[box]“I did not know where my life would go…” That’s one of the lyrics from the song that inspired this foundation, “Over My Shoulder.” It happens to be one that I did not write—but I love it the most! Most of us think we know exactly where we are going and then… a surprise comes along and before you know it, you’re in the middle of a mesmerizing experience you never saw coming.
Today we feature a story on reporter Stanley Roberts, who was investigating a story when, out of the blue, his whole life changed. He had stumbled upon something breathtaking. Then his small town story shot around the world and he had everyone, from CNN reporters to people like me, chasing him down to learn more.
Stanley had re-connected two former best friends—international Rock Star Carlos Santana and Marcus the Magnificent, his brilliant but homeless band mate. The powerful mentor-centric energy in this story blew my mind. I wanted to know—why did Stanley pursue this story? What did he hear in the tale of Marcus the Magnificent that so inspired him?
You’ve probably seen the moment when Stanley reconnects Carlos Santana with his old best friend. We wanted to tell you more about Stanley, who took it upon himself to assemble a team to help a person in need of hope and restoration.
It’s the first week of a new year, also the beginning of National Mentoring Month. So I entreat you to adopt a simple habit, to be a little more like Stanley: when you see a new person, ask yourself, “What do I see that this person can be?” I call this habit of mind “Designing the Next Generation.”
—Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Director
As the TV newsman responsible for “People Behaving Badly,” a nightly feature on KRON 4 in San Francisco, Stanley Roberts has been called a lot of names, most of them not very nice. So he’s amazed that many people, including rock star Carlos Santana, are now calling him “an angel from God.”
A week before Christmas, Roberts played the pivotal part in reuniting Carlos and his long-forgotten percussionist, Marcus “The Magnificent” Malone. The two had not seen one another in forty-five years. The touching story of this unlikely reunion first aired on KRON and quickly spread around the globe.
Roberts encountered Malone by chance. He was homeless, reduced to picking through the trash, and claimed in a televised segment that he was a founding member of the world-renowned Santana band. That might have been the end of the story—but Carlos Santana happened to catch the segment. Santana reached out to Roberts to help him reconnect with his old bandmate. Now the two are actively involved in getting Malone off the streets and back on stage.
Two days before the start of the new year, we spoke to Roberts by phone from his Bay Area home. Still absorbing the ramifications of what has turned into the biggest story of his life, Roberts graciously shared his experience.
“I used to be a photographer, a regular cameraman,” he said. “Then our company got purchased by another company and they decided to change us into something they call ‘video journalists.’ Basically I started doing everything myself, writing and editing. The acting news director told me, ‘Go out and do POV,’ point of view journalism, where you go out and see what’s going on and talk about it. I said, ‘I have a better idea. I want to go out and look at what people are doing that they shouldn’t be doing. We could call it People Behaving Badly.’
“We went out and did the first one and phones rang off the hook. We got an incredible response. It drew people’s attention. It was about public urination. We watched people buying alcohol—and when they got drunk, because there are no rest rooms downtown around Market Street, they would pee and poop anywhere they wanted to, in broad daylight. Basically I just showed that. It was the grittiness of what was actually going on there, that no one wants to talk about, and I talked about it. So that was the first segment. That was eight years ago. The segment got so popular that now I actually turn a story every single day, except when I’m off.”
Roberts doesn’t go after big time criminals or expose major scandals. People Behaving Badly is about what he calls “quality of life issues.” Texting while driving. Bicyclists running stop signs. Drinking alcohol in city parks. Littering. Viewers love seeing transgressors caught in the act—and not just in the Bay Area. Roberts has more than 1,200 videos on YouTube, which have attracted close to 10 million views.
Of course not everyone is a fan of his brand of “gotcha journalism.”
“I get a lot of hate mail,” Roberts said. “A lot of people don’t want to know what’s going on, don’t want to know the truth. I get accused of picking on the homeless, of picking on dog owners, cat owners, home owners. I get death threats. It’s amazing. I was not used to it. I was always the guy with the camera while the reporter gets the fame and the glory. Then I had an idea eight years ago and it changed everything. It flipped my world upside down.”
Now Roberts’ world has flipped again because of Marcus Malone and Carlos Santana.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I’m a devil one day and then all of a sudden the biggest rock star outside of the Rolling Stones is calling me an angel. Carlos told me, ‘You were sent by God. You’re an angel from God.’ I told my assignment desk what he said and they just laughed. They made fun of me. I’ve been called a few other things like asshole and the N-word, but never an angel.”
December 9 started out like any other workday for Roberts. He decided to go out to a dicey area of East Oakland to look for illegal trash dumpers. He found plenty of trash, but no dumpers, just an elderly man rummaging through the discarded junk.
“Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction,” Roberts said. “First of all, I don’t normally talk to somebody randomly digging through the trash. That was an anomaly. I just wanted to get shots of him going through all the garbage on that street and then go back to the office and get the story done. What made me speak to him was that I’d already asked some of the businesses on that street what was some of the strangest things they’d seen dumped out here. Couches. Marijuana. Dead dogs. I asked Marcus, ‘What did you find today.’ He says, ‘Nothing. But I’ve found jewelry. And money. Once I found 800 dollars in an old pair of jeans. Eight one hundred dollar bills.’ And I go, ‘What did you do with the money?’ I thought he probably smoked it or something. You tend to think if you’re homeless or something you probably got there because of drug use or alcohol or something like that. That’s what’s going through my mind. But then he says, ‘I bought some tools because I’m a landscaper.’ I’m thinking, ‘Okay, but how many landscapers are digging through the trash?’ Then he says, ‘I bought some supplies, some paper, because I’m a composer and I write music. My name is Marcus Malone.’
“It didn’t mean a thing to me. And then he says, ‘I used to play in the original Santana Blues Band.’ I never heard of the Santana Blues Band, I just heard it called Santana. I said, ‘Blues Band? Some band like Santana?’ And he said, ‘No, Santana. Carlos Santana. I was an original member of the band. We started it in my mom’s garage.’
“I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a tall story.’ I said, ‘If I go look it up will I find your name, that you played with Carlos Santana?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, you will. But I messed up everything. I messed up my life. I went to jail and ruined my life forever.’ He said it really low, whispered it. And he walked away. The interview was pretty much over but I went up to him one more time. He was still looking through trash, but he was singing ‘Black Magic Woman.’ I laughed. I thought, ‘Okay, now he’s just performing for me. But I’m going to go back and check on his story anyway.”
Call it instinct or intuition, but Roberts aired the segment of Malone talking about Santana, even though it had nothing to do with the subject of the story.
“Typically at KRON we keep our stories uber-focused,” Roberts said. “My story should have been about illegal dumping and nothing else. I should have just mentioned that this guy once found some money. But I decided to keep him in the story. One of the editors came to me and said, ‘The story is good but you kind of went off course with this guy.’ And I go, ‘No, the fact is that when I did some research, his name did pop up with Santana, so I decided to keep it in.’ I figured if my bosses chew me out the next day, well, it’s already out there. You can’t un-ring a bell. So that bell was rung. If he was nobody, then he was nobody.”
But there was another concern. In his research, Roberts discovered what Malone had meant when he said, “I messed up my life.” In 1969 Malone was convicted of manslaughter. He served three years in San Quentin.
“I spoke to our assistant news director after the story aired,” Roberts said, “and I said, ‘If this guy is who he is this could be something big.’ She said, ‘Yeah, but he killed somebody.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but it looks like it was a fight. He didn’t go out there trying to kill somebody. It appears that a fight broke out and somebody died. It was unintended. But if you don’t think it’s a big story, then I’m not going to worry about it.
“To be honest with you I had no idea of the magnitude of what was going to happen. No clue whatsoever. I was not prepared for it. Nine days later I get a Facebook message on my fan page, which I don’t check that often. It says, ‘Hi, I’m Kathy, manager of Carlos Santana.’ I’m thinking she’s going to say this guy Marcus was not with the band and never has been. But then she says Carlos has been driving around 90th and Pearmain trying to find Marcus. My mouth hit the ground. I jumped up and ran to the assignment desk and said, ‘Hey look at what I just got.’
“It was a Thursday night and the assignment desk wanted me to talk to Santana on the spot. Now I’m a huge fan. I love his music. And they’re saying see if you can go out there with him and look for Marcus. Now here’s where it got interesting. The next day we called Carlos and he said, ‘Well, I’m busy right now, it’s getting close to the holidays. Can I do it on the 23rd?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m going on vacation in two weeks and I won’t be here. But if you want to do it today, I can.’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll meet you at 2 o’clock today in Sausalito and we’ll go looking for Marcus together.’
“I told my news director that I’m going to drive out to Oakland and look for Marcus. Now we’re not allowed to go out without security. He said, ‘Don’t you get out of your car. Just drive around and see if you can spot this guy.’ Because we’ve been robbed. They’ve been robbing photographers and reporters. Oakland is crazy dangerous right now. So I jump in my car and drive over there. I’m looking for a guy with a beard riding a red bike.
“Well, there are bikes everywhere. Everyone is on a bike. I decided to do what every journalist would do: ask someone. There are two guys sitting out there and I say, ‘Hey, I’m looking for someone named Marcus Malone.’ First thing they say is, ‘Oh, what did he do? You the police?’ I said, ‘He didn’t do anything. I want to find him and give him something.’ They said, ‘We don’t know who he is.’ That’s the standard response. Then one of them says, ‘You mean the little guy who rides around on a bicycle, the old guy? There’s a camper around the corner he lives in.’ I said, ‘Camper? What camper?’ He said, ‘Trust me, you won’t miss it.’
