News anchor David Ushery feels at home in Harlem parish
In his 13 years as a television news reporter and anchor in New York, NewsChannel 4's David Ushery has covered some of the biggest stories of recent years.
But one of his most indelible memories is about his first overseas trip, to Moscow, as a young reporter for his hometown station in Hartford, Conn., where he witnessed the power of people-to-people communication.
He was there to cover a cultural exchange between police departments of the two cities, but nobody was speaking one another's language, he recalled. Yet somehow or other, "at the end of 10 days, we were able to communicate," he said.
A local story he remembers from that time happened during a period of disquiet in New Britain, Conn., when he had "an opportunity to do some real street reporting" in a neighborhood that was being terrorized by arsonists.
He and a photographer spent a full night there talking to people who were staying awake to guard their homes.
"Nobody was sleeping," said Ushery, adding that the experience "still sticks with me" over so many others that are long forgotten. "I think we really were able to tell that story," he said.
Ushery, 38, is co-anchor of WNBC-TV's "Weekend Today in New York," the station's top-rated weekend morning news program, and he also files reports for WNBC's other newscasts including, for the last year or so, the evening broadcasts.
"I get very little sleep on weekends," said Ushery, in an interview with CNY at his Rockefeller Center office.
Yet he manages to find the time to volunteer as a lector and in other ways at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Harlem. "I'm one of those utility guys they can call when they need somebody," he quipped.
Ushery said he considers St. Charles his home parish even though he lives in the Lincoln Center area of Manhattan and frequently attends St. Paul the Apostle for convenience.
"I feel pretty close to St. Charles," he said. "It's the church that I found when I got to New York, and it's a very welcoming community. I got married in that church."
He said the gospel choir at St. Charles sang at his June 2001 wedding. His wife, TV producer Isabel Rivera, is a graduate of Cathedral High School, Manhattan, and Fordham University and is expecting the couple's first child in the fall.
Ushery, who grew up in Bloomfield, Conn., told of his early experience at St. Charles parish when he arrived in New York in 1992 to take a position with WABC-TV, Ch. 7, after learning the ropes as a newscaster at WFSB-TV in Hartford.
St. Charles Borromeo School, he said, had just started a program in which they separated the boys and the girls and brought in people to talk to the kids as role models. He worked with the boys.
He said the kids saw a resemblance between him and the pastor, Msgr. Wallace A. Harris, even though the monsignor is quite a bit taller. "They called us 'big brother' and 'little brother,' " he said, adding, "I did that for a year and a half, and I still help out on the advisory board."
Msgr. Harris later nominated him to be a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, he said.
Speaking of other volunteer pursuits, Ushery said that he also enjoys serving as emcee at community and charitable events, such as the Inner-City Scholarship Fund dinner held at the Waldorf-Astoria last December.
"That enables me to see some of the good the agencies are doing and to interact with a lot of interesting people," he said.
St. Charles is not the only New York house of worship in which Ushery has lectored. A few years ago he got a call from Cardinal Egan asking if he would give a reading during Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. "I was honored to do it," he said.
Ushery is the only child of Solomon Ushery, who worked for the city of Hartford, and Winifred Ushery, now deceased, who worked for the state of Connecticut.
His mother was raised in Mississippi when it was "the cradle of racism," Ushery said. Taught by nuns, "who were the only ones teaching black kids in those days," she became a Catholic as a young child, with her brothers and sisters.
She later introduced her Hartford-bred husband to the faith, and it was through his father, a longtime Eucharistic minister, said Ushery, that he became involved in parish life as an altar boy "serving all the Masses."
The future newscaster attended the University of Connecticut as a reasonably-priced alternative to Wesleyan and Yale universities, where he also was accepted.
He majored in political science and journalism, and won important summer internships at the Hartford Courant and then the Los Angeles Times. "I think they were interested in grooming me," he said of the Times.
But he didn't follow up because he had run into someone he knew as a child who suggested that he use his newly minted writing experience to try for a job in broadcasting. Having had experience before the camera as a child, when he had a regular part on a local television program "Kids World" ("Not too many people know about that," he said), Ushery gave it a try and was hired by WFSB, the Hartford affiliate of CBS.
Four years later, he said, "New York came calling," and he took the general assignment reporter job at WABC. "It was great," he said. "What better way to get introduced to the city and its five boroughs than being out there every day pounding its pavement?"
It wasn't all local, however. After five years he added anchoring duties and also got the chance to cover many major stories. He recalls, in particular, covering Pope John Paul II's 1995 visit to South Africa and Kenya.
"What an experience that was," he said, describing the South Africa visit and watching the "calming effect" the pontiff had on the crowd of 350,000 who came out to see him.
Ushery also covered a papal trip to St. Louis in 1999 and at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002.
He said that as a practicing Catholic his knowledge of the Church has helped him better understand the Church issues he covers, although he's scrupulous about maintaining objectivity.
"The Church has made headlines, and we cover it in much the same way that we cover everything else," he said.
When Pope John Paul summoned the U.S. cardinals to Rome in April 2002 to talk about the clergy sex abuse scandal, Ushery said, "I was able to go there and ask the tough questions, and I was very comfortable."