By Greg Schaber
It’s 4:00 a.m., a crisp October morning on New York’s Upper West Side. Silence hangs thick in the air, punctuated only by the occasional wail of sirens rising up from the streets below. In his 16th-floor apartment, Russell Goings Jr. has been writing for an hour. Clad in a gray ball cap, gray T-shirt and black shorts, he sits in a small pool of light at his writing table, his 6-foot-plus, 255-pound frame ensconced in a plain oak kitchen chair, his pen moving silently over a sheet of paper. He was up late last night watching “Martin Scorcese Presents: The Blues,” and his allergies are giving him a little trouble. He sniffles as he roughs out verses inspired by the series, part of a larger piece with the working title “I Have Known."
I have known the inward and the outwardness of the blues ...
I have known the different colors of the blues.
I have known the shape of the blues.
I have known the arch of a man’s foot that pats the blues.
I have known the blues that filled the cathedral of a man’s mouth. ...
From the shadowy walls outside the sphere of light, works by renowned black artists Romare Beardon and Jacob Lawrence stand watch, providing a ready flow of inspiration. On the table, a pile of reference books—The Elements of Style, World Poetry, The Poetry of Black America and The Poetry of the Blues—share space with a darkened computer screen. Just beyond, a large window looks out over rhythmic rows of streetlights, pulsing into the distance with an energy that finds its way into the words.
The 1959 graduate has always been an early riser, and today, as usual, he started working a little after 3:00 a.m. Behind him on the couch, four stacks of handwritten manuscripts sit in mute testimony to his passion and dedication, the same passion and dedication that have marked most of his life’s pursuits. Among the titles he can claim are professional football player, pioneering black stockbroker on Wall Street, founder of one of the first black-owned companies to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, key player in the founding of Essence magazine, first black chairman of the Studio Museum in Harlem, dealer and collector of African-American art, crusader for black empowerment, rallying force for alumni of the Jesuit honor society, Alpha Sigma Nu, and inner-city school volunteer.
And now there’s the writing. In 2001, he completed “The Children of Children Keep Coming,” an epic 309-page poem that draws on the traditions of West African griots to sing the history of blacks in the United States. It’s a fairly new passion, but one that has grasped his soul. At 71, an age when most are beginning to look backward, Goings is still focusing on the future, still searching for new ways to improve his life and the lives of those around him intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
“I try to enrich the moment,” he says. “That’s what I got from the Jesuits at Xavier. If you enrich the moment, you get the other stuff.”