All posts by wallacejill

The Way Forward is Helping People; The Way Through is Helping Yourself

Ed McCann, Jr. and Steven G. Watkins

The way forward is helping others

The way through is helping yourself

by Jill Wallace

             His actions were bold and screamed entitlement. I was speechless, a bit uneasy and somewhat afraid as we drove up 67th street looking for parking. There wasn’t an empty space in sight. I just knew we had to trample through the frigid cold and dirty snow like most of the people gathered to pay tribute, an annual event, to the late, Harold Washington at Oakwood Cemetery this past November.

Elected officials, clergy and others who hold some prominence in Chicago had created a middle parking lane with squad cards blaring a screen of protection, keeping oncoming traffic at bay.   I chuckled thinking that Eddie L. McCann, Jr. believed he had earned the right to be in front and first in line, like current elected officials without anyone grumpling or complaining. He was once one of the prominent ones and makes it known that he still is.  He’s in charge, still calling the shots and making plans while leaning like a Boss in the passenger seat of the car.

He gestured for me to stop in the middle of the street. “Right here, park right here,” he says. I’ll get a ticket and towed, I say. He counters, e”No, I’ll just let the officers know to spread the word that this is Ed McCann’s car.”

I take my chances and do as I’m told while quickly getting out so we don’t miss the tribute. As I walk around to the passenger side, Ed is still maneuvering his body trying to get out of the truck. I think about telling him to sit up so getting out is easier, and decide immediately against it.

Eddie L. McCann, Jr. was born and raised on Chicago’s south side.   He is known as the go-to guy for many elected Chicago politicians, and has helped many get elected including Carol Moseley Braun, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Pat Quinn, and Dick Durbin. His role is always to get to the common folks, people at the bottom as well as the top with his quick witted, no nonsense approach with reaching out to underserved and underrepresented populations.   He’s worked on political campaigns since he was 14, serving with his Godfather, Bishop Louis Henry Ford and former Alderman Ralph Metcalf.

“They taught me the importance of helping people, being honest – brutally honest, having integrity, and to have passion for whatever you do.”.

Ed toyed with his passion of becoming a police officer immediately after graduation from high school. He set his hopes on entering the Police Academy by the time he was nineteen. But the violence and race–triggered police brutality issues that plagued Chicago and other US cities didn’t sit well with his mom. “She just didn’t believe I would survive being a police officer to help people because it was dangerous. She thought I could succeed just as well working in city government and continuing my helping with political campaigns”. Ed appeased him mom and promised her that he would never become a police officer.

So, he began a career working in city and county government and politics that would prepare him for his biggest calling. Two major roles in government launched his career. First, as the Legislative Assistant to Harold Washington. “Mayor Washington , – was full of grit and sophistication. He taught me the importance of persistence. He’d often, out of nowhere, remind me that nobody is going to give you anything. Be prepared to take what you want, read to understand the underlying story, work toward being respected and not so much liked.”

As a supervisor for the Chief Medical Examiner, where he oversaw natural deaths, Ed learned the importance of having compassion.   He’d often have the responsibility of speaking with families about the details of a loved one’s death. The delicate balance of being compassionate and having grit would prove more important in years to come.

At 29, with ten years under his belt working in government, he was bored and wanted more but he stayed and used the seniority and time he’d accumulated for personal days to spend time and care for his ill mother. She had developed Sarcadoisis – a lung disease with an unknown cause and no cure, which led to her being diagnosed with Emphysema. Almost a year to the day of her diagnosis, Ed’s mother died. “Just like that, snapping his fingers. She left me but didn’t have to worry about my safety because I held to my promise.”

Ed was in dark place. A sad place. He was emotionally bankrupt and grieved not only his mother’s passing, but for himself. His career was stale and he did not see the light to save his soul. “I was hurt so I knew it was time to get into me. I’d go into a dark room and ask myself, Ed, what are you depressed about, what’s wrong with you? I knew what was wrong.”

He needed motivation and decided that he needed to motivate himself instead of looking to others for the magic wand remembering the lessons from his mentor, Mayor Harold Washington. His mom was gone and she could no longer worry about her son’s safety.

