It was the shining moment of my journalism career.
Last night I was a recipient of the Studs Terkel Community Media Award presented by the Community Media Workshop in Chicago. I was humbled to be in the company of fellow 2013 award winners Megan Cottrell, Reporter/Blogger for the Chicago Reporter and Fernando Diaz, Managing Editor of Hoy Chicago,
Their work makes a difference. Their work opens eyes and hearts---and that is my aspiration.
By request, here's my acceptance speech (I got my red argyle socks at Target, Studs got his reddies at Land's End).
Studs Terkel wore red socks.
They took him everywhere. Blue is sad. White is for weddings. Argyle? Studs didn't live far from Argyle Street.......
......"Uptown attracted us," Studs wrote in an essay that appeared in the 2008 anthology "P.S." (Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening)."
"In 1977 my wife and I moved here," he wrote. "At the time it was a way station for many lost Appalachians and Ozarkians, for the mountain people. Today SUV's occupy the space of Appalachians owned fivvers. Today it is gentrified, compared to what it was, years ago. At that time Native Americans hid in doorways with muscatel in paper bags, and the mountain people looked for voices. During my first day there I wandered toward the bus, past a schoolyard full of little kids, black Asian, white, all nationalties, first, second and third world."
That's what Studs did in those red socks.
He wandered. He walked. You all know he did not drive a car.
Studs graciously wrote a short forward for my 2000 collection of Sun-Times road columns. I think it took him back to his salad days as a WPA (Works Progress Administration) writer.
In 1938 and 1939 Studs joined the WPA writer's project. He wrote radio scripts, state travel guides and histories. Studs took it all in, like the open door to his mother's boarding house at Grand and Wells.
You walk, you slow down. And you listen.
I grew up in suburban Chicago on Studs, Royko, Bill Newman, Roger Ebert and Paul Galloway. Short punchy sentences. Room to let the reader breathe.
Space for the drama of voices.
In 2000 I took Studs to my friend Tim Tuten's (of the Hideout music club) class at what was then Jones Academic Magnet High School in the South Loop. The students were prepping for a musical adaptation of Studs' "Working."
It was the school's first ever full-length theatrical production.
One 16-year-old was portraying a cleaning woman. She asked Studs, "I want to know more about her. I know she doesn't want her daughter to become a cleaning woman. But what was she like?
Studs nodded his head.
He couldn't hear well, but he heard her eyes.
He then answered, "I was visiting the Jane Addams project for an earlier book (1967's "Division Street America"). The oldest public housing project in the country. So here's this woman, Lucy Jefferson, who works as a hospital aide. An aide. But she's always reading paperback books. She's got Langston Hughes. Faulkner. Hemingway.
"She's pointing to her daughter, whose husband had left her. And the daughter is now with child. She goes, 'I want that child in the belly of my daughter to read, to see paintings, to hear good music, I want her little soul to fly."
And the Jones students all wore red socks. They walked with Studs.
Studs was in a good mood as he always was when he was hanging around the future.
Journalism is changing at a rapid pace that Studs might find hard to imagine. Studs has been dead for five years but he has a Facebook page. Would Studs tweet? Maybe.
Earlier this week the New York Times reported Hugo Chavez used 4,545 exclamation points in his tweets (An average of 2.5 exclamation points per tweet!)
Studs would have used question marks.
Curiosity did not kill this cat.
Well, once, in 1987, I was on the set of "Eight Men Out" which John Sayles filmed at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis. Studs played the heartfelt Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Herald and Examiner. Studs smiled and exclaimed, "We're going to get that bastard Comiskey!!!"
Studs would never take his eye off the street in a tweet.
I've tried to follow this clarion regardless of the landscape I have covered: gospel music on the south side, minor league baseball in Gary, Indiana, waitresses who love Merle Haggard at North Side Greek diners, or lost record stores on the West Side.
I have strayed from the pack.
This award carries sincere meaning for all of us.
We are walking in measured steps. We listen.
Some see certain things in certain people.
We strive to see certain things in everyone.
Thank you for recognizing our journey.
FROM THE BOTTOM of MY HEART, thank you to my Sun-Times colleagues who supported me last night: Laura Emerick, Darel Jevens, Dave Roknic, Jon Sall, Mike Thomas---you all have made me a better writer.
Thank you to the Sun-Times Mark Brown for such an eloquent introduction, I will never forget that. You hit a Stan Musial home run.
It was great to see former Sun-Times photographer Bob Black and to reminisce about our trip to Cuba.
Thanks to my Naperville Central High School journalism teacher Dr. Marilyn Hollman and her husband Mike for coming downtown. You gave me inspiration and freedom of expression.
Thank you to my friends Tony Fitzpatrick, Bob Roth, Bill and Lucy Trierweiler, Angelo Varias, Jan Walsh, Lynn Orman-Weiss and Cleo Wilson for cheering me on.
The Sun-Times Tom McNamee on guitar--Eddie Holstein taught you well--, Tom, Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn reinforcing the fact Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" should be our National Anthem.
Thank you to Jim Kirk and Craig Rosenbaum for picking up the cost of guest tickets.
And gratitude to the the evening's honorary chairs Richard & Cate Cahan (thanks Richard for asking about my Dad), Adriana Diaz, Community Media Workshop New Media Manager, who did a great job with my bio and Thom Clark, President of Community Media Workshop.