School can be hard enough for a student in normal times. Toss in a pandemic, being homeless and a close family member dying in your final year of high school, and the difficulty is magnified.
That was what Autumn Boone, the 2021 valedictorian of Eastern Hills High School who now attends the University of Texas at Austin, had to face. Yet she persevered through it all and is on the path toward becoming a teacher — and eventually superintendent of Fort Worth ISD.
“From homeless to valedictorian, Fort Worth grad prepares for next step of education journey” was my favorite story that I wrote in 2021.
I had the chance to meet the inspiring young woman and tell her story to Fort Worth. Autumn’s story was heartwarming, but the reaction to it moved me even more. Residents contacted me to donate to support her pursuit of an education degree at UT-Austin. Local officials wanted to meet her and help provide any support they could as Autumn began her next chapter in life.
Stories like Autumn’s matter. They shine a light on what’s really going on in students’ lives. In 2022, I hope to tell more stories about students and their experiences.
The best journalism is about community. It’s about shining a light on neighborhoods, what makes them special and how we can help them.
When I came to the Fort Worth Report, it was to be part of something that is changing local journalism. It’s about going beyond the typical meeting coverage and instead looking at how decisions directly impact the communities we live in and report on.
That is why my favorite story I wrote in 2021 is Fort Worth approves Hemphill housing complex despite some residents’ concerns about gentrification. It would have been easy to just cover the City Council meeting and report the decision. But what made this story special is the voices of those in the community the decision is about.
Through this piece, I met people who are fighting for their neighborhood and they’re doing it with a fierce determination and out of care for their neighbors. I spoke with business owners, the city, and the developers, all to tell a story with many layers and sides about a neighborhood that is worried about disappearing and is fighting back.
This is the journalism I’ve always dreamed of doing — telling stories about community for community. It’s why the work at the Fort Worth Report is so important, and I can’t wait to do more in 2022.
I’m never surprised when people eschew the news for their mental health.
As a health reporter, I’m often writing about the worst days in someone’s life: a cancer diagnosis, the death of a child, bone-deep exhaustion from the pandemic. Those stories matter deeply, but their heaviness can take a toll.
That’s why I try to intersperse my coverage with stories that delight as they inform. My two favorite stories in 2021 — if that’s allowed — did both, at least for me. The first, Meet the people who trap, count and treat your mosquitoes, gave us a glimpse into a lesser known but vital corner of public health. The second, How fear affects the body, from silly scares to serious traumas, helped us make sense of our bodies (using zombie metaphors, of course).
In 2022, I’ll still be sharing the hard stories. But I’ll also offer as much health-related joy I can muster. As we enter year three of the pandemic, we’re going to need it.
In a city as big as Fort Worth — scratch that — in a county as big as Tarrant, it’s important to have strong ties to the people you cover. As the community engagement reporter, I am around people from all sides of the city and from all walks of life daily.
Most times, residents of this and that neighborhood talk to me about their struggles, or their efforts to solve an issue, and it blows my mind how one issue can affect another and how another effort can affect the other.
For this reason, I would like to say my most intense and favorite story to cover has been my coverage on evictions in Tarrant County. It was a real test of my reporting skills. From scouring through eviction filings to talking to landlords and people who had evictions filed against them, it tested my stamina.
Evictions aren’t a one-sided issue, as most things aren’t, so giving all parties their voice was crucial. Most stories I have reported since July 2021 and will continue to report through 2022 will exemplify the need for local journalism in my hometown.
Many see the New Year as another chance at self improvement.
The story that most reminds me of this was about the consequential Fort Worth mayoral election.
As I interviewed residents about what issues they hoped their new mayor would address, a theme emerged. They were proud of Fort Worth, but wanted the next mayor to make the city even better.
This is similar to my journalism ethos. I report on government waste and mismanagement because I believe it will make my community better.
Luckily, we do not have to wait until the New Year or the next election to get started. Regardless, Happy New Year. 🙂
During global catastrophes such as a pandemic, themes of stress, trauma and mental health often emerge in local arts and culture ventures. One example of this is JuJu Knits, a Fort Worth yarn shop owned by Julie Hatch Fairley.
When I first started reporting this story, I didn’t know much about the shop or its owner and thought it would be a fun, quirky story to tell. Once I met Julie, I learned her story wasn’t as playful as it seemed. Her journey with yarn began as a coping mechanism to overcome the untimely death of her mother, and her yarn shop now stands as a symbol of the “healing power of yarn.” JuJu Knits shows how the intersection of arts, culture and mental health can provide a haven to people who may not have anywhere else to turn.
Julie’s story illustrates how you can never know someone’s story until you take the time to meet them and listen to what they have to say. And that’s one of the roles of journalists, to share local stories that would otherwise go untold.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to report stories like Julie’s during my time at the Fort Worth Report, and I’m excited for the next class of fellows to continue telling stories that matter.