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Cousin Zeke

by Karen Eden


My very first broadcasting job was at age 15 in Roanoke, Virginia. It was for a powerhouse AM country-music station called WKBA. I hate to say this, but my official air name was “Karen, Your Country Honey.” (Evidently, there was a time in my life when someone thought I was “sweet.”)

I was known only by my voice, and it was a pretty good one for a young girl. Because of the nature of the job, no one had a clue what I looked like, and I didn’t have to worry about it. I fell in love with radio and to this day love being a “voice behind a mike.”

At WKBA, the coveted afternoon-drive slot was hosted by a man who was character both on and off the mike. His name was “Cousin Zeke.” After a couple of years, Cousin Zeke became very dear to my heart. There was just something about the way he embraced people from all walks of life. He encouraged me and treated me with respect — something I rarely saw teenage girls get. Perhaps he never knew this, but while he was running his show, I was taking notes on how to be “larger than life.”

It didn’t matter if you were the town mayor or the town drunk, if you were Black or white, male or female, rich or poor. Everyone spoke highly of this former country-music singer known as Cousin Zeke. I can recall the times he would crack the mike and say something like, “Cousin Zeke sure could use a cup of coffee.” Ten minutes later, there would be several people at the studio door with cups of coffee in their hands.

I can guarantee that Cousin Zeke had no idea that I would use his outgoing personality skills to build my own martial arts reputation one day. I have discovered that his approach to treating people right applies universally.

I recall a time when I, as a yellow belt, bowed to a very high-ranked martial arts master in my federation. He just looked at me and never bowed back. I never forgot that. He disrespected me because I was just some low-ranked girl, and I didn’t really matter in his world. Lesson learned: The lower ranks won’t be low-ranked forever if they keep training. Be kind to everybody!

When I have prospective students in my training hall, before they leave, I make them feel like they can be Bruce Lee. I will humble myself as a seventh-degree grandmaster because I know that the martial arts start with a belief that you can achieve something great if you are willing to put in the time. I need to make sure that every single person who walks in the door feels capable of achieving this goal. Perhaps that’s what separates those who are successful in this business from those who are not. The bottom line is being willing to be vulnerable enough to connect with every person you meet.

I see it time and time again — the elite of our own martial arts industry, the highest-ranked, all networking with only each other as if they will be around forever in all their glory. I am often asked to be a guest of honor at various martial arts events, and I am very humbled for that. But don’t be surprised if you find me sitting in the back of the room with all the up-and-coming people in our industry.

I’m not doing that because I don’t feel worthy. I’m doing that because that’s what Cousin Zeke taught me. Everybody is special. Make sure they know they are worthy of respect for who they are, just as they are.


To contact Karen Eden, send an email to [email protected] or visit the Facebook group “The Eden Assignment.”


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