“I turned the corner and there’s an old camper parked on a dirt sidewalk with an abandoned house next to it. There was a red bicycle chained to the bumper. I bang on the door and yell ‘Marcus!’ but there’s no answer. So I take a couple of pictures with my phone and call back my desk and say, ‘I think I’ve found Marcus. I’m going to hang out for a little bit.’ So I’m sitting and watching, and also watching that no one is going to roll up on me while I’m sitting there. I decided to take out a business card. I write, ‘Be here at 3 o’clock.’ That’s all I said. I stuck it on the door and waited a little more. Then a guy walks by and I said, ‘Hey, quick question. Who’s camper is this?’ He goes, ‘Oh, that’s Marcus’s camper.’ Then he looks at me and goes, ‘Hey, you’re that guy! The people who act badly dude! You put Marcus on TV. Y’know, he’s the real deal.’ I said, ‘Okay, if you see him tell him Stanley was here from Channel 4 and I have something to give him at 3 o’clock.’ I wasn’t going to say I’m bringing Carlos Santana back here. That would have been like setting a fire in timberland. Everyone would have been out there.
“So I go drive from Oakland to where Carlos is in Sausalito. That’s like driving between two different worlds. Well, Carlos is late. Then we get stuck in traffic. I had told our security officer, a retired cop, to meet me at the camper and stake it out. He called and said, ‘I’m at the camper, the door’s open and there’s another bike there.’ I said, “If you see him come out, detain him.’ He laughed and said, ‘I am not detaining anyone, I’m not a cop anymore.’ I said, ‘Just don’t let him leave.’ When we got to the camper I looked at my clock and it was 3:39.
“I knocked on the door with Carlos and the security officer watching. Marcus came out and I said, ‘Man, you are the real deal. So I’m back, like I told you.’ He said, ‘Man, I don’t remember your name.’ Now when I do my segments it’s not about me. It’s about the world around me and what’s going on. This story wasn’t about me. I’m about to introduce Marcus to Carlos Santana. I said, ‘Dude, my name is not important right now, your name is what’s important.’ I got a lot of hate comments about that, people saying that I was being a douche bag for not telling him my name and that I was being disrespectful. On the other hand, I also got comments saying it showed that I’m not the kind of person who’s out there for fame and glory. Honestly, I just wanted the moment of him walking to the car and he sees Carlos’s face and Carlos sees his face. I just wanted to cry. I’m laughing, but it’s laughter that they’re finally seeing each other after all these years.
“Carlos handed him $7,000 in cash. I didn’t put that in my story because they would have run up to him the next night if they knew Carlos had handed him that cash. I thought it was a bad idea, but it is what it is. You can’t tell Carlos don’t give this guy seven grand in cash because who knows what will happen.
“I called the station and told them that they met. The station went ape-shit. Oh my god! When I came back with the video there was huge applause in the newsroom from all my coworkers that I had got this. Then it was, ‘You need to do this, you need to do that.’ But I’m thinking, ‘I need to get to work and write the damn segment because I’m off at six and I’m going on vacation.’ But they wanted me live on set at 8 o’clock. Now I do live stuff rarely, and never on prime time. I’m not a big front-of-the-camera guy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do it—but it was my last day of work before my vacation and I wanted to get out of there and do my thing. But I’m there until 8:30. And I have to drive to Los Angeles the next morning because I can’t afford to fly.
“So the story aired and there was not a dry eye in the place. But the magnitude of what took place didn’t dawn on me until I got a phone call from CNN saying ‘We want to put you on air.’ I said, ‘For what? I didn’t do nothing.’ I said, ‘I’ll be in L.A. tomorrow if you want to talk to me. So I talked to them and Inside Edition and did some radio. And now I’m talking to you.”
Roberts’ chance meeting with Malone resulted in the biggest story of his career. But this is just the beginning of Roberts’s relationship with Malone. He is committed to acting as Malone’s guide to a better life.
“We’re doing everything we can to help him,” Roberts said. “I told him, ‘I’m in it for the long haul and we’re going to get you back on your feet. The problem is he wants to move, but old habits are hard to break. Carlos called me. He basically designated me on the spot and I am here to help Marcus get back on track. So I’ve embraced that, even though I still have to figure out how to pay my own bills.
“I created People Behaving Badly not knowing it would lead to this. It’s me going out every day, trying to make ends meet, doing these segments, getting hate mail from people, getting death threats, being told by the police to change my habits so that people don’t follow me home. I’m like, ‘Is this really worth it?’ But I guess it is, when you find people like Marcus. This was a diamond in the rough—who now we have to shine. Because he’s really rough. Between me and Carlos Santana, we’re going to shine that diamond and try to bring out the stone that was covered in soot. We want to get him back on the stage playing. And if he’s on the stage I want to be in the front row. I’ll be bawling out of control.”
About the author
Former Boston Herald columnist and editor Larry Katz has covered music and the arts for more than 30 years. Visit his website, thekatztapes.com.