When Separate Equals Hungry

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Freedom of Speech .... The Cost

Photo Credit:
Photo by Gabriel Montgomery Makeup by Melanie Weaver

Maudlyne  Ihejirika

There’s no question about the manner of woman Maudlyne Ihejirika is upon meeting her. The power of being a force of nature permeates from her and you know instantly that she is one to behold with great regard.


Maudlyne Ihejirika is an award-winning, journalist and author. Her professional experience  in journalism, public relations and government affairs has taken her into different professional arenas. She holds a B.A. in journalism from University of Iowa, an M.S.J. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and a honorary Doctorate from Saint Xavier University. She was a reporter at  the Chicago Sun-Times and penned “Chicago Chronicles,” long-form columns on “people and places that make Chicago tick,” with a focus on Black and brown communities. Her honors include the prestigious Studs Terkel Award, top national and local awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, and several civic awards. She served as  president of the Chicago Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists Chicago over her career. In 2020, Maudlyne  was inducted into the Medill Hall of Achievement in 2020.  She also authored the book, "Escape From Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love and War," a tale of her family's survival of the brutal Nigerian-Biafran War, and miracles that brought them to the U.S.
And that’s where her story truly begins. Though it’s her mother’s story, a tribute to the woman that is Maudlyne’s shero.  The book tells of the foundation upon which Maudlyne is grounded.  As a child in Nigeria with her mother and siblings while her father Christopher was at Forah Bay University in Freetown, Sierra Leone to study, the Nigerian Biafran War broke out in 1967 separating the family and cutting their communication.  It reveals the journey of a mother with her babies who survived vicious massacres as she scavenged to feed them.  The challenges to stay alive and yet be in communication with Christopher Ihejirika was a struggle independent of itself. There was a moment when Angelina Ihejirika, traveling to escape  from the soldiers could hear them so close upon her heels that she chose a hole under brushes to hide herself and toddlers in, carefully covered them with bush cuttings and leaves. She instructed her children to not move or speak and so they became statues, being as still as one can be as the soldiers passed by them until they were out of danger. Maudlyne has emerged victorious from her early experiences to be a phenomenal woman.

Maudlyne says, “In June 1969, we landed in Chicago. I grew up and spent my formative years on the near South Side of Chicago, in a neighborhood called South Commons, and then moved to the southwest suburbs as a teenager, and attended Downers Grove, South High School.”
In 2022, Maudlyne retired a week before her 29th anniversary at the Sun Times. She shared, “Like many, the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted us  in ways that we had no idea knowing that it would. For me  I asked all those questions like, is this what I want to do the rest of my life, am I happy doing what I do, is there anything I still want to do that I’ve yet to do? I made the choice to explore that inquiry as a free person. So, I left my position at the Sun Times.” But it was not  the first time Maudlyne left the Sun Times.
She took time off to work for DCFS in the early 90’s while covering DCFS  when they were constantly in the news regarding so many tragic stories around children. I'd received  several offers to join the quote unquote, the dark side, which is what journalists called Public Relations at the time. Many of my colleagues had jumped ship and were on the PR side for government agencies and corporate America because that’s where the money was. So, when DCFS  reached out, and  asked if I’d consider working with them rather than covering them, to tell their story and  help make a difference to turn things around, at first, I said, ‘No. I said, ‘No’ again, but the third time, I accepted their offer.”
She left DCFS after a 2 year stint as a press secretary in the administration to Illinois Governor, Jim Edgar, who did not  run again so  Maudlyne served as a Media Strategist and Media Consultant for members of the U.S. Congress, the Chicago City Council and the Illinois Legislature, during which time, “I also served as the Press Secretary for Bobby Rush Campaign, when Barack Obama then a little known political figure was vying for Rush’s seat, which was the only race that Obama lost on his upward trajectory to the White House.”

