jonetta rose barras Transcript

Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to Creativists in Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.

Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.

Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Our guest today is jonetta rose barras, who is an award-winning investigative journalist, a columnist, an editorial writer, a creative writer, performing artist, community organizer, and mentor to fatherless girls. jonetta’s writings have appeared in USA Today, the New Orleans TimesPicayune, Essence magazine, The New Republic, American Enterprise, the Washingtonian, Crisis Magazine, The Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the Washington City Paper, the Washington Times, and more. Indeed, she has been referred to as a, quote, ‘Washington institution.” Welcome, jonetta.

jonetta: Thank you so much for having me on.

Michael: So we like to start our interviews with a couple of questions, and the first is this: In what aspects of your life do you see creativity having the greatest impact?

jonetta: I think that I like to say in all aspects of my [00:01:00] life, I try to approach living from a creative perspective. What I want to do is to build things, help to inform people, help to expand their vision, not just of themselves, but also of the world and the community in which they live. And so, my approach is always from that perspective. How can I provide the proper context, information, or just simple support and inspiration in what I’m doing to help others achieve their goals?

Elizabeth: That leads us to ask our second question that we like to ask our guests, which is about how you understand creativity itself. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s books on creativity like Flow and Creativity, the focus is on acts that advance a particular field of endeavor like engineering or chess or journalism. [00:02:00] Conversely, in his book, Human Motivation, Robert Franken focuses on creativity in relationship to problem solving and communication. So jonetta, how do you personally view creativity or the creative act?

jonetta: I certainly don’t view it in the narrow confines of problem solving. I really do view it the way I guess a poet would view it, which is within the aspect of soul building, building someone’s soul and building their heart and having that inner strength come through whatever I’m doing. So I see it that way. It’s a whole life mechanism, creativity is. If we’re really looking at it, it’s a whole life mechanism. We’re looking at not just affecting the immediate situation but trying to drive a solution or trying to drive a movement, even if it’s a one-person movement, but trying to drive it to a better place. [00:03:00] Whatever that, in whatever context we’re dealing with, whether that’s better thinking about our country, thinking about the city in which we live, the family in which we live, or you as a person and that care and creativity, building yourself. Defining yourself, essentially.

Elizabeth: I love your term, “a whole life mechanism.” That is so beautiful.

jonetta: Thank you. Thank you.

Elizabeth: And so succinct.

Michael: Alright, so let’s go back in time to those early childhood experiences and what are some of the earliest experiences of creativity that you can remember, either as a witness or as a participant?

jonetta: As a person of color, we know, we were inventive people. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. They would’ve just squashed us, okay? But, so we had to invent various mechanisms for survival, for growth and development.

But as a pure [00:04:00] creative sense, as we sometimes try to narrowly see, use it in that perspective, I would have to say my entire family. My grandmother was a dancer, she was a chorus line dancer, but, and so she went to the Chitlin’ Circuit, as you all know, where a lot of Black performers and performers of color, they’re all these different clubs and lounges. And my grandfather was a saxophone player. My aunt, my mother’s sister, was also a dancer. Her husband was also a saxophone player. I like to think maybe she tried to marry her father. And then on the periphery I had my mother was a, what she calls herself a spiritualist. So to a certain extent, she was always involved with voodoo-like activity, which definitely went to creating the illusion anyway of people achieving what they wanted to achieve, unless it was, of course, some [00:05:00] girl, some woman wanted to get this man and she couldn’t get him and so there was no illusion about that. She didn’t get it.

So I came from a family that was very creative and very spiritual. And so I think that helped to infuse that energy in my thinking and in my approach, when I was a young girl, I used to spend lots of hours reading and writing. I, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.

Elizabeth: You, we were talking just a minute ago about the fact that you’re a native of New Orleans, and it sounds like your family history really jives with the history of New Orleans.

jonetta: Yes.

Elizabeth: Is that, just to speak a moment about how the whole culture and ambience of New Orleans has really influenced you and your family and your whole narrative of creativity.

jonetta: When I was a teen, a young girl in New Orleans—and it seems odd to say this to, for [00:06:00] people to, to even perceive that I could do this because it was a segregated town, but there was some liberalism that one could experience—and so when I was a teen, a young girl, like 11 or 12, I would get on the bus on Saturdays. And we lived in Pontchartrain Park, which was one of the first Black middle-class subdivisions to be built in New Orleans. And there was only one bus that would end at 10 o’clock at night, so you couldn’t go roaming around. What I would do, I would take the bus to the French Quarters and I would walk up and down Royal Street where the art galleries were.

Elizabeth: Right.

jonetta: And the, the vintage clothing stores and vintage jewelry. And that was my Saturday activity. And then I would take the train the, the streetcar and, the St. Charles Streetcar, and go all the way down to the end, come all the way back, and then I’d take the, the ferry [00:07:00] over to Algiers. That was the creative packaging that I did—

Elizabeth: Sure.

jonetta: —for myself that helped me to see visual artists and craft artists and see the city as this really beautiful place where, you know, the, all the lovely homes on St. Charles Street and everything—that was a little bit removed from where I was, but there were lovely homes in Pontchartrain Park, of course.

So I think that kind of gave me an artistic sense of life, you know, that people were living like this, and I wanted to be a part of that energy. And so I ended up being a part of that energy. At one time, I wanted to—it’s really crazy how I became a writer was because I really wanted to be an actor. And I missed the audition for the Free Southern Theater.

Elizabeth: Oh my God.

jonetta: I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Free Southern Theater. the Free Southern Theater was—

Elizabeth: —yeah, John O’Neal!

jonetta: —doing all—yeah, John O’Neal and Tom [00:08:00] Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam and all.

Elizabeth: Wow.

jonetta: So I was like, I wanna be with these guys! I wanna get on the stage! I was so dramatic all the time. And so Kalamu said, “You could always join the writing group.”

Elizabeth: Okay.

jonetta: Because we perform, you could write poetry, learn to write, and I’ll get into the workshop and everything. So I did. And I decided I didn’t want to go into theater after that ‘cause I thought I could do everything is through writing, actually. And, and so very young, I was touched by the magic of the arts and creativity and just being able to inspire people’s spirit to be more than they were at that moment in time.

Elizabeth: What a great story.

Michael: So the, this being touched by the sort of the writing bug—

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: Going from the actor to the writing, but then ulti— then you start focusing on journalism. So maybe if you could talk about how the journey into journalism from [00:09:00] that initial desire to write and to fulfill yourself through writing, what were the factors that influenced that decision?

jonetta: I call myself a journalist only because other people call me that.

