The Crusader Newspaper Group

Celebrating a seven-year platform to speak to the people

By Vernon A. Williams

In this International Women’s History month, I would be remiss not to pay loving tribute to a pair of female newspaper industry icons that I credit with my start in journalism and my presence today in print news reporting, analysis and commentary.

Imogene Harris provided my entry into the profession, allowing me to become the first “On The Teen Scene” columnist in my junior year at Gary Roosevelt High School. Over the next three decades, she was my mentor, role model, colleague and mother figure.

Crusader Hall of Fame publisher Dorothy R. Leavell, a living legend in American media, opened the door for my return to writing in 2015 after a 14-year hiatus from the business, creating a space for my current column, “Circle City Connection” in the Gary Crusader.

This column was launched two months after the transition of my great friend and big brother Chuck Deggans who penned the iconic social and advocacy Crusader column, “Deggan’s Den” which amassed legions of faithful followers over decades. My only regret was not being able to team with the incomparable scribe.

Ironically, my April 2015 start at the Crusader came almost a year to the day before the untimely passing of lifetime friend, classmate, and best man Lanel Roosevelt Chambers, the brilliant sportswriter for the Crusader whose “Fields of Dreams” column chronicled, like none other, every sport at every level.

My start at the Crusader coincided with my new position at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and immediately after making the commitment to Sister Leavell, I began second guessing myself, wondering how it would be possible to come up with compelling topics every week.

Obviously, I had no idea how drastically and pervasively change would come, locally, regionally, nationally and globally over the ensuing years.

The urgency of news impacting Black America was the initial impetus, whether emanating from Indianapolis, Gary, Chicago or beyond with bearing on all Americans of African descent. There was never a shortage of material.

A year earlier, violence had broken out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson after an unarmed teen named Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer. Witnesses allegedly stated that Brown had his hands up at the time of the shooting. A grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson on criminal charges.

Ten days later, a New York grand jury decided not to indict police in the death of Eric Garner, a Black man in Staten Island put in an illegal choke hold by a white officer for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

These cases and others prompted national protests demanding an end to aggressive use of force by police.

George Zimmerman had already been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, resulting in the creation of #BlackLivesMatter, and matters worsened in 2015 after an unarmed Black man, Walter Scott, was fatally shot running away from a white police officer following a routine traffic stop in South Carolina.

Just over a week later, in Baltimore, a man named Freddie Gray was picked up by police and put in a police transport vehicle without being properly strapped in. He suffered spinal injuries during the ride, which led to his death. Protests, some of them violent, erupted across Baltimore.

After Gray’s death was ruled a homicide on May 1, six police officers were charged in connection to his death. All have pleaded not guilty. The first officer’s trial just concluded with a hung jury. A retrial is set for next June, after the other five officers are tried.

Chicago police came under scrutiny for misuse of force in 2015, a year after footage released following a court order showed video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being hit 16 times by cop gun fire. The mayor apologized.

One of the year’s deadliest mass shootings of that year struck a particularly heartbreaking chord because of its location: inside a church.

The shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church in June caused national mourning and outrage, after a 21-year-old white supremacist was welcomed into Bible study at the famed predominantly African-American church before opening fire on the group.

The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, was caught the morning after the attack and subsequently tried and convicted on 33 counts, including murder and firearms charges, as well as federal hate crime charges. In 2017, Roof became the first person in U.S. history sentenced to death for a federal hate crime.

And remember, all these stories shortly preceded or occurred during the FIRST YEAR of my writing “Circle City Connection.” Clearly any apprehension I had about running out of topics on which to write were totally unwarranted.

Conversely, the challenge more often than not is ferreting out the most engaging subjects weekly.

This is a great opportunity to reiterate my oft stated appreciation for the late Imogene Harris and the still vibrant driving force of the Chicago Crusader and Gary Crusader, Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell.

Crusader Managing Editor Sharon Fountain and the incredible newspaper staff, Gary point man and friend David Denson, and most of all… READERS! are owed my same appreciation.

It is humbling to run into people, some old friends and some unfamiliar, who approach me to say they enjoy reading this column – even if they don’t always agree with my perspective. It gives me a challenge that is appreciated as well as immense gratification.

Thank you! Keep sending your comments and column ideas to [email protected] and I will keep trying to produce a column worthy of your valuable attention. God bless you!

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

Recent News

Scroll to Top