So his father wrote to UNC journalism professor Chuck Stone, asking for his advice on making the trek from New Jersey to Chapel Hill for college.
Stone didn’t just write back to Nelson. He took him on a tour of the campus in his convertible, telling him about how wonderful UNC was.
Stone didn’t stop there.
“Professor Stone personally mailed me my application to Carolina with a note about what a great school it was,” he said. “I will never forget getting a FedEx package with a note from Chuck Stone.”
Stone, a retired UNC journalism professor, editor of major black newspapers during the civil rights movement and author, died Sunday at 89.
He legacy extends far beyond the FedEx package that exemplified mentorship to Nelson.
There’s his place in the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame , his Congressional Gold Medal from serving with Tuskegee airmen during World War II and the stories he wrote, warranting two Pulitzer Prize nominations.
Much of his legacy lies in the more diverse newsrooms he created through his work both in the classroom and outside of it as a co-founder and the first president of the National Association of Black Journalists .
“There are many who believe that without Chuck Stone there would be no NABJ,” said Bob Butler , current president of the association. Stone pushed for the organization’s creation, which acts as a conscience for the journalism industry.
“The advances we’ve made are a tribute to him. It can be attributed to Chuck and his vision for the organization.”
Napoleon Byars , a journalism professor, called Stone the “Michael Jackson of his generation” for his work, everything from bringing his friend Bill Cosby to UNC’s campus to having a burger named after him at Top of the Hill restaurant.
When Byars came to UNC, Stone was one of two black journalism professors.
“All throughout his life he was a pioneer,” he said. “We all climb on the shoulders of other people, but he was probably the first shoulder that was put in place.”
Richard Cole , the former dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication who hired Stone in 1991, said the journalist’s personal relationships with people like Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Gandhi brought a sense of worldliness to students.
“He would be the coach, tutor, grandfather, whatever you want to call it for a student,” Cole said. “He’d say, ‘Hey, why don’t you try to get an internship at X and why don’t you write a paper about X.’
“Students loved him.”
Diversity can be found in recesses of Stone’s life — whether it was helping former felons find work or having lunch with students, said Byars, who directs the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and Media with his wife Queenie Byars.
“He would talk about all those great civil rights figures of his time and how (students) should do something with (their) life,” he said. “Don’t just be number one, don’t just be the best — be the best and help somebody.”
The program in Stone’s namesake brings a diverse group of 12 high school students to UNC each summer to learn about the media.
“We kind of felt that we would protect his legacy, and doing that maybe make our greatest contribution to the school,” Byars said. “(Helping people) made him a better professor. He did that his whole life.”
Though Nelson never saw firsthand Stone’s impact in a classroom, his impression of him lasted throughout his time at UNC — from his wide smile and even wider vocabulary to the cologne he wore that signaled he had been in the room, even an hour later.
“There is no one who walked in that J-school who did not know who Chuck Stone was,” Nelson said.
“He was one of the last great, old school newspaper guys that everyone in print can look to as a role model of the way the business used to be.”