Michael: Oh, okay.

jonetta: I call myself a writer. And a storyteller. And as part of how I got into it was that I write. I like writing. And I wanted to make my living as a writer. And so I had friends who told me about magazines that were looking for people to write articles or profiles. And the National Negro Council, the National Council of Negro Women, had their magazine and they were looking for freelance writers. And so I began to do freelance writing as a way of making money for myself. And that’s how I got into it. Back door. I was not even, I didn’t even have a college degree at the time. I didn’t go to school to study journalism. I started writing and was pretty [00:10:00] good at being able to tell stories. And so within the African American community, there was this lifeline of publications that I could write for.

And Ofield Dukes, who was a well-known Black publicist in Washington, actually national, among the national Black publicists, he was like a god. And he was like a god to me too, ‘cause I mean he was like, he decides to start this paper called the Washington North Star and, and he asked me if I wanted to write an art. And I said, of course. I knew nothing about journalism, but he had a cadre of Black women and men who had been working with the Washington Star, I think, and a couple of other publications. So they knew, they knew the inverted pyramid, they knew all that, what you write when you, and the five W’s. I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t even wanna write—we were in a conference room, [00:11:00] Ofield had an office, and he had a big conference room and that’s where he set up his shop—and I didn’t even wanna write around other people. You know how we are.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

jonetta: You wanna go into your little corner and hear your own voice. You don’t wanna hear a bunch of—at the time, I think it was typewriters, I don’t even think it was computers then. But whatever it was that we were writing on, I didn’t wanna hear them. I didn’t want to hear this. And so they really taught me about the whole basics of journalism, which I didn’t know.

When Ofield’s first paper came out, my article was actually the first, was actually the lead article, which was, which would make you cocky and make you think you can do this thing. Which is what it did. It made me a little cocky and I was like, “Okay, I can do this.” So I started writing for his paper and continued writing for papers after that. He folded. He didn’t last very long.

One of the guys who was part of that stable of really experienced writers went to The Washington [00:12:00] Afro-American newspaper and brought me over there. And I did a column for them, Panorama, but I also served as an editor, and then I moved up as a national editor. So now I’m getting really cocky and thinking I know things. And so I trained, actually, several writers who—but mainly I was training them to, in the art of storytelling, how do you tell a story? Not so much how do you tell a piece of journalism, how you present a piece of journalism, but how do you present a story that would make people interested in reading it.  And that is I think the core of, the writing core of me that still can be attached to journalism. Because when I see journalism, I only see it as storytelling.

Elizabeth: This leads me to another question that I wanted to delve into, part of which you’ve already answered, but if one thinks of creativity as a form of invention, of creating [00:13:00] something from one to imagination, then journalism, as you just described it, the principles of journalism, in its ideal form is the flip side of creativity. Reporters are supposed to just objectively report the facts and not make creative leaps of the imagination. So, theoretically, putting aside the current firestorm about truth or illusion in the news, which is a whole podcast—

jonetta: Yes, Lord!

Elizabeth: How, talk some more about how creativity factors into the job of the reporter.

jonetta: I think even if you have a known story that you’re working on, a known event, and you’re trying to tell it to and explain it to the public, ‘cause that’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to give them enough facts, enough information that they can be informed, but also that they can develop an informed opinion about what has happened. And so, even if you’ve got this [00:14:00] thing, this immovable thing that you can’t stretch in any way without becoming Donald Trump but, but you’ve gotta figure out a way to bring those facts to people. And you’ve gotta figure out who are the voices that would best be able to tell that story. You are, you, at that point as a journalist in that situation, you’re basically a facilitator to the storytelling. So you’ve gotta figure out who can help you tell this story. Honestly, forthrightly, in a interesting, perhaps entertaining way. So that’s, I think, where the creativity comes in.

But I also tell people, don’t you ever believe that there is a journalist walking the face of the earth who doesn’t have an opinion about everything they’ve written. They might, they are going to get that side of that story in [00:15:00] there in some kind of way. They’re not telling you, but they’ve decided that they’re gonna use this character to tell you their view of the story. And hopefully the character that they’re using, of course, is honest and is informed and can basically hold back their biases long enough to share what it is.

Elizabeth: What in fiction we call a reliable narrator.

jonetta: Yes, exactly! Exactly.

Michael: Right.

jonetta: Exactly. I was lucky enough, I think, early in my career to realize that I’m never going to be able to pretend this much. That it doesn’t matter to me. That I am a neutral player in this game. I am not a neutral player. So figure out where you want to be.

And an argument with one of my editors at the Washington Times, where I decided I was going to quit. And I did [00:16:00] quit, actually, as a reporter. And, but I was offered the opportunity to write op-eds for the Washington Times. And I took that opportunity and that was in 1994. And I’ve been writing mainly opinion pieces or point of view pieces ever since. And within the context, obviously, of an opinion piece, you still have that same dilemma. How do you get the story over? Okay, now you’re a character, you’re the I—

Elizabeth: Right.

jonetta: —in the story to a certain extent, but you want other, you want other voices, you want somebody else to, to show the other side of the story. And so that gives me the same opportunity to be creative within opinion writing and not to necessarily just say, “I think this—.”Oh my God. Could be very boring to say “I” all the time.

Elizabeth: Sure.

jonetta: I do try to approach it in a much more creative way.

Elizabeth: Sure.

Michael: So is the, it sounds like the act of [00:17:00] creation when it comes to creating the story out of journalistic facts is an orchestration of different perspectives or different people’s voices and then presenting that story in a persuasive manner.

jonetta: Exactly.

Michael: It’s almost stories are arguments in narrative form.

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: Because ultimately, I guess you’re trying to persuade—

jonetta: Yes.

Michael: And so in terms of just selecting, I guess, a variety of voices, what role does creativity play in that selection process of the different kinds of voices that you might want to include in a story in terms of keeping it coherent or keeping it logical?

jonetta: I’m always looking for people who feel passionate about what they feel. And so I’m always looking for people who will, they might go over the line a little bit because they feel passionate, but I want to hear a dramatic voice. I want to hear an informed voice. I want someone who has a historical perspective to [00:18:00] a certain extent on some of this. And I want someone who’s gonna be fun for me to interview. I’m not lying. It’s fun to hear somebody go off. Oh, Lord, yes, I’m gonna use that! I was talkin to someone the other day who said to me, it was funny, he said, “Every time I see Brook Stevens—Brooke Pinto”—who is the Ward 2 council member—”she reminds me of a, a prom queen.” And I said, “Oh, I have to use this sometime!” So it’s little things like that. I of course didn’t use that in that piece ‘cause it was much too serious to use that dig. But, but I’m not beyond using a digg or two to make a point and to keep it lively.

