By Nvasekie N. Konneh
Another sad death news from Liberia of another young talented Liberian. This time it's a young man by the name of J. Ralph Lincoln. Ralph was 28 years of age, He was an entertainment and lifestyle writer for FrontPage Africa and former Editor-in-Chief of Uptown Reviews newspaper. He passed away on December 24, 2013 after a brief illness. According to brief obituary on Frontpage Africa website, Ralph developed Chicken pot in late November 2013 which "turned from one thing to something else and we could not figure out what it was,” says his sister Johanna. This means there might have been something mysterious about his death. The shocker is that he died on Christmas Eve and was buried the same day "because the body had deteriorated at a fast rate - and not in condition to hold for a normal funeral." According to his heart-broken mother, Roseline Langar, “He was so young, so loving and kind, always had a smile on his face and never hurt anyone.” Meanwhile a memorial service for the deceased is been planned by the family. Ralph was a very talented young man. He was a prolific writer but his writing was not about politic which is the only thing that matters on the Liberian media landscape. The focus of his prolific writing was entertainment. His energy was directed at promoting Liberian artists in the areas of music and movies as well as promoting various events like beauty pageants. So for him it was all about "Liberian entertainment industry" even though there is no such thing as glamorous as compared to Nollywood, Nigerian entertainment industry. It was that kind of development Ralph thought he could contribute to develop in Liberia. Not only was he a prolific writer, he was also a very good graphic designer. Had the eyes for fashion. That's why he was the life style and entertainment writer for Frontpage Africa before I met him in late November 2010 in Monrovia.
While in Liberia in 2010 leading to 2011, I decided to establish an alternative newspaper to focus on issues that are not normally covered in the Liberian newspapers. With the exception of Frontpage Africa with its weekly Life Style section, and Daily Observer with its weekly Arts and Literary column, Liberian newspapers mostly focus on politics. So the alternative paper I had envisioned would focus primarily on Liberian "arts, culture and tourism." I planed to publish articles on books and writers, fashion and fashion designers, musicians, food and restaurants, night lives, hospitality, visual artists etc. In other words I wanted to publish a weekly paper that would highlight urban vibe of Liberia. Pretty ambitious project. In that process I came across a young man who shared that vision.
One day I went to Frontpage Africa's offices in Congon Town specifically to see the man with the by line of Ralph Lincoln. I waited in the lobby as the office boy went to tell him that someone was looking for him. When he came, I was not expecting to see someone as young as he was. I guess I had imagined him to be someone bigger than the young man I saw in front of me. I told him I had a press release about the launching of an alternative newspaper which I wanted him to carry in his his life style column in Frontpage Africa newspaper. He was very excited when he went through the press release. The next day I too was excited to see the press release published, announcing the official launching of the Uptown Review newspaper at the Crystal Ocean View hotel in Mamba Point, Monrovia. That was the start of my relationship with Ralph Lincoln. At the official launching of Uptown Review on January 7, 2011, he came along with the newly crowned Miss Liberia, Monica Subrimannie to show his support for my project.
Days after, he became a regular visitor to my office on Broad Street opposite the Immigration office, and each time he came, we would have long conversations about our shared vision. For me, Uptown Reviews was about the entire creative artistic arena of Liberia, meaning, literature, fashion, music movies etc. For Ralph, it was more about music and musicians and movies and actors and actresses which he called the creative force of "Liberian entertainment industry." He told me that while I was focused on the intellectual side of things, he believed that entertainment will do well in grabbing the public attention since we were a new media entity in a crowded media market. He said since there was no such paper in the market, we should design the covers to be as entertainingly eye-catching, even if we had to bury other important stories inside the paper. He told me he had served as editor-in-chief for an entertainment paper before and it was very successful. We agreed to work together. He said he was willing to resign from Frontpage Africa to focus on Uptown Reviews and its growth. He had lots of energy and was very prolific. The one page or sometime half page Frontpage Africa allotted him was not enough space to cover all the territories he wanted to cover as an entertainment writer. So he figured that he could have more space with Uptown Reviews for all his creative ideas. We settled on him becoming the editor-in-chief while I remained the managing editor and publisher. So over the months we worked together until I returned to the states in mid 2011 with the plan to continue to support the publication from here. But the obstacle to progress was that the two persons I expected to work together in Liberia, Ralph Lincoln and Mike Jabateh, my right hand man in Liberia, could not see eye to eye. Ralph told me his dislike for Mike and with the tense relation between the two of them it was difficult to move forward while I was here in the US.
