As a journalist, the story is never really about you

Doing journalism isn’t about accolades. Throughout my career, I’ve endeavored to be a voice for the poor. For the downtrodden. For the invisible. For the forgotten.

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John Fountain interviews Jerry Johnson, founder of the African Ancestral Wall in Prampram, Ghana that honors African history and contributors across the Black diaspora.

John Fountain interviews Jerry Johnson, founder of the African Ancestral Wall in Prampram, Ghana that honors African history and contributors across the Black diaspora.

Provided by Monica Fountain

After all these years, I still love journalism. And I have learned invaluable lessons along the way. Perhaps none greater than this: That in journalism — whether as independent objective observer or commentator — the story is never really about you. That it isn’t about winning awards, although awards sure are nice.

That it isn’t about accolades. I keep writing, even if my mug — rightly or wrongly — never appears in any banner with other esteemed writers in this my hometown, or even in this newspaper. as one of the premiere voices of Chicago.

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Doing journalism certainly ain’t about the money. It never has been.

I’ve endeavored to be a voice for the poor. For the downtrodden. For the invisible. For the forgotten. For the voiceless.

For people like the “Unforgotten 51,” Jelani Day and Tyesa Cherry. For the women of Accra, Ghana, known as head porters, who carry their burdens in the heat of the day and their babies swaddled in African cloth on their backs.

For the Black men who sometimes stop me on the street to say, “Thank you, brother. You speak for me.” For the mother of two murdered children I first wrote about 30 years ago and who says that my voice provided “comfort, inspiration and empowerment.”

It’s about being true to one’s self. About remembering the pain of poverty and hopelessness, and the numbing, often brutal, realities of growing up on Chicago’s West Side — where Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were slain by cops, and where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once lived with his family.

It’s about never forgetting K-Town or the unforgiving concrete city streets, where I once played, lived, loved and danced in the cold white spray of a fire hydrant on steamy summer days, or rolled around in fluffy snow in wind-whipped icy winters. It’s about never forgetting the angry flames of 1968 that engulfed the West Side that April night after Dr. King’s assassination.

It’s about remembering I was born one September Thursday in the Chi in 1960, at Presbyterian Hospital to a 17-year-old ghetto mother who introduced me as a child to the golden treasure of unfolding a newspaper and the pure joys of reading and writing.

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It’s about remembering that I am a grandson of the Great Migration. That I was educated, from Head Start through 8th grade in Chicago Public Schools, then matriculated to a mostly Black, Catholic high school smack in the middle of West Garfield, then graduated from City Colleges. It’s about remembering why I love journalism.

About never forgetting that it is a great honor and privilege to write and to be read — to tell through my own heart, eyes and soul the stories of life.

Ultimately, I have maintained my purpose, my confidence and, honestly, my sanity over my career by choosing to believe my fate and my hope as a journalist never rested in my editors’ hands but in a power much higher.

Indeed while on this journey long ago, I came upon a biblical verse that I printed out in bold letters and hung in my newsroom cubicle: “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” (Psalm 75-6-7)

Those words have stood the test of my time in American journalism.

So has my belief in a city called Chicago that I so love — no matter how far I have ventured away from her. So has my knowledge that Chicago’s blues, jazz and gospel form the soundtrack of my life and soul.

It doesn’t get much more Chicago than that.

And as a journalism native son, nothing compares to knowing that I have made a difference. My pen, my words, my love for journalism.

#justiceforjelaniday

Follow John Fountain’s journey in Ghana at: www.hearafricacalling.com.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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