Two tasks lingered after her death. Her funeral and to reactivate his application to become a Chicago Police Officer. “I buried my mom but my dream hadn’t died. I only did what my mom wanted me to do.   She’s gone”, he said, head bowed, body reclined in an upright chair, remembering that moment thirty-four years ago.

At thirty, Ed McCann was clad in uniform as a Chicago Police Officer. Working a beat and moving up the ranks in 23 years, he only wanted to put bad guys – specifically rapists, murderers and robbers away, behind bars for a very long time. “It was personal for me. I wouldn’t go home or sleep until we caught them and brought them to justice. I put people in jail and didn’t care what color they were. I enforced the law, not someone’s color.”

Ed was successful with solving crimes by building relationships with good neighbors, a skill he learned years ago. “Neighbors would call and tell me who the criminals were and when something bad was about to happen. I depended on good neighbors and in return I made sure they had the services they needed from government. “

In 1995 and again in 1999, while still a Chicago Police Officer, Ed McCann ran for alderman of the 18th Ward, but both times the incumbent defeated him. He still believed in politics and knew there was a shot at serving a bigger cause – for someone to fight for the voiceless. He failed to win, but it didn’t stop his drive. “I lost but I’m not a failure. I have no reason to throw in the towel and feel defeated because failure isn’t in my blood. I didn’t grow up poor or raggedy. Our needs were met. And I’ll keep fighting to meet the needs of the people.”

After 23 years of notable success as a Cook County Police Officer, John Stroger, then President of the Cook County Board asked Ed to put his name in the hat and apply for the Chief of Police of the Forest Preserve position. “Stroger noticed that I had skills and courage. He told me he believed I could do the job.” Ed wanted to be a big boss and this was his chance. He got the position amid controversy. To many, that he had only served less than two years as a patrolmen didn’t qualify him to become Chief of Police of the Cook County Forest Preserve – the boss of 80,000 acres of Cook County forest land, the 2nd largest forest preserve in the nation, (Los Angeles is the largest) and the largest police department in Cook County. According to others, he earned the position, the title and long term friendship with John Stroger. Ed set out with two goals: To get results and to restructure the department.

A few years into the job, he began to accept that some people weren’t crazy about him.   “I’m hot or cold. There’s no room for the middle.”

McCann said he had chastised an officer for wearing dress shoes while working in the forest. The officer began complaining about Ed to co-worker, an ally on the Chicago police force. He continued to wear the inappropriate shoes until Ed disciplined him for insubordination. The officer called in the union and was told “that he was under the supervision of the Chief of Police and was to follow all commands and rules given.” The officer quit and, McCann said that the officer started a smear campaign against him that didn’t last. “People can’t handle the truth and I get results. That’s all that matters”, said McCann.

During his tenure at the Chicago Police Department and Forest Preserve, McCann helped churches on Chicago’s south side coordinate their political affairs. He has also served as the political  consultant to elected officials and politicians, including Carol Moseley Braun, Bill Clinton, Dick Durbin, Pat Quinn, Jesse Jackson, Jr. , Jesse Jackson, Sr., and now, Steven G. Watkins, candidate for Judge of Cook County Circuit Court. Ed’s rate is somewhere in the five-thousand dollar price per month. Steven G. Watkins enlisted Ed’s support for his campaign. “I was told to hire Ed, because he gets results, he knows people and they know him.”

With very little time to sail on Lake Michigan because of the back-to-back campaign wars, Ed continued serving people – through his political work and as Chief of Police – though he had achieved his goals as Chief and had become bored again. His life took a difference course on a sunny January 7, 2008 winter morning. He was having chest pains and decided to exercise by doing jumping jacks in his basement. What he thought was indigestion was really a heart attack. After complaining he was unable to move, McCann was rushed to Christ Hospital’s Emergency Room. Hospital officials greeted the medics and explained that they couldn’t take anymore patients because all of the beds were taken. Ed heard the medics fighting to save his life, “You gotta take him or he won’t make it alive to another hospital. His name is Ed McCann”. Immediately the hospital staff and nurses helped wheel him into the operating room for emergency surgery. “I was out of it, but I could hear nurses and people saying how I helped so many people.”   After surgery, the hospital put a limit of 3 at a time for a few minutes of visitation to Ed McCann. He was hospitalized for a week and received hundreds of cards and countless visitors.