Maudlyne returned to the “Sun Times,” in 2016, where she spent 11 years the first go around,  “I wrote the ‘Chicago Chronicles until retiring at the end of November 2022.   More experienced and comfortable in the driver’s seat, she  voiced the need for mainstream media to cover a broader range of stories. “For me it was all about race, all the many aspects of (race)racism, racists, discrimination, racial inequity, equality,  and those positive narratives/everyday heroes making sure that those stories get told,” she says.
Maudlyne was ready, “ I entered journalism in the late 80’s, when our newsrooms’ diversity numbers were dismal. They were not too different from the newsrooms of 60’s. To quote the Kerner Commission report, which identified, ‘the lack of voices in covering those communities, by those who look like the communities they report on. ‘
The challenge according to Maudlyne, was that mainstream media thought, ‘it was about the numbers and failed to understand that hiring more Blacks doesn't mean you're done.’  She says, adamantly, “There's was and is racism to be confronted in the newsroom pertaining to the choice of stories  that Black Journalists are allowed to tell. She pauses to say, “It was that period when the National Association of Black Journalists, came to be to champion those issues that Black Journalists across the country were facing. Black journalists were entering and exiting those news fronts.”

She continues however, “There's this thing in our country where we wavier with the importance of diversity. First, diversity is a wonderful thing. And then diversity is a dirty word. It's like affirmative action. Under President Bill Clinton-- diversity was a beautiful thing. Affirmative action was a wonderful thing. As soon as Clinton left, it became a dirty word, and those were the dynamics that transpired in the 90s.”
In summary Maudlyne says,  “It was a difficult time for journalists. They were constantly fighting, to do the kind of work that they thought needed to be done in terms of covering their community, and to be allowed to do work that was of some significance.”
She says, “The era of 2000 followed with that roller coaster ride we’ve witnessed  the  diversity barometer go up, then it goes down. By 2010 diversity was way out the window because the nation was divided. One part was mad about a Black president and the other not so. But as Maudlyne saw it, ‘mainstream media needed Black journalists’ perspective on who is this man and where he came from, and the communities that had really rallied to get him elected.’
It was the height of the roller coaster ride, “So our stars rose. And then the Obama years ended after two terms and  the Trump era was ushered in.  Once more diversity became a dirty word, right?”  Maudlyne asks.  
“What I've observed and experienced is that mainstream media is a hostage of the national temperament on race. Finally, in essence,  Black Journalists working for mainstream media who fight for rank, must know that being hired doesn't mean they're going to cover those Black stories.  It still comes down to who makes the decisions. And the decision makers have always been predominantly white males.”

Maudlyne reflects deeply, “As a Black Journalist, over the course of 30 years, for most of my colleagues and for the NAB J, this is the main issue of discussion, ---how do you survive that? How do we keep fighting the good fight, not become come complacent,  not give up and not sell our soul? And you know it's always been difficult. As a Black woman, it's doubly difficult.”

She continues, “Those stories of increased sensitivity pitched by  the Black woman to those white male editors, are too often viewed with glazed eyes .”

According to Maudlyne the waxing and waning of interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the newsroom when on their minds would lead to  the formation of committees, and initiatives. We would meet with the executives on an intermittent basis to discuss our quote unquote, issues and concerns. Quickly we recognized that frequently our interests were viewed as confrontational, by the executives, and that they were under attack. In  fact, what we expressed was never quite taken in the spirit in which it was delivered  And without notice or warning , the committee would die. And no one would care anymore about diversity until it became “a thing again.”

We would be remiss if I failed to interject the reality of what was transpiring in America. Mainstream media was but a mere reflection of the shift and the “Sun Times,” was sold and resold and sold again many times over as the paper fought for its voice and station in the media arena. Staying relevant was a reality. All this was in the midst as Black journalists at the forefront fought their battle. As all this was going on Maudlyne leaned in and pressed to be heard as an invaluable journalist with her pulse on the public,  finally  she was able see her stories come to life in black and white print. Those which impacted her the most over the years are the Sandra Bland story, Jesse Jackson when he received his COVID -19 Vaccine from one of the Black doctors who had helped engineer it, the tragic death of 17-year old, LaQuan McDonald, The elevation Cardinal Wilson Gregory,  and efforts to elevate the Home of Emmet Till. This snippet of  stories is just a few that stand out.

