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Life of Lemon: Catching Up With the CNN Anchor

By Andrew Harper Staff

The Harper Way | April 9, 2018

Don Lemon is no ordinary broadcast journalist. The award-winning CNN anchor and author has made a name for himself by being fearlessly outspoken in the face of tough issues. He’s been on the front lines of breaking news stories all over the world, and consistently unafraid to speak his mind. Lemon has, on occasion, courted controversy, but he’s also been called “the anchor America deserves” by GQ magazine.

Don Lemon is no ordinary broadcast journalist. The award-winning CNN anchor and author has made a name for himself by being fearlessly outspoken in the face of tough issues. He’s been on the front lines of breaking news stories all over the world, and consistently unafraid to speak his mind. Lemon has, on occasion, courted controversy, but he’s also been called “the anchor America deserves” by GQ magazine.

Don Lemon in front of the colorful fishing port of Cape Coast, Ghana. Lemon and his mother, Katherine, went to Ghana to explore the history of their ancestors. 2015 Cable News Network. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the 52-year-old has overcome a number of challenges in his life. Through determination, spirituality and a strong family network, he has not only persevered but found overwhelming success, both personally and professionally.  

When we spoke with him, it was clear that his forthrightness on camera extends to his life off camera. He was happy to reminisce and share his stories, life lessons and experiences traveling the world.  


As a child, did you have the opportunity to travel outside of your hometown?  
Absolutely. We did a lot of the Gulf Coast, especially down near Pensacola and Panama City, and Houston. AstroWorld was an amusement park [in Houston] and we would go to concerts there. We took a lot of family vacations there.  

Did you travel internationally at all?  
No. We were simple folk. It would have been nice, but I didn’t start doing international [travel] until I was in high school and college.  

I see God everywhere I look on the beach. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing. Thank you, God, for making this.”

What is one of your first travel memories? Is there some story or some experience that really struck you as a child?  
Well, what I like about my experience traveling as a child is that it was such a family vacation. I remember family vacations and family trips, and we would use the family “truckster” a lot, which either meant the station wagon or RV. And I miss that sort of togetherness. So recently I did the same thing. We took an RV from Sag Harbor to Hither Hills [State Park] in Montauk and camped and parked on the beach, and just hung out there, did our thing and played cards.  

Were you recognized?  
No, people came over and said, “Hey, do you guys have jumper cables?” We did end up going to a sports bar to watch the LSU game and people were like, “Are you the guy … ?”  

How often do you travel? And is it mainly for fun or for work?  
I travel mainly for work and that is mostly domestically. A lot of it has been around the current campaign, the debates and different primaries around the country. And also traveling for domestic stories that have to do with social issues and criminal justice like Ferguson in Baltimore. I haven’t had a chance in the last two years or so to travel that much, I haven’t had much time off, but when I do, I want it to be sunny and warm.  

Gustavia Harbor in St. Barths Christian Wheatley/iStockPhoto/GettyImages

So you are a beach-vacation kind of person?  
Yes, I am a beach person 1,000%. I love being with my family on the beach. And we love going to the Gulf Coast because it’s convenient to all of us. It’s familiar, and the beaches are just beautiful. But I love the Caribbean and that has been the bulk of my trips recently. I like traveling to St. Barths with a group of about 30 guys. We usually all rent a house. It’s just fun because you’re all there, and it’s just blue water and sunshine.  

But where I really love is my little safe haven in Vieques [Puerto Rico], but it’s not there anymore [due to Hurricane Maria]. You [would] fly to San Juan and take a little flight to Vieques and you’d be there in no-time flat. The beaches are so beautiful; there’s blue beach and red beach and little food trucks. It’s quiet and not a lot of people are there. It’s not pretentious. It’s still pretty original and organic, and I just absolutely love it.  