“At that moment, God spared my life. I knew my impact.”

Ed calls the heart attack a crazy twist of fate. “I was at the height of my career as a political consultant, Chief of Police, Boss – all to help people, but I was tired.” He was on medical leave from his duties with orders to rest and heal. Then on January 18, 2008, his friend of 18 years, John Stroger died from complications of a stroke. Ed returned to the hospital from the shock of the news. His heart was in double trouble. Again after being released, he was under 24 hr. care while healing and grieving the loss of his friend. His Cardiologist refused to allow him to attend the funeral. In a good ‘ole persistent fashion, claiming that not attending the funeral would be just as bad for his heart, Ed pressed his doctor and was given permission to attend Stroger’s funeral with specific limitations: (1) he was not to be hugged or touched by anyone and (2) immediately following the funeral he would skip the any other tributes and return home giving his doctor a call from the house phone not his cell phone. “Stoger and I worked so hard for each other. I was instrumental in getting Cook County hospital renamed for him, me and Jesse Jackson, Sr. I had to go, there was no way around it.”

A squad car chauffeured Ed to pay his respect to his friend, with two officers, positioned on both sides, escorting him into the funeral service. “I’d half-smile and whisper to the officers on each side of me – to tell the woman or man that I wasn’t being nasty, but I couldn’t hug them or allow them to get close because I had just gotten out of the hospital.”

After a few months on medical leave and time to think, Ed met with then Cook County Board President, John Steele to share his desire to retire. “I was tired and bored again. I had restructured the department, developed friendships and knew everyone and their character. I wanted to enjoy my life without the pressure and stress.”

He stayed three more years and finally retired March of 2011.

At his 2010 birthday party, 500 guests including elected officials, family, friends and Who’s Who of Chicago celebrated the life and legacy of Eddie L. McCann, Jr. Resolutions and accolades were nonstop for the man who had helped people every day of his life since he was fourteen. Outside, there was no parking available. Valet was fifteen dollars.   A young lad, college student studying Political Science, drives up wondering where he could park. “I’m going to the birthday party for Ed McCann”, he tells the valet attendant. “Leave your car here. We know him.” The young man handed money to the attendant who refused it. “Don’t worry. Just help somebody and pay if forward man.”

An Eyeview of Steven G. Watkins, Candidate for Cook County Circuit Court Judge

Photo Courtesy of Campaign to Elect Steven G. Watkins
Circuit Court judicial candidate, Steven G. Watkins greeting voter

An Eyeview of
Steven G. Watkins, Candidate for Cook County Circuit Court Judge
By Jill Wallace

At 49, Steven G. Watkins decided to run for Cook County Circuit Court Judge again. An unsuccessful run in 2010 prepared him with lessons of perseverance, grit and grind. Watkins says he has always “relied on these traits as a private practicing attorney for over 22 years, and now they serve me in a different way.” He uses them to thrive as a criminal defense and civil attorney while working to outshine his opponent, and earn the respect and votes from voters in the 2nd Subcircuit of Cook County in his quest to become judge.

In October 2013, I began a research internship with Attorney Watkins to gather material for a documentary. The internship has turned into much more than research as I find myself working sometimes 12 to 16 hour days as secretary, receptionist, researcher, clerk, photographer, navigator, editor, organizer, greeter, writer and doing any job necessary, not only because I’m the intern, but also because as he reminds me, “You have skills and must use them all.” My access has allowed me to observe him up close, and usually without filters. His character traits and flaws are many and represent the sum of who he is as a man, father, husband, attorney and possibly judge.

His gray speckled, closely cropped mane, finely tailored suits and shined shoes align with his beliefs in presenting the best image possible and building friendships. “The first thing people notice is how you look, the last thing they remember is how you make them feel and whether you’re a friend to them”, he says. He prides himself on being his own barber since he doesn’t have time to visit a barbershop. Last week, during a candidates’ forum at the PUSH headquarters, his campaign manager, Ed McCann, chided him on his appearance and not adhering to a GQ Magazine standard. “Godson (McCann calls him), I know I taught you better than that. It (tie) has to come all the way down and the suit jacket closed,” said McCann referring to Watkins’ opened suit jacket and too short tie.

