I’m filled with so many stories to tell

For the past 13 years, I have been faithful. Faithful to what I believe, faithful to telling stories typically MIA from American journalism — stories of Black life, love, hope, humanity, even tragedy.

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John Fountain (with cap in hand on the right) as a little boy with his grandmother and other members of his West Side clan on a family outing (circa 1960’s).

John Fountain (with cap in hand on the right) as a little boy with his grandmother and other members of his West Side clan on a family outing (circa 1960’s).

Provided by John Fountain

This is my swan song. I peck the keys of my MacBook Pro amid these dancing blue waters that lap at this shore, where majestic skyscrapers glisten in the summer evening sun. Here where I grew up a ghetto boy on the West Side, where I was introduced by Mama to the virtues of a newspaper.

I don’t remember the first time I creased the hometown paper, held it in between my fingers, or ingested it. Or when I grew to respect newspapers, their power and purpose.

I was raised on newspapers back when we had only a portable black-and-white TV and the newspaper brought the world to life in living color. Mama collected a stack in a hard plastic kitchen chair in our two-bedroom apartment in K-Town, North Lawndale — once dubbed, “The American Millstone.”

I don’t remember the first time I inhaled the fresh scent of print. But I remember Mama’s daily regimen: a hot cup of Maxwell House instant coffee and devouring a Sun-Times front to back. This was her newspaper of choice. Not that other conservative, aloof broadsheet. The Sun-Times, in Mama’s mind, was “the paper of the people.”

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Mama grilled me on the news as we sat in the kitchen, sunlight spilling. Encouraged me to read the paper. To become a connoisseur of print.

As a teenager, I bought the Sun-Times from the neighborhood newsstand sometimes on my way to catch the Pulaski Road bus north to Providence St. Mel School. I’d consume the sports pages first, then scour the Page 1 headlines, moving quickly to Mike Royko. His columns made me laugh out loud, think, smile, feel.

And even as a kid who dreamed of becoming a lawyer, I found a deep appreciation for newspaper storytelling. I was intrigued by the thought of being a vehicle for the stories of life, love, hope, humanity, even tragedy.

For as far back as I can remember, I wrote stories. About talking leaves, anything my mind could conjure. I fell in love with writing, with seeing and hearing students’ responses as I read aloud in Mrs. Thomas’ class at Mason School. I discovered I had a gift.

In college, I sought to develop the craft of journalistic writing, lured away from my dream of becoming an attorney by an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who, after reading an essay I had written, suggested I might pursue a career in journalism.

I did. My career took me first to the Chicago Tribune after a slew of newspaper internships, including one at the Sun-Times, then eventually to the Washington Post and The New York Times. 

After a career as a reporter, I was minding my own business in 2010 when then Sun-Times editorial page editor Tom McNamee offered the opportunity to write a weekly column for the hometown paper. I was reluctant: drive-by cyber sniping against columnists; the courage and costs associated with writing what one thinks and feels; the complete absence of any other local Black male journalists at either of Chicago’s two major daily newspapers (not happenstance).

The battle scars of reporting while Black in mainstream American journalism that had not yet healed. The prevailing sense of disrespect for Black journalists, for our voices and thought, particularly that born and bred on the other side of the tracks.

And yet, I decided to give it a go. For the last nearly 13 years, I have been faithful. Faithful to what I believe, faithful to telling stories typically MIA from American journalism — stories of Black life, love, hope, humanity, even tragedy. Faithful in doing my best to give voice to the voiceless. To use my pen to try and make a difference here in the Chi and beyond.

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I have been faithful and true to myself and to journalism in a newspaper town, where Royko, Studs Terkel, Leanita McClain, Vernon Jarrett, Lu Palmer, Roi Ottley, and others sought through their commentary to make this great city on a lake shine brighter.

It is not for me to say how well I’ve done. Only that I did my very best. And that this ghetto boy is grateful for the opportunity. Grateful to you the reader, and grateful to Mama. Even as I exit at this my swan song as a weekly columnist on this newspaper’s editorial pages. 

I peck my computer keyboard in the breeze and summer sun, a freed Black journalist. Still filled with so many stories to tell. Look for me on the news side of this newspaper. 

But for now, Fountain out.

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