“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. “
Martin Luther King Jr.
Although we all have a voice, not everyone is fortunate to have a platform to speak their truth. There are far too many people that suffer from poverty, lack of resources, and injustices. In Chicago there is definitely an opportunity divide and it’s up to everyone to help bridge the gap. This month Chi@Glance Spotlight feature is shining the light on a woman that makes it her mission to give back to our community with a strong focus on the inner city. Chi@Glance February Spotlight Feature is Chicago Sun-Times newspaper Urban Affairs Reporter, Maudlyne Ihejirika.
One of the reason’s I wanted to interview Maudlyne is because of her impressive award winning career. Maudlyne has over 30 years of experience in journalism, public relations, and government. Her B.A. in Journalism is from the University of Iowa and her M.S.J. is from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She has covered several beats in her 24 years at the Chicago Sun-Times and won several awards for her coverage. Her numerous awards include the prestigious Studs Terkel award and local awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and National Association of Black Journalists along with several civic awards. You’ve also probably seen her as a guest contributor on several news programs from PBS-TV’s “Chicago Tonight: week in review” and Fox’s “Good Day Chicago.” She has also appeared as a political analyst on CNN, TV One, ABC, CBS, NPR and more. Maudlyne is also president of the Chicago Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists, Chicago Chapter. Believe it or not in her limited spare time she also wrote a book called “Escape from Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love, and War” (a riveting tale of her family’s survival of the brutal Nigerian-Biafran War). I could go on and on with her accomplishments, but I wanted to give you a highlight to see why it was a must for me to interview her and share her journey with you.
Maudlyne journey to where she is now is a story of miracles. Coming from a worn torn country where education was very limited….landing in the U.S. was a game changer. Her career was already forming at the tender age of 5 when she arrived in America. Maudlyne’s father (like many other immigrant families) instilled in his seven children how valuable education was and how blessed they were to be in a country where it was free. Her father started a tradition with the kids of piling them into the station wagon on Saturdays and taking them to the local library where they had to sit for two hours and read. They would check out 2 or 3 books and have to do a book report. Maudlyne was doing that from the age of 5 to around 11/12 years old. In the beginning on beautiful summer days she would say “No dad I don’t want to go!” but after 2 or 3 years she was knocking on his door saying “Dad what’s taking you so long? It’s time to go to the library!” Maudlyne would disappear in the books and always enjoyed reading. From that very young age her father saw how she devoured books and said to her she would one day write books that others were going to read. Maudlyne never had any doubts that she would become a writer. She envisions writing more books and in the near future starting a podcast to correspond with her writing.
Why is Maudlyne from the Chicago Sun-Times a Chicagoan WE should know?
“Well….you know it’s hard to speak about yourself, but I would say what I hope people see in me is someone who is passionate about the black community, passionate about advocating for my people, and passionate about driving change for the better for my people. I want to be known as someone who cares, listens, and someone who is willing to tell the stories that no one else will tell because they’ve taken the time to go out in the community and find those stories. At the end of the day I hope people see me as someone who uses their pen, their time, and their talent to make things better for black and brown communities.” Maudlyne Ihejirika
Maudlyne speaks from the heart and her stories of real life Chicagoan’s and our everyday struggles are from the heart. During our interview we discussed what issues in our community we need to tackle, her career path, and ways we can invest back in OUR community. Check out our one on one interview below.
Tavi J. One on One Interview with Maudlyne Ihejirika of the
You have such an impressive career! Can you give us a little more detail on how you started with the Chicago Sun-Times?
While I was in grad school at Northwestern I did an internship at the Chicago Sun-Times. I worked really hard to make sure they would remember me by the time I left at the end of the summer.
For those that may be interning, what did you do to prove yourself?
As an intern it’s so important to be memorable in your work most importantly and in your personality as well. From the work perspective it was doing the best job possible on the assignments you’re given and making sure you go above and beyond on those assignments to find your own stories. You want to make suggestions, provide occasional story idea list (whether or not they like them or use them)….they can see you are constantly thinking about the job. So from a work perspective those are the sort of things you do.
From a personality perspective you don’t become memorable if you’re just a work horse and you have no personality. You also have to make sure you’re imposing yourself on these specialists, experts, and talented people in the place that you work with. Basically saying “hey can we grab lunch. I want to hear about your career and how you got where you are.” You do that to all the people you admire in that news room and if they say no you ask again and you become persistent. Being persistent is a good quality to have in whatever job you choose, particularly journalism. So those are the two ways you become memorable.
You started with the Sun-Times after graduate school. What did you cover before becoming an Urban Affairs Reporter? We’re you able to choose which area you wanted to work in?