And so for me it’s about that kind of combination of characters who know what they’re talking, who have seen the landscape and so they can contextualize, and who are passionate [00:19:00] about an issue. And they’re not just going to speak to me from a theoretical kind of perspective, which can be boring and flat.

Elizabeth: I wanna dig  a little deeper into this journalistic responsibility for truth telling that you talked about earlier.

Now, I’m someone who has watched a lot of police procedurals on TV, and it is always astonishing to me to see how cops can, quote, “fake out” a suspect or a witness to get information or a confession or whatever. And presumably journalists can’t do that, at least not ethically, but can you talk about the other creative ways that, that you and your fellow journalists have of finding sources, of getting people to go on record or on background or otherwise unearthing the story about what has happened or what’s about to happen given a current issue.

jonetta: Let me back up a little bit on that question. I was a community organizer, professional community organizer for 10 years. Trained [00:20:00] professional community organizer, trained in the Saul Alinsky model of organizing like Barack Obama. And I had my training in San Francisco at a place called the Outer Mission Organization, and the guy who trained me was partially blind and we would go out door knocking, which tells you it was a whole different time.

Michael: Really.

jonetta: We would go door knocking and one day we were in the Mission District of San Francisco, and we were knocking on doors and the first couple of people that we talked to, “Well how’s it in your community? What are some of the issues?” “Ah, things okay, okay, okay.” And so he said, “jonetta, describe to me the neighborhood.” And so I’m describing, it’s the, there’s a, the sidewalk, there’s trash cans here and there. So I try to describe it in the kind of details that he wants and he says, “Is there any trash on the street or anything?” I [00:21:00] said, “Yeah.” And so he says, “Okay.” So the next house we knock on, he says, to the person or woman, he says, “How do you think about how the city is keeping your street clean? Because there’s trash all over. Does that bother you?” “Yeah, it bothers me,” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Oh my God, we couldn’t leave the woman! She was, she just started running off all the problems.

And I think that’s the same thing that reporters do to a certain extent when they’re talking to people, they’re gonna pick up a thread or they’re gonna share a thread that they picked up from someone else in that story and in their reporting, which will help each person that they’re talking to become relaxed. Because now you’ve talked to this person who knows a little bit and if they can use that person’s name and that person’s name matters to this person you’re interviewing, then that’s gonna help as well. I do that quite often. I talked to this person, she said, blah, [00:22:00] blah, blah, or he said, blah. What do you think? And that gets people talking to you about things that matter.

The other thing that I think a lot of reporters do, I know I do, is, “Why don’t you just talk to me off the record? Just tell me what matters to you. How do you feel about this?” And after they’ve talked to me and they like, you know, that I listen— ‘cause that is definitely one of the things you have to learn to do is listen very well and listen closely—and they’ve gotten comfortable with me, I’ll say, “Is there anything that you’ve said that you think you want to say on the record?” And invariably they’ll say I, you could say this, and you could say that.

And, and so that is how you build relationships, I think. In life in general. You don’t have the same amount of time obviously, but you have to get the people that you’re interviewing to trust you and to believe that your intent is an honest and fair intent. Even if you don’t [00:23:00] share their point of view. Many times, I don’t share the point of view with people that I’m interviewing, but I say to them, I want to be fair, want to get that point of view in. It may not be the dominant point of view, but I wanna get it in because I want to be fair in this conversation.

Elizabeth: It sounds like the skillset of the community organizer and the skillset of the reporter as you’re describing it is very similar.

jonetta: It is. And I think that’s why I’ve stayed in the business as long as I have is because I do see that there is a intersection there in terms of being able to inform people, get people motivated to make change in their lives, either personal lives or community life. And also to hold leaders, your community leaders, your elected leaders accountable for what they’re doing or not doing. And those were driving forces in my work as a community organizer. [00:24:00]

Elizabeth: That leads right to my next question. As someone who’s been in DC for about 40 years, you and your reporting and editorials have come across my radar screen many times. So, thank you.

jonetta: Thank you.

Elizabeth: For 40 years of good reading. I think of you as a, an old school kind of muckraker-ing reporter who holds the local power structure’s feet to the fire for ineptitude or cronyism or corruption or other ills. Tell me more about how you came to take on the establishment in print and otherwise. Is your passion for uncovering inconvenient truths formed by history or heroic acts or does it come from someplace else?

jonetta: I think it comes from the core of a community organizer. I tell people, “You are paying for this.” I don’t care if you are a welfare recipient, when you go to the store and you purchase something, you are paying taxes. You are paying [00:25:00] for your government. You have the right to expect people to serve you well and you have the right to demand that they serve you well, regardless of your economic class.

And so that is how I approach everything. If, in terms of my reporting, if there is—people thought very highly of Marion Barry.

Elizabeth: Right.

jonetta: He came across as someone who cared about poor people. And yet he was screwing poor people every day! I couldn’t stand it! And so I would be one of the few people who would try to get people to understand, you deserve better. Yeah, he’s, he’s very charismatic. He’s very good at managing the media and managing your perception of him.

Elizabeth: Mayor for life, yeah.

jonetta: But don’t focus on that. Focus on the fact that there are six agencies under this man’s control that are now being run by a court order, court receiver, [00:26:00] and all of those six agencies affect poor people.

Elizabeth: You’re talking about the control board, back—

jonetta: No, not the control board. We had the Commission on Mental Health—

Elizabeth: Okay.

jonetta: —the DC Child and Family Services Agency, at one point the DC Public Schools, you had the—and the public housing and he was staying at people’s houses in public housing! “I care about you and so I’m gonna spend the night at your house.” No, he doesn’t care about you.

And so I think that is part of what we have to do as journalists and as artists, I think. If we’re intending to make a better world, which I think every creative person intends that, directly or indirectly, make a better world, to create a moment where things will be enhanced for everyone. If we’re intending to do that, then we have to challenge. [00:27:00] We have to challenge the leaders, we have to challenge their perspective, and sometimes we have to even challenge ourselves and refocus.

Last year or year before last—can’t remember it’s all running together now—but, but I had not been a very strong supporter of statehood, but there was a moment that something happened that made me realize, no, you gotta change this. Your whole, your perspective is not correct. Get it together. And I wrote about that in a column to say, y’all know what? Nah, I support it. And it, that’s what I do when I do that in public, I do that because I want people to understand we are all growing together and it’s okay to change your perspective. You might change your perspective opposite of what I had, but you can change. And in fact, we want you to [00:28:00] change. You can take the information I give you and you reach an entirely different conclusion than I do, but I want you to think. I want you to use that beautiful mind of yours. And I want you to care enough that you will become engaged. That is the whole purpose.