Maudlyne shares that early on in her career, those stories that evolved from the Chicago Public Housing, the transformation of it as the nation began to demolish them was fascinating to her.  The violence that centered around  it . . . that began in Chicago told an entirely different story from what was told in the city’s daily news.  She recalls the 7-year-old Dantrell Davis in the Cabrini Green housing project  as his mother Annette Freeman walked him to school.  Those stories that were the essence of why Public Housing didn’t work was motivation for her to pursue them with a vengeance.  Her eyes light up when she tells the experience that captures her investigative reporter skills. President Bill Clinton was visiting the Chicago public housing as its crisis rose. She says, “And “because I’m Black I was able to merge with the people and not be noticed as a reporter, so once the President was  exiting  the site, I was able to address him  with a few questions before his Secret Service  protection ended our exchange earning her an exclusive interview.

There’s that question that we must address  . . .  how did she do it? She smiled that M.I. smile and answered “Isn't that the challenge that confronts every woman? Yes. Let's go further regarding what confronts even deeper every Black woman, because of the dynamics of the economics of our community.   There is a cost.

So, you know, it's difficult. It was difficult for me. I had to balance being a wife, and a mother of two, and a mother of a special needs child while career climbing.” The way I see it, going in on the mommy track led to nowhere.  I had to able to compartmentalize my home life and present myself as a fierce reporter who is ready to rise through the ranks and not someone who was worried constantly about their children. The truth is, in my case it was a constant concern about my special needs child. So, I become two people merged in one body.”

As Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote, “We wear the mask,” So, in public, I’d  show up like I’ve  got it together. But then I’d  go home, and I was just trying to keep it together. The reality is one suffers.  I sacrificed to improve my family circumstances. I did well, career wise, but home didn't do as  well. But you know, you just keep plugging along with your children. And my children are wonderful. Children are resilient. If you express your love for them, they get it.”

Maudlyne feels that there will always be a need for Black newspapers. Because mainstream media dedicate such a small segment of its resources—coverage and staff toward those issues that are relevant to the Black community. And we're not alone. . .” she cites.

As we winded down we queried the value of print . . . hard copy newspaper and how the industry has changed since the introduction of the internet.  We agreed that print is here to stay because it’s important to think about the ‘print’ footprint as history goes. If saved, a printed newspaper is what it is . . . it’s truth and the legitimacy of lie in its existence. But what if the digital news as time goes on is dumped when there is no more cloud space? It’s gone ,puff!  Of, course archives on drives are being saved but may not be accessible to all.  Who knows in times such as these when books are being banned. Information can also be banned. Save your sources folks to be safe.

On the importance of training journalists in this moment when there are so many self-proclaimed journalists who know nothing about journalism—the  ethics, protocols, the practice of  and responsibility to the craft. Maudlyne, says, “It’s a problem but we must continue to teach, train and enforce the practice: research, investigation, facts, not opinions or rehashed stories, interviews of relevant people, protection of sources and more.” She continues, “We must protect the integrity of journalism,” Maudlyne ends.

Currently Maudlyne, is Media  and Storytelling Program Manager at the Field Foundation of Illinois, where she helps to determine where the foundation should direct its journalism grants funding.

Photo Credit:
Photo by Gabriel Montgomery Makeup by Melanie Weaver

About Author:

Visionary Kai EL´ Zabar has worked as CEO of arts organizations and as editor, writer and multimedia consultant accumulating a significant number of years in experience as an executive, journalist,publisher, public relations, media training, marketing, internal and external communications. Kai currently continues her life’s work as Editor-in-Chief Of Chicago News Weekly where she has resumed her column, “E NOTES.” She is ecstatic to be in the position to grace Chicago and the world with a publication that articulates the Black voice.



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