In Conversation With…
DON LEMON, Journalist and CNN Anchor
‘…I spent my morning texting people regarding the Omarosa stuff, the N-word tapes,..’
A truth teller.
A man of color who happens to be gay.
I just want to tell the truth and inform the American people. That's my only agenda.
People say, "Oh my gosh, you’re just the same on television as off." I smile a lot more, tell more jokes in my personal life but there is very little difference between me on and off the air. More recently, one of the biggest issues that I have to deal with is protecting my spirit amidst the 24-hour news cycle and the current political climate. I've been trying to protect my spirit by not consuming so much news and media on the weekends. Limiting my consumption and limiting my interactions with people who only want to talk about politics. I spend more time with family and friends. I meditate; I work out; I go for runs or meet a friend for a hamburger in the middle of the day. It’s a learning process for me, honestly. In these particular times, I am working on doing a better job of creating balance for myself. We're going through a major transformation in this country. We have an administration unlike any we have ever seen, but in the end it's going to be okay. The people and the things that really matter most are family and loved ones.
My older sister, L’Tanya, died earlier this year and it was a defining moment for me. It just made completely concrete what is important and what's not. I now know how not to take anybody or any situation for granted. It’s still very raw for me. I don’t believe I was able to grieve my sister properly because I jumped right back into work because I felt like I needed a distraction, and I did.
“Careful what you ask for, pray for or wish for.”
Hosting CNN Tonight is a big responsibility to have two hours a night. I love what I do and I wouldn’t change it, but it is exhausting because it's relentless. It's 24 hours a day. News never stops.
I'm proud of every single night that we put on a great product and we pride ourselves in the diversity of our show. I’m proud of what we give a platform to in our show. I air stories that involve people of color and I'm not afraid to talk about those stories with just people of color. I give LGBTQ people a platform as well because they're not usually heard. I report on the stories of the forgotten people — the people who are fighting against police brutality or racial injustice or discrimination or bias or problems in the workplace — those are the folks that deserve to have a voice on the platform that I have. If I don't do it, who else will do it?
MY TEAM VILLAGE
Every day I rely on a whole host of people to have my back and you have to be able to trust folks. I had to get use to that. I remember when I first started I had a producer and she said, "Why don't you let anybody do anything for you?" I responded, “...because I can do it for myself.” She said, "You're gonna have to get use to people helping you, having assistants and personal producers." I use to do everything myself, but now I trust my producers. My producers have my back. They know my voice. Part of the job of being an anchor of a show is being able to rely on people who are professionals to do their job in order to put everything together to make it all look good.
“I get to speak for people who don't have a voice.”
That's the greatest benefit. All these perks of getting a seat in a restaurant or a concert, that's all well and good (and sometimes and a little embarrassing and uncomfortable). But I have a voice right now and many people feel voiceless. What I'm learning to do more and more is to step into my own voice and to speak for people who are don't have a platform or who are not often heard. Everything else is secondary.
I just really want to keep serving for good. And I'm in a really good space right now. I'm in a really great gig and I love my platform. I love what I do. I love the time that I'm on television. I love my team. I love my family and so I'm in a really great space right now. I just want to keep getting better and keep helping to serve the country and the world. That's it.
Oh, and become the first gay President of the United States.
10:00AM I woke up this morning 10-ish. My day starts with emails and texts with guests about ideas. Today, I spent my morning texting people regarding the Omarosa stuff, the N-word tapes, helping the bookers request people. I also sent notes to people who know Aretha Franklin telling them I would love to talk to them when it's an appropriate time if they're okay with that. Then I just start emailing back and forth with my team about what the show is going to be.
10:30AM Breakfast is usually a quick breakfast bar.
11:00AM I try to take my dog Boomer for a walk. He looks like a Portuguese Water Dog or a mini poodle but I don't know because he's a rescue. I've only had him about six or seven weeks. He's adorable. He’s all smiles — all you see is teeth.
12:00PM Lunch is a turkey sandwich. I saw someone with a McDonalds bag and I said to myself, "Oh my gosh that looks amazing." I love their french fries, but I didn’t do it. I went home to make myself a turkey and whole wheat sandwich. That's my glamorous life right there.
1:00PM - 3:00PM Some days I do radio like I’ll do a hit for Patty Jackson in Philadelphia and then other people will call me to be on their radio show. Sometimes I do talk show appearances on The Wendy Williams Show or The View or Late Night with Seth Meyers.
3:30PM I get dressed for the day may head to the studio early. I try to go into work in street clothes, change into my professional clothes. No day is the same, however. Yesterday, for example, we had meetings with ad sales. Other days, I’ll tape for other people’s shows for breaking news.
5:00PM I will meet with producers, guests and start putting that night’s show together more concretely. I may pre-tape segments with guests that we really want for the show but who cannot tape live. Then it’s nonstop after that.
12:00AM After the show, I usually come back in my office and I change. At the end of the day, I wipe the makeup off, I take the suit off, and then I go, "Okay, this is Don Lemon personal life."
1:00AM I don't get home until almost 1am and it's tough to go to bed right away. Usually I come home and watch a little late night TV, play with the dog, hang out with my boyfriend and then he goes to bed because he has to get up. I usually fall asleep on the couch and he'll come to get me when it's time to go to bed. I wake and start everything all over again.
1am for me is like 6pm for everyone else in the world. My days are fragmented and it's not like I go to work from nine-to-five. Every once in a while I'll go out for a drink or a late night snack with a colleague but those are few and far between. If I'm going go hang out, I have to get it all done on the weekends because I don't really have a social life during the week.
My north star is my Mother. In my life right now, it's me, and my boyfriend, and my dog. I'm happy to keep my circle small. I have mentors in my life people who I seek counsel from and one of those is Bishop Jakes. The other person whose writings keep me motivated is James Baldwin. I read so much James Baldwin, over and over. People walk through my house and they say, "I guess you like James Baldwin huh?" There are James Baldwin books everywhere. He was so ahead of his time. It’s unbelievable how applicable his work is even now. That's a testament to how powerful and how brilliant he was.
I love James Baldwin’s
My absolute favorite is The Fire Next Time. The letter to his nephew and story that follows are so powerful. It's just a lesson for everyone. I read it a couple of times every year and it's so motivating.
It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy peasant stock, men who picked cotton, dammed rivers, built railroads, and in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, "The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off." —James Baldwin, Letter to My Nephew
If my life were a soundtrack, it would start with TEDDY PENDAGRASS and it would end with ARETHA FRANKLIN.
BARACK OBAMA: No explanation needed.
TYLER PERRY: He's created a whole movie studio, a whole genre of movies. He's put people, movies and stories into the public arena that not many people have. To be able to achieve what he has, you can't help but to admire that. He's also a very kind, thoughtful person.
5 Things I Can’t Live Without
Brooks Brothers blazer
Jeans and a t-shirt: My favorite is a white t-shirt and blue jeans. Put that on, and I'm good.
Baseball cap: I have a million baseball caps. As a matter of fact I just got rid of about 40 of them. They're from old places of businesses or people who give them to me or New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves or I have NYPD hat. I've got all kinds of stuff from the Philadelphia Fire Department and I just cycle through them.
Tony Chachere's seasoning from Louisiana
Crawfish from Tony's Seafood in Louisiana
As told to Amy Elisa Jackson