Elizabeth: I wanna just insert here for our listeners who are not from the District of Columbia or the parts nearby, that the issue of statehood for the Wash– for Washington DC is rooted in many things, a driving force of which is the fact that the District of Columbia residents have no voting representation in Congress. We have no senator. We have a non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who only can vote when the House decrees the quote “Committee of the Whole.” She can vote in committee. But it is a really very passionate issue for residents of the nation’s capital not to have a voting voice in Congress.

jonetta: Well, and just look at what the recent 118th [00:29:00] House, Congress, the House, especially. “The MAGA House” is what I call it. They, what they just recently did was pass, in their rules, that the mayor of the District of Columbia cannot come on the House floor. What? Are you kidding me? Do you know how much money district residents pay in terms of taxes, federal taxes and everything, paying your salary and you don’t even represent us! And so that’s the kind of thing that gets me all worked up. And I wanna get other people worked up about the injustice that is there.

Elizabeth: We, the budget of the District of Columbia is often controlled by the House Appropriations Committee, the subcommittee. And so folks here can’t spend their own local dollars the way they see fit.

jonetta: Yeah. Exactly.

Elizabeth: It’s a real thorn, thorny issue locally. But moving right along.

Michael: Yeah, this whole theme of challenging power, and I think recent polls have shown how depressed Americans are—there, there’s a lot written about it recently.

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: And so sometimes it seems like a hopeless cause. [00:30:00] Yes, challenge power, but things just never seem to change.

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: So I was just won– in terms of your sources of inspiration that keep you going in face, in the face of “The MAGA House” or the return of the “The MAGA House.”

jonetta: That’s right!

Michael: Or the return of whatever your, the power structure is that you feel is, of, keeping progress down. Are there movies, are there books? Are there things that keep you going?

jonetta: Actually, it’s funny because sometimes I do get depressed, too. I mean, recently I was talking to someone, I said, “I don’t know how long I’m gonna be able to do this because I feel like I’m, like, going around in circles and things aren’t changing.” And then all of a sudden somebody does something or something is said that inspires me. And in this case it was Hakeem Jeffries and the Democrats in the vote for the, in the vote for the Speaker of the House. I was impressed with those guys, that they were there till all weird hours of the night [00:31:00] voting in block. 212, 212, 212, 212. And then Hakeem Jeffries gets up and delivers the speech without notes talking about what the Democrats have done, but also talking about where we need to go as a country and our, the importance of our democracy. And so then you get reminded, then you get reminded of the whole historical sweep. You wanna go back to, the Civil Rights, the Civil War and then move up to Reconstruction and Jim Crow and, and so then you start realizing that, jonetta, what you are going through now seems humongous, but what those people were dealing with really was humongous. And they manage to produce progress along the way. Surely your generation and the next generation can be, can do that. All we have to do is have the same [00:32:00] determination.

And so I’m just a little piece of that. My role, I don’t see as any more significant than my neighbor’s role. And all of us have a voice, and all of us have to contribute, and all of us can do it in creative ways. And I see people in, in this community trying to respond in their own creative ways to the moment that is demanding us to stand for humanity and stand for democracy.

Elizabeth: Speaking of standing for democracy, on a very serious note, all over the world, journalists are killed or imprisoned or persecuted for doing their jobs in the face of grave danger. And through their work, they create a dimension of factuality, of truth, if you will, where larger forces are determined to blot it out. So jonetta, could you speak just briefly about the challenges you faced in your life in [00:33:00] terms of pushing back against those larger political and powerful forces?

jonetta: I think I, I faced more challenges as a journalist ‘cause I—not as a journalist, as a community organizer.

Elizabeth: Okay.

jonetta: Because I started my community organizing in Jackson, Mississippi.

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh. Yeah.

jonetta: And, and we were, trying to get certain services for Black people. We were fighting a segregated education system down in Mississippi, in Jackson, when I was working with welfare recipients. But I also did a lot of organizing around housing. I was one of the first people to organize a citywide housing strike and a tenant strike and we won except that I could not stay in the place where I had lived. That was part of the settlement, was that I had to move out. And—

Elizabeth: ‘Cause you were an outside agitator?

jonetta: I really—

 Elizabeth: You were one those!

jonetta: I was an inside agitator—

Elizabeth: An inside agitator,

jonetta: —but they wanted me to be an outside agitator, so I said, “Ok, I’ll go out. No problem. Just don’t move these people.” And, and so there were, during that [00:34:00] rent strike, there were,threats that, that we, the organizers, received. Because we started with our property but then this guy—Mays was his last name, I’m forgetting his first name—but he owned other rental property, we certainly we started organizing on those properties as well.

And here in, in the District, there were times when I would take positions that were unpopular in the community. In many instances I really didn’t know that threats had been made. In fact, when I was working at the Washington City Paper, and David Carr was the editor, years later, after he went and was working at the New York Times, he and I had a conversation and he mentioned to me a couple of times his family was threatened. And I said, “No, you’re joking.” And he said, “No. We were threatened with death if we didn’t do certain things about you.” I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that?” And he says, “Because I really didn’t want you to stop doing what you were doing.” And [00:35:00] so to a certain extent, when you see that there’s this dynamic, you see a journalist being threatened, on the back end of that is some editor or publisher who is giving that journalist the room that they need to tell this story because it is a passion.

And so a lot of these journalists who put their lives on the line are doing it because they believe in what they’re doing and they understand the potential positive impact of their work. And in my case, it was just, it’s just a local story. Coming after Charlene Drew Jarvis who was, who’s an icon, ‘cause her, ‘cause of her daddy and, and what he did in terms of Black history, the whole research around blood plasma and all of that, she’s an icon. And then you get Marion Barry, who’s another icon, like, and then you write about just all the Black people who just aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do as leaders. And so you get, suddenly [00:36:00] people think you hate Black people, and so maybe you hate yourself. No, I love Black people, but I want the Black people that you all have picked, have chosen, to serve you well. And if you aren’t gonna raise it, I’m gonna raise it.

So yes, there are, there’s always that challenge of someone coming after you. I remember I was in a club one night and, in Adams, Morgan trying to have a few drinks and doing the New Orleans thing. And so, someone came behind me, a guy, and he put his, his hand deep into my shoulder. To the point it was hurting. And he whispered in my ear, “Now, you need to leave Charlene alone.” And so the guy who was with me said, “What was all of that about?” I said, “That’s just some fool who thinks that he can manipulate and intimidate me.” And that’s not possible. And I think that’s the message that I have said to everyone: I am not the kind of [00:37:00] person to be intimidated. I’ve lived a life on the edge for so long, in so many places that it’s not easy to intimidate me.

