This article appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of the Wallace House Journal.
If I had to write a self-help book about the week I spent in Ann Arbor this spring with the Knight-Wallace classes of 2021 and 2022, I’d call it “Chicken Soup for the Journalist’s Soul.”
The two fellowship classes from the pandemic years called ourselves “The Virtuals” because few of us had ever met in person, although we’d all spent an academic year attending seminars and making online connections with other Fellows from our cohorts.
These had been challenging times for many of us as we navigated through the havoc the pandemic caused in our professional and personal lives. And spikes in Covid cases had forced us to cancel at least two previously planned in-person fellowship gatherings. So by the time we arrived at Wallace House in April, most of us felt overdue for the face-to-face experience Wallace House Director Lynette Clemetson and Associate Director Robert Yoon had been telling us about for months.
As much as I had anticipated the trip, I still wasn’t prepared for the warm and loving atmosphere that awaited us. Lynette, Rob, Alexis, Patty, Jayson, Melissa, Lisa and everyone associated with Knight- Wallace showed us the highest hospitality the entire week, and for the first time I felt like more than one of 11 participants in a great and robust fellowship.
I looked at the group photos on the wall of the classes that came before mine. I saw the gifts that each of these groups left behind.
And in those moments I realized that being part of the Knight- Wallace Fellowship wasn’t a year-long program. The other Fellows and I had joined a group of journalists who’d had the privilege of spending hours together at Wallace House laughing, crying, learning, growing and recharging so they could go back out into the world as better journalists and human beings.
Although we had several great activities during our week together, our most profound moments came in the sessions where we sat in the living room at Wallace House and shared our experiences. During the fellowship, many of us had relied upon one another for support and advice. But in person, the encouragement was infinitely more profound. It was, in short, the safest place I’ve ever had to share my experiences as a journalist.
I wasn’t alone. Nichole Dobo, one of the Fellows from my cohort, told me she similarly felt the warmth of being among “people who are bringing their whole selves to work.”
“Our backgrounds are our strengths, especially when we come from underrepresented communities,” Nickie said. “We only got one week in person, but it felt like so much longer. I left feeling empowered by the idea that things other people might see as a weakness are actually our superpowers.”
After our graduation ceremony, instead of sitting in small groups at the tables arranged in the backyard, we pushed all the tables together because none of us wanted to be apart from the others. That night, the jokes, war stories and heartfelt moments we shared belonged to all of us.
“I left feeling empowered by the idea that things other people might see as a weakness are actually our superpowers.”
Lester Feder from the class of 2021 remembered the dance party we had that evening after we pushed the chairs to the corners of the living room where we had shared so much in the days before.
“It was a moving reminder,” he said, “of the humanity of the people who give so much of themselves to this work, which demands that we give so much of ourselves.”
Daphne Duret is a 2022 Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellow and recently joined The Marshall Project as a staff writer covering policing issues across the country.