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Shark Spotlight: LIU alum Curtis Stephen Talks Career, New Book


Curtis Stephen back in his old classroom at LIU. (Photo: Elizabeth Graham)

After 17 years of reporting from New York and all over the world, journalist Curtis Stephen will release his first book, “Chief Rocker,” next year, a nonfiction biography about the life of the late New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker.

The book stays true to Stephen’s passion and roots, as it holds the memories of the time when the Black music movement came to New York; disco was also happening at the time when he was born.

“Frankie Crocker helped grow the first black radio station to be created in New York, WBLS, so this book is about him and his life, but also this book is about music and New York,” said Stephen, who went from being a journalism student to becoming a journalist with a great record and plenty of experience — and now the writer of his first book.

“I was sitting in that corner of the classroom and now I'm here, writing my first book,” he said.

Listening to Stephen is to hear a story full of perseverance and inspiration.

He knew he wanted to be a journalist when he was just 12 years old because of the daily routine of watching cable news.

“In journalism, you do not know what is going to happen the next day and that is funny,” said Stephen.

He enjoyed watching how journalists went around telling stories. However, being involved in his high school’s newspaper also grew his love for journalism.

“Everything starts in my high school’s newspaper, but also I remember that a film was happening in my high school, and to my surprise, they took us to be in the film,” said Stephen.

In high school, Stephen also received the support of his teachers to participate in an 8-week course from the New York Association of Black Journalists (NYABJ) that happened at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus in 1995.

After that course, Stephen came back to LIU to get his bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science, and he received the prestigious Theodore E. Kruglak international fellowship which took him to India for three months.

“The chairperson of the journalism department helped me to get the fellowship to go to India. I remember this happened during the Polk Awards of that year,” said Stephen.

India was a life-changing experience for him, a completely different and open world.

All these previous experiences, in addition to his internships, took Stephen to his first job at CNN in Atlanta.

He worked for CNN for one year, and it was the start of his career in the journalism field.

However, he missed his hometown, and he left Atlanta to return to New York to work for ABC News where he started to cover news by himself.

After leaving television, Stephen went on to write for magazines and newspapers, such as The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Newsday, and City Limits magazine.

Among his reports, Stephen reported for City Limits magazine the case of Colin Warner who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 21 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit.

This is one of Stephen’s proudest stories and one that led him to work closely with the research in 2001.

“The case of Colin Warner was a shocking thing. Warner could prove his innocence thanks to his best friend who started to investigate by himself to find proof of Warner’s innocence,” said Stephen.

Years later, the case of Colin Warner became the title of a movie for Amazon in 2017.

“Definitely, working with the investigation made me a better human,” said Stephen.

All of Stephen's success has been a result of his motivation and passion. However, his main motivation to keep fighting is his mother who came to the United States with $1 in her pocket.

“My mom motivated me, and I always said that something in life keeps us fighting, and for me, my mom is the reason,” said Stephen.

Today, Stephen is sure he wants to keep writing great books and finding wonderful stories that need to be told and shared.

Undoubtedly, Stephen is a journalist who likes to cover different fields, saying, “Journalism is the outlet and you have to find your passion for it.”

Now, Stephen remains motivated enough to keep fighting for his passion and to discover where the stories are, with the certainty that the best is yet to come, knowing that every opportunity counts.

“Stay inspired enough to keep inspiring others."

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