Michael: And so, I think you’ve spoken to this, you’ve, you’re a writer, the whole notion of being a journalist has been applied to you, but you’ve always considered yourself a writer. Then you’ve spoken of yourself as an editorialist.  And so one, I’m interested in the distinction maybe between those two that sometimes maybe you’re, you need to be more of a journalist at sometimes or more of an editorialist at sometimes. Is there a distinction between those two when you’re approaching a story? Are some stories like, I should tamp down my perspective on this particular story versus this story here where my perspective is maybe more important and I wanna be more persuasive with that perspective? Are there moments where you have to put on different hats when you’re writing?

jonetta: There are. Recently, I, I received a grant in 2018 to do an investigative report looking at the [00:38:00] link between trauma and education failure in DC. That is a story that required me to approach it from a, from a, as an objective position as possible so that I can actually present the information in a way that people wouldn’t see it as me just spouting off my opinions. These are the facts, these are the stats, this is what the experts say, this is what people, young people are saying. And, and I just did that in 2021 and 2022 with The DC Line, we got a grant from Spotlight DC, which is an investigative fund that that provides support for writers dealing with in-depth issues. We looked at the child welfare system, five-part series. My editor told me, “Oh my Lord. This is like a small book.” It’s, I was like, [00:39:00] yeah, I know. I didn’t start off to write a small book, but what am I gonna do? This is it!

And but the, the story itself, I had experts and advocates who could tell that story without me intruding. What I brought to it, obviously, and I think that’s why it became a small book, was a passion about the issue itself because it involved children and the government not protecting children and children being killed by their own relatives, their mothers and fathers, and being abused in the city, having such a kind of flimsy system of protecting them. And the city, the court was rolling out of this 32-year-old lawsuit. Even the lawyers who brought the lawsuit were rolling out, and I thought, they’re rolling out at a time when things really aren’t fixed. But I think they got burned out. It just, they were just [00:40:00] tired of it.

And so yes, there are times when I have to say, pull back your opinion and let the story speak for itself. Let the facts speak for themselves. Let the people who are involved here speak for themselves. You give them the path and you try to present it in a way that matters. That, that people will understand this matters. This is not some flighty, flaky, insignificant issue that we’re dealing with. And so, there are moments like that.

But even in my opinion writing that I do, I try to report. So I’m bringing facts of the story to people. I just did something about, I, I took this whole crime thing and that the rise of crime in DC and the fact that just recently two kids, nine and six, were shot coming off the Metrobus from school. And my own, my [00:41:00] granddaughter goes to school not far from where that shooting occurred. And, and so her mother was talking to her about it. She seemed to be tuning it out. This is the second day after the shooting. And as I talked to her about it, I realized she wasn’t tuning it out, she was processing it in a way that a lot of kids are forced to process it. They are traumatized.

And so the headline for my column was “DC, A Traumatized City.” And you realize that there are adults and children who were traumatized by this entire state of affairs. But to hear it from her perspective, just a few lines where she says basically that I asked her was she worried about it ‘cause it happened so close to her apartment where they lived and the school where she attends. And she says, “Yes. And I’m also angry. I’m [00:42:00] tired and I’m sad.”

I think that is the state of affairs for a lot of people, not just young people, but adults have the same reaction. And so inside that column I take people through, the fact that the council defunded, although they won’t say it that way, but they reduced the funding for the police. They reduced the span of reach for the police. At the same time they relied on these violence interrupters. And it’s a program that hasn’t been properly evaluated in my perspective. So I bring all of that in for people to appreciate the context of this. And I think that’s part of, I call myself, if I call myself a journalist, as a contextual journalist. What I’m trying to do is I’m trying to connect the facts. I’m trying to place people within the global sphere of this whole issue so you can appreciate where it came from, where we are [00:43:00] now, where it could be going, and where do you wanna be in this. Where do you wanna be?

Michael: I love that term, “contextual journalist.”

jonetta:  Yeah. Yeah.

Elizabeth: In addition to being a contextual journalist, you’ve also been a collaborative journalist in many parts of your career. You’ve been a part of many legendary news programs, both nationally and in the DC region, such as CBS’s 60 Minutes and PBS’s Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg, and This Is America with Dennis Wholey, as well as previously co-hosting the DC Politics Hour on WAMU with Kojo Nnamdi.

Now, as theater people, Michael and I, it seems to us that these programs are very focused forms of improvisation. That each host or analyst picks up on what the other host or the guest is saying and takes it to another level, which seems to me to be incredibly creative. So can you talk about this kind of [00:44:00] collaboration and what that creative energy is like when you’re in a discussion with other reporters or other editorial, contextual journalists or guests of different sorts?

jonetta: When I saw that as a question that you might ask, I, I was like, that’s interesting. Improvisational theater.  And so, I thought, yeah, I guess there is a piece of that there because you are playing off the other person.

I think when people hire when they decided to hire me and put me with Kojo, I knew Kojo in a different setting and so it was gonna be very interesting how we fed off of each. Kojo is much more laid back, much more controlled, much more British. I am of course, much more loose and much more New Orleanian, . So I’m subject to say anything that comes to my mind. In some cases he would be like when we’re doing the [00:45:00] show, he would, they were like, “Okay, that’s jonetta.” So there was that where, I knew he might come from a more controlled perspective. He is, after all, he was, after all, when I was there, and he still is actually the lead host, I was the co-host, so I could take liberties that he might not be able to take. And in some instances, he and I would have spoken about something. So I know he had a much more a much more radical maybe perspective on something or a very different perspective than what he might be articulating at that time. And I just took it upon myself.

But I think it was our personalities. We’re well, we’re compatible. And I find that when I’ve done other radio shows especially I look for people who will bring that, that dichotomy. Because that’s what you want, that makes the show interesting. But at the same time, if they don’t share your point of view, it makes it much more informative. And you can certainly have a [00:46:00] larger audience as a result, because now you’ve got people on both sides or multiple sides of the issue listening in to hear what you have to say.

And even to this day, there are people who used to listen to me, I’m not on radio anymore, but they remember me when I was on radio and that they would say, “Wow, you used to say a lot of stuff. I was like, ‘They haven’t fired her yet?’”

Elizabeth: “Can jonetta say that?”

jonetta: “Did she really say that?”

And, but it was important I think for people to have an honest view. And, and I have always dedicated myself to honesty. Partly because my grandmother made me believe that the biggest sin in the world was lying. And, ‘cause she had this thing, like, okay, if you lie, you’re gonna steal, if you steal, you’re gonna kill. It was the slippery slope thing. And I actually, I mean she ingrained [00:47:00] that in us. I don’t know about my other siblings, whether they took it to heart the way I did. But if you wanna really end a relationship with me, lie.