Watkins builds relationships with his clients and spends time getting to know “regular people” as he calls them, way into the evening past 9 p.m. on many days. “My lights are always on”, he says. People often stop by his office unannounced because sometimes they need an ear to listen. His office at 75th and St. Lawrence has stood the test of time and remains a community staple even after being burglarized and shot at. . The bullet hole is still visible in the front window just below the awning bearing the name, Steven G. Watkins and Associates, P.C. His passion for providing legal clinics and pro bono work over the years in the crime-ridden neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago is the reason he receives a huge number of referrals for legal representation. Watkins is humble, but not modest. He articulates his weaknesses and knows his strengths. He remains a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom as he is known to take his opponent on on the battlefield fighting for justice and exposing the wrongdoings of prosecutors and police officer’s actions with his clients. Yet he remains respectful and with a controlled temperament toward colleagues.

Photo courtesy of Campaign to Elect Steven G. Watkins
Steven G. Watkins and his mom, Saundra Watkins

Watkins can often be found reclining in his chair with his feet propped on the desk, in a zone, preparing for a trial or campaign speech. He’s oblivious to interns and employees preparing documents, completing tasks and attempting to ask him questions. When interrupted, he looks up in confusion not knowing the question asked or needing to give an immediate response. His desk is covered with law books and research material. He hates Post-it notes, tedious tasks, forms, paperwork, cheap liquor and cheap shoes. His desk is a mess and mirrors his mind of many thoughts, nonstop actions, repeated directions and forgetfulness. Notepads, loose papers with numbers and amounts, names and times are scattered. Strangely though, his gift and talent seems to be remembering any and all things related to numbers.
He’s gentle but a tiger and uses his in-depth knowledge of the law to defend, protect, counsel and initiate deals for his clients. He’s effortlessly likeable, charming, wears a wide smile, but he’s late; often late for client appointments.

His mother, one of the first female conductors for the CTA, has had a “talking to” with him on several occasions about the importance of being punctual. Once during a “talking to” on a Sunday, she said that he “Promised to be on time for appointments beginning that Tuesday.” When she asked why not Monday, he replied, “Because I have a trial that starts on Tuesday”, not remembering what appointments were scheduled for Monday.
He loves the adrenaline from doing criminal trials and was endorsed last week and in 2010 by The Chicago Tribune as “being a good trial lawyer endorsed over five other judicial candidates.”

Early on, his committee was challenged with the task of keeping a tight leash on his calendar, making sure he balances his law practice with campaign events. His advisors faced two problems. First, Watkins’ calendar was usually overbooked as he spent most days literally running from courtroom to courtroom around Chicago, visiting clients, leaving very little time for his campaign. Secondly, his campaign staff did not reach a consensus early on about the strategies for helping him connect with voters. There were very few campaign meetings resulting in campaign volunteers, staff and interns not knowing what was needed and who was completing what task. Everyone appeared to take on the role of just doing whatever without a plan causing many questions to go unanswered and the staff relying on past campaign experiences and deadlines.

As Watkins learned personalities and skill-sets, he began leading himself in the school of campaigning and elections 101, relying mostly on his relationships and the skills of the individuals on his team to delegate tasks. He acknowledges his rookie status in the school of politics and running for elected office. He swears that he’s not a politician. He began to place people in roles where they exhibited natural talent, had experience, expertise or just knew they’d grind and get the assigned job done. Often the lessons were learned after mistakes were made but could’ve been prevented with some degree of teaching. Teaching though, is a role that Attorney-Candidate Watkins refuses to subscribe to or embrace, at least during his campaign. Though teaching is not his forte’, he leads with conviction and sometimes with a bit of uncertainty.

Even with the guidance of an experienced campaign manager presenting ideas and ways to handle obstacles and decisions, Watkins usually ponders a thought and makes the final call himself, using his gut instinct and guided by his utter dislike for confrontation, offensive comments or rudeness. During a judicial forum sponsored by Citizens Newspaper, Watkins missed an opportunity to use the strategy decided upon by him and his campaign that he must begin to highlight the differences and fact that he and his opponent are not equally qualified to be elected judge. His son, Zack, scolded him afterwards saying, “Dad, you missed the chance to point out the differences between you and your opponent. She is not ready.” Watkins smiled and shared later that “Judges and judicial candidates can’t demean each other and I’m a man.”