No. When you first come through the doors as a journalist you just want to gain the expertise in every different beat. You want to learn all about how you cover news and you want to be able to say I’ve cover that, I’ve covered this, I’ve covered this. That’s really what your goal is as a new journalist. You’re only as good as the knowledge and expertise you bring to a job. I wanted to keep moving through the various beats to gain skills and knowledge. The beat I enjoyed the most is what I’m doing now, urban affairs. I enjoyed urban affairs the most because it’s covering everything about the inner city and it’s where education, politics, crime, and poverty intersect. All these subjects meet in the inner city. The inner city is MY community and so being able to tell stories of MY community is where I’m happiest and found my passion.
You left the Chicago Sun-Times at one point? What did you leave to do?
At the Sun-Times I covered housing, general assignment, education, police, crime, politics….and then lastly the non-profit sector before I left. I left after 11 years to work for Governor Edgar as Press Secretary for DCFS for two years. After DCFS I started my own business for 3 years before I miss writing and came back knocking on the door at the Chicago Sun-Times.
When I left the Sun-Times I was covering all these horrible stories about children left in the care of DCFS. At some point the director of DCFS called me up and said “hey how would you like to come and work on the other side?” DCFS saw my passion for these stories and said they needed someone like me there. So I decided let me go and see if I can make a difference and try something new. I did that and I left after two years when the governor did not run again for re-election.
I decided to start my own business in Public Relations. PR was fascinating for me because I stayed in politics. I represented members of the US Congress, members of IL State Legislature, and members of the Chicago city council. Coming from state government I stayed in politics and represented politicians. It was a fascinating time! I decided to branch out when I got tired of the seedy world of politics and represented non-profits because that’s where my passion was. I helped non-profits gain exposure. I found PR fascinating, fast paced, opportunity driven, and expansive world to meet people, go places, and see things. I really enjoyed it, but I would also say PR is inherently contradictory to journalism. During the five years that I did PR I became to realize you’re basically a mouth piece for someone else. You’re writing what they want you to write and you’re saying what they want you to say. And as a writer/ journalist, inherantly that’s contradictory to your nature. At some point that contraction got me thinking is this what I want to do? I decided I’m more of an advocate. I want to be looking for the truth and speaking the truth. I don’t want to be saying what someone wants me to say. So I came back to the Sun-Times.
You covered so many stories so I know this question is so general, but what story or topic do you think Chicagoan’s need to focus on right now? It could be the inner city or Chicagoan’s in general. What do you feel our issues are we should be focusing on now?
I think the biggest issue right now for all of Chicago and most certainly for our community is the mayoral race. Making sure we come out and vote and use our vote to put into office a candidate that has our best interest at heart. There are so many issues facing the black community: police reform, freyed relationship between police and the minority community, crime, and violence….that continues to completely devour the inner city. You have good people that can’t come out of their homes because of the violence. When were talking about violence were talking about gang violence. There’s so many different issues surrounding gangs. Besides the violence we have the gun issue and then you have the employment issue. There are no jobs in the inner city so no economic development. We need to focus on dealing with poverty. That’s raising the standard living and bringing investment back into the community. Police reform, mental health….all those mental health clinics that closed…. didn’t close without consequences. There’s a lot of people in need of mental help that have no where to go. And lastly, education. The Chicago public schools remain sub standard in terms of the number of students that graduate. The numbers are coming up, but students are attending sub standard schools.
I’m sure you’re familiar with and going to the Black Creativity Gala.
Yes I’ll be there!
Awesome! For those that don’t know Black Creativity is sponsored by the Museum of Sciene & Industry. It’s getting children involved in more STEM type fields. In your opinion Maudlyne what can we do as a community to encourage more children to get into STEM fields or even writing?
One of the things that I always say (and it’s not something I made up. I’ve heard it said by other people), but “Our children cannot be what they cannot see.” Unless our children are exposed to ALL these different professions and ALL these different opportunities, they will have no idea that this is something that’ s available to them. We don’t want out children to feel limited by the basketball court and the radio. We need to make sure that more of us are mentoring. We need to go into the community to mentor our youth and give of ourselves. Once we make it we have to give back. It’s inherent in me because someone saved my life. The very breath that I breathe. If someone hadn’t given to me I would not be here. I tell all the black professionals that make it they need to go back into the hood and help others. There are a million different organizations on the ground that are trying to give back on a shoe string budget and we can volunteer to help them. You can give your time. Show these kids that they can be an accountant, or a baker, or a writer or a financial analayis, or a laywer, or a doctor…show them that! Give them a point of reference because if they never see one how will they even know they can be one?
Maudlyne passionately advocates for our community and the next generation of leaders. Make sure to keep following her on her journey.
Twitter and Instagram: @Maudlynei
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