Requiem for a friend, colleague, editor-in-chief & proponent of Caribbean Life

Arnold Thibou, Vinette K. Pryce and Kenton K. Kirby.
Arnold Thibou, Vinette K. Pryce and Kenton K. Kirby.
Courtesy Vinette K. Pryce

When St. Lucian Simone Gill vacated her position as the first editor of Caribbean Life, Kenton K. Kirby made it an easy transition for contributors to the trailblazing bi-weekly Caribbean publication.

On arrival he built on the reputation the diasporan publication had acquired by executing a well-mannered approach, personable appeal and knack for fairness to endear a cadre of freelancers to strive for excellence by reporting issues of interest to a grassroots Caribbean community.

KKK loved his native St. Vincent & Grenadines however, his professional commitment compelled that he present journalistic opinions that reflected the diversity of the Spanish, Dutch, French and other English-language Caribbean nations.

A primary initiative was to institute a policy of inclusiveness helmed by beat reporters ‘covering’ a cityscape encompassing news, sports, and entertainment.

That yours truly, Bahamian Charles Baillou and Kirby had been initiated to the New York media via shared internships at Trans-Urban News Service — an intense training program for potential Black reporters — tested the tutelage veteran writers Andy Cooper and Utrice Leid seeded.

Following graduation, KKK contributed articles to the informative alternative Black newspaper they created when they launched The City Sun, a rival publication to the reputed nationally acclaimed Amsterdam News.

KKK helped establish its emergence as the tabloid reputed for “speaking truth to power.”

Needless to say, we came became fast friends.

In addition to fielding challenging story leads, he ensured and secured my correspondences, brokered compensation on my behalf and made allowances to attend my annual social affairs — birthday parties at various settings — SOB’s, Soul Café, B.B. Kings, Il Campanello etc.

In order to familiarize freelancers with permanent staffers, KKK encouraged visits to the offices in Sheepshead Bay and with publisher/sales VP Arnold Thibou (with whom he worked for 11 years) annually collaborated to celebrate the Christmas holidays by hosting a year-end party replete with Caribbean foods and refreshments.

To his credit, KKK helped to boost the popularity of the newspaper resulting with a peak in circulation and advertising commanding weekly publications not just in the five boroughs and Long Island where a reported 1.5 million immigrants from the region reside but throughout the US where in Florida a red banner distinguished the identifiably-popular yellow streamer seen here.

Kenton K. Kirby, Vinette K. Pryce, reporter Peter Noel and Pryce's son Kahlil T. Goodwyn.
Kenton K. Kirby, Vinette K. Pryce, reporter Peter Noel and Pryce’s son, Kahlil T. Goodwyn. Courtesy Vinette K. Pryce

KKK was gratuitous in securing pages dedicated to the coverage of major Caribbean events — among them, Bob Marley’s 60th birthday anniversary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival in Jamaica, Creole World Festival in Dominica, Jazz Festivals in Aruba and St. Lucia, Caribbean Music Festival in Nassau, St. Kitts Music Festival, Domino Tournament in Kingston, Jamaica, inauguration of President Bertrand Aristide in Port au Prince, Haiti, destination openings in San Jose, Costa Rica, Grenada, Carriacou, Exuma, Trinidad & Tobago, and other locations in the region.

In addition, KKK enabled my reportage from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire when a coup raged there; Casa Blanca, Morocco, Harare, Zimbabwe, Cape Coast, Ghana, Lagos, Nigeria, Johannesburg, South Africa, London, England, Tokyo, Japan as well as other remote places.

In other words, KKK understood the need for a worldview and as editor-in-chief broadened the readership by informing diasporan readers about Black Life across the globe.

KKK committed to hosting political forums. Prior to local primaries and national elections, he supported a candidates’ day.

On one of these ventures I questioned an ambitious James E. Davis who sought a seat in the NY City Council. His responses seemed honest and poignant. It was no surprise that the newspaper endorsed his candidacy.

He won his campaign bid. Unfortunately, Davis was murdered in the very place he vowed to serve. The news was devastating to the community. KKK seemed personally saddened by the loss, afterwards he rallied to console the grieving family.

Perhaps, that’s why on the 19th anniversary of his brutal assassination his brother Jeffrey attended the home-going service for KKK.

He said he still recalls the “kindness” KKK showed.

Needless to say it was heartening to hear.

It should be said that his editorials revealed that KKK was not an apologist for any politician neither was he beholding to their agenda.

Most memorable for me was the compassion KKK exhibited when my father died. Like Gabriel, he played the trumpet at the funeral in 2008.

The funeral was held on a busy news day, however, KKK worked late the previous day in order to attend the morning rites even though he never met Ralph Herbert Pryce. He paid tribute as if they were life-long friends.

KKK told me afterwards how nervous he was looking out at WBLS radio personalities Ann Tripp and eulogist Gary Byrd, WLIB General Manager Janie Washington, Village Voice reporter Peter Noel, Sonia Rodney, the wife of reggae icon Burning Spear, WBAI producer Habte Selassie, Yvette Noel-Schure, publicist to Beyonce — then for Destinys Child – and other media specialists.

Community activist Jah Paul Haughton was also present at the funeral.

“I’ll never forget how he played that day,” Haughton said “For that and other reasons are why I had to come to Barone to pay respect.”

“I had to come because Kenton was a decent guy. He listened to this Rastaman.”

Ironically, on Sept. 24 another Rastafarian stepped forward to offer condolences to the family of KKK.

The grateful Caribbean immigrant displayed a copy of one of 10 articles he said KKK published to promote his recording career.

“Barrows, whenever you have a CD bring it to me, we will get the music out.”

In a brief explanation of his alliance with the newsman, Barrows summed up the benevolence KKK is acclaimed.

KKK’s biggest honor was nine days after his 77th birthday anniversary when a full house showed up to pay respects to his legacy. A diverse crowd attended the Barone Funeral Hall celebration at Ave. D.

Vincentians he served with as a police officer, those he shared his passion for playing the trumpet and friends who wanted to express condolences to his family.

Trevor Hepburn lightened up the occasion playing a tenor pan.

“He was my teacher,” the steel pan specialist said.

In tribute he offered a sweet rendition of the hymn “Abide With Me” that earned him a passing grade for delivering Pan in A minor.

A procession of testimonials included that of Vincy’s Consul General Rondy McIntosh who described KKK as a “nation builder,” “an influencer” and “kind.”

A video message from Kirby’s granddaughter explained the love he regularly imparted to her and others. With grace KKK’s daughter Kamla Millwood eulogized her father’s farewell with an address, which seemed to comfort mourners.

KKK survived the acquisition with News Corporation but after his departure following Community News Group’s acquisition of the company, he was listed in the masthead as editor emeritus and up until recently in Schneps Media.

Although his name will no longer occupy the space, Patrick Buddington, the newly-installed publisher paid tribute to the Caribbean Lifer. In a brief but significant message he expressed condolences from the Caribbean/New York newspaper KKK will be most remembered.

As for this columnist, KKK represented one of the best scribes I probably will ever know. I admired and appreciate the friend, colleague, editor-in-chief and proponent of Caribbean Life.

I was privileged to know and associate with — Kenton Kingsley Kirby.

Thanks for the memories.

Catch You On The Inside!

More from Around NYC