I occurred to me that I am a journalist not long after the age I first realized I am queer.
When I was in middle school, Ohiyesa, the YMCA camp a few hours outside of my native Detroit, offered “themed” camp weeks where youth could attend seven days of traditional camping while learning a specific skill. Among the offerings in the catalog from basketball, scouting, and other such “woodsy” themes, was a curious outlier called “journalism camp.”
The geek within thrilled at the thought of spending a week investigating camp scandals and helping to assemble the newspaper-style final project “The Camp Courier” guided by two veteran reporters from The Oakland Press. So at 13 I packed up my gear and set out with a dozen other nerds like me for a life-changing experience.
I loved “journalism camp” so much that I returned two more years, as long as I was eligible, and began synthesizing my camp experiences with my life away from Ohiyesa.
In elementary school I started up my school’s first short-lived student newspaper: the Titan Times, which we assembled on Microsoft Publisher, printed from a slow, black and white laser printer at my friend Christal’s house, and ran off 100 copies on the school copier for distribution among the student body. It lasted 2 issues, and the second issue had more of my contributions than any other students’ as their attention spans pulled them away and they’d all moved on.
Again, in high school I helped launch another project: Underground Authors. A school creative writing and arts magazine that published twice a year my junior year, and my senior year: when I became chief editor. Along with cleaning up the format, and recruiting more students to write for the publication, I also redesigned the cover, which had previously only featured one piece of student art, which I transformed into a collage of student art. I also thrived in yearbook.
I was ready for the majors.
I initially chose Central Michigan University for my undergrad degree in 2000 because of its journalism school. If one couldn’t get into Northwestern, and didn’t really want to attend Michigan State or University of Michigan, it wasn’t a bad alternative. Many of Detroit’s best known nightly news anchors and sports-casters had attended the school.
I quickly began reporting for Central Michigan Life, where my first story ever went front-page, above the fold. First time at bat, and already hitting a grand slam out of the park.
However, I quickly became disillusioned with the rest of the team. I felt like an odd man out. I wasn’t prepared to deal with the office politics. I decided I would switch my major to English and Communication in Education and I would teach journalism to kids that were drawn to it at a young age, as I had been.
At the same time I began to become recognized as one of the campus leaders in the LGBT community, serving two years as the campus GSA Vice President, becoming heavily involved in “Student Life,” helping to bring events and speakers to campus and otherwise transform our campus. All of the GSA’s efforts helped get CMU included in the Advocate’s top 100 colleges for LGBT students in 2006. It also made me the go-to guy for quotes from Central Michigan Life, helping me keep a foot in that world.
I never did get to teach journalism though. After my year of student teaching in Detroit and northern Michigan, my first teaching position in Illinois came with a caveat: one of the veteran teachers already ran the school paper, and I was barred from doing anything journalism-adjacent in my classroom, lest I be accused of stepping on her toes.
In college I was frustrated that LGBT news traveled so slowly from D.C., New York, San Francisco and L.A. to mid-Michigan, and I began to become a heavy consumer of LGBT news blogs. I now found myself participating more and more in the conversations happening in these blogs, as well as striking up friendships with some of the bloggers I admired.
After several years of dissatisfaction with my first job, I decided around the holidays in 2008 I would leave at the end of the year and pursue my Masters’ degree at the University of Illinois. I also cared less about treading likely as a gay middle school teacher. I began podcasting regularly with the Ace Lundon show, Lundon Calling, and sought contributor status at the Bilerico Project.
By the end of my tenure at U of I, I had become a mainstay of the Bilerico front page, as well as a contributor to several other projects. I was the politics writer for the monthly local LGBT print magazine, Out & About Illinois, and I was co-creating a successful weekly LGBT politics round-table podcast with Joe Mirabella called SameSexSunday.
Then in March of 2011, the Blade came a’callin.
Somehow, despite dropping my lifelong ambition of being a journalist during my first year of college, not only was I being given the opportunity to re-enter the world of journalism, I was going to be doing it for the community that I loved so much, which was an incredibly important and rewarding thought.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to be able to share my point of view with you on the Re:Act blog, and I’m looking forward to your feedback as we all work together to help tell the stories that most need to be told; to our community and to the world.