“Hello, Mr. Chairman,” was the greeting of the resonant voice on the phone. “Are you available at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday?”
The caller was J.D. Livingston, the producer for Imhotep Gary Byrd’s radio shows. After the arrangement was completed, invariably, Livingston would close with: “Thank you for your kindness.”
People familiar with this exchange will miss that voice and the man who was such a resourceful component in the media world, vital to the communication network of the activist community.
Livingston joined the ancestors last Friday at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.
“By the time I arrived at the hospital, J.D. was gone,” said Byrd, who stayed around the hospital for hours, waiting to get a full account of what happened to his loyal and devoted friend and colleague. “Brother Livingston died from advanced complications of colorectal cancer,” Byrd lamented.
Meanwhile, words of praise and condolences flooded the airwaves, where Livingston spent so much of his productive time.
“J.D. was a faithful supporter and contributor to the National Action Network and a regular at the House of Justice for over 15 years,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the organization. “He was the drumbeat that kept the movement informed and at the ready. We will miss his presence, fellowship and dedication.”
Communicator and activist Bob Law said he was stunned when he heard the news because over the years, they were often fighting against the same social and political inequities. “He was an unwaveringly consistent supporter of the things we were doing on the air,” he said in a recent phone interview. “And this was done at little or no pay. He was seriously committed to our struggle for self-determination.”
“I worked with J.D. since the late 1990s when he would call me up every weekday—and weekends too—to do the ‘Gary Byrd Experience’ show,” recalled Amsterdam News Editor Nayaba Arinde. “We would talk about the stories I had covered in the Daily Challenge, Final Call and later the Amsterdam News. He remained committed and stayed abreast of all the community issues, big or small. He was one of those quiet warriors, a behind-the-scenes social soldier who kept the supplies and information going to the front line. We will miss this dedicated man who was a key component to our movement. Rest in perfect peace, Joseph Dennis.”
A native of Guyana, Livingston told Josh Barker of the AmNews that he came to the U.S. in 1970, eventually obtaining a scholarship to Texas A&M University, where he earned a degree in broadcast communications. He also earned a degree in photography during his stay in London. But it was specifically in Harlem and Brooklyn—and generally anywhere listeners and viewers had access to a radio or the Internet—that Livingston thrived, and nowhere was he more significantly involved than when he was working in concert with Byrd.
“J.D. and I met back in 1990-1991 when he was working with the Owens Communications publicity firm,” Byrd recounted. “I was doing ‘The GBE Live at the Apollo Show,’ and J.D. was assigned to my account. Joyce Owens, the company’s founder and who is my God sister, considered me a ‘difficult’ client, and I was, and because of J.D.’s admiration of my work and his work ethic, she assigned him to me.
“We were right in sync from the beginning, and later when our then producer Monifa White moved on, J.D. volunteered to work with the ‘GBE’, by that time back in the studio as a daily broadcast on 1190AM WLIB.
“We became more than close,” Byrd continued. “We became family, realizing we were ‘cousins’ over the course of those 18 years in the struggles of our community locally, nationally and internationally, forging a style based on being ‘24/7 No Limit Soldiers’ on the battlefield of ‘The Global Black Experience.’”
Byrd said he taught and trained Livingston in the fundamentals of radio broadcasting and in the special “flow” of advanced programming represented by the “GBE” concept, and “he got it.”
The rest of that story is known by thousands of folks who tuned into those shows. “We developed a system and language of our own as executive producer and producer for handling issues, from politics, to housing, to health, culture, education and justice,” said Byrd.
Whether it was their astrological conjunction as Pisceans or “brothers from different mothers,” they complemented each other from the beginning to the end.
“When J.D. became crisis manager at the National Action Network, it accelerated our on-the-air work to an even greater level. J.D. developed a natural love for our people into a determination to be of service that was unparalleled,” said Byrd.
“In the last year of his life, which he lived in my home, even with the health problems he was enduring, it was common for me to walk past his room and hear him after midnight giving someone advice on which attorneys to use or how to file a document, or who to contact to protect their rights,” Byrd recalled. “On top of it all, J.D. was a kind man, always thinking of the other person and always willing to sacrifice himself.
“Brother J.D. died on my birthday, and rather than think about it in a morbid way, I see it as a gift from God to him and to me, in that on my whatever birthdays I have remaining, I will also celebrate the life and memory of a dedicated soldier of the movement whose loyalty, dedication and commitment lives on in my heart forever. Perhaps one day when we are both gone, the history of Black radio will show producer extraordinaire J.D. Livingston died on March 14, the day Imhotep Gary Byrd was born. Clearly a message from the Most High on the brotherhood that united us … May he rest in peace for a job more than well done.”
As we go to press, funeral and memorial services are still in the planning stages.