'Anything is Possible'

TV anchor who rose from the projects to prime time assures students they, too, have star power

Helianne Duke, 2007 Kingsborough Community College valedictorian, "embodies what CUNY is all about," NY1's Dominic Carter said at a recent Graduate Center ceremony where he got an award.

NY1’s Dominic Carter is used to telling other people’s success stories. It’s his own that gets him all choked up. Carter, the host of the nightly political show “Inside City Hall” and author of the autobiography “No Momma’s Boy,” recently shared his inspirational life story with more than 100 CUNY student leaders. “What’s in this room is why I wrote this book,” the journalist said during his motivational speech on Jan. 22 at The Graduate Center, adding that CUNY has made it a priority to educate “kids who don’t have a safety net like me. I don’t want people to think you can’t change your life. Anything is possible. It doesn’t matter where you start in life; it matters where you finish in life.”

Carter said that he knows firsthand the struggles of many CUNY students because he has told their stories on his show. “Chancellor Matthew Goldstein is a superstar,” he said. “He is saving lives.”

Goldstein, who presented Carter with CUNY’s Community Service Leadership Award for his excellence in journalism and dedication to the people of New York, said he was “deeply touched” by Carter’s book and urged the students to take Carter’s story to heart. The world needs “young people like you,” he told the students. “You have to take your work seriously. Dominic Carter is a serious man. I’m a big admirer of his. He extracts the truth from guests but treats them with dignity and respect.”

When Carter was growing up, he never dreamed that he would go from a Bronx housing project to a party at the White House. “My life was not easy, folks; it is a miracle I’m here today,” he said.

If his life wasn’t easy, it sure wasn’t easy for him to understand, either. Carter didn’t start putting all the pieces together until six years ago when he was doing research for “No Momma’s Boy,” which he self-published in 2007. “All my life, I’ve had a secret, and I’ve been running from myself,” he said, adding that he didn’t start to “breathe” until he was able to forgive his mother.

A product of the Bronx housing projects, Carter grew up without a father. His mother sexually abused him when he was 7, and he was raised by his grandmother. “When I was two, my mother was sent to Bellevue,” he says, adding that he didn’t find out that she was diagnosed as a chronic paranoid schizophrenic until he got her medical records when he was writing “No Momma’s Boy.” “She heard voices that told her to throw me out of the window and to strangle me to death, and she planned to do it.”

This information was so shocking that “I wanted to fall down on the floor and cry,” he said.

By the time he was a teenager, he had gone to five high schools in four years and really didn’t care about anything but playing football. He and his grandmother were so poor that by the end of each month, they were eating butter sandwiches and mayonnaise sandwiches. It was what his counselor told him—that there’s no reason to apply to college because you’ll be dead or in jail—that changed the course of his life. He enrolled in college.

“That was the motivation I needed,” he said. “My grandmother died the week before I started my freshman year. I graduated in three years instead of four.”

After earning a B.A. in journalism from the State University of New York at Cortland, he attended graduate school at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications before starting a career in radio. He has been a fixture at NY1 since the news channel’s launch in 1992.

It wasn’t until he featured then-Kingsborough Community College student Helianne Duke on NY1 that he realized he had a bond with CUNY students. During his talk, he called her up to the lectern and praised her for maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average while taking care of her six children and disabled husband. The story of Duke, who graduated as valedictorian from Kingsborough in June with an associate in science degree and who is now an education major at New York University, “embodies what CUNY is all about,” he told the students.

Carter urged the students to remember his and Duke’s stories when the odds of success seem impossible. “How bad do you want to succeed?” he repeatedly asked them. “The real test is what will you do when you’re challenged.”

Here is what Carter does: He doesn’t give up. When South African statesman Nelson Mandela visited the United States, 14,000 journalists were trying to get interviews with him. Carter was the only one Mandela talked to.

“I was told I would never be anything,” he said. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do anything.”

That’s not the only time Carter made headlines. In 1993, he was the only TV journalist in Japan with then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins when the World Trade Center was bombed, and he broadcast the mayor’s comments to the globe.

Carter showed the audience The New York Times’ TV Guide that pictured him on the cover and called him “a force to be reckoned with.” He also held up photos of himself with presidents and politicians. “I was at the Clintons’ last White House Christmas party,” he said. “Do you know that there is a White House emblem on each piece of toilet paper?”

Carter hopes that his life story, which has been so difficult for him to make public, will be a blueprint for others like him who want, as the subtitle of his autobiography urges, “to let go of the past and embrace the future.”

“Keep soaring,” the ex-kid from the projects told the students. “There are people at CUNY who can help you go as far as you want. You have a responsibility to help others. Keep going—you’re all stars.”