Even though the project did not continue, Ralph and I maintained contact through Facebook and occasional phone calls. There was always the hope that we could restart the Uptown Reviews one day, God willing. But as things stands now, that was not to be while he was alive.
At the time of his recent death, Ralph was a producer and presenter at the Renaissance Communication Inc., the parent company of Truth FM and Real TV. While further description on his Facebook page says he was a "project development specialist, consultant, event planner, radio/TV host and charismatic leader," Ralph was also a pastor. He got married sometime last year and I am now happy I didn't turn him down when he wanted my help. I had the opportunity of meeting his mother and other relatives once. That was another occasion of sickness when he went to his mother's place on Duport Road. When I met his mother and her big sister, he introduced me to them as "his good and caring friend." Talking from one thing to another, I realized that Ralph and his family were Gios from Kpaytuo, Nimba County. Kpaytuo is featured prominently in my book, "The Land of My Father's Birth." Kpaytuo is a place where I partly grew up in Liberia. Until I met with his mother, religion and ethnicity did not factor in our relationship and conversation. After he got well and came back to the office, I told Mike, "Ralph is home boy from Kpaytuo" and from then on he and Mike spoke Gio constantly in the office. While this ethnic factor was important, our relationship was all about shared vision and professionalism. But discovering the fact that he was from Kpaytuo only re-enforced our relationship.
The last time I charted with him on Facebook he told me he was working with my nephew Layee Bility, the manager of Truth FM and Real TV. I was encouraged when he told me they were working on some of the ideas he and I had discussed while we still hoped for the return of Uptown Reviews one day. He told me he and my nephew Layee were publishing a Life Style magazine called Ultimate Choice. As I go through his Facebook page now, I see the following message from Layee Bility, "I remember planning DIVA 2014 with you and taking about how successful it'd turn out. I promised you bro, this show will go on and i'll make you proud. you'll always be in my heart." So at the time of his death, Ralph was planning a show, Diva 2014. According to information on his Facebook page, the Goals of Diva 2014 are as followed: 1. To turn the talents of young Liberian women into careers for self sustainability and national development; 2. To create jobs and employment opportunities for the youthful population of Liberia, thereby fighting the high rate of poverty presently in the country; 3. To redefine a sense of identity for the modeling and tourism sectors of Liberia; 4. To use DIVA 2014® as a benchmark to promote the corporate images, products and services of our sponsors and partners. Writing project proposals and planning events were Ralph's areas. Unfortunately, Ralph will not be around to carry on this vision of Diva 2014. I hope others that were working with him will be able to carry on with the same level of commitment.
Ralph was a consummate communicator, not only writing for publication in newspapers. He had a constant presence on Facebook, promoting his various projects. On his posting on December 1, 2013, he said, "When trouble strikes, there you discover who loves you and/or who hates you. The past few days have proven to me who my true friends and foes are. Thanks to everyone who called, commented and inbox me during my testing times. God bless you Mightily."
Though Ralph Lincoln is physically dead, but I hope his dream for the Liberia entertainment industry is not dead. I believe his prolific writings inspired some young people who may step up into his shoes to continue to carry on. The Liberian entertainment industry has lost a true champion, a strong promoter who sacrificed so much to profile their struggle and successes. He was the promoter for David Mell. In his Frontpage Africa column and through the pages of the Uptown Reviews he spotlighted many Liberian artists who wouldn't have gotten any attention from other media entities in the country. On behalf of the staffs of Uptown Reviews he worked with, Mike Jabateh, Helene Diggs, Hawa Kromah, Geraldine Brown, Henry Karngar Ovie Gbashomiren, Ansu Donzo, I say RIP Ralph. Go easy, you will surely be missed. We will surely resurrect the Uptown Reviews as you and I discussed in our last Facebook chat.
About the Author: Nvasekie Konneh is the author of the book, “The Land of My Father’s Birth,” a memoir of the Liberian civil war and “Going to War for America,” a collection of poems about his experience in the US Navy and the Liberian civil war. He is the publisher of the Uptown Newspaper for which Ralph Lincoln wrote. He can be reached at 267-407-5735 or Knvasekie@yahoo.com or Konnlove@aol.com
Representative Munah Pellham, first cover girl of Uptown Reviews.