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Today I’m 47. It’s not really a big deal. After all I’m still shy of claiming that my presence on this earth can be counted as half of a century. But today is also the day that I started my journalism career *cough* … a few years ago.
For those of you who know me well… you understand that I have been afflicted with the disease of journalism for several years. My first big story for the South Milwaukee Voice Graphic included a subpoena. There was a developer who built an affordable housing complex after a long battle with the city. The Supreme Court sided with the city and told the developer that he had to raze the building.
He chose not to tell his tenants about the raze order and had them sign another lease. I know because I talked with each one of the tenants. One man hung up on me… twice. Another man called me names and told me I was a liar. I had doors shut in my face. The apartment manager told me I was a monster. What they didn’t know is that I had a copy of the raze order, the Supreme Court filings and copies of the leases. And while being the messenger didn’t feel good at the time, the problem got corrected and a judge ordered the apartment owner to pay for all the renters’ moving costs.
While walking out of the courtroom, the apartment owner turned to me and said he hoped I enjoyed my Pulitzer. His comment threw me off. I could have cared less about an award. Those people deserved to know the truth. And they got it.
That’s rebel journalism. It’s not comfortable. And sometimes things get downright awkward, but a solution came out of my writing that helped my community and it is that feeling that I have been addicted to for so many years. At no time in my 47 years of being on this earth has being a journalist mattered so much to me.
“News is not journalism if what’s being reported is only meant to extract value from communities as opposed to creating value within them…Rebels will listen with love and empathy, and create content that drives actions. Rebels will be the beacons and illustrators of solutions, not just illuminators or disseminators of problems. They will be the arbiters and conveners of substantive conversations and debates, surrogates, utilities, and pathfinders for new forms of diverse and civic engagement.”
When I first started my career, I thought being a good journalist meant that you didn’t own your emotions. That’s so not true. I can tell you that when I work on stories, I always come from a place of love and respect. Sometimes I get angry and even pretty sad after a story is written. But it’s easier for me to acknowledge my emotions and set them aside, then write. But I always start with the notion of my purpose: To help people.
This can come in the form of helping you understand how your tax dollars are spent to helping a mother get enough money to move her family to a new apartment to helping people get access to mental health services. Sometimes I write about things that make me uncomfortable, that I don’t agree with and make me angry. I can always tell when I get out of my comfort zone.
But then I think back to when those people were so angry with me for telling them the truth. If I hadn’t written those stories and testified in court that the apartment manager had made those people sign amended leases, then they would have been left out in the cold with nowhere to live. So is that uncomfortable feeling worth it? I say yes…
And I’m quite happy that you let me do what I love every single day and that’s the best birthday present… ever.