Elizabeth: Wow.

jonetta: And I tell people, “Don’t lie. Just tell me the truth and then let me try to manage that.” But so, part of my approach to life, not just to the work, but to life, is to be honest, to be truthful, to—I don’t wanna harm people in my desire to be truthful, but I do try to make sure that my truth is told and is shared and is not hidden. Transparency in relationships. And I have a relationship with everyone who reads my work and with the city in general. And so I have a responsibility as a result to be honest about it.

Michael: Now you also authored the Loose Lips page in the Washington City Paper [00:48:00] back in the day. I don’t remember the dates.

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: But, and it was frequently called a, what, a gossip column. A substantiated gossip column. And I dunno how this plays into gossip, if you’re just telling what you’ve heard, that’s, can be honest. But it’s a gossip column. And then I also read that you identified yourself when you were the columnist.

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: As opposed to, I think the earlier columnist, it was anonymous. Yeah. And so, could you speak maybe about that choice? Identifying yourself as a columnist and the role creativity played in the whole column?

jonetta:  I think when I came to the column it wasn’t a gossip column. Ken Cummings was the first, the Loose Lips that was great at gossiping. Oh my God. I was like, how do you get this stuff? And he would, and he wrote it so well. The column itself was—I don’t think anyone ever rose to the height of Ken Cummings in terms of writing that column. We [00:49:00] all probably wanted to be Ken Cummings but we, we made it our own. I think Mike DeBonis was maybe one of the best Loose Lips columnists. I didn’t last that long.

The guy who hired me, I was at The Washington Times writing op-ed pieces on the op-ed page, and they loved me there. And I thought, oh, I’ve been with these Republicans so long, I need to get out. I need to wash up. So I thought, okay, this is a good time to break. I had been writing since, what, since I left there actually since 1993 or ‘94 on the op-ed page. And I thought, okay. So I was asked to come over and write their column. And I left The Washington Times. And the guy who hired me, and I’m forgetting his name now, Howard, something Howard, wanted it to be—said to me, “And your name can go on the column.” And I said, “Oh!”

Elizabeth: Byline.

jonetta: [00:50:00] That’s great. Because I, my name was on my editorials so I didn’t wanna lose my persona in the field and in the city. And so that allowed me to maintain it. And also it allowed me to go places for real. Solid reporting in my perspective. Because when I left The Washington Times, when I left as a reporter, I called up Jack Shafer, who was the editor of the City Paper, and I said, “I’m getting ready to leave these people. Do you want me?” He said, “Absolutely. Come talk to me.” So I went to talk to him, but I had to take a $9,000 cut—

Elizabeth: Wow.

jonetta: —to do that job. But it gave me the freedom that I longed for, that I really needed. Because they were definitely doing point of view reporting and journalism in that paper. And, and so I, I maintained my column at the same time I was [00:51:00] writing, reporting for the City Paper. I never stopped.

Then I got a book deal and wrote the Barry book and then subsequently wrote the book about growing up without my father. And so that’s when I left the Times, right after that period. And decided it was probably time for me to do something purely on my own. And I was offered this opportunity. But the editor, and I didn’t, the guy who hired me, who was from Chicago, he had done a lot of reporting, he was a pretty good writer, but he was a terrible editor. Nobody at the paper liked him. He just, oh, he was just terrible.

And, and so what happened was I got my name on that column and I think I may have been the only person who actually put their name on the column and, in that period. And I didn’t realize the importance of it, but it was important for people to know who was writing and that [00:52:00] I was out there in the community. And so this wasn’t, I wasn’t making this stuff up.

Elizabeth: Speaking a bit more about being out there in the community, something that seems to be on the rise these days is collaborative journalism that we talked about a moment ago. Obviously, putting a newspaper or a news broadcast or a wire service together is a hugely collaborative endeavor, but the digital age seems to have supercharged what is now called quote, “collaborative journalism.” There’s a journalism column, commons, like other shared resources like Creative Commons or Wiki Commons. And there are recent examples that are quite stunning of journalistic collaboration such as the Panama Papers or the Paradise Papers that exposed massive financial crimes and tax evasion among rich and powerful people all over the world. Collaborative journalism projects like [00:53:00] that remind me, actually, of scientific undertakings, like the Human Genome Project or the Manhattan Project or these other really mega collaborative projects. So, can you talk a bit about what your thoughts are about the creative tension between getting a scoop back in your reporter days and collaborative journalism? Is that a tension you personally deal with?

jonetta: I don’t participate.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

jonetta: And here’s why. A very early experience as a young reporter at The Washington Times, I was working on a story about developers about economic development in the Shaw neighborhood. And Delano Lewis was then the president of I think it might have been called Bell Telephone, but it went to Verizon, became Verizon.

Elizabeth: Bell Atlantic.

jonetta: Yeah. And I had asked a reporter, because I had been looking at something that had Delano Lewis’s name on it, and Delano Lewis was working with this developer. So I said, “Can you check [00:54:00] to make sure this is the same Delano Lewis?” Okay. This reporter was in Maryland, I was in DC, we were both reporters for The Washington Times. So, the reporter said, “Yeah, it’s the same Delano Lewis!” I’m like, oh my God! And so, I wrote the story, I was like, big headline! And the paper the next day, and—

Elizabeth: It wasn’t the same one?

jonetta: Delano Lewis was at the paper, the Delano Lewis was at the paper the next morning with his lawyer.

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh.

jonetta: I, they called me up, the managing editor called me up and said, “Get your ass in here. Right now.”

Elizabeth: Wow.

jonetta: I was like, oh my God, this sounds like I’m getting ready to lose my job. Oh, Lord! So, I go in and there’s Delano Lewis with his lawyer. And so the man, “How did you, how’d you make this mistake?” And I said, “I [00:55:00] asked somebody to help me out here and they told me it was. And I’m sorry Mr. Lewis, that we got it wrong.” And it actually was his son. So I said okay, why don’t we just make it your son next time. So I was like so okay, I’ll just make that correction. It’s his son, it’s not him. And which I did.  

But I never, after that, asked anybody to do any research for me, which is a hell of a burden. But I feel, I felt like that was a betrayal. Not that that person—of course, that person made a mistake, okay? But it was my responsibility. I was in charge of that story. And so I had to own that mistake and could have lost my job as a result. So I’m like, if I’m gonna own every mistake, then I’m gonna be involved in every mistake. I’m not gonna ask anybody.