Currently Watkins is a member of several community organizations. He serves as general counsel for the 100 Black Men of America, Chicago chapter and as the Tenth District Representative for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. He has also coached basketball, baseball, served on the board of CASA Esperanza and continues to mentor aspiring law students.

Watkins has a way about him that puts people at ease. And perhaps people, his people and clients want more of his time, more face-time. He has a way of making strangers, his clients and friends feel bigger, prouder and more confident.

At a campaign stop and Christmas party in December, Watkins was still a bit reserved with showing that he really is as common and regular as the voters he wants to represent. Finding a way to highlight that has been difficult for his advisers and campaign staff. After all, many of the voters in the 2nd Subcircuit are poor, haven’t attained an undergraduate degree, law degree or sent 3 kids to top colleges (2 college graduates, 1 in law school, 1 a college freshman and 1 working on his campaign). Most of them have not maintained a successful and private law practice representing mostly poor people of color. He’s a thrill seeker, rides motorcycles, has completed several Triathlons and is a member of St. Ailbe’s Catholic Church. He’s been rated qualified and recommended for Circuit Court Judge by the Chicago Bar Association, Cook County Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Black Women Lawyers’ Bar Association, Chicago Council of Lawyers and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois. He’s been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Thornton Township led by Supervisor Frank Zucarelli, Worth Township, the 21st Ward, the 19th Ward, the 34th Ward, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, Dearborn Realtist Board and Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church.

Carrie Austin, Alderwoman of the 34th Ward was sponsoring the Christmas party. Watkins wanted her support. His campaign staff urged him to escort her on the dance floor for a line dance. He did. Without much rhythm, he smiled and stayed on beat clapping his hands, “taking it to the floor, hopping and doing the Cha Cha” as the song lyrics instructed. A round of applause met him as he left the dance floor.

He won that night. Let’s see what happens on March 18, 2014.

Sweet Beginnings and Second Chances

Sweet Beginnings and Second Chances

By Jill Wallace and Kamara Fant

Clifford Covington’s 11 year prison sentence for attempted murder was complete on October 15, 2010, the most important day of his new life.

It had been three weeks since his transfer to the segregation area that isolated him from inmates, preparing him for release.  He stood up as the warden approached his cell unlocking the door.  Neither words nor smiles accompanied the familiar nod.  The warden told him to pack his stuff and escorted him to the receiving area.  He was going home.

Clifford followed two guards down a long corridor, as inmates extended an arm between the cell bars holding up black power fists.  “Good luck my brother. Don’t be no fool and come back.  Look out for my mother.” they chimed. Common sentiments shared by the bond of incarceration. Clifford proceeded to the counter to sign his release paperwork.

Today, Clifford has come a long way from that small cell where he spent over a decade of his life. He’s the Assistant General Manager for Sweet Beginnings, the social enterprise and for-profit subsidiary of The North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN).  Sweet Beginnings is the brainchild of Brenda Palms Barber, Executive Director of North Lawndale Employment Network.  She says, “After ex-offenders serve their time, they remain incarcerated socially.  Door after door is shut in your face and eventually, you feel like you don’t belong in the community. I started Sweet Beginnings to serve as a training program and bridge for ex-offenders who could not find work.” She stated.

NLEN serves over 2,000 people yearly through their resource and training programs.  They have hired 388 people in Sweet Beginnings and less than 10% have returned to prison since 2007.  “We track our employees through the Department of Corrections and in 2013, not one person employed with Sweet Beginnings returned to prison.” Said Palms Barber.

During a PBS NewsHour conversation on reducing recidivism, Senator Rand Paul suggested that “we should rehabilitate people, that people, particularly kids, deserve a second chance. When they make mistakes, let’s get them back into society and working.”

Clifford #1

(Photo: Jill Wallace/The Red Line Project)
At fundraising event for Sweet Beginnings, Covington explains how honey plays a key role in all of their products.

