When I heard last week that my friend Brenda Perryman was hospitalized with the Coronavirus, I was concerned, but not fearful. Brenda was always so spirited and full of life, and I couldn’t imagine the virus would keep her down for long. As soon as I got the news, I pulled out my phone and sent her a text. “Brenda: Michelle told me you’re in the hospital. Are you okay? Wishing you a speedy recovery.” I half expected to get a feisty message back. “David, this thing is no joke, but I’m fighting!”
There was no message from Brenda, and no recovery. Last night, when my cell phone rang and I saw my friend Michelle’s name, I feared the worst. Michelle confirmed my fears – Brenda was gone.
I met Brenda Perryman back in 2012 around the time I was publishing my book, “Proving Ground, A Memoir.” I don’t remember who introduced me to Brenda, but I know she came to my book release party at Talullah in Birmingham, and the next morning she interviewed me on her TV show at WHPR in Highland Park. We hit it off right away, because we both grew up black in postwar, civil-rights era America. I hadn’t done much media for my book, and was kind of nervous to be doing the interview with Brenda, but she immediately put me at ease. In fact, to this day, her interview of me is the best one anyone has done. That’s probably because, in addition to hanging out with Kishna and me at the book party, Brenda actually took the time to read the entire book – all 488 pages! I knew then that our relationship was going to grow beyond interviewer/interviewee, and in fact in the ensuing years we became good friends.
As I got to know Brenda, I learned that she had done a lot more than host a local public access TV station talk show. Brenda had retired from a long career teaching speech and drama in the Southfield Michigan Schools. I learned that she had authored several books, had written plays, and was a poet and spoken word artist. Her weekly TV show, “Table Talk with Brenda Perryman,” attracted guests from many segments of the community and dealt with a wide range of issues. In short, Brenda was a phenomenal woman, but she was the opposite of stuffy and officious. Her engaging, playful spirit had a way of putting people at ease and bringing out the best in them.
In 2014, two years after meeting Brenda, I started an organization called the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative. In 2015, we held a symposium in Detroit that was attended by entrepreneurs, educators, community leaders, government officials, and students. I wanted someone to interview many of our guests so we would have a record of their thoughts about elevating the city through entrepreneurship. The first person that came to mind for the job was Brenda. She agreed to do it, and she did such an outstanding job that I had her conduct interviews again in 2016 when we held the symposium in Flint. Now we have a record of Brenda’s conversations with these community leaders, and it is a record that we will treasure for years to come. We will pull these interviews together and make them available on the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative web site in the coming weeks.
So in closing, let me say this: I’m an engineer, not a poet, but I think Brenda deserves at least an honest effort at versification. I think she’d appreciate that. So here goes:
Your spirit, your wisdom, your talent, your grace,
Your dignity and love,
Fill our sweet memories of the face,
That now resides above.
Rest in Heaven
Your friend always, David