So I don’t do collaborative journalism. Other than the editor [00:56:00] edits my work.

Elizabeth: Sure.

jonetta: And the photographer illustrates it. But I’m doing my own work. You can refer me to somebody, you can share this bit of information, but I’m gonna go check it out. I’m gonna be the person to check out the facts. I’m gonna be the person. And if you gather the information and you want me on it, but I’m still gonna check it out. I just can’t afford it, cause it’s, way too—

Elizabeth: What is it, trust to verify or something?

jonetta: It’s way too important. And I didn’t realize how important it was until that moment. And I have been sued three times in my career. And each time I can say I did that. Yeah, I said that, I checked the facts, I know it’s real, I have the documents and let’s go.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah, so the notion of just taking responsibility, being able to take responsibility for a choice—

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: And live with it. Live whatever the consequence is.

jonetta: Consequence is. Yeah.

Michael: Yeah. And I, it ,and I guess I’m revealing something about myself, I’ve always just been fascinated [00:57:00] by the perceived, I consider it a perceived difference between non-fiction and fiction. Hear me out because it sounds crazy, but whenever I read a memoir, I’m always, I’m going, how in the world can a person remember these details? And it’s, I think of my own life and I’m, my memories are nothing more than just fragments. And when I thought I knew something from when I was growing up, it turns out I was wrong anyway. You know what I mean? So and so this distinction between fiction and non-fiction, I’ve always just been fascinated by. Because at some level, the non-fiction is the moment that we’re living. And then as soon as that moment is over, you have to rely on memory.

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: And memory, for me, my memory is always fuzzy.

jonetta: Yeah.

Michael: And so that, it, for me, it always creates a tension between what do I know to be true and what is maybe a memory of what was true or somebody’s memory of what was true. How do [00:58:00] you handle that tension between being able to verify something is true and stating the qualifier that it’s their memory of what happened?

jonetta: Yeah. Yeah. I think that we have to remember that memoir is not autobiography. So you’re taking a piece of a life and you are shining a intense spotlight on that piece of your life. And a lot of times people will remember those pieces because they had such an intense and powerful impact on them or on their development. But every memoir—I’ll come back to my own memoir in a minute—but I saw somebody, David Carr, when he did his memoir on, and I’m forgetting the title of it, but David had a very interesting history because he was a crack addict. He was a serious crack addict. He had tried to re–, he had tried recovery for I don’t know how long, like six [00:59:00] different times.  And to the point that he started taking medication that if he took any crack, it, he could die as a result. Okay? And when he came to Washington City Paper, that was his history.

When he left Washington City Paper and went to The New York Times, at some point he decided he wanted to write his memoir. ‘Cause he was not only a, an addict, he was also an enforcer. He went collect money.

Michael: Wow.

jonetta: The woman who ended up having a baby for him was actually also an addict. Wild story.

Michael: Sounds like it.

Elizabeth: Wow, yeah.

jonetta: What he did though, because of what you’re talking about, Mike, he, he decided when he wanted to do—he went and asked people. He interviewed people who knew him during that period and he brought their perspective into his story. So it, it was almost like, like when you’re telling a fiction and you’re using multiple voices to tell that story, that’s the technique that he used for [01:00:00] his own memoir.

In my case, I wrote about growing up without my father. And the memory and all the kind of collateral damage of that in my life was still fresh for me. ‘Cause I had met my father a few years earlier before I wrote it and then after I wrote about it, it was, the period was the, was not that long, okay? I wrote an essay first for City Paper about it and then I wrote the book.

But here’s how I tell people all the time how this experience affected me. When I was writing the book, I asked my mother to look for a picture of me when I was five years old and I was with this guy who was a man that she was living with at the time, Noel. And I said, she says, “Describe the picture for me.” So I said, “I’m on the [01:01:00] car, Noel is standing next to me, I have my hair in Shirley Temple curls, and he’s got his arms around me.” When she found that picture, it was exactly the way I had described it. I was in my thirties at the time. I just, I, that was the image that I had kept in my mind all those years. And it was only then that my mother understood what I had been trying to tell her was that not having a father, and especially not having Noel who I treated as my father, was devastating when he left. He just left. I was devastated by it. He walked out and never came back. I have never seen the man again. And so there are moments in our lives that kind of are like they imprint in our brain, in our memory to [01:02:00] such a way that we can’t run from them. And so having that picture then unfold everything associated with that moment, but also the years that came after that moment.

Elizabeth: I wanna talk some more about this part of your life, ‘cause through Esther Productions, which is a women’s empowerment organization that you founded, you have written about and mentored women and girls of all ages about issues of their fatherlessness. You’ve authored or edited several books on the issue, including Discovering Me… Without You: Teen Girls Speak about Father Absence, another book, Bridges: Reuniting Daughters and Daddies, another book, Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl? The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women. So, these books delve deeply, clearly, into both the sociological circumstances and [01:03:00] the emotional trauma and sorrow of growing up as a girl without a father or without a stable loving father and this is very painful, emotional territory. Can you share some of your findings from those multiple books?

jonetta: When I wrote the first essay for City Paper on growing up without my father, which is, which became the book Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl?, it’s about my story, I call it a collective memoir because I went out and actually interviewed. I did a call, anybody who’s grown up without their father and you, I wanna hear your story. And so I went out and interviewed dozens and dozens of women in this region mainly, in the Washington DMV region, but I also interviewed some people nationally. So it’s a solid piece of writing, I think.

But when I first did that, when I did that first essay, which was kind of, the scene opens with me actually meeting my biological father for the first time in my [01:04:00] memory. He told me about how when I was younger he would always get me from my mother and he would feed me red beans and rice and, and that once he told my mother that he—because my mother was working two jobs, she was a single woman with four children at this point—and he said, “I can take her and my mother could raise her.” And it was at that point that my mother never let him see me again. And the man was living in Baltimore and I was living in Washington, DC and he’s asking my mother, “Where is this child?” I was his only biological child. And I ne– I got to see him four years before he eventually died. And I think the, as he was getting older and, and sicker, ‘cause he had emphysema, it became more important to him. He reached out to my grandfather, my mother’s mother, and, and asked him if he could impress upon my mother his need to see me. And that’s how I got [01:05:00] to see my father.

But, so I wrote this essay about going to the—and it was really interesting because he was living in an apartment building that was just up the street from where I had grown up as a girl, a young girl. So the problem was the first person to respond to that essay was a man who called me up and he said, “Now I understand.” I said, “You understand what?” He says, “I understand my wife.” He says, “She won’t let me take out the trash. She won’t let me do certain things around the house. She wants to do everything. And I try to say, ‘We’re married. I’m your husband. Let me do something.’” And he says, “But she just can’t. She doesn’t trust me enough.” And he says, “Your essay helped me to understand.”