After his release, Clifford tried his hand at opening a retail store but his entrepreneurial endeavor failed. He was used to bringing home several thousand dollars a week prior to his stint in the joint.  He worked for Gatling Funeral Homes picking up bodies and directing funeral processions. His parole officer suggested he enroll in North Lawndale’s U-Turn Permitted program which offers a four week cognitive behavioral and job training program for returning citizens. Clifford joined the U-Turn Permitted program where he learned anger management skills and participated in “know your rights” and expungement workshops.  His desire for making thousands of dollars a week was gone.  He was hooked on what Sweet Beginnings could provide.  His graduation in 2013 from the U-Turn Permitted program landed him a job as a team member. “Sweet Beginnings is not just a nice name.  It’s a chance for me to start my life over.” he said.  He learned how to become a beekeeper and mastered quality control, shipping and handling, and customer service strategies.

Two days before his job ended, Clifford was offered a Team Leader position to train others transitioning from the U-Turn Permitted program.  He moved into a second 90 day round in charge of demos at Chicago food stores and events to market the honey and Beelove brand body products.  After his second round, he left Sweet Beginnings because funds weren’t available to keep him.  He returned to the community looking for work for five months.  Brenda Palms Barber offered him the Assistant General Manager position.  He hesitated.  Former Sweet Beginnings employee, Kelvin Greenwood had given his resignation as Assistant General Manager because he accepted a position with Ford Motor Company.  Kelvin called and asked him to come back to lead the team and manage four apiaries in the Chicago area.  Clifford accepted.

Clifford Covington is the third of four sons to Regina Rodez and Maurice Covington.  He grew up in Roseland watching drug sales and gang wars.  In 1994, his family moved near Chicago Avenue and Ashland, an area now known as Ukrainian Village.  His father, a Heroin addict, went to prison for attempted murder and spent his life absent from his sons’ lives. Regina became strung out on crack cocaine after her attempts to cope with the pressures of single motherhood failed.  Clifford and his brothers had to care for themselves.  In school, he couldn’t concentrate.  He worried about his mother and the eviction notices she eventually stopped opening.  She was out looking for a hit.  “My mom had a disease and I was disappointed that she didn’t take care of us.  We had to become adults at an early age.” Clifford said.

His brothers stopped going to school and got involved in gangs. In one way, school gave Clifford an out, but in another way, going to school caused him to fear that one day he would come home to all of their belongings piled up on the street corner.  He had seen that in his hood and decided his family wouldn’t be faced with the same fate.  Clifford became the bread winner.

At 13, he began selling drugs to keep a roof over their heads.  He knew he had to take care of his mother and be the main supplier for the neighborhood. “I knew that it was pure and not cut dirty if I controlled the supply.  That was the only way I could keep my mom alive since I couldn’t stop her from using drugs,” he said.

His revenue from drug sales topped close to five thousand dollars a week.  “There wasn’t a reason to go school.  The kind of money I was making as a kid told school wasn’t necessary.  I was already an entrepreneur.”

Clifford #2

(Photo: Kamara Fant/The Red Line Project)
Covington opens a hive for inspection.

Both of Clifford’s older brothers had been murdered by gangbangers two months apart when he was 16. A week after his last brother’s funeral, Cliff was shot three times and rushed to Cook County Hospital. Next to him in the room was a man named Clifford whose ID had fallen on the floor.  He was dead.  The doctor came in, picked up the ID and called Clifford Covington’s mother and said, “Clifford was DOA.”  For three days, Clifford’s mother thought she had lost a third son.  She stopped using drugs.  After Clifford was released, he pursued the guys who killed his brothers.  Gun violence ensued and Clifford was convicted of attempted murder.

Today, Clifford glows when speaking about the second chance with his 14 year old and infant sons.  “I was the parent that wasn’t there for him.  I wrote him.  I told him why I wasn’t around for him.” Clifford said.

Clifford excelled at math and played football.  “I’m gonna give my sons the best and support my older son’s dream to become a graphic artist.” he said.  As he packs up the Beelove body products and jars of honey, he turns around and smiles.  “In order to get ahead in life, you have to sell yourself. Sweet Beginnings groomed me for wanting more. It’s sweet to have second chances.”

