The Chicago Sun-Times and I go way back.
In 1993, the paper covered an event at the University of Chicago when I received my first writing award. I’ll never forget. The news article, written by reporter Art Golab, had the headline Prize-Winning Poets Write What They Live.”
As an eighth-grader at the now-shuttered St. Dorothy Catholic School in Chatham, I reluctantly entered a poetry contest. It was one of those instances when the teacher makes the entire class write something.
Admittedly, I put little effort into my submission. I just wrote about my neighborhood, my friends, along with all of the things kids at that age deal with. After all, this was at a time in the city when kids believed the urban legend that “Homey the Clown” was driving around in a van abducting children, along with people being shot over Starter jackets.
Turns out my first dive into writing caught the eye of one of the greatest writers of all time.
I got a phone call from the legendary poet Gwendolyn Brooks, our state’s poet laureate. She told me that I was one of the recipients of the Illinois Poet Laureate Award.
I was in shock.
I told my mom, “Gwendolyn Brooks is on the phone, and she says I won a poetry contest.” Of course, some of her writing was in our family library, so my parents were elated. At the time, my mother told me that if you won an award without trying, imagine what you can do when you put your mind to something.
Years later, I found my way back to writing. My writing ended up being in media outlets such as Rolling Stone, DNAinfo, ESPN The Undefeated, Chicago Magazine – and later here in the Sun-Times.
I often think of that moment when I received the award. Along the way, Brooks, Ida B. Wells, Fred Hampton and Harold Washington became major influences in my writing. I’m passionate about my writing. That comes from wanting to do right by the people who paved the way from me to succeed.
Video by Marcus DiPaola | Chicago Sun-Times
Currently, I am a finalist for a Peter Lisagor Award for the second year in a row. That’s the closest thing Chicago journalists can get to a Pulitzer Prize locally. My family often reminds me those nominations aren’t the first recognition I’ve gotten as a writer.
When word got out that I had been hired by the Sun-Times earlier this year, I heard from a lot of people who told me what it means for a black journalist to work at their hometown newspaper.
It’s a responsibility to assist in telling the stories of a community that often has a legitimate distrust for the press. One of my goals as a journalist was to get a job at either one of our city’s main newspapers.
Before that, as a kid I read the Sun-Times. And I understood what it meant to the readers.
I read Mary Mitchell’s columns and the Bulls coverage by John Jackson and Lacy J. Banks, the first black sportswriter at the Sun-Times.
As a young man, I was aware that representation matters.
And that same representation goes for all Chicagoans who deserve the best journalists in town telling their stories.
The Sun-Times covered a kid who ended up becoming one of their writers.
I can tell you as a South Side Chicagoan, it is an honor to have a byline in the “hardest-working paper in America.”
Knowing the state of the journalism industry, along with being the victim of a layoff from a previous employer, I’d like to keep working at the Sun-Times for as long as they’ll have me.
For that to happen, I need all of you to put some skin in the game.
All of us have a say in what happens in our city.
Join the fight.
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