harriet Tubman. But I would say I kind of learned a bit more, but I wouldn't really remember which.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And now I think what happens is no matter how old you get and how far you go, you'll probably always have a connection with her and what she accomplished.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yes? OK. And before I let you go, I want to ask you another quick question, Miss Photographer. When you listen to them, Tricia, talk about their experiences and these civil rights heroes, is this what you intended?

TRICIA MESSEROUX: Absolutely. It's exactly what I intended. I put the onus first on the parents. So I said, make sure, when your child comes to my studio, they're not coming to do another photo shoot. So they need to know who they're portraying, and they did their homework.

So the kids came to the studio saying, let me tell you about Booker T. Washington, and let me tell you about so-and-so, and let me tell you about-- so they came in there knowing and giving quotes. Like even these children have a quote for each and every person that they portrayed. And it's been a beautiful thing.

And what I've been doing for the past three weeks is schools all over the nation have been reaching out to me, principals and teachers. And I've actually been having Black history classes. I've never taught a day in my life. I'm not an educator.

But I'm actually going through the activists that are in this book to students, to young minds, so that they get to see how kids would transform to look like these activists and how they need to pay homage because they are allowed to sit in the front of the bus, for example.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, exactly.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Can I ask you, where can we find the book?

TRICIA MESSEROUX: Absolutely. So you can find the book on my website. So it's So it's T-O-D-D-L-E-W-O-O-D-dot-com. And I did that purposely because I sign each book and write a little something for each person that purchases my book.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: OK. It is such a pleasure to meet all of you. Tricia, Jonathan, Hudson, Nia, you guys are rock stars in your own right, and it's wonderful to see you portray these African American heroes. Best of luck to all of you.

NIA THOMPSON: Thank you so much.

JONATHAN RIDORE: Thank you, likewise.

HUDSON HART: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

TRICIA MESSEROUX: We appreciate it.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: My pleasure. And thank you for joining us on "Here and Now." If you missed any portion of today's show, you can watch at If you'd like to comment or share your story, email us at ABC7NY or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I'm Sandra Bookman. Enjoy the rest of your day.