Surviving Deep Waters: A Legendary Reporter’s Story of Overcoming Poverty, Race, Violence, and His Mother’s Deepest Secret


When you have nothing to lose, you can risk everything.

There was no reason to bet on Bruce Johnson, given where he started out. Poor, Black, and raised by a single mother who had a secret. He was the child she hid in plain view from the rest of her family.

Bruce would spend his youth at Chickasaw Park in Louisville—Kentucky’s segregated west end. He would grab the low hanging tree branches, then swing out over the Ohio River before dropping into the dangerous water below. He didn’t know how to swim, but was fearless and knew to paddle quickly back to shore before the current could drag him under. This tenacity served him well, and he learned to be a risk taker early on.

As an adult, he set out to just make a living—to do better than Black folks who tried their best before, while making his Momma and Grandmomma proud. His journey to becoming a successful TV journalist nearly killed him, but he refused to treat himself as a victim. His role was to use his voice and example to pull others out of deep waters.

The rollout for his retirement was unprecedented. Week-long on-air tributes, hour-long online tributes from corporate CEOs, former colleagues, Congressmembers, the Mayor, and the governor. After a near forty-five year career, all was deserved and expected, except for a final tribute—seeing his image secretly painted on the Wall of Fame outside the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant alongside Barack and Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Dave Chappelle. No one could have imagined such an ending. Or could they? Bruce Johnson’s journey is the culmination of his mother and grandmother’s stories—the ultimate American story of race, opportunity, and perseverance.