And so, when we look at issues of relationships in America, it’s only just recently [01:06:00] that the divorce rate has gone down, but for many years 50% of all marriages in America were ending in divorce. And in the Black community, it was even more. Either they weren’t getting married or they were divorcing. And when you have that kind of cycle of father absence, you’re gonna have all kinds of sociological issues. So I say every sociological issue that we’re talking about—we’re talking about teen pregnancy, we’re talking about drug use, poor academic performance, low self-esteem—all of those—rage, anger, depression, attempted suicide—all of those stem from the absence of fathers in a girl’s life and actually in a boy’s life as well.

I codified in my book the Fatherless Daughter Syndrome, and I mentioned those five factors, which I just mentioned to you. Not calling them factors, but those are [01:07:00] the issues. And in America, if you’re looking at divorce, the divorce rate the way we were looking at it, then there are many women who have grown up without their fathers, who are now mothers and who are rearing children without their fathers. And so you’ve got a cycle of father absence that, and the trauma associated with that. If you remember the study that was done, I think it was the Kaiser Foundation with the CDC did the study on ACEs, the adverse childhood experiences. One of the main adverse childhood experiences that’s in there is parental abandonment. You never get over that. You manage it, but you never really get over it. And that is the nature of father absence for girls and for boys. And so what we’re looking at is a generation go back three, four, five generations of children go up to the, these children are now [01:08:00] adults. You can understand why we have such a wreck whacked crazy society.

Elizabeth: Oh gosh.

Michael: We like to conclude our interviews—and we’re getting close to the end now—with the larger meta question. And I recently came across this quote by Frantz Fanon from—

jonetta: Oh, yeah.

Michael: —from Black Skin, White Masks, his quote is “In the world to which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.” And I, I read that, and I said, “Well, that’s the perfect quote for this podcast.” Because it really isn’t about being an artist, it really is about the process of just creating yourself every day. And you mentioned at the very beginning of the interview that you know that African Americans have been, they’re here because they were creative.

jonetta: Exactly.

Michael: And so if you could maybe just maybe talk about the role creativity has played in your life in terms of just shaping who you are [01:09:00] in, as a person or as a community member.

jonetta: Yes. You think about, it just dawned on me as you were asking that question, I was thinking about Oprah Winfrey and how she recreated herself from a girl who grew up without her father and mother, at one point she was growing up with her grandparents, and then getting that job that she got. And then, having a great girlfriend like Gail encouraging you that you can be greater than you are. And reshaping herself to meet that, that image, that dream, that creative visualization that I, I guess she and Gail were engaged in, both of them now of very successful journalists and media women. And I think that happens every day.

I think about myself. I grew up with my grandparents, in the beginning I lived with them in Pontchartrain Park, which was a clearly middle-class neighborhood. My mother wanting to have her own independence from her parents decided she [01:10:00] wanted to move, and so she moved into public housing and the Desire Projects, one of the worst in the city of New Orleans. And so now I’ve got to imagine myself out of that neighborhood. I’ve gotta figure out what I could do, who I could be, to move beyond the circumstance and the poverty of that community. I might love that community, love the people in that community, but I want more for myself. And I wanna be able to create an environment where people don’t have to live like that. And so every day I’m thinking, what, who is jonetta? Who is jonetta today? Even now, in this moment that I’m in, I’m thinking, who else can you be? Or how else can you polish yourself [01:11:00] and take your talents to a new level? What can you do for yourself and for your community?

So I think we are all in that space every day. Where we grow and then we see ourselves in a different light. And we grow and we see ourselves in another light. And that’s if you’re growing. If you’re not growing, then you wither. Like Langston Hughes asked, what happens to a raisin in the sun?

Elizabeth: The sun. “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?” “What happens to a dream deferred?”

jonetta: “Deferred.” Yes. “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or—”

Elizabeth: “—does it explode?” Yeah.

jonetta: Exactly.

Elizabeth: That leads so, so thoroughly into our, one of the concluding questions we like to ask our guests, which is, what practical advice do you have for our listeners about how to nurture and sustain [01:12:00] their own creativity in their lives?

jonetta: Believe. Continue to believe in yourself. Believe in the possibilities of your own dreams and never ever let anyone take that from you.

Elizabeth: Langston Hughes would be proud. So, jonetta, this has been so wonderful. Finally, what’s coming up? Can you tell our listeners about your services?

jonetta: I’m working on another investigative report about healthcare in the city. This kind of gets to some of the areas that you’ve approached in, in the podcast is like, how do you, where do you take a story?

So I’ve been working on Medicaid and contracting in DC around Medicaid and Medicare—not Medicaid and Medicare, but Medicaid and managed care organizations. And I said to my editor, ‘cause I had been writing about this this procurement debacle for two, almost two-and-a-half [01:13:00] years. “I said, I don’t know that I can say anything more that I’ve said about this ‘cause it’s such a mess.” I said, “But the question that I’m asking myself is how does this affect the healthcare of ordinary District residents?” That’s the question that I want to know. I wanna go out and find out the answer to that. So we were able to get another grant from Spotlight DC. And that’s what I’m doing now. I’m trying to find people to talk to about their healthcare. Whether, in fact, the city said during the pandemic, during the height of the pandemic, there are all these people of color who are suffering, suffering, that’s why they’re dying more than anybody else is because they’re healthcare, chronic diseases. And we’ve gotta bring health, justice and equity. And have—So I wanna know, did that happen? So far the answer is no.

Elizabeth: Oh, so this this investigative report will be available at the end of March?

jonetta: Yes.

Elizabeth: 2023.

jonetta: Yes.

Elizabeth: And our listeners could go to your website to find more about—

jonetta: No, to [01:14:00]

Elizabeth: Okay.

jonetta: And that’s who I’m doing these pieces for, that’s where my column is, I write once a week for them. I also have my own blog. I write the more controversial stuff on my own blog ‘cause I don’t want an editor touching it.

Elizabeth: All right once again,

Michael: That’s good news for us!

jonetta: Exactly!

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh. This has been so wonderful, jonetta. Thank you. Thank so much.

jonetta: Thank you guys. Thank you so much. A joy.

Elizabeth: Our guest, again, has been the inimitable, jonetta rose barras. Thank you jonetta for so generously sharing your time and insights with Creativists in Dialogue.

jonetta: I enjoyed it tremendously. Thank you.

Elizabeth: For more information about Creativists in Dialogue or our other projects, please visit or This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.