What I Learned from Investigative Reporter Coffey

Chris Coffey knew he wanted to be an on-air news reporter right away.  After graduating from Truman State University, he accepted reporting positions in small markets including Austin and Midland, Texas, and Champaign/Urbana, Illinois where he began his passion for investigative and consumer reporting.   Coffey co-founded the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooting unit for investigative reporting.

Coffey is passionate for getting to the heart of stories by using data and hard facts to connect with his viewers. He has been successful with his ability to interact with his audience by serving as an advocate for consumers who have been victimized by private businesses. Many of Coffey’s stories highlight government waste and wrongdoing which makes him known as the “Call to Action” reporter.

I learned from Chris Coffey:

  1. The importance of developing an authentic writing style and voice. You do that by writing and reporting;
  2. The importance of interacting with your audience by using data analysis and hard facts to uncover truths;
  3. The importance of figuring out what you want to do early on and going for it (getting a masters in broadcast journalism isn’t what he needed; he needed to just start reporting and getting the experience);
  4. The importance of maintaining balancing, getting the story and being sensitive when interviewing people with emotional topics/events;
  5. The importance of being forthright and patient when attempting to access public records or other documentation needed for accurate reporting;
  6. The importance of not backing down when business/government refuses/stalls with giving information requested, but to remind them of the public’s right to know, your right to report and referring them to the station’s legal team; and,
  7. The importance of surrounding yourself with a team of experts who are passionate in their respective areas and can help you be an excellent reporter.

Governor Quinn Talks MAP Grants at DePaul

Governor Pat Quinn
Governor Quinn speaks to DePaul students about MAP Grants. (Photo/Josclynn Brandon)

By Josclynn Brandon

Gov. Pat Quinn visited DePaul University’s Loop campus on Wednesday to discuss how pension reform is harming the Monetary Award Program (MAP) college scholarships and access to higher education in Illinois.

“This is so important to our state, not only in the past, but certainly now and in the future,” Quinn said.  “We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college that has the ability to go to college.”

MAP grants are need-based college scholarships that allow merit students who are in need across the state and do not need to be repaid by the student. Quinn said that due to cutbacks and having to pay more money in the pension amount, almost 18,000 students lost their MAP grant scholarships this year.

“We do not want anyone denied that opportunity because of finances,” Quinn said. “We can’t afford to lose all the talent that exists, all the ability that exists for higher education to help our economy and to help all of us, because there are financial challenges that deny someone the opportunity to go to community college or a four-year university — public and private — in our state.”

Quinn was joined by several Illinois college students, including DePaul Student Government Association Vice President Casey Clemmons.

“Every year over 5,000 DePaul students receive MAP grants, and just like the students who have already spoken here today, all of these DePaul students rely on this funding in order to continue their college careers,” Clemmons said.

“Because the number of Illinois students eligible to receive MAP is currently increasing, existing funding does not allow the state to assist all the eligible students. As a result, without action by the Illinois state leadership, more DePaul students than ever will see their MAP funding disappear this year and more

DePaul students than ever will be forced to give up their education due to finances.”

More than 150,000 students nationally receive MAP grants each year.

Clemmons told the audience that on Tuesday, DePaul’s SGA unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Illinois general assembly and the governor to ensure the longevity of the MAP program.  He read the resolution aloud and presented a copy to Quinn.

Ken Thomas, a University of Illinois Board of Trustees student member, MAP recipient and University of Illinois Chicago student, told how he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the MAP grant.

“My mom, when I was in high school, had to work two jobs just to keep food on the table,” Thomas said, “and if we didn’t have [the] MAP program like we do today, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today; graduating with a degree, hoping to be a productive member of society.”

Having a productive and functioning society and economy is what Quinn says it’s all about.

“Jobs follow brainpower,” he said. “We want to make sure we have smart people in Illinois. Well skilled, well-educated students coming out of college with graduate degrees and diplomas so they can create jobs, create new businesses,” he said. “Our goal in Illinois is to have at least 60 percent of the adults in our state with a college degree or college associate degree or career certificate by the year 2025. In order to achieve we have to make sure we have a good scholarship program.”

Clemmons said that in order for that to happen, state legislatures need to reflect upon the question, “What must be done?” and do what’s required.