Surprises, disappointments were part of their job as summer interns at the Crusader, but in the end their experience changed them
By Erick Johnson
The assignment was to interview six customers at the Lake Meadows Walgreens about the Chicago Defender’s decision to end its print edition. When the three Crusader interns finished the task, they hopped into their flashy Chevrolet Blazer and headed south on Martin Luther King Drive back to the Crusader office. Suddenly, they saw Reverend Jesse Jackson giving an interview at the front entrance of the Defender at 46th and King Drive. They made a U-turn and parked the vehicle.
The novice journalists approached and spoke to one of the world’s most prominent civil rights leaders. A day earlier, the three interns had visited Jackson’s Operation Rainbow PUSH headquarters in Hyde Park, only to find that he wasn’t there. Somehow, fate connected them to their target.
Then there was the email from Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell. A week after discussing the hit Netflix series “When They See Us,” about the Central Park Five victims, the email was about an upcoming Chicago visit by Korey Wise, the oldest of the group who served 12 years in jail after being wrongfully-convicted of raping a white jogger in New York’s Central Park. Wise was scheduled to come to Pastor Corey Brooks’ Community Center just two blocks north of the Crusader office on King Drive.
Time and time again, Tedarius Abrams, Elae Hill and Sharon Joy Washington’s eyes widened, in and outside the newsroom, by journalism’s most gratifying phenomenon. For three weeks, they traveled across the city by car, by train and by Uber to chase after stories where they discovered the unexpected.
The three young college students from Seattle, Jacksonville, FL and Greensboro, NC never imagined being just a few feet away from singer R. Kelly, sitting in the courtroom’s second row behind his women at his bond hearing at the Dirksen Federal building. Or how about sitting in the Pavilion near another Chicago figure, singer Jennifer Hudson, at Ravinia on a Sunday afternoon. And Offshore, “the world’s largest rooftop bar” at Navy Pier happened the same week the talented trio started their internship at the Crusader.
The timing. None of these stories were planned in advance. They just happened. They kept Abrams, Hill and Washington on their toes and guessing like a good Hollywood drama. And the three interns just happened to be in the right city at the right time.
The weather was nearly flawless for three weeks, and festivals and fun went on and on and on. The Taste of Chicago, The Silver Room, ComplexCon, The Taste of WVON, the Bantu Festival. Since they zoomed into Chicago July 7 with their hi-tech Chevy Blazer SUV, the three young guns haven’t spent one full day at their Airbnb in Bronzeville. A roster of unpredictable, breaking news stories and a sizzling summer social scene kept them on the go 24-7 a week.
It all comes to an end Monday, July 29, when the trio leaves Chicago for Detroit, where they will be honored after traveling nearly 2,000 miles over six weeks, experiencing an opportunity of a lifetime.
Although the 2019 summer program will end, for these young journalists, the excitement continues. An intense three weeks at the Crusader has sparked something in them and the fire isn’t going out anytime soon. After hearing about Chicago’s violence and segregation, these young people were swept off their feet. They didn’t expect to be this excited about Chicago or journalism, but they discovered that both are exciting if they just give it chance.
There were disappointments. The interns weren’t allowed in to the private auction of Johnson Publishing Company’s photo collection. It’s interesting though, that the auction and the Defender’s last print edition both happened while they were here in Chicago. Makes you wonder. And who would have thought seeing a bunch of city workers on a cool summer day who didn’t know that they were working on a lot next to the home of Emmett Till in Woodlawn? That discovery for these three interns was definitely unexpected.
Can you imagine, just calling Michelle Obama’s press aide for an interview with the former first lady. Washington didn’t get the interview, but you should have seen the look on her face when I suggested that we try. Priceless.
As part of the program, the goal was to build on the journalism skills they acquired in school. But who wants textbooks and lectures during the summer? Reporter pads were many times left at the office and trips on the crickety EL became common.
For Abrams, Hill and Washington their curiosity grew, and their young lives became simply about people and places. Isn’t that what journalism is all about? Discovering The Unexpected?