What can make or break a trip for you?  
I absolutely adore Hawaii but it’s too far, I don’t want to be on a plane that long. I love Australia. I don’t want to be on a plane that long. I barely want to be on a plane to get to California, and I love California. I want to get somewhere fast, so that’s why I like Florida and anywhere in the Caribbean. I need to get there fast because I don’t get a lot of time off.  

Do you have any advice for a solo traveler?  
I think some of the best trips you can take, even if you’re married or partnered or in a relationship, are trips by yourself because you don’t have to worry about another person. You get to chill out; you don’t have to think about things, and then you get to feel whether or not you really miss the other person or not. I think it is a great way to get your head together and to actually just disengage. So I actually love traveling alone. Some of the best trips have been when I have gone by myself and just sort of been a pioneer and tried to find the locals and see what everyone is doing and what I find interesting about a place.  

What has been the most unique trip in your life? I know that you have done a trip to Africa.  
Well that [trip to Africa] was probably the most rewarding trip with the person I love the most in the world, and that’s my mother. That’s where my mother and I bonded on a different level. We went back to the place where we both originated and dealt with some pretty heady issues, and it all came full circle for us. Now I think we have an understanding of each other and the world that together not many people do, that not many family members have. We experienced something that most family members don’t get to experience. We went to where the slaves left Africa to come to the U.S. It was a profound and unique experience.  

Don Lemon and his mother in front of fishing boats on Elmina Beach in Cape Coast, Ghana. 2015 Cable News Network. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved

What is the most challenging part of traveling for your career?
What is challenging is that most people have a beginning and an end to their travel. I will go away not knowing when I’m going to come back. Sometimes one or two days can extend into weeks. So the challenging part for me is not knowing when I’m going to come home.  

Who has been the most influential person in helping you become the person who you are today?  
Well, I would say my mother plays a role in it, a big role in it, but I also think it would have to be the creator. I’m a very spiritual person, and I rely on that. I don’t know if I believe in God in the traditional sense, but I think what’s been the most influential to me is being able to sort of lean into that spirit of the divine and letting it take me wherever the truth takes me.  

Have you traveled anywhere for religion specifically?
No. I mean, I haven’t gone to India; I haven’t gone to Jerusalem. I think every place, including the office I’m sitting in now, has a certain spiritual quality to it. I find that the most spiritual place — the place where I can regroup and recoup and that is most satisfying for me — is the beach. I see God everywhere I look on the beach. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing. Thank you, God, for making this.”

Are you involved in any charities?  
I am involved in a number of different charities. I love St. Jude’s. I try and do as much for St. Jude’s as possible. I have a new charity that I do a little bit of work for, not a ton of work for them, called Blue Jacket Fashion Show [an event that benefits the Prostate Cancer Foundation].  

Do you want to talk a little bit about your book, “Transparent”? Any life lessons we can walk away with?  
The book is [from] six years ago, so things are a little bit different now. It was deemed as my “coming out” book, but I didn’t talk about coming out except for a page in the book. Back then it was a big deal, but now it’s kind of a yawn. People expect their newspeople to be diverse, and they can be gay, straight or whatever. My life lessons are live life, be bold; you only get one life. And that’s sort of the same as now, but my gosh it was a while ago.  

Do you have any upcoming projects?
I am in the process of writing a book, but I may finish this whole thing and go, “You know, I’m not ready for this,” or “I don’t want this to be out there now,” and I may start over.

What would you like to see achieved in your lifetime?  
I think that America is a pretty extraordinary country, the greatest country on earth. I would like to see America fully deal with the ramifications and repercussions of slavery and Jim Crow. And I think if there is any country that can do that, it is America, but we have got to actually sit down and talk to each other. We have to stop viewing that through a political lens and look at it through a human lens. We won’t be able to move forward in the best way possible unless we deal with that issue.  

What about in terms of travel?  
I would love to see America get back to old-fashioned travel and start doing more road trips. It would be great. And we should do more RVs. I love it. Get it an RV with your significant other and go somewhere and spend some time together.

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