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My last Sun-Times Column Not in The Sun-Times — “50 Cent a Word: Diary of A Freed Black Journalist”

The Backstory:

On Nov. 25, John Fountain resigned as a columnist after Sun-Times Executive Editor Jennifer Kho told him in a telephone conversation that she would not run a column he had written after he did not agree to one of her two revisions or revise that column in the way she had suggested. The editor's revised versions included restructuring of Fountain’s original column as well as revised sentences and the insertion of the editor’s own words. Fountain subsequently published that column, a tribute to the life and memory of a former journalism student Aaron Lee, on Fountain’s website.

Days after resigning verbally, Fountain sent two other Sun-Times editors a letter on Nov. 29 about the exchange with Sun-Times Executive Editor Kho. One of those editors followed up with Fountain by telephone, saying that Fountain, who has written a column as a freelance journalist for the Sun-Times since January 2010, would be allowed to write a final farewell column. After Fountain submitted that column Friday, Dec. 2, that editor called again to inform Fountain that the executive editor had made the decision to not run it. 

The column, as Fountain wrote it, with a few minor insertions, appears below. The print in italics represents excerpts from the aforementioned letter Fountain wrote to Sun-Times editors after resigning.

Aaron T. Lee: A Life and A Dream Fulfilled

By John W. Fountain
Aaron Timothy Lee, director and producer of
Dream Chaser, which airs this weekend
on Marquee Sports Network, starting
Friday, Nov. 25, at 7 p.m. CST

“I got you. Don’t worry, Professor Fountain. I got you.” I can still hear his words. “Thee Aaron Lee.” 

That’s what I called him. For that is how Aaron often referred to himself, almost in third-person while beaming and flashing his big white toothy smile, his eyes shining with the delight of a schoolboy who dreamt of someday becoming a professional sports reporter in this his hometown.

I first glimpsed that smile in what now seems like a lifetime ago, and after countless emails, texts and letters, office chats and telephone conversations shared between professor and student, mentor and mentee. Still hear the excitement in his voice, always detectable even when Aaron tried to bury the lead while delivering the latest news of some new job, journalism project or award. 

Aaron has some really big news this week. And I know he would call or text or email so that I could shout it from the rafters, celebrate. If he could... 

We both knew this day would come. That time waits for no man. It is a truth that Aaron arrived at in life much earlier than I did.

He was always young at heart. A dream chaser. 

A River Runs Between Us, But It Doesn't Have To

Ancestral Slave River in Assin Manso in Ghana is the historic site where shackled Africans
were forced to bathe before making the final journey to slave castles
John Fountain standing in Slave 
River in Ghana.
By John W. Fountain
I see brother turn against brother, Black man against Black man. Witness this perennial crabs-in-a-bucket mentality in which we continually cannibalize each other here in America in the streets, in public pages, on social media in various venues--entertainment, political and otherwise. And my mind drifts back to Africa, where centuries ago brother sold brother into slavery to the European.

I see us slaying each other today, by words and misdeeds, by the tongue and by gun, leaving a carnage of strange fruit in Urban streets. Divided by the self-hate rooted in Africa, where Africans slew Africans, instigated tribal wars to capture indigenous men, women and children in exchange for guns, ammunition, liquor, for trinkets and a semblance of power. 

Peace, Love & A Fragile Hope

Khalil White-EL, 18, was previously a member of The Faith Community of St. Sabina’s Brave Youth Program and most recently in the church’s Strong Futures Mentoring Program, where he was a mentee. He had recently landed a new job and was sharing his excitement about it with mentors Friday (August 19, at St. Sabina’s back-to-school Block Party held at Renaissance Park, at 1300 W. 79th Street, near the church. According to police, Khalil was fatally shot four days later on August 23, in an alley in the 8700 block of South Wabash Avenue, about three miles from St. Sabina.  (Photo: Provided)

By John W. Fountain

Peace. Into the night, the children smile. Their voices rise above the steady whir of bouncy house fans and the deep incurable pain that is not as easily detectable here, though its presence too is undeniable. Like the water that ripples in soft waves at a nearby park fountain. 

Like the mothers of murdered sons and daughters who don “Purpose Over Pain” T-shirts--decades of grief shared between them. Like the enthusiasm of Khalil White-EL, 18, who bubbles with excitement over his new job--his future as bright as his infectious smile. 

Peace. It flows here, on an August Friday night at Renaissance Park on West 79th Street. Drifting upon a premature autumn wind is a sense of the way life is supposed to be, even on this side of Chicago, where gunfire and murder confiscate childhood.

"Don’t we all bleed the same? Doesn’t every human soul carry the same worth?"