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Remembering Tell Me More's Teshima Walker Izrael


Finally today, if you will allow me another word about our dear friend and colleague Teshima Walker. I know that my colleague Celeste Headlee, who was sitting in for me while I was away, had the sad task of delivering the news last week that Teshima, the executive producer of this program, left this life a few days earlier, after battling colon cancer for the better part of two years. But I thought it was appropriate as the host of this program and as a friend of Teshima's to say a few words myself.

And let me say that I recognize that it can be hard to sit through tributes to somebody you never met. It's like those speeches at the Oscars, where the winners are thanking people you never heard of, and you wish they'd just get back to the music numbers. But as somebody said - in a movie, no doubt - attention must be paid, especially to someone as vital to this enterprise as Teshima.

And even more to the point, if you've been listening to this program at all over the past six years we've been on the air, then you actually did know Teshima. At some point or another, if you heard one of her occasional essays or Responses To A Letter segment or a blog post, then you got to hear that delicious, deep voice; that delightful laugh; her hilarious expressions; her rigorous journalism infused by her incisive thought. But even more to the point, you knew Teshima because as much as anybody, she embodied what we as a show are trying to be. By that, I mean Teshima was specific and also universal.

She very much lived her own story, but also was unendingly interested, and looking for connection, to everybody else's story. For example, here's a clip from an essay she wrote in 2007, in response to a scene in Tyler Perry's movie "Why Did I Get Married?" That's where the character played by Jill Scott is demeaned by both a flight attendant and her on-screen husband for being large-sized, and for having trouble fitting into an airline seat. Here's what our girl Teshima had to say about that.


TESHIMA WALKER, BYLINE: Oh, it was too much. It wore me down. Michel, let me borrow your line right here - and can I just tell you that I'm a black woman with an extra-extra-large behind. And if I had a dollar for every time I saw a character in a movie where a fat, black woman was an emotional victim, the center of a hurtful fat joke, the prayerful matron of all thin women and children, I'd buy my own damn studio and write movies about real, everyday fat women.

I'd write about fat women that love food and lick their fingers after eating a piece of chicken. I'd have modest fat girls and juicy, fat vixens that wear tight, short skirts with 5-inch heels. I'd have fat, evil executives that shout at everyone to hell, and I'd have the lovable fat woman that had two men vying for her attention.

Now do I say all this to say that I, or other fat women, don't have moments when we feel sorry for ourselves? Have I considered diet pills? Yes. Hired a personal trainer? Yes. Do I consider any of the surgeries that would shrink my stomach and my buttocks? Sometimes, yes. But because this is my body and I love it, I've made some decisions. I want to be healthy. I will marry the man that loves extra-extra-large me, and the next time a movie director or writer struggles to create a smart, funny and fashionable fat girl, call a sister. I can help.

MARTIN: And she did all that. She did try to be healthy. She exercised and watched what she ate. She did marry a man who loved extra-extra-large her. And she did help - maybe not the movie world, but she helped us. She did push us, and everybody else around here, to try to ensure that all people are depicted in their complexity; and was not afraid to call anybody out, including me and herself, when we fell short. She pushed for hard facts and deep reporting. And most important, in my book, she pushed hard to find gifted people in places where other people did not, which is why some of the most powerful tributes you've seen pouring in about her are from people whose work she championed and mentored, who've gone on to make important contributions to this field and many others.

She wasn't perfect. She was still learning some things, as we all are. But she was - to use one of her favorite expressions - juicy, and she did not play no games. What I would not give to hear her say "giiirrrl" one more time. You can say it, too, whether you are a big. black girl with tiny braids or not. The next time you need some inspiration, some strength to give yourself a hug, try it on for size - "giiirrrl." Teshima would love it.

And that's